TBILISI, DFWatch–Georgians in the United States rallied in New York Friday, in protest against the foreign policy of the Ivanishvili government, which has ruled Georgia for six months.
The rally was the continuation of a mass gathering in the capital of their native country, Tbilisi, where President Mikheil Saakashvili earlier in the day mobilized his party, the United National Movement, ahead of a by-election, and as six months are left until the presidential election.
Georgians descended on New York, arriving from New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, and gathered at Bowling Green Park in Manhattan in the evening.
In Georgia, people drove in to Tbilisi from the regions in the east and the west of the country to take part in a joint rally in front of the old parliament building. About ten thousand people showed up, but estimates vary greatly.
The crowd was tightly packed around that part of the stage where the speeches were held. A lot of people were standing on the left side of parliament, in front of Kashueti Church, and less people on the right, in front of Rustaveli.
Quite unexpected, during one of the speeches, people started shouting ‘Misha’, Saakashvili’s nickname, and then the president appeared on the right side of the parliament building, and walked directly into the crowd and followed a long route towards the stage.
Earlier in the morning, UNM spokespersons had indicated that he was not planning to come, and his appearance was therefore unexpected. He was the last one to address people.
Giorgi Vashadze, one of the party’s members of parliament, led the rally. Gigi Ugulava, Mayor of the City, Vano Merabishvili, Secretary General of the party, as well as other members of UNM addressed to the gathered. All read one major message that the UNM party and people gathered on the rally have one desire: Georgia to continue its way to the west and deepen perspectives of EU and NATO integration.
The UNM announced in February that it would hold a rally to fight for constitutional guarantees of Georgia’s unchanged western foreign policy course. On Friday, people came holding Georgian flags, but also NATO and EU and posters that carried anti-Russia messages.
“We came here to support Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic course,” a student from the youth wing of the UNM told DF Watch. “We also came here to protest against the course which the new government has chosen. We don’t want Russia, which occupied the territories of our country.”
Among those who appealed to the rally participants was Papuna Davitaia, who is the UNM party’s majoritarian candidate for parliament from the Nadzaladevi District in Tbilisi in the by-election on April 27.
“Our opponents said that Georgians wouldn’t come here today. Now we see here tens of thousands of people,” he said. “During these years, we have managed to destroy the stereotype that we cannot build together and move the country forwards.”
The rally finished at about 6 pm, when the president finished his speech and jumped down from the stage to the crowd waiting to shake his hand or give letters.
The whole day, groups of patrol police was mobilized all over the Rustaveli Avenue. No incidents were reported. People went home shortly after the president left the street.
Interior Minister Irakli Gharibashvili Friday evening said on the TV channel Imedi that the rally was ‘just an ordinary rally of a defeated political force’.
“There was a huge expectation,” he said, “the only thing they did was that they brought about 0.1, 0.2 percent of the voters there. 5-6 thousand people came.”
The minister spoke about the role of the police, which provided security and order during rally.
“We have seen a new standard, how effective can a depoliticized police can be.”
Levan Berdzenishvili, a member of parliament from the Georgian Dream coalition, said ‘the dead organized a living wall on Rustaveli Avenue’.
“The noise of the politically dead was heard today in Tbilisi,” he told journalists. “I don’t believe in the revival of the UNM. I can’t see that. But I see there are problems in their party. They have an inner confrontation to find out who the party belongs to: is it Akhalaia or Merabishvili, or Saakashvili?”
Koba Davitashvili, also member of parliament from Georgian Dream, said that the number of rally participants was ‘not impressive’.
“I think the United National Movement is finished,” he said, adding that there was barely enough people for a funeral. Then Goga Khachidze, a parliamentarian from the UNM, wrote in response on Facebook that “if it was for a funeral, then it was the funeral of Georgian Dream.”