A country just on the edge of Europe but also under the occupation of Russia. Georgia, like all other countries, celebrated the new year on the last Tuesday night. Tbilisi, the capital and the most populated city of Georgia, was the center of the celebrations. Thousands of Georgians and many tourists mostly from the United Arab Emirates and India have filled the Rustaveli Avenue which is the main arterial road of the city. Like in most, large gatherings and fireworks were part of the celebrations, however, it was an extraordinary new year celebration with two key features.
Georgia is a politically troublous country. While 20% of its internationally recognized territories are under the occupation of Russia in Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions since 2008, many civil protests on freedom, corruption, and unsatisfied policies are frequently held against the government and police forces. One of them is the long-term demonstration of Zaza Saralidze. He is the father of Temirlan Machalikashvili who had been killed with a gunshot wound to the head because of the terror suspect during the counterterrorist operation of Georgian security forces in Pankisi gorge region in 2017. Saralidze started to the demonstration in front of Parliament building with his tent by demanding an investigation of the murder. Since then, many opponent groups joined him with their tents. However, when Saralidze left for his hometown for New Year’s Eve, the police forces removed all tents and placed New Year attractions instead. 5 of the members of the opposition were detained after their disobedience to police while trying to stop the removal. While the countdown started to 2020, opposition groups were in front of the Parliament building by waiting patiently and silently for New Year with full of freedom.
Ivakli P., one of the founders of the “Change and Shame” movement, was in front of the Parliament building with many other protesters in New Year’s Eve. He shared his experiences and opinions with me;
“It is a shame for the government to remove Saralidze’s tent and put this meaningless new year decorations. It is vileness to do this while he is not here. We are only demanding justice and will continue our demonstrations until meeting to our demands”
Just before I left him, he showed me his wound on his temporal caused by a headshot with a plastic bullet in 20 June protest against Russians visit the Parliament and he added: “We are not game animals that they can hunt!”
On the other hand, while the demonstration holds, the Tbilisi city was under fire of thousands of fireworks and pyrotechnics. Although the importing and selling of the fireworks are restricted in Georgia, the peddlers sold thousands of them in the Rustaveli avenue without any control. The prices were between 10-20 GEL (3,5 to 7 dollars) per firework stick (which has 6 fire in it). From the earliest seconds of the evening till the morning, during the 3 days before and after the New Year’s Eve, fireworks fired without any precaution or legal restriction. Many people including children were firing them in every corner of the Avenue even in the middle of crowds dangerously. The explosions were ear-splittingly close and the ashes were raining down to the heads of the people. A frightful look on the faces of many tourists, especially from the Western countries, was the best summary of the night. According to the records of the Ministry of Health, 48 people from Tbilisi, 81 in total, have been injured as a result of fireworks and pyrotechnics during the New Year’s Eve. Among these, 8 children have been seriously injured and one of them has been amputated from the hand fingers.