Inside the anti-occupation protests in Georgia

Written by Kira Taylor |

Georgia is a country used to fighting for independence.

Whether it’s the Persians, the Ottomans or the Russians, this country has fought invaders and occupiers for centuries.

Even under that strain, it has protected its culture – mostly in food. Khachapuri (flat bread with cheese baked in) and Khinkali (dumpling-like food with meat and gravy hidden inside) come to mind.

“We saw that undauntable culture last night”

Its faith, too, stands strong. Like the Celtic cross, Georgia has its own version of the crucifix, called Nino’s cross. Its drooped arms, formed of grapevines tied together appear everywhere across the capital, Tbilisi, and across the rest of the country.

We saw that undauntable culture last night.

A country that will fight to maintain its independence. A country that will not allow violence to keep it from protesting.

A Georgian protestor draped in the nation’s flag| Kira Taylor

Georgia’s story with Russia is so much more complicated than the act that sparked the protests – the Russian MP, Sergey Gavrilov, addressing an assembly of Orthodox countries from the Speaker’s chair in the Georgian Parliament.

Russia is moving its border into the country, crawling, metre by metre, into the land.

Those in South Ossetia and Abkhazia may fall asleep one night in free Georgia and wake up in occupied territory. 

That was the backdrop of these protests.

“One young man was even wearing a red eye patch to protest the rubber bullets used by police”

Riding on the Metro to Liberty Square, I was surrounded by people on their way to the demonstration, preparing to face the violence of the night before. It was packed. 

One young man was even wearing a red eye patch to protest the rubber bullets used by police the night before, sending over 200 people to hospital. On it was written 20% – the proportion of Georgia currently under occupation.

Coming up out of the Metro onto Rustaveli Avenue, where the Parliament building towers, we were met by a roar of cheers.

Hundreds if not thousands of people were gathered outside the Parliament.

Banners were raised, reading “Hear our roar” and “Cultural Revolution”. Even one which my friend kindly translated as “Putin is a dick”.

People in Georgia protesting the increasing occupation of their nation by Russia| Kira Taylor

The avenue was filled with people. The long street, which feels very western compared to other parts, was packed with ordinary people, protesting, occupying, resisting.

The air was rich with cigarette smoke, the Parliament was lit golden against the dark night. Drones hovered, silent overhead, four lights blinking down at the darkness. People in blue medical coats and gloves passed through the crowd ready to help.

I can’t say I wasn’t nervous there. It’s not every day you’re told how to avoid teargas. Or are told by your boss to leave if rubber bullets start flying.

However, the protests were more subdued than the bitter anger of the night before. Calls came from the Parliament steps – shouts of “Sakartvelo, Sakartvelo” – “Georgia, Georgia” – taken up by the crowd.

The leaders of the protests stood beneath two flags: Georgia’s and the EU’s. The present and the future hope of Georgia.

The strength and courage shone through as speaker by speaker they stood strong against the creeping Russian occupation.

“The speaker and one of the leaders of the ruling Georgian Dream Party had resigned.”

Then, in a stark contrast to the night before, lit phones were raised quietly into the night.

There was hope. The speaker and one of the leaders of the ruling Georgian Dream Party had resigned. 

They were calling for more resignations and some saw the violence of the night before as spelling the end of Georgian Dream.

Yet it comes under a shadow of disinformation about the protestors coming from Russia and the fact that all Russian state flights to Georgia have been cancelled. 

“One sentiment rang strong: “This is my country. And my country is occupied.”

Outside the Parliament, though, the solidarity stood strong. One flag even flew, Georgian on one side and Ukrainian on the other. The inaugural Pride march, already threatened by protests, has been delayed so they can support the march. 

One sentiment rang strong: “This is my country. And my country is occupied.”

Now they can only hope that the world hears.

Kira Taylor is a Journalism student from Falmouth University, undertaking an internship with Coda Story, an investigative news outlet based in Tbilisi, Georgia.