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Hundreds Protest Against Weekend Police Raids in Tbilisi

Anti-drug raids in two LGBT-friendly techno music venues led to protests, as well as counter-protests from the city’s far-right groups.

16 May 2018

Tbilisi clubgoers had a dramatic weekend, after police forces raided two popular nightclubs, Bassiani and Cafe Gallery, in the early hours of 12 May, in an anti-drug operation that resulted in the arrest of eight people. The ravers, however, said that the drugs were planted by the police themselves, and organized protests that continued throughout the Georgian capital on Sunday, RFE/RL writes.

 

“The raid was not an operation against drug dealers – it was an operation against freedom,” Bassiani’s co-owner Zviad Gelbakhiani told The Guardian. “Techno was the medium our generation found to express our free speech. It is a movement for progressive Western values. I think that some of these people who are trying to stop us don’t want these clubs to exist because they do not want Western values.”

 

Both clubs are famous not just for their music, but also for being LGBT-friendly, a rarity in the conservative Caucasian country where homosexuality has been legal only since 2000.

 

That identity led two ultra right-wing groups to stage a counter-demonstration on 13 May, with groups of people wearing face masks and burgundy armbands expressing their opposition to "drug traders" and "LGBT propaganda," according to RFE/RL.  

 

 

The issue of legalizing drugs is new on the agenda of former Soviet states, The New York Times writes, where the most common issues drawing people to the streets are related to the prevalence of corruption. This change reflects the shifting priorities of the younger generation, according to Shota Utiashvili, a senior fellow at the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies.

 

“This is the young generation,” Utiashvili told The New York Times in a phone interview. “For them, Friday night is a holy thing.”  

 

In an article for New Eastern Europe, Beka Kiria wrote that venues such as Bassiani are part of a network of “well-established nightclubs” owned by families that are connected to the authorities. As such, these families would ultimately be the main beneficiaries of the existing, lax situation.  

 

“These allegations raise serious questions and force one to distrust this game of ‘victim and bullies’ between the government-backed clubs where drugs are freely available to the youth and the government agencies hunting the young drug users and dealers through excessive force – as evidenced via the use of special forces in the Bassiani Club last Friday night,” Kiria wrote.

 

 

  • The protesters have announced their intention to return to the streets on 19 May if their demands for the resignation of the prime minister and interior minister are not met, RFE/RL writes.

 

  • Neighboring Armenia has recently gone through a wave of protests that ended last Tuesday, when the parliament elected Nikol Pashinyan as prime minister. This capped a remarkable month that witnessed the resignation of the country’s long-serving leader Serzh Sargsyan, whose decision to switch jobs from president to premier fueled huge protests, led by Pashinyan, against a government seen as both ridden with corruption and weak on the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh.
Compiled by Ioana Caloianu
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