As I reported over the weekend, on Friday an anti-gay mob of 20,000 rioters chased 50 gay rights activists through the streets of Georgia’s capital of Tbilisi. Today the New York Times tracks the government’s non-response.
Some of the priests leading the rock-throwing throngs who stormed past police cordons could be seen participating in the melee; one repeatedly slammed a stool into the windshield of one of several minibuses trying to carry the marchers to safety, while another punched marchers and tried to drag a driver out of a bus. Some gave their names in interviews.
But as of Sunday, the Georgian police have made no arrests, and there are few signs that the investigation is moving forward. Instead, a bishop who helped to organize the mass turnout — ostensibly a counterprotest — said from the pulpit that while the violence was “regrettable” and those who committed it should be punished, the Georgian Orthodox Church was obligated to protest the gay rights rally and would “not allow anyone to humiliate us.”
Georgia’s Prime Minister did issue a statement yesterday in which he denounced the rioters, but he’s taken no further apparent action. The head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, whose priests organized the anti-gay protest, is unapologetic.
Ilia II, the Georgian Orthodox patriarch, is widely acknowledged to be the most popular figure in the country. He offered no sermon on Sunday, but on Friday, after the violence, he urged protesters to leave the streets and for both sides “to pray for one another.” “We do not accept violence,” he said, according to Interfax. “But it’s also unacceptable to give propaganda” to homosexuality. A day earlier, he had urged the Georgian government to ban the gay rights march, writing that the majority of Georgians saw gay activism as “an insult.” Outside of the Tbilisi church where Bishop Iakobashvili spoke Sunday, Elza Kurtanidze, 34, a former schoolteacher, said that she had spent the last days “hotly” debating if those who attacked the marchers should be punished. “We have already gone too far by having gays and lesbians openly promoting their way of life,” she said. “This is unacceptable! By allowing things like this, we let Georgia turn from the road of its traditional destiny.”