On October 5, the Democracy Research Institute held a presentation of the results of a one-year monitoring of the activities of far-right groups. As part of the presentation, DRI presented the monitoring results of the assemblies and demonstrations of far-right groups and the activities of the Conservative Movement/Alt-Info party, the monitoring report on the trials of the violent events of July 5, 2021 and the analysis of the activities of far-right groups on social networks and online media.
Activities of the Conservative Movement/Alt-Info party
Conservative Movement/Alt-Info is a political entity of the far-right and openly pro-Russian Alt-Info. Through it, the far-right group, which initially emerged as a television station, is trying to get involved in the political life of the country. The leaders of the Conservative Movement/Alt-Info are organizers of the July 5, 2021 mass violence. However, they have not been held responsible up to now.
Information about the finances of the Conservative Movement/Alt-Info had not been available for a long time, despite the fact that, according to the founders of the party, they were absolutely transparently financed by local businessmen, as well as those living in the post-Soviet countries.
The officially declared amount donated to the Conservative Movement/Alt-Info from its foundation to September 15, 2022 amounted to GEL 391,656. Although the party had a financial turnover in 2021, it hid this information from the State Audit Service. At the same time, from December 14, 2021 to May 15, 2022, the party received non-monetary donations- a total of GEL 72,494 at different times and from different persons, which it hid and did not report to the State Audit Service.
According to the DRI observation, donors donate money to the Conservative Movement/Alt-Info with similar periodicity, mostly on the same days of the month. The overwhelming majority of the party's donors are heads of the party's regional offices. Most of them have donated money to the party several times. According to the current data, in total, the party has received 370 donations from 94 individuals. 73 out of 94 donors have donated money several times.
Zurab Kobakhidze is the Conservative Movement/Alt-Info’s biggest donor. He has donated a total of GEL 33,723 to the party. Neither Zurab Kobakhidze nor his wife has any real estate registered in their names. Out of five biggest donors, only two - Merab Gigani and Kakhaber Elizbarashvili - own real estate.
The Conservative Movement/Alt-Info donors are, in some cases, persons having ties with the Georgian Dream. One of the big donors, Zezva Chankseliani, is the son of Murad Chankseliani, Deputy Chairman of the Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia faction of the Lentekhi Municipal Council. The company owned by him regularly participates in and wins state tenders. Former governor of Lanchkhuti and businessman Gia Gotua is also worth noting. He is the head of the Lanchkhuti regional office of the party. He owns Iveria 7 LLC, which actively participates in state tenders. Since 2012, the company has won contracts worth GEL 11,299,642.33. In 44 out of 77 tenders, Iveria 7 LLC had no contender.
The chairman of the party's regional organization in Mestia is Giorgi Ratiani, who had been an employee of the Counterintelligence Department of the State Security Service of Georgia in Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti since 2017 and had been supervising the Mestia municipality. Like Ratiani, the head of the Dmanisi office, Giorgi Arghvliani, is also a former employee of the so-called power structures. In 2013, he was the deputy chief of Mestia regional division of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti main regional division of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia.
The regional office of the Conservative Movement in Akhmeta is located in the space owned by the family of Kakha Mamulashvili, a Georgian Dream member of the Akhmeta Municipal Council and Chairman of the Finance and Budget Commission. The Tskaltubo office of the Conservative Movement is owned by Revaz Mkheidze, the son of Avtandil Mkheidze, majoritarian MP of the Georgian Dream in Tskaltubo Town Council.
Monitoring of the trials of the violent events of July 5, 2021
The Democracy Research Institute observed the court hearings of those accused of the July 5, 2021 violence. The court sessions were monitored from November 3, 2021 to July 4, 2022. Within the framework of the monitoring, the observer of the Democracy Research Institute attended 57 court sessions.
The evidence presented at the court sessions and the testimonies of the witnesses proved that the violence of July 5 was organized in advance. The existence of organizers of group violence was confirmed both by the witnesses questioned and the video evidence examined during the trial. In addition, both the publicly released footage and the video recordings obtained by the investigative bodies revealed that there were much more perpetrators than the number of convicts in the July 5 cases. Due to the inactivity of the law enforcement structures, many people involved in mass violence remained unpunished, since the state prosecution failed to ensure their identification, initiation of criminal prosecution, indictment and evidence gathering. In addition, the prosecution's failure to provide relevant evidence gave the court the opportunity to reclassify charges against the defendants from strict to lighter ones.
The Democracy Research Institute considers that the punishment defined for some of the defendants is disproportionate to the acts committed, which may encourage hate crimes in the future.
Assemblies-demonstrations of far-right groups
From September 2021 to August 2022, the Democracy Research Institute observed 18 rallies of far-right groups.
In the monitoring report, which reflects the results of the observation of rallies, the protests organized by far-right groups are thematically grouped: rallies against vaccination and digital Covid-passports (hereinafter Covid passports); the process of transformation into far-right political entities; supporting the defendants involved in the organized violence of July 5-6 and the rallies held in connection with May 17 and Tbilisi Pride Week.
Coordinated action, familiar communication and positive interaction between law enforcement officers and organizers were noticeable at the protests organized by far-right groups. The long-term experience of the Democracy Research Institute in observing protests made it easy to notice that the attitudes of law enforcement officers towards demonstrators were inconsistent and non-uniform. In contrast to the sharply repressive policy towards civil activists critical of the Government, representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs were distinguished by their loyal attitude towards the participants of far-right rallies, and in some cases, even violent rallies.
The observation of the rallies of far-right groups revealed that if there is a political will, the Government is able to effectively prevent the criminal actions of the violent groups. Unlike July 5, 2021, when the Government's criminal inaction allowed violent groups to attack journalists and civilians, the law enforcement officials provided physical safety of representatives of the queer community and media organizations during Tbilisi Pride Week in 2022.
Analysis of the activity of far-right groups on social networks and online media
The far-right forces in Georgia have traditionally used social networks and online media platforms to create false public sentiments, incite irrational fears in society, and mobilize supporters. In order to analyze the action agenda, rhetoric and main narratives of the far-right forces, the Democracy Research Institute summarized the results of a year of monitoring carried out from September 2021 to August 2022. During the reporting period, the Democracy Research Institute analyzed 2,163 cases of the spread of propaganda content via social networks and online media.
The observation showed that the discourse of the far-right groups in Georgia is characterized by transformation over time, and their rhetoric also changes according to specific political and social events. For example, the self-government elections, anti-Western messages and attempts to discredit the National Movement were relevant at the initial stage of the reporting period, but in November-December 2021, following the introduction of regulations relating to the pandemic, anti-vaccination sentiments intensified. Since February 2022, against the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine war, anti-Western and even sharply pro-Russian rhetoric has gained new life.
On February 24, 2022, after the start of the full-scale war against Ukraine by Russia, the openly pro-Russian far-right political players unleashed a full-scale information war, the target audience of which was the Georgian society. Due to the relevance of the topic, the report pays special attention to the propaganda assessments of the war ongoing in Ukraine by the far-right groups of Georgia and their leaders, which were spread through social networks and media outlets openly associated with the Kremlin's politics. The information war in Georgia was characterized by constant attempts to emphasze the threat of war and incite irrational fears in society, as well as Euroscepticism and efforts to discredit the collective West amidst the openly pro-Kremlin propaganda.