For The Record: All Eyes Need To Remain On Georgia

Words by: Ben Raven
Posted: 18/5/18 8:01

Georgian police raiding Bassiani.

As fascist groups threaten Tbilisi's club scene in the wake of last weekend's protests, Georgia's war on clubs looks far from over.

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Last week’s protests outside Tbilisi's parliament building were a landmark moment for dance music culture And not just for the ravers in the Georgian capital, but around the world.

Rave culture has become an important vessel for spreading progressive and liberal values in emerging democratic countries and in Georgia, the seeds of electronic music culture have sprouted into one of the world’s most unique and inspiring scenes.

As scenes of the protest spread like wildfire across social media aided by reshares and posts by DJs like Ellen Allien, DVS1 or Nina Kraviz, in the West, the protests served as a reminder that we take the freedom to dance far too easily for granted.  But they were also a globally unifying moment of resistance as the people of Tbilisi fought for their right to dance.

The protests were sparked by raids on two of the countries leading clubs Bassiani and Cafe-Gallery. Bassiani has been lauded by many DJs and journalists for being one of the world’s leading clubs and described as the country’s answer to Berghain. Both venues have become synonymous with the LGBT and rave communities as well as the White Noise Activist moment which campaigns against the counties arcane drugs legislation.

Whether you’re caught with minuscule or excessive amounts of a banned substance, those caught in possession of drugs face years in jail. “The raid was not an operation against drug dealers – it was an operation against freedom,” Bassiani’s co-owner Zviad Gelbakhiani told The Guardian’s Matthew Colin, who was arrested during the raids but was not charged with any criminal offence.

Last weekend's protests in Tbilisi.

While the protests were praised as a triumph for rave culture, the events that concluded the weekend’s protests should serve as a chilling warning for the country’s club scene for the ominous days that might lie ahead. Militants from Georgia’ Civil Unity Group staged their own counter protest at the tail end of the weekend and reports of neo-Nazis in masks threatening to kill female protestors were just some of the stories that made it into western news reports.

A fascist group later promised to form black shirt groups to take on protestors (the original Black Shirts were paramilitary mobs enlisted by Mussolini’s Fascist party to intimidate opposition with violence in the lead up to World War II). “We are starting to form the troops and we are ready to protect our country from drug dealers and LGBT propagandists who will not be able to form agenda in Georgia. The agenda belongs to us. Death to the enemy," Giorgi Chelidze, the leader of Georgian Civil Unity told a Georgian TV news station earlier this week.

What's not to love: the dancefloor at Cafe-Gallery.

One can only imagine the tension that must surely be mounting in the city’s club scene, fearing retaliation from either the police or local right wing mobs. In the weeks ahead, Bassiani has no events planned until June 2. Cafe Gallery has a party planned for this Friday while Civil rights groups are preparing for Georgia’s ‘International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia’ on May 17.

Just like when global attention turned to Tbilisi’s rave scene over the weekend, the international dance music community must remain supportive of the city’s music scene in the months ahead by posting and sharing support for the club scene there. Keeping the spotlight pointed on the city might just be the best weapon Tbilisi’s electronic music scene has to ensure the party faithful rave safe.

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Martin Buttrich
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Erick Morillo