“A lot of people came out. A crazy amount of people.” Photographer Mariam Giunashvili on protests against the “foreign agents” law in Georgia
Сергей Голубев
“A lot of people came out. A crazy amount of people.” Photographer Mariam Giunashvili on protests against the “foreign agents” law in Georgia
24 April 2024, 13:16

Photo: Mariam Giunashvili / Mediazona

Georgian authorities are trying—for the second time—to pass an analogue of the Russian “foreign agents” law. It requires organisations that accept funds from abroad to register as “foreign agents” or face fines. The last attempt to pass this legislation in March 2023 resulted in mass protests—so did the recent one. Thousands took the streets after the law was passed in the first hearing. Photographer Mariam Giunashvilii, also known as Mzesu, spent these days of protests at the parliament and told Mediazona what was happening there and how is it different from last year.

I was kind of expecting to come back — because of the way they ended it last year. I thought then that they were just trying to calm people down. They're going to try again. And they will be more ready for it.

And now, I don’t even know what’s going on. I mean, I know, but it is so confusing. There are a lot of manipulations going on. From all sides.

There’s this feeling that maybe, when all of this [foreign agent law protests] started, it was just to move our attention from different things. And meanwhile, they adopted another law: on off-shores. Now, rich people, who are under sanction, can bring them money in Georgia. And they don’t even have to pay taxes for it.

So on the one hand, there’s the “foreign agents law,” under which the government wants to know everything about the money that comes into the country. And on the other hand, a law for people to just hide their money here. This is very confusing.

I’ve been having these thoughts lately every time I go out on a demonstration. But I mostly look at it as my work now. I need to photograph it, you know?

So now, as soon as we heard they were going to try and pass the foreign agents law again, people came out on the streets.

And one thing was just like last time. When I arrived in front of parliament, there was a moment when people said: let’s go around the building. That’s how everything started before.

But this time, there were way more police there, these robocops, you know. And cars with water. But we were also more prepared: for example, everybody had masks.

The big difference I noticed from last time was how the police were stopping us, when we were trying to go around the parliament. They were arresting people who were just standing near their trucks.

People were kind of angry, but they were not aggressive toward the police. Although there were some provocations.

At one point, on the second day, we were near the parliament, and there were a lot of policemen. I mean, robocops.

So they were stopping us from going behind the parliament. People already started going home, they were singing, they were just talking with these robocops, why are they doing all of this. And suddenly a lot of uniform guys with black masks arrived. They just started running around. It was strange. I turned back and I just appeared in front of this guy with the mask and with a gun.

My boyfriend was on the other side, and this guy looked at him and he was like “I’m going to put this gun in your mouth.” We couldn’t understand what’s going on. My boyfriend got very scared, he just froze — and suddenly somebody from the other side shouted “fuck you” or something like this. And they just followed them.

I was in shock. And then when they came back, I was really scared that they would arrest us. But it didn’t happen. Then they left this mess. And so did robocops. Only policemen stayed. And there were just policemen and people staying. Then they also left.

A lot of people came out. A crazy amount of people. And when the police see that, they are also trying not to do too much.

But everything is just starting. We had these three days with a lot of people, and after that only a few people, who protested in front of parliament.

We are now going to have more demonstrations. This was only the first hearing in the parliament. The second one is postponed for April 29. And third hearing will be held on May 17.

May 17 is a very special day in Georgia. It’s the day when gay pride is held — and the first time it was brutal. After that, our Сhurch decided to make it a Day of the family.

I don’t know what’s going to happen this year. Members of the LGBTQI community protesting for their rights. People from church, celebrating this Family day. And suddenly we also have the third hearing of this law. It’s going to be crazy.

Editors: Mika Golubovsky, Yegor Skovoroda

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