Tbilisi, July 4th, the night was peaceful, and the crowd was much smaller than the previous weeks. There was a rock concert in front of the parliament building while people were flying the Georgian and EU flags, even one man flying the United States of America flag. Many people were wearing “Russia is An Occupier” shirt, and some wearing a patch that read 20.06 referring to Russia occupies 20% of Georgian territory. Today was a much different face compared to what occurred in June.
The Protests in Georgia also known as Gavrilov’s Night began as a series of anti-government protests on June 20th which were sparked after a member of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation Sergei Gavrilov delivered a speech about the brotherhood between Georgia and Russia in Russian. Gavrilov is an individual who voted in favor of the independence of Abkhazia, a de facto region in northwestern Georgia that is partially recognized around the world. This region is a central issue of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict and strained relations between the two countries of Georgia and Russia.
The Georgian opposition blocked the speaker while calling for protests and demanding the resignation of the country’s government. That night law enforcement attempted to disperse the growing crowd and those who tried to storm the parliament building with tear gas and rubber bullets injuring around 240 of the demonstrators, at least two who had acquired serious eye injuries as a result of the rubber bullets being used. As a result, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a decree to suspend flights from Russia to Georgia which took into effect on July 8th however this has not prevented Russians from traveling to Georgia, instead many fly to Yerevan, Armenia or Baku, Azerbaijan and then take a bus or train to Tbilisi. Georgia’s president Salome Zourabichvili had called for de-escalation and even blamed Russia for creating more problems and empowering those in government who are loyal to Moscow.
The protests occurring in Tbilisi have led to a growing public solidarity against what many consider Russian occupation of their own country. Georgia is also planning to be part of the EU and NATO within the next two years which could possibly add to growing tensions between the two countries who have a closely-knit past. In May 2019 a poll showed that 77% of the population support accession into the EU and 74% support joining NATO because it would strengthen their economy and also the security of their country and possibly lead to the chance of restoring Georgia’s territorial integrity. There are still fears that joining NATO could lead to a new conflict with Russia and more territorial losses.
Below are some photos taken on July 4th in Tbilisi.