After the summer Tbilisi is expecting another hot season
30 August, 2019
After the summer Tbilisi is expecting another hot season
Every evening in June and July hundreds of protesters came to the parliament to demonstrate.
Then the summer heat cooled down the demonstrators. But now they announce their return. We asked them about their plans and ambitions, got an external view on the developments in Georgia and recapitulate the recent events.

What has happened so far?
1. During the visit of a Russian delegation a member of the communist party sat in a chair reserved by protocol for the Head of Parliament.
2. This triggered protests in front of the Parliament in Tbilisi. Police prevented the crowd from entering the building, more than 200 people were injured. Two of them lost an eye.
3. For more than a month protesters have gathered almost every evening in front of the Parliament. Their demands:
A. The interior minister, Giorgi Gakharia, should resign after the “brutal behaviour” of the police forces he commands.
B. The head of parliament, Irakli Kobakhidze, should resign,.
C. A new arithmetical key must be established at elections to make sure the Regions are better represented in the one-chamber parliament.

4. Two of their demands have been met (No. 2 and 3).
5. Mid July: Temperatures in Tbilisi climbed into the 40s, those who can leave the city.
6. End of August: Temperatures fall again. And new protests are announced.
Protesters in front of the parliament on 20th of June 2019.

Interview with Stefan Meister, Head of South Caucasus Office of the German Heinrich Boell Stiftung in Tbilisi

Stefan Meister, how would you describe the current mood in Tbilisi’s society?

There’s an overall discontent with politics. People feel that some economic branches in Georgia – such as tourism and real estate – are thriving, but they don’t benefit from the boom. They get frustrated with their political elites, who they feel are above all working for their own benefit.

So the current protests don’t have much to do with the Russian delegation that triggered the anger end of June?

Due to Georgia’s history as a former Soviet Country and the 2008 war with Russia over its breakaway region of South Ossetia, it’s not surprising that the anger erupted in connection with Russia. But I think they protested rather because they are tired of their own politicians.

So they will vote for new politicians in the elections in 2020?

This is part of the desperation in Georgia: people don’t have new options. Both of the main parties - the “Georgian Dream” coalition led by billionaire and former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili and the Opposition lead by former President Mikheil Saakashvili – disappointed the Georgians. But there’s no third option to vote for in sight yet.

Are there no other leaders who would like to influence politics in Georgia?

Georgia’s society – as well as its politics – is very hierarchic. So it is very difficult for new players to emerge. Even if you are in a powerful position. This is shown in the case of the TBC-Bank Directors Mamuka Khazaradze and Badri Japaridze. Shortly after they showed political ambitions, they were accused of money-laundering and are now being prosecuted as a result.

What about young people, entering politics?

A lot of of young, well-educated Georgians do not see a future for themselves in this country. There are not enough well-paid jobs, so a lot of young people leave. It must be said that politics in general has a very bad image in Georgia. That is why young people often choose to protest and work in other sectors.

How, in your opinion, will things proceed after the calm and hot summer-season in Tbilisi?

I think what we saw in June was in a way the prelude to the elections planned in October 2020. The movement in the streets is going to continue until then. And I’m sure beside the real grass-root-movement we will also see how the opposition will try to take advantage of the current discontent in Georgian Society.
Stefan Meister from the Heinrich Boell Stiftung that is linked to the “Green Party” in Germany and financed by the Ministry of Economic cooperation and development in Germany. Before his arrival in Tbilisi on July 1st Stefan Meister worked 10 years for the think tank “German Council on Foreign Relations” covering all post-Soviet countries.
On the 20th of June, Georgian police used teargas and rubber bullets.

Mariam Geguchadze – student and organizer of protests – explains the demands of the demonstrators and how things will proceed.

“During the summer we did a TV show with many guests from different backgrounds. Now we are preparing to return to the streets on September 20th, initiating a walk of shame. The protests won’t stop until Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia resigns and all the protesters who have been arrested are given the chance of a free trial.

Our government is trying to polarize us, to use us against each other. But we will not fall for that. We believe, that ‘Georgian Dream’ is not a functional party. They are not united by an idea, but by the money of former Prime Minister and billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia has to take responsibility for the police aggression on June 20th, when two people lost one of their eyes because of police aggression. Now they have arrested some of the policemen, but the Minister gave the orders. There are also still 19 protesters still in prison. We are fighting for them to to be released. This does not mean that we justify attacks on the police by anyone. We respect this institution, but there is a huge difference between attacking someone and self-defence. And besides, we do not trust the Ministry of Internal Affairs at all.

I think these 2019 protests will have broader effects on Georgian society. It is important for every government – the current one and the next – to know, that we will not stand for this. The violation of human rights is a serious crime. We have already shown the international community that we are a group of people who are civilized and want to be independent from Russia. But our government is pro-Russian and I do not understand why the direction this country takes should be chosen by one person, one oligarch, and not by the citizens of Georgia. I think all of us will vote in 2020. Because of the changes in the system of election that have been achieved, even those people will vote who didn’t before.”
Mariam Geguchadze studied politics at Bard College in New York and is now majoring in politics, philosophy and economy at the American University of Paris.

By Valerie Wacker

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