Young Georgians who organized protests against police anti-drug raids last weekend say they will be back on the streets of Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, on May 19 if their demands are not met, RFE/RL reported. Organizer Beka Tsikarishvili said the rallies would resume if the government fails to change its approach to anti-drug efforts, which critics call misguided and heavy-handed.
After armed riot police invaded dance clubs and arrested eight partygoers on suspicion of drug trafficking on Friday, May 11, a peaceful protest was held in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital. Several hundred protestors rallied in front of parliament to protest the police action, which they claimed was primarily meant to instill fear.
Bassiani, one of the raided clubs, issued a statement on Facebook, admitting that five young people had recently died as a result of drug overdoses. While it claimed to be taking action against continued drug use on-site, the club’s management rejected the suggestion it was a hub for drug-trafficking and claimed Bassiani was being smeared in an unfair attempt to close it down.
Demonstrations continued into the weekend and, by Saturday evening, tens of thousands had gathered, protesting while dancing to techno music. Right-wing extremists organized a counter-demonstration on Sunday evening, May 13, and riot police were deployed on the streets to hold them back as they tried to attack protesters.
— Mikheil Benidze (@mbenidze) May 12, 2018
“This country is ours,” the dancers/protesters shouted. With the slogan “We will dance together, we will fight together” the demonstrators united in a movement ‘For our freedom.’
While voicing their dissatisfaction about the heavy-handed policing, protesters also demanded the departure of the prime minister and his interior minister. Indeed, activists say the protests are not just about music and drugs. “We should show that power is in our hands, in the hands of those who want freedom,” Beka Tsikarishvili told the protesting crowd, according to Reuters.
Thousands of Europe-oriented young Georgians want a more culturally liberal future. They grew up in the years after independence from the Soviet Union, amidst a turbulent political atmosphere in which Georgia turned away from Moscow and towards Europe. This shift was sealed by Georgia’s brief war with Russia in 2008. These changes, however, clearly caused friction between the liberal youth and Georgia’s more conservative older generations and has led to a widening cultural gap. Parts of Georgia have dramatically changed in a relatively short time; Tbilisi’s rapidly developing centre, for example, is now a playground for liberal young people whose attitudes on sexuality and gender roles are strikingly different from the (conservative) mainstream, and who increasingly seek the liberalization of drug laws.
As the recent protests show, these young people are more than willing to confront this situation head on, and to demand the rights they believe they deserve.