Anti-Immigration Demonstration in Tbilisi

Led by a former government official, Sandro Bregadze, around 2,000 Georgians marched on Tbilisi's Aghmashenebeli Avenue on the evening of 14th July demanding the deportation of illegal immigrants, tightening of immigration laws, and a prohibition on the foreign funding of local civil society. Both the location and the Christian icons that were displayed by demonstrators made it clear, however, that the demonstration was targetted towards Muslims. 

Aghmashenebeli Avenue is perhaps better known for the large number of Turkish, Arab, and Iranian businesses, especially restaurants and cafes, that have been established there. When the demonstration was announced at the end of June, the organisers demanded on Facebook that “Iranians, Arabs, Africans and others” should leave the country by the time of the march or the streets would be 'cleansed' from 'foreign criminals.'

Police were quick to instruct Muslims and others to move away from the demonstration though some could be seen photographing the march with their cellphones. Many foreign-owned restaurants, however, were closed and no incidents were reported.

Although larger than expected, the demonstration was also noticeable because of the absence of ultra-nationalist groups, generally referred to as 'Neo-Nazi.' The reasons for that are unclear, but one Georgian journalist said he had heard it was because the demonstration was considered to be too 'pro-Russian.' Civil Georgia reported that in an interview with Rustavi 2, Bregadze said the march was also intended to be against "Sorosist, liberast ideology."

Although Bregadze insists that his demand to deport certain types of foreigners referred only to those engaged in criminal activity, that caveat – if genuine – might have been lost on many of those participating.

“This whole area reeks of fried mutton," EurasiaNet quoted one marcher as saying. "They blast their music and act as if they own the place,” complained one middle-aged woman. “I have nothing against tourists and guests, but they should not be coming to stay and should respect our culture . . . Now I’ve become a tourist in my own city.”

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