By Patrick Norén, Research Fellow at MCERC;
Last updated: May, 2022.
Georgian politics has spent the past two years in a state of seemingly never-ending turmoil. Understanding everything that happens can be very difficult if you don’t even know the basic series of events. Often when researching such things on the internet, you will come across dozens of analytical articles written by journalists, politicians, or academics, but in amongst all the prose a simple knowledge of what happened and when can become cloudy.
When diving into the nitty-gritty of recent Georgian politics while working for MCERC, Patrick Norén, Research Fellow at MCERC, has created a timeline of the main events in Georgia’s democracy over the past two years. We hope this will be a useful resource for anyone who is looking into issues of democratic backsliding, electoral reform, LGBTQ+ and minority rights, media and society, or Georgian politics in general. Every date from June 2019 has a link to an online source should the reader want to know more about the event in question.
June 2019 - Mass protests erupt outside Tbilisi’s parliament building on 20th June
after Communist Russian MP Sergei Gavrilov occupied the speaker’s chair in parliament while chairing the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy. Gavrilov is viewed as an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and supporter of Abkhaz and South Ossetian separatism. Protests turn violent with 240 people being injured, including 40 journalists, and the police resort to using tear gas and firing rubber bullets. Protesters demand the resignation of the speaker Kobakhidze, who duly resigns on Friday 21st June. President Zourabichvili condemns the action, calling it a ‘major crime’, but also hints that someone may have artificially organised the protest. On 24th June, the head of GD Bidzina Ivanishvili announces that the 2020 parliamentary elections would be held under a proportional system instead of in 2024, the date prescribed in the constitution, in line with protesters’ demands. Vladimir Putin signs a decree banning flights between Russia and Georgia.
26th June 2019 - The Georgian parliament strips United National Movement (UNM)
leader Nika Melia of his parliamentary immunity, charging him with inciting and participating in the 20th June protests. Opposition parties criticise the move as politically motivated.
8th July 2019 -Tbilisi Pride is cancelled after clerics and members of nationalist groups gathered in Tbilisi to prevent the rally from taking place. This came off the back of violence in 2013 when anti-LGBTQ+ protesters were allowed to break through a police cordon and then attacked gay rights activists.
18th July 2019 - The European Court of Human Rights upholds a March 2017 Georgian
Supreme Court ruling that transfers the ownership of Rustavi-2, then the country’s main opposition TV channel, to its previous owner Kibar Khalvashi who said that he had been forced to relinquish ownership of the channel after coming under pressure from authorities during Mikheil Saakashvili’s tenure as President. Director General Nika Gvaramia is fired.
20th August 2019 - Several prominent journalists from Rustavi-2 are fired by the channel’s
new Director General, Paata Salia, who said that the journalists were “in conflict with the interests” of the new owner, and accusing them of plotting to set up a rival TV station with former director general Nika Gvaramia. Opposition accuses GD forces of trying to muzzle criticism of the government.
8th November 2019 - Far-right groups protest in Tbilisi over the premiere of Georgia’s first
LGBTQ+ film, And Then We Danced.
November 2019 - Mass protests take place outside Georgia’s parliament on 14th
November after GD reneges on the promise made in June 2019 on introducing a proportional voting system four years earlier than planned (the current system favoured the ruling party). Protesters saw the move as a “power grab”, with 85% of people aware of the planned change supporting it. Police crackdown on the protests with water cannons as protesters attempt to blockade parliament on 26th November.
20th December 2019 - Facebook shuts down hundreds of accounts, pages and groups
revealed to be linked to GD which had been used to post about domestic Georgian politics, elections, government policies, and to criticise the opposition and local activist organisations.
8th March 2020 - GD and the opposition reach an agreement on electoral reform ahead of the 2020 parliamentary elections. The agreement stipulates that 120 seats would be elected proportionally, whereas 30 would be single mandate majoritarian constituencies. The reforms were officially adopted on 29th June 2020.
31st Oct - 21st November 2020 - GD wins the parliamentary election with 48%
of the vote and winning 90/150 seats in parliament, but the election was marred by irregularities. OSCE writes that there were ‘pervasive allegations of pressure on voters and blurring of the line between the ruling party and the state’, ‘the dominance of the ruling party in the election commissions negatively affected the perception of their impartiality and independence’, the framework for campaign financing ‘disadvantaged smaller and new parties’, the ‘diverse and pluralistic media were highly polarized, and there was little analytical reporting and policy-based discussion, detracting from the voters’ ability to make a fully informed choice’. Opposition UNM refuse to accept the result of the election and boycott parliament, plunging Georgia into a political crisis.
18th February 2021 - Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia resigns in protest at a decision to
arrest and detain UNM Chairman Nika Melia until trial, accused of organising mass violence during the 2019 protests. He was arrested on 23rd February. Irakli Gharibashvili is named as his replacement.
19th April 2021 - The EU brokers a deal between GD and some opposition parties to bring an end to the political crisis. The deal stipulates that new parliamentary elections would be held in 2022 if GD gets less than 43% of the vote in upcoming local elections, sets up rules for power sharing in government, and suggests reforms to the judicial system and the Central Election Commission. UNM refuse to sign the agreement, suggesting that they would do so if Nika Melia is released from prison. GD wins 47% of the vote in the October elections.
10th May 2021 - Nika Melia is released from pre-trial detention.
30th May 2021 - UNM announce that they will end their months-long boycott of parliament, but refuse to sign the EU-brokered 19th April deal.
June - July 2021 - Georgian Dream appoints six judges to the Supreme Court deemed to
be loyal to the party, attracting international condemnation and warnings that it may contravene the 19th April deal.
5th July 2021 - Tbilisi Pride is cancelled again after anti-LGBT groups attacked activists and around 60 journalists, and stormed the Tbilisi Pride headquarters, burning gay pride flags and ransacking the office. PM Gharibashvili had said it would be ‘inappropriate’ to hold a Pride march, arguing that it would be ‘unacceptable for a large segment of Georgian society’. The Georgian Orthodox Church also called on people to come out and oppose the rally. Cameraman Lekso Lashkarava is found dead on 11th July, reportedly as a result of injuries sustained during the violence. Subsequent protests call for Gharibashvili to resign, he dismisses the calls and alleges an ‘anti-state’ and ‘anti-church’ conspiracy. UNM vow to boycott parliament in protest at the government’s handling of the events.
28th July 2021 - GD tears up the 19th April deal and declares it “void”, blaming UNM for not signing up. Some opposition MPs say they will leave parliament and boycott elections.
2nd September 2021 - UNM announces that they will sign the 19th April agreement,
despite GD having declared it void.
1st October 2021 - Former President Mikheil Saakashvili is arrested after returning to
Georgia, reportedly in a shipping container, from eight years of self-imposed exile in Ukraine to avoid being sent to prison on charges he alleges are politically motivated. He then goes on a 50-day hunger strike. Saakashvili was convicted in absentia in 2018 for abuse of power and seeking to cover up evidence about the beating of an opposition member of parliament. UNM announces another parliamentary boycott on 2nd November to demand adequate protection for Saakashvili’s life and health in prison.
10th November 2021 - Hundreds of Saakashvili supporters rally outside government
buildings as the former president’s trial gets underway without him actually being present.
30th December 2021 - GD pushes through legislation to eliminate the State Inspector’s
Service, responsible for monitoring data protection and investigating abuse of power and human rights. There are concerns that the Service’s abolition is politically motivated, as it had begun to investigate the alleged torture and treatment of Saakashvili in prison.
31st January 2022 - UNM announces that they will end their on-and-off boycott of
parliament, citing the release of Saakashvili as their priority.
21st February 2022 - Saakashvili announces another hunger strike in protest at the
government refusing to provide him with adequate healthcare. He calls
it off on 10th March because of the massive escalation in Russia’s war on Ukraine.
24th February 2022 - Eight years after the first invasion, Russia launches a full-scale
invasion of Ukraine. Solidarity rallies of thousands of people take place all across Georgia, lasting for several days. The war puts GD in a very awkward position. The population demands the government do more to support Ukraine, but the government is nervous not to antagonise Russia. Georgia declines to join EU sanctions on Russia. Rallies gradually take on a distinctly anti-government tone. Visible signs of solidarity pop up all around Georgia, from flags, billboards, cars, graffiti, and even on ATMs.
1st March 2022 - Ukraine recalls its ambassador from Georgia amid increasing
impatience with the Georgian government’s perceived indifference and inaction to support Ukraine in the wake of the 24th February invasion. A plane that was supposed to carry Georgian volunteer fighters from Georgia to Poland is denied landing in Tbilisi on 28th February, angering Ukraine.
3rd March 2022 - Hot on the heels of Ukraine, Georgia applies for EU membership.
24th March 2022 - President Salome Zourabichvili is increasingly outspoken over the war
in Ukraine, demanding that the government do more to help Ukraine and angering GD. On 24th March 2022, GD announces they would take Zourabichvili to court for overstepping her constitutional duties.
16th May 2022 - Nika Gvaramia, the founder and director of TV channel Mtavari Arkhi Was Sentenced to 3.5 Years in Prison on Politically Motivated Charges. Earlier, the Public Defender had concluded that the criminal prosecution against Gvaramia (abuse of power and misappropriation of property) was legally unfounded.