TBILISI, DFWatch–A group of religious radicals protested in Tbilisi on Saturday against the music festival KaZantip, which is planned in the end of August in Anaklia, a sea resort in western Georgia.
The same day, locals in Anaklia demonstrated in support of the festival; they say they have taken bank loans to renovate their houses and offer accommodation to festival goers.
KaZantip is one of the largest electronic music festivals in the former Soviet Union and attracts thousands of youth every year for a week of music and dancing, with accommodation on or near the festival grounds. Despite a stated anti-drugs policy, substance abuse has been a recurring problem. It used to be held in Crimea, but was moved to Georgia’s Black Sea following the Russian annexation of the peninsula.
Holding an electronic music festival like KaZantip is not correct in a country with ancient traditions, religion and culture, opponents argue, and demonstrated outside the government office in Tbilisi Saturday to demand that it is cancelled. The demonstration was organized by National Front and People’s Assembly.
“This is the sin of Sodom Gomorrah,” said the only poster brought to the rally.
Participants and organizers of the rally are totally convinced that drugs will be allowed at the festival, despite pledges to the contrary, and that it will a place of ‘orgies and sodomy.’
“The benefit gained from this festival is absolutely incompatible with the threats it is bringing,” says one of the organizers, Soso Majavidze from Georgia’s Alliance of Patriots.
Protesters collected signatures for a petition addressed to the government demanding to cancel the festival.
“Youth nowadays know the biography of Michael Jackson, but nothing about our history, our kings, as they are brainwashed and now they want to be part of this sin,” one of the demonstrators said in an address to the crowd.
Meanwhile, about fifty locals living near Anaklia demonstrated in support of holding it at the Black Sea resort and said they are counting on it, according to local media.
They say that almost everyone in Anaklia have taken a bank loan to refurbish their house, add new rooms and furniture to host tourists during the festival, which will be held from August 20 to August 30.
“We refurbished houses, organized guest houses. Too little time is left before the festival and now they say that KaZantip might not be held. This festival is very important to us,” the newspaper Batumelebi quotes one of the locals saying.
Giorgi Sigua, Head of the National Tourism Agency, who has been frequently attacked by religious radicals in Georgia who accuse him of planning ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’, says that he doesn’t care about the criticism.
In an interview with Rustavi 2, he said that more than a thousand policemen are going to protect the festival to provide security and avoid provocations alike May 17, 2013, when tens of thousands of conservative activists led by a handful of Orthodox priests prevented a small group of LGBT activists from conducting a peaceful anti-homophobia rally in Tbilisi.
Sigua explained that he and the government have frequently been criticized for planning to hold the festival, but neither him nor the government are organizers, and neither is the government financing it. The duty of the government will be to provide security.
He also said that it is a nonsense that drugs will be allowed at the festival. He thinks people who are against the festival are poorly informed.
“Let them come to Anaklia and see what a great town is being built,” he said.
Sigua says the festival is important for building Georgia’s image abroad.
Nikita Marshunok, president and creator of the festival, said on the same program on Rustavi 2 that Georgia is getting a celebration it has never had before.
“Everyone come on August 20 and you will be sure that there will be no drugs and not so much sex. I think it is the best way to remove these suspicions,” he said, adding that they the know traditions of the country and respect them and it is incorrect when people think they are destroying these traditions.
“Is it written in your constitution that you are prohibited from dancing? Where is threat here?”
In response to this today’s demonstration, participants sent furious messages asking how a man from abroad can teach Georgians how to sing and dance. They asked the government to cancel KaZantip and conduct Georgian National dance and music festival in the same place, which, in their opinion, will attract even more tourists.
Preparations for the festival are ongoing in Anaklia. Stages, cafes and bars are being constructed. People in Anaklia and nearby villages are preparing their houses for the guests. According to tourist companies in Georgia, all hotel rooms in Anaklia are booked.
Marhunok says people can accommodate about 20,000 guests. He said there are not so many hotels in Anaklia, but if the festival continues to be organized there in the future, more hotels will be built.
He expressed concern about the attitude of local people, due to a ten-fold increase in hotel prices: One couch used to cost ten lari, but now costs one hundred lari.
“I address local people, don’t try to earn all the money right ahead. If people come and see such expensive prices, I doubt I will be able to bring them next year too. I am a magician, but I cannot do such tricks.”
A day before the rally in Tbilisi, the Georgian Church issued a statement declaring that it is against holding the festival.