During the last several months, Georgia has been faced with the activities of various far-right groups. The right-wing organizations actively participated in rallies related to the counter-demonstration against the protest of police raids on the Bassiani and Galery night clubs as well as Family Purity Day on May 17.1 Among them were groups such as Georgian March, Georgian National Unity, Georgian Power, Edelweiss, and Bergman.2 Admittedly, the leader of Georgian National Unity, Giorgi Chelidze, openly made fascist statements and announced the forming of squads of like-minded individuals.3 This recent trend suggest the growth of far-right groups in Georgia.
Far-Right and Neo-Nazi Groups in the World
Ultra-right groups are widespread in many of the world’s countries. For instance, there are the English Defense League in the UK, Nederlanse Volks-Unie in Belgium, Slav Union in Russia, the White Arian Resistance in the US and others. All of these organizations have particular attributes that form a unique subculture. Far-right groups can be violent as well as non-violent. Furthermore, some of them enabled their own transformation into political parties and even acquired mandates in their local parliaments. Some examples of such parties are: the Finnish Party in Finland, UK Independence Party, New Power in Italy, the Freedom Party of Austria and others. Different far-right groups have different social bases. However, the issue that almost all of them have in common is hatred against a particular social group or process. In academic literature, these groups are known as hate groups. Nevertheless, many far-right groups claim not to be driven by hate at all. For instance, white supremacist groups in the US proclaim that “we don’t hate anyone. We simply love white people.”4 Far-right groups in Georgia do not follow strictly right political doctrines but sometimes even intermix them with Stalinism which underlines their vague ideological platform. Nevertheless, we will use the term far-right, right wing or ultra-right to describe these organizations.
Targets of Far-Right Groups
Far-right groups can direct their hatred towards communities such as immigrants, LGBT, people of color, Jews, Muslims and others. The phenomenon of racial separatism, which means separating and isolating one race from others, can be observed among far-right groups. Their rhetoric is usually saturated with conspiracy theories, fake information and distorted facts.5
In Georgia, the rhetoric of far-right groups targets the following communities or processes:
Immigrants – Despite the insignificant number of immigrants in Georgia, anti- immigration is one of the key pillars in the rhetoric of Georgian right-wing organizations.6
Their hatred is mainly addressed towards the Middle Eastern (Turks, Arabs, Iranians), Asian (Hindus, Chinese) and African residents of Georgia. In this regard, numerous demonstrations against immigrants have taken place in Tbilisi. The main irritating factors can be: the multitude of visitors from the respective regions, a high number of Middle Eastern tourists and the commercial-entertainment sites on Aghmashenebeli Avenue, in Tbilisi,7 and on Kutaisi Street, in Batumi; a huge number of investors from the Middle East, forest privatization by Chinese companies and purchasing of agricultural lands by foreigners and others. Moreover, far-right groups have many times accused immigrants, especially Turks and Arabs, of engagement in child prostitution. The grievances also include the issue of the privatization of agricultural land. For example, the right wing movements expressed their irritation over the purchase of vast territories by Punjabi farmers in the Sighnaghi municipality and by Arab investors in the Gardabani municipality. It is noteworthy that far-right groups often use the history of Georgia and historical hostility as an argument against immigrants from Muslim countries. Additionally, they explain the increasing Turkish influence in the Adjara region by Turkey’s neo-Ottoman policy. All of these statements are saturated with a variety of conspiracy theories. For instance: 100,000 Chinese will be settled in new apartment blocks in the Hualing neighborhood,very soon Georgians will become a minority in Georgia, 25,000 Turkish citizens are residing in Batumi, and Turks, Arabs and Iraqis should no longer feel comfortable on Aghmashenebeli Avenue. These are very destructive and serve to distort the opinions of the young generation. Although labor migration from the Middle East and Africa to Georgia is practically non-existent, far-right groups often stress the problems of illegal immigration.
LGBT Community – Next to immigration, homophobia is the second pillar in the rhetoric of ultra-right groups. As noted above, these groups are usually active for the May
Family Purity Day commemoration. Additionally, far-right groups demanded a constitutional amendment that marriage can only be the union between men and women which, as they believe, will make same-sex marriages impossible in Georgia. Admittedly, far-right groups do not protest the existence of LGBT individuals but are against theirpropaganda. The term ‘propaganda’ includes their appearance in media and the openmanifestation of their sexual orientation. Far-right groups see the LGBT community as the threat that could lead to the degrading of a nation and the moral corruption of a generation.
Anti-LGBT propaganda includes the conspiracy theory according to which Western NGOs are undermining Georgian traditional values by promoting gay culture and attempting to make it a social norm.
West – Anti-LGBT rhetoric is linked with the anti-Western views of far-right groups. The West is considered as the main source of moral corruption in Georgia. Terms such as “Geivropa” (the combination of the words “gay” and “Europe”) and “liberasti” (the combination of the words “liberal” and a pejorative term used to describe gay) are used very often.24 Far-right groups also often mention the name of George Soros. According to conspiracy theories, George Soros is funding LGBT and feminist groups in order to degrade the Georgian nation. This group even organized a demonstration in front of the office of the Soros-related Open Society Foundation and were demanding its closing down.
Furthermore, far-right groups also protest against the existence of pro-Western parties in Georgia and have several times demanded a ban of the United National Movement and European Georgia parties. Aside from the oppositional parties, ultra-right groups have criticized members of the ruling party (Irakli Kobakhidze, Tamar Chugoshvili, Archil Talakvadze and members of the Republican Party when they were part of the ruling coalition) who consider themselves as pro-Western politicians.
Defending Religious Feelings – Right-wing groups in Georgia present themselves as defenders of religious feelings. For instance, the Georgian March organized a demonstration in front of the Rustavi2 television office following a joke about Jesus Christ made by journalist, Giorgi Gabunia. The demonstrators even attempted to physically assault Mr. Gabunia. In addition to these examples, far-right groups condemned the Aiisa condom due to the hand gesture that represented the sign of the cross and the portraits of Georgian kings featured on the condom’s package. As stated, these groups participate in rallies dedicated to Family Purity Day on May 17 every year.
Far-right Groups and Russia
Threats and Risks
The activities of far-right groups pose risks to Georgia’s national security. Among the risks are:
Inciting Ethnic and Religious Hatred – Although Georgian far-right groups avoid insulting Georgia’s indigenous ethnic and religious minorities, it is not impossible for them to be targeted in the future. Xenophobia addressed towards minoritie could lead to sectarianism and undermine the process of the integration of ethnic minorities.
Decreasing the Number of Tourists and Foreign Investors – The share of foreign investments and tourists from the Middle East and China is significant. Tourism and foreign investments represent key segments of the Georgian economy and losing them could have a dramatic impact on the Georgian economy. Additionally, African and Asian students are one of the main sources of income for Georgian state or private higher education bodies. In the case of a growing aggression towards Africans and Asians, Georgia could lose a source of income by decreasing the number of tourists, investors and overseas students.
Inciting anti-Western Sentiments – As mentioned above, far-right groups pursue an anti-Western ideological platform. Hence, the activities of such groups can be utilized by anti-Western political parties and media resources.
In order to diminish the risks from far-right groups, the Georgian state should work on the following directions:
In-depth research and analysis of the social basis and the ideology of far-right groups
Active counter-intelligence measures in order to reveal the potential links between far-right groups and foreign intelligence services
Active informational campaign designed to inform Georgian society about the real statistics on foreign citizens in Georgia which should combat fake news and facts being used for manipulation by far-right groups.
All rights reserved and belong to Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form, including electronic and mechanical, without the prior written permission of the publisher. The opinions and conclusions expressed are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies.