A Protest Against the Russian Cruise Ship in Batumi and Protection of the European Values
Malkhaz Nakashidze, Jean Monnet Chair, Batumi Shota Rustaveli State University
When the Russian Federation has occupied 20% of the territory of Georgia, the occupation of the occupied territories continues every day, the occupiers kidnap and kill Georgian citizens, the Georgian authorities consider the decisions of the Russian authorities or any activity of Russian citizens in Georgia as a normal fact of life. This kind of stupidity causes a completely justified indignation among the citizens of Georgia. In addition to the restoration of direct flights to Russet, Georgian citizens had to hold protests on many other occasions due to the government’s inaction or actions against the country’s interests. One such case was the arrival of a Russian ship in the city of Batumi.
The Maritime Transport Agency announced on July 25 that on July 27, the Palau-flagged cruise ship “ASTORIA GRANDE” was scheduled to enter the Batumi seaport from Trabzon. According to the agency, the ship is served by the Turkish cruise company “Miray Cruises International” and its entry was of a commercial nature. According to the Maritime Transport Agency, the owner of the ship is registered in Seychelles under the name of the company “Goodwin Shipping Limited” and is not included in international sanctions. It is emphasized in the statement that the Agency, in coordination with the Revenue Service of the Ministry of Finance, constantly inspects both ships and shipowners in relation to international sanctions. “Accordingly, if the ship or the owner of the ship is on the sanctions list, it is not allowed to enter the ports of Georgia and carry out the relevant procedures.”
The protest action with the participation of Georgian citizens and representatives of some opposition parties started in Batumi port on July 27 at 8 pm. The Russian cruise ship arrived at Batumi port from Sochi via Turkey at dawn for a one-day visit. Citizens of Georgia gathered at the port and shouted and whistled to send the tourists off the ship ASTORIA GRANDE. The participants of the rally held photos depicting the 1990s war in Abkhazia and the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia. A parallel protest was also held in Tbilisi, in front of the parliament building, where participants burned Russian flags. As a result of the protest, the ship carrying 800 Russian tourists left the port earlier than planned, in the evening of July 27.
Citizens’ protest was necessary and timely in the created Vitara, when the Georgian authorities did not add any sanctions against the Russian Federation and did not impose any restrictions on the entry of citizens of the Russian Federation into Georgia. At this time, EU countries, partner states of Georgia imposed restrictions on citizens of the Russian Federation, companies of the Russian Federation. Georgia, which is a candidate country for joining the European Union, should be committed to partnership agreements and be careful about open relations with the Russian Federation. There is also a legal issue to be considered here. There were many Russian citizens on the ship, some of them even admitted that they were in the occupied territory of Abkhazia and therefore, they would have violated the Georgian legislation on the occupied territories. Entry to the occupied territories is allowed only from the directions of Zugdidi and Gori municipalities. Entry into the occupied territories from all other directions for foreign citizens and stateless persons is prohibited and constitutes a crime under Article 322 (Prima) of the Criminal Code of Georgia. This required a response from the Georgian government. The authorities claimed that the Russian citizens on the ship did not violate the Georgian legislation, although the citizens, the opposition and civil society representatives did not have any mechanism to verify or control these facts.
Instead of a legal response, the Chairman of “Georgian Dream”, Irakli Kobakhidze, called the rally “Kajoba”. He said that what we are seeing, including what we have seen today, is simply tyranny, and I want to remind you that this tyranny has brought very serious consequences to the country at different times – it was the early 90s, it was relatively late, it was 2004 – 12 years, including 2008. According to his assessment, the “Georgian Dream” government has successfully maintained peace in the country. Kobakhidze criticized the opposition and noted that they are creating problems for the country. According to him, it is necessary to implement a pragmatic policy in order to maintain peace and promote the development of Georgia.
Unlike the government, the protest of the protesters was approved by the representatives of the European Parliament and the embassies operating in Georgia. For example, US Ambassador Kelly Degnan expressed support for the protestors and said that “the most important reaction to the cruise ship of Russian tourists was from the citizens of Georgia. And I think they have shown very clearly in Batumi and everywhere that they do not welcome this. Georgians are wonderful, hospitable and warm hosts, but I don’t think that … anyone would expect to get along well with anyone who is occupying your territory, who is separating families, who is detaining your citizens. I don’t think it will come as a surprise to anyone that the citizens of Georgia did not welcome the arrival of this ship.”
Instead of the relevant bodies of Georgia acting to identify and punish the violators of the legislation on the occupied territories of Georgia, on July 31, the police arrested nine people participating in the protest in Batumi, including one Ukrainian citizen. The Ministry of Internal Affairs stated that “despite numerous calls from the law enforcement officers at the Batumi port, the participants of the rally did not obey their legal demands, as a result of which they were arrested under Articles 166 and 173 of the Code of Administrative Offenses 9.”
It should be noted that this is not the first case when the police detains the participants of the protest rally in Batumi on the grounds that they have exceeded the scope of freedom of assembly and expression allowed by law. One of the highest standards of freedom of expression is in force in Georgia, and police representatives apply a very narrow, distorted interpretation to the norms of Georgian legislation, as a result of which citizens are detained without any grounds. The Batumi court and individual judges are known for their unjustified, baseless decisions in the cases of detaining and fining citizens acting within the framework of freedom of expression. This practice must be revised, because it does not correspond to the Constitution of Georgia, as well as the practice of the European Court of Human Rights, which has already become mandatory for proactive use by the courts of Georgia.
This action achieved its goal and the citizens’ protest was important. On the one hand, the citizens supporting the Euro-Atlantic future of Georgia within the country showed the government and the society that the Georgian society in Georgia is not friendly towards the Russian Federation. Also, with this action, we showed the world that the territories of Georgia are occupied by the Russian Federation, and the Russian citizens on the ship, who do not recognize the territorial integrity of Georgia, have violated the Georgian legislation, they will not be welcomed in Georgia. Finally, the protest was widely covered in the world media, which was important to show that the majority of Georgian citizens are not friendly with the occupying Russian Federation and do not adapt to the occupation of Georgia. This action achieved its goal and all the citizens who participated in it are highly appreciated.
July 31, 2023 – Batumi, Georgia