“They barged into the festival grounds, breaking equipment, burning flags and placards, spilled our champagne, and taking stuff from the venue,” Mariam Kvaratskhelia, an LGBTQ activist who helped put together the event, said in a phone interview Sunday.
Police evacuated several dozen people who were at the event, and no one was injured, Kvaratskhelia said. About 3,000 people registered to attend the Pride event, but the mob showed up before it opened, she said. In a statement, organizers criticized law enforcement for failing to “use proportional force and measures against the attackers,” adding that police “compelled” attendees to leave the area on prearranged buses instead of dispersing the mob.
Animosity toward sexual minorities remains widespread in the southeastern European nation, which has a strong Orthodox Christian influence. Critics have long accused the ruling Georgian Dream party — which opponents and some Western diplomats have said is leading the country away from the West — of tacitly supporting homophobic and nationalist groups.
Deputy Interior Minister Alexander Darakhvelidze told reporters that law enforcement had difficulty policing an open space, and some protesters managed to circumvent cordons to enter the festival area, state-affiliated media said. Several of the counterprotesters were arrested, according to reports.
Saturday’s festival was held on a private, registration-only basis. It was the second consecutive year that organizers decided against a public march in hopes of reducing the risk of violent counterprotests.
President Salome Zourabichvili, an independent who is critical of the governing Georgian Dream party, suggested that radical groups would be emboldened to disrupt events if police “act like they did today.”
She accused Dream lawmakers of stirring up tensions against LGBTQ activists ahead of Pride and warned that by “inciting these counter-rallies and not condemning these actions or hate speech, the ruling party, the majority of the Parliament, supports violence and takes responsibility for all the consequences.”
The European Union’s delegation in Tbilisi said in a statement that it was “disappointing to see that security and freedom of assembly could not be ensured” and that lawbreakers should be held accountable. The U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi and other Western diplomatic missions also denounced the violent attack.
Georgia has applied to join the European Union, but Brussels did not grant Tbilisi official candidate status last year, stating that it wanted to see more reforms carried out. Ukraine and Moldova were given candidate status at that time.
POST AUTHOR: Lyric Li