On July 14, several hundred agitated participants of the “March of Georgians”—a loose alliance of identitarian political groups, some of them self-proclaimed “fascists” (Facebook.com, July 14)—rallied along Aghmashenebeli Avenue, in central Tbilisi (YouTube, July 14). The political mainstream of the country largely ignored the happening. And initially, the ruling party, Georgian Dream–Democratic Georgia (GDDG), issued no official statements in reaction to the event.
The demonstration was initiated by Sandro Bregadze, the deputy state minister for diaspora issues under the GDDG from 2014 to 2016, and the leader of the “Erovnulebi” (“The Nationals”) movement. In a Facebook post, Bregadze called “all those whose heart beats for the homeland” to join in, also issuing an “ultimatum” for “all illegal foreigners (Iranians, Arabs, Africans, etc.) to leave the territory of Georgia by July 14” (Facebook.com, June 29).
“This is our response to a 51-year-old Iranian having raped Georgian children (boys)!!! We will clean our streets of foreign criminals!!!” Bregadze exclaimed, referring to a recent case of alleged rape as well as a number of arrests of foreign citizens in Georgia for other alleged sexual offenses (EurasiaNet, July 15). Nonetheless, labeling this rally as targeted merely against “Muslim immigrants” is misleading. Some active participants of the “March” stressed their rejection of all illegal or criminal aliens notwithstanding their faith—the second scandalous case was in fact purportedly committed by Indian citizens, whose confessional affiliation is unclear—as well as their staunch opposition to Russia (Facebook.com, June 29).
The March was supported by the opposition party Alliance of Patriots: Member of Parliament Emzar Kvitsiani joined the demonstrators on the streets (Netgazeti.ge, July 14), as did one of the party’s leaders, Konstantine Morgoshia. Other activists included Gia Korkotashvili of the movement “Georgian Mission,” Mikheil Amisulashvili of “Erovnulebi,” businessman Ramaz Gagnidze, as well as Giorgi Oniani, a contributor to the TV station Obieqtivi (Tabula.ge, July 17). However, the organizers’ claims that the March would be a “peaceful protest” was quickly undermined when the latter five activists staged a slur-filled verbal attack in a public Facebook post, which was later deleted. Its target was former Georgian Youth Delegate to the United Nations Tatia Dolidze (Netgazeti.ge, July 17), whom the five threatened to gang-rape. Dolidze—who had criticized the March of Georgians, saying it was destabilizing the country and, thus, “grist for Russia’s mill” (Facebook.com, July 14)—reported the incident to the police, leading the Ministry of Internal Affairs to start an investigation into online harassment claims (Civil Georgia, July 17).
The scandal continued as Lado Sadghobelashvili, yet another co-organizer of the March and the founder of the non-governmental organization “Free Generation,” posted photographs showing Tatia Dolidze in a friendly embrace with an “Ossetian separatist and FSB [Federal Security Service] officer” Timur Tskhurbaty (Intermedia.ge, July 19). The photographs were intended to be incriminating, allegedly proving that Dolidze was a “Sorosist” and “liberast” (a derogatory slang term stigmatizing liberals as homosexuals), in cahoots with the leader of the pro-Western opposition party Movement for Liberty–European Georgia (MLEG), Giorgi Bokeria, and courting a known murderer of Georgians during the 2008 war in the breakaway region of South Ossetia. Dolidze retorted that the photo of her and Tskhurbaty, which she herself supplied to a Palitra TV documentary, originated from a series of civil society gatherings she had taken part in, whereby Georgian diplomats met with their South Ossetian and Abkhazian counterparts in order to foster mutual dialogue (Palitravideo.ge, July 19).
Simultaneously to the March of Georgians, a group of civil activists organized a protest against yet another move by Russia in the process of so-called “creeping occupation.” Earlier this summer, the Russian military removed border posts near the village of Bershueti, at the de facto border with South Ossetia, grabbing some additional 700 meters of territory for the separatist region (Civil Georgia, July 15; see EDM, July 10). However, calls to the March organizers to join this protest against the Russian occupation were met with no response. Other civil society organizations, such as the Women’s Movement and the Coalition for Equality, issued statements condemning attacks against Dolidze, while MLEG and its candidate for mayor of Tbilisi, Elene Khostaria, announced a rally in the capital (on July 23) in response to both the March itself and the Dolidze incident (Pirveliradio.ge, July 19).
All in all, the March of Georgians marks a certain breakthrough for identitarian and avowed fascist movements in Georgia. It is the first instance in recent years of such a public demonstration by these groups that succeeded in independently drawing considerable media attention. Usually, the identitarian and fascist groups attach themselves to large public events held by other, more authoritative organizations, such as the Georgian Orthodox Church, thus maintaining a relatively low profile in the public eye. Such was the case, for instance, with the annual “Family Day,” held this year on May 17, which was notably attended by various identitarian groups. Though both the rhetoric and form of activism of the groups behind the March of Georgians resembles the practice of their European counterparts, it remains to be seen what actual trans-border links or networks may exist between them.