TBILISI – Georgia’s annual LGBT+ Pride event was evacuated by police on Saturday after hundreds of counter-protesters stormed the site.
In a statement, festival organizers in the capital Tbilisi said they were forced to shut down the annual festivities after authorities failed to hold the perimeter.
« Today’s developments indicate that the events planned for today were pre-coordinated and agreed between the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the violent Alt-Info group, » Tbilisi Pride said.
Interim Deputy Internal Affairs Minister Aleksandre Darakhvelidze said that « the pride festival had to take place in an open territory » and therefore the authorities « were unable to provide protection ».
Smoke rose above the site, a field just outside the city, as LGBT+ rainbow flags were burned and right-wing activists danced to traditional Georgian folk music. Participants had been told to board the buses for safety reasons moments earlier.
Reacting to the attacks, the British ambassador to Georgia, Mark Clayton said he « shocked and saddened find that, despite planning and preventive measures, the Tbilisi Pride festival was canceled due to safety risks for the participants”.
He called on the Georgian government to « ensure that all those who have broken the law and aggressively disrupted a peaceful gathering are brought to justice ».
Despite the sentences, Shalva Papuashvili, speaker of the Georgian parliament, insisted that « the police had an adequate response » and « adequately guaranteed the safety of both the participants and the journalists ».
Rémy Bony, executive director of the LGBT+ NGO Forbidden Colours, said EU countries should shelter the organizers in their embassies because “their lives are in danger. Thousands of anti-LGBTIQ thugs are drive them out.”
Alt-Info, a far-right group with close ties to the Georgian Orthodox Church, has repeatedly staged counter-protests against the annual holiday. In 2021, dozens of reporters were injured at the annual event, and a cameraman died afterward.
In the wake of that year’s violence, the EU mission to the country sent a letter to the government denouncing « direct attacks on Georgia’s democratic and pro-European aspirations » and criticizing the burning of an EU flag outside the parliament .
Speaking to POLITICO from the crowd on Saturday, Levan Chachua, leader of the Georgian nationalist and religious political group the Idea, said: « I would refuse to… join the EU if that would prevent us from entering the Kingdom of Heaven. »
Georgia has a stated intention to join the EU. But Brussels has warned that its government, which has sought closer ties with Russia since the start of the war in Ukraine, has presided over a significant setback in human rights and civil liberties.