“These protests are different”
06 September, 2019
“These protests are different”
«In Georgia protesting is almost a tradition», says the historian Simon Janashia who works at the American School in Tbilisi. But the current demonstrations are profoundly different.

Siomon Janashia how are the actual protests in Tbilisi different from the great many Georgia has seen before?

I see three profound differences: First of all, these protests are driven by young people who do not sympathize with one party or the other. Secondly, the protesters do not only partially address the government
but above all the people in power, which means the Georgian billionaire and former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili. And thirdly, the duration and the degree of organization are exceptional. These protests have taken place since June 20th, for more than 70 days people showed up. Every night they have discussions in front of the parliament building and stream an Internet-TV-Show. They no longer depend on the classic media.

After the protests, the most criticized figure, interior minister, Giorgi Gakharia, was nominated as Prime Minister and there were other changes of heads of ministries. What is the strategy behind that?

I don’t see one. The only thing I can imagine is that they are preparing for the 2020 elections. Up to now politics have been mostly driven by the economy. Now they are putting politicians into power who follow strictly the orders of the “Georgian Dream” party, politicians who have methods to intimidate people, if necessary. 

What methods?

I have friends who – before the elections two years ago – received calls from their bosses who asked them to stop certain political activities or to to give up politics completely. Of course, the bosses as well were intimidated as well. This goes all the way up to the circles of power. And by the way, they are as well intimidating the protesters as well. After June 20th some of them are still in jail, facing trail and up to 4 to 6 years in prison for taking part in organizing and acting against public order. 

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Simon Janashia works in education development (one of his employer is the American Academy in Tbilisi). The historian studied in Germany, received his MA at Harvard University and his Doctoral degree from Columbia University in the US. 2004 to 2009 Janashia worked for the Ministry of Education.

The protesters announced their comeback for September 20th. What do you think the outcome of this protest will be?

Not much, unless there are really a lot of them. But I’m not sure how many people will follow the call. The summer break has probably made people less angry. The type of protesters has become more hipster-like, well educated, citizens of the world, so to speak. But they need all Georgians to change something. In future the movement must take on a political form to really change something. Maybe a new party will be founded. You never know – this is Georgia after all.

By Valerie Wacker

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