By Will Cathcart

Russian media has had a field day with the “Tbilisi Sausage Nazi attacking Vegans” narrative. For everyone else — including the pop-star Moby, the United States embassy and various global media outlets — the story has been a Rorschach test. As usual what actually happened is a lot different than what hit the wires and then belligerently climbed the BBC’s “most read” ladder.

 


The incident highlights the emergence of a very problematic far-right faction in Georgia (though I’d also say that’s a global phenomenon) and its pushback against Georgia’s European trajectory. Basically what happened — and what has gone unreported — is that on May 26, Georgia’s Independence Day, a young part-time bartender from the vegan Kiwi Cafe drunkenly went and damaged a sign and some property of the “Militarist” Cafe which is a far-right nationalist hangout.


Presumptively the far-right guys were out marching in the streets on Georgia’s May 26 Independence Day while this occurred. The owner, who admits to being at the Vegan cafe for the brawl, says they are not Nazis and claim to be the victims of “an aggressive bunch of vegans.” He concedes that his bar is a frequent gathering point of “Kartuli Dzala (Georgian Power),” a far-right youth group, however he insists that neither himself nor any of his friends that went “to make peace with Kiwi” are members.


The owner says they have the vegan on their surveillance tapes. When they went to confront him he delayed their meeting until the next day. The next day he didn’t show, so they went to the vegan cafe wearing sausages, holding meat and smoking cigarettes inside the cafe. The vegans took the bait and reacted angrily. Older locals living nearby who don’t like the nontraditional cafe clientele joined in causing the violence that occurred and the nationalists slipped out.
The most disturbing element is that some apparently were yelling the slogan “Georgia for Georgians” which harps back to Georgia’s 1990s civil war and a very divisive and bloody period. This is a slogan that was first used against Soviet oppression but then became indicative of the violence which tore the country apart in the 1990s. 


We are now hearing “Georgia for Georgians” as a battle cry against vegans and foreigners — European, Russian and American. This has been a growing trend over the last few years as Georgians grapple with the dissonance between their pro-European trajectory and a very conservative and very popular Orthodox Christian church. 


Here’s the rub: Like the Soviets before him, Putin and his ilk have been extremely successful in creating and fueling divisions within their “sphere of influence.” Essentially if Georgians continue to let these issues drive them apart, their loss is the Kremlin’s gain. That’s exactly what happened in the vegan cafe and it is a trend we hope will not continue. 


Russians occupy 20 percent of Georgia. The only thing stopping them from taking the rest is the unity of the Georgian people. Georgians and those concerned about the country’s future would do well to see these divisions for what they are and help spread a message of unity. 


Here in Georgia there is a growing and inherent misconception (spread by Georgia’s enemies and fueled by ignorance) that somehow Georgian Christianity and the European Union don’t mesh. This is absurd. Georgians are quick to forget that it was the Soviets who attempted to take their religion away. What the Europe and the West stand for, at their best, is the freedom of that religion. 


So at these difficult times, the West must also remember the values for which it stands. It must rise above its own petty divisions. It must extend a hand to a people who have long been fighting for a brand and quality of freedom, which we too often take for granted.

Will Cathcart is freelance journalist and writer based in Tbilisi. He is a former advisor to the Georgian president and once served as managing editor for the Charleston Mercury; Will may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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