Mixmag Cover Georgia’s Pogrom Against Anti-Gay Hate Clubbers
Ex-BBC Radio 1 VJ turned best selling author and civil liberties champion Charles Kriel branded nightclubs in Georgia as ‘some of the last places of sanctuary’ this week, in a terrifying account of life for clubbers and alternative people in the former Soviet Republic.
Reporting in Mixmag how clubbers and gay people are in danger from corrupt police and violent club owners though even more so from mobs of thugs directed by orthodox priests, he described seeing ‘a handful of Orthodox priests arrive by limousine for a Sopranos-style gathering’ at his Tblisi hotel.
His report on Tblisi’s recent IDAHO Parade in May, attended by just 36 young people, was even more chilling.
“It’s Spring, and Lamara runs up Rustavelli Avenue, a shriek of blonde hair on the dirty streets of Tbilisi. Behind her, more than 20,000 rioters have broken a police barricade four men deep. Whistles and screams banshee up the old Soviet boulevard as they advance north from Tbilisi’s old Lenin Square. Police in riot gear turn a blind eye as the horde tears a violent path through the city, led by men in black uniform shouting “Kill them!” and “Tear them to pieces!”
They’re talking about Lamara,” he said.
“The men in black leading the horde are Georgian Orthodox priests, bent on executing a pogrom after three dozen gays, lesbians and friends like Lamara staged a small, silent protest against homophobia.”
Chatting to Skrufff this week, Charles explained how he got involved.
“I promote free press in frozen conflict zones, places where folks are pointing guns but aren’t shooting. Azerbaijan and Armenia, ethnic Kurdistan,” said Charles.
“Without free press, there’s no free society, no legitimate elections. In Georgia and the Caucasus, we’re setting up the first regional “press club”. And I’m always looking for a story.”
Skrufff: How were you, as a foreign journalist, treated during your trip (by both friendly clubbers and religious thugs, police?)
Charles Kriel: ‘”Mostly, people are friendly because they just want out. Journalists are a different story. There’s a new breed of big-cajone news people in these emerging democracies that are my favorite people in the world – the kind that run toward gunfire.”
Skrufff: What was the scariest moment you experienced personally?
Charles Kriel: ‘”The day before the Gallery incident (described in detail on Mixmag when thugs sexually assaulted his colleague on the dancefloor): http://www.mixmag.net/words/features/fight-the-power ) a soldier chased me when I got too close to the Russian border. I was photographing military equipment. That didn’t bother me. But the thugs in Gallery – they were gacked (on methamphetamine), psychotic, or both. I watched them jump my colleague. Intervened to save her. That chilled me to the bone.”
Skrufff: What do you anticipate the future holds for clubs/ alternative people there?
Charles Kriel: ‘”A painful struggle. Georgia wants to move closer to Europe, but first they have to throw off their hatred – and the Georgian Orthodox Church, which manipulates their fear. It sounds naturally progressive, but a decade ago we were saying the same thing about Turkey and Islam. Look how far they’ve fallen since. But, the night finds its own way. It’s just a shame the way Georgia responded to gay lives lived in the light was with a riot.”
“I’d urge people to watch video clips of the riot on Youtube,” he concludes.
“The best video I’ve seen is of a van carrying six lesbian demonstrators away from the riots. The van is driving from Freedom Square (the old Lenin Square) through the Old Town. It’s horrific .
At one point, a priest forced himself past a policeman onto the bus. He thought there were journalists there, but he found six female protesters cowering in the aisle, trying to stay away from the windows.”
As a final aside, at 10 seconds on the first video, someone pulls a man with a red “fro” away from the front of the van. The man with red hair is George Gogua, who was my photographer for the piece — he’s brilliant.
George really follows the old Frank Capra ethos that “if you’re not getting the photo, you aren’t close enough.”
Charles Kriel: http://www.amazon.com/Charles-Kriel/e/B004G95DEE
Jonty Skrufff: https://twitter.com/djjontyskrufff