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Anti-LGBT protesters take part in a rally ahead of the planned March for Dignity during Pride Week in Tbilisi
Anti-LGBT protesters take part in a rally ahead of the planned March for Dignity during Pride Week in Tbilisi   -   Copyright  Credit: AFP

Fear and loathing in Tbilisi as homophobic attack pain remains raw

“I nearly got killed twice this summer,” Giorgio Tabagari, one of the co-founders of Tbilisi Pride, tells Euronews.

In July, the LGBT organisation had its offices in the Georgian capital ransacked by a far-right mob.

More than 50 journalists and activists were also attacked.

Cameraman Alexander Lashkarava was among them. He was found dead at home days after being released from hospital.

It came as anti-LGBT protesters held a rally to counter five days of LGBT pride celebrations. One of the events was a March for Dignity on Monday, July 5 that eventually had to be cancelled because of the violence.

Tabagari fled the violence that day fearing for his life. Also during the pride celebrations, he was "nearly killed" as a mob surrounded his car while he was leaving the United Nations building in central Tbilisi after a meeting.

'No charges or convictions'

Now, nearly four months on, Tbilisi Pride's offices are finally being reopened. But some of the psychological scars remain.

Credit: AFP
A handout picture, released on July 12, 2021, shows Alexander Lashkarava, 37, a cameraman working for independent TV station Pirveli, shortly after he was assaulted on July 5Credit: AFP

“We took a summer break because it was quite hard emotionally for the staff and a lot of people," said Tabagari.

"But overall, we are back to work now and we’re trying to think how to proceed for the next years.”

Where to go next seems to be the key question. According to Tabagari, none of those attacking their offices has been charged or convicted.

“We might avoid our freedom of assembly because it might trigger a lot of things and we cannot expect any protection from the government. So next year, we might simply not try to go out in the streets,” he added.

For many in the LGBT community, the blame for these events is divided among the alleged inactions of the police and government, as well as the influence of the Orthodox Church of Georgia.

The church has a very dominant role in Georgian society. Not only are the vast majority of Georgians enrolled in the institution, its leader, Ilia II, is the most trusted man in Georgia with an approval rating above 90 per cent, according to a 2013 census.

The mob that chased down LGBT people in July was led by priests from this church, according to numerous reports from the events.

Ilia II himself denied the church would opt for a violent solution, but he also declared that homosexuality was an “anomaly and a disease”.

ILGA Europe ranked Georgia 32 out of 49 countries in the regionover progress around LGBT issues. It said the situation had worsened in the country because of a "lack of clear procedures for legal gender recognition and the risky situation of LGBTI human rights defenders in the country".

'Some have left, some still want to leave'

For Tabagari, the events in July mark a new but unwelcome beginning.

“I lost control over it this summer,” he said. "Before I didn’t have this feeling that I would be physically endangered.

"It was a shift in how radical groups are operating.

"It was almost like a military operation that had been well-planned and well-executed in terms of how they hunted us and attacked and the coordination.

“It was a very different approach on top of the disinformation campaigns and the online presence becoming stronger."

IRAKLI GEDENIDZE/REUTERS
A rally in memory of Pirveli TV channel cameraman Alexander Lashkarava, a victim of violence against LGBT+ activists and journalists last Monday, in TbilisiIRAKLI GEDENIDZE/REUTERS

Nino Bolk, leader of the Georgian group Queer, echoed Tabagari's sentiment.

“Even if today we begin developing a society without homophobia, it will still take time," he said. "This wave of hatred from July 5-6 has created a great danger for individuals, who can no longer visually say that they are representatives of the LGBT community.

“Some have already left, and some still want to leave. Of course, there are activists saying we have unfinished business left.

"I personally have the attitude, that I will try until the moment where I can see, that there is no point in it and there is a great danger to my life, then I will probably have to leave too.”

'It clearly shows their priorities'

It's not just security fears and the targeting of Tbilisi Pride's offices that Tabagari has to contend with. He also claims to have been the victim of a "bogus case" linked to the July violence.

Prosecutors wanted him to spend 15 days in jail for swearing at a police officer while he was running away from the mob on July 5.

The court instead gave him a warning.

Not only that, earlier in October he was arrested in front of Success Bar, a gay bar in Tbilisi, as he was celebrating its reopening.

Tabagari said he was trying to stop the arrest of an activist colleague, Tengo Eminashvili, asking 'are you nuts?' when he was detained.

"It clearly shows their priorities, when the July 5 criminals have not been brought to justice, and they have these bogus cases against me now,” Tabagari told Euronews.

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