Protests erupted across Georgia on the afternoon of Thursday, June 20th, after a Russian MP, Sergey Gavrilov, was invited to address the Georgian Parliament, which he did in his native Russian. Georgians did not take kindly to this, considering the amount of animosity between the two nations, given that Russia occupies twenty percent of Georgian territory. Word spread quickly about what happened, and thousands of protesters showed up on the steps of the parliament building within hours.
Things took a turn for the worse later in the evening when a group of protestors attempted to storm and occupy the parliament building. Riot police, which had been massing since the protests had begun earlier in the day, proceeded to unleash disproportionate force upon the entire crowd, including using tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons.
A large number of protestors immediately sustained injuries, mostly due to the illegal use of rubber bullets. Protestors were fired on from a lesser distance than the twenty-five meters required by Georgian law, and without being warned the required three times before force such as this could legally be utilized. These bullets were indiscriminately fired directly into the crowd, rather than being ricocheted off the ground first. Hundreds were hospitalized as a result. Several protesters were in serious condition, with two protestors losing their eyes as a result of this. Additionally, over three hundred protesters were arrested, most of which were given trials lasting less than five minutes without proper legal representation.
Anger spread quickly as news about what happened during the night spread throughout the city, and the following afternoon, between thirty to forty thousand people gathered outside of parliament, completely blocking Rustaveli Avenue, one of the main thoroughfares of the city. Demands ranged from a new round of elections held by proportional representation, the immediate resignation of the Minister of the Interior, Giorgi Gakharia, up to the immediate resignation of the entire currently serving parliament.
The protests have continued without fail, starting off every night at seven in the evening, with thousands of protestors completely shutting down Rustaveli Avenue.
On Tuesday, June 25th, Bidzina Ivanishvili, chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party, announced that the next parliamentary elections would be held with a proportional system — the first concession given as a result of the protests.
On the night of Thursday, June 28th, protestors again gathered on Rustaveli and marched from in front of the parliament building several kilometers uphill along the winding Amaghleba Streetto protest in front of Ivanishvili’s mansion. Riot police were again waiting for the protesters, but things remained peaceful and organized, and protesters promptly returned down the hill at the strike of midnight.
Aside from the first night, the protests have remained completely peaceful.
There is little indication that the movement will fizzle out anytime soon.