Mob pelts customers with meat at vegan cafe in Georgia

Attack in Tbilisi blamed on far-right group comes amid rising tensions and violence

A sausage-wielding mob has stormed a vegan cafe in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, amid fears of rising intolerance and nationalist violence in the Caucasus state.

The attack on the Kiwi cafe and its patrons, allegedly by members of a far-right group, came after leading members of Georgia’s main opposition party were beaten up during local elections and ultra-nationalists marched through Tbilisi.

The incidents occurred as the political temperature soared in the city, with former president Mikheil Saakashvili's announcement that he was ready to return to Georgia from Ukraine ahead of parliamentary elections in his homeland in October.

On Sunday evening, people were watching an English-language cartoon sitcom at Kiwi, which is popular with foreigners and with locals whose views may run counter to Georgia’s conservative, Christian Orthodox mainstream.


Then a group of men entered the cafe, talking and laughing loudly and disturbing the screening, before “they pulled out some grilled meat, sausages, fish and started eating them and throwing them at us,” Kiwi said on its Facebook page.

The conflict spilled out into the street, where Kiwi said local residents “took the side of fascists just because in their view we are ‘different’.”

The attack took place three days after a far-right group marched through Tbilisi on the country’s independence day, chanting “Georgia for the Georgians!”

Extreme nationalism

Such slogans are associated with the extreme nationalists who ruled Georgia after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, when the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke from Tbilisi’s rule in brief but bloody conflicts;


recognised their independence after fighting a short war with Georgia in 2008.

The country of 4.5 million people pivoted away from Moscow and towards the West after its Rose Revolution of 2003, which ousted the Soviet-era old guard and brought US-educated reformer Mr Saakashvili to power.

He backed a sweeping anti-corruption and modernisation programme, and threw open Georgia to foreign investment and tourism, before his government became mired in its own graft scandals and claims of rising authoritarianism.

In 2012, Georgia's richest man, Bidzina Ivanishvili, entered politics and formed a party called Georgian Dream, which just months later ousted Mr Saakashvili's United National Movement (UNM) from government.

Mr Saakashvili left Georgia in 2013 after serving the two permitted terms as president and was charged shortly afterwards with abuse of power, in a case he calls politically motivated. He is now governor of Ukraine’s large Odessa region, but the bitter rivalry with Mr Ivanishvili – and between their allies – has simmered on.

Last month, several UNM leaders were beaten up during a local election in western Georgia by men they claimed were thugs paid by Georgian Dream.

Three days later, Mr Saakashvili announced from Odessa that he was “prepared to continue the battle in Georgia, and here in Ukraine”, having regularly said that both countries are fighting a long-term battle against malign Russian influence.

‘I’m ready, of course, to come to Georgia and actively take part in the election campaign,” he said.

“For me, these are flanks of the same battle.”

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe