Russian extremists target a bar in Tbilisi where customers must denounce Putin
TBILISI — A Russian nationalist walks into a Georgian bar. It might as well be the first line of an old Soviet joke.
But now, in a country partially occupied by Russian troops and with Vladimir Putin’s forces waging an unprovoked war against Ukraine just 800 kilometers to the northwest, that’s no laughing matter.
This is an anti-Putin bar in Tbilisi, and pro-Putin Russians are, well, banned.
“We stand for equality and unity, but we need to make sure that the brainwashed Russian imperialists don’t end up in our bar. Please support us by filling out a VISA application, so that no one has to hang around with a*****es. Thank you for your understanding.”
The bar’s campaign to exclude an entire segment of Russians is a source of pride for many of its patrons, some of whom post pro-Ukrainian and anti-Russian messages on Facebook, instagramand other social media.
But it has angered a loose network of radical Russian chauvinists and ultranationalists who continue to harass and bully perceived cultural enemies online despite their male state patriarchal movement being banned in Russia since October 2021.
Hours after Male State and its establishment sympathizers coordinated targeting for its treatment of Russians around noon on August 4, Google had been inundated with thousands of negative reviews of Dedaena and bar management said its site had been pirate.
The online mob had also portrayed Dedaena as a haven for homosexuality and cited its existence as proof that Georgia needed to be conquered and Georgians brutalized.
It was reminiscent of a similarly orchestrated campaign a year ago that targeted a Russian sushi bar whose ads featured a black model and a rainbow-colored sushi box. The owner of this restaurant said online abuse along with a wave of bogus phone orders cost him about 500,000 rubles (about $6,800 at the time).
On August 5, fugitive Male State founder Vladislav Pozdnyakov downplayed Dedaeni’s campaign as a “childish joke”, but threatened possible destabilization efforts in the future. “We will wait for difficult times in Georgia, more precisely, a difficult political situation, and then we will show you what real destabilizing actions mean,” Pozdnyakov wrote on his Telegram channel on August 5. “I have a lot of Russian comrades in Georgia, as well as pro-Russian Georgians.”
Such threats could strike a chord in Georgia, whose government’s commitment to transatlantic integration has been called into question by street protests and whose public fears the country is being targeted by a Russian reborn.
Additionally, tens of thousands of Russians have traveled to Georgia since the war in Ukraine broke out in late February, in some cases to escape political persecution or international sanctions at home.
Russians are currently banned from flying to European Union states, although they can still travel by land. Since August 8, EU members Estonia and Finland have pressured other European countries to stop issuing tourist visas to Russian citizens while their governments wage war on Russia. ‘Ukraine.
Shaming women for porn
Pozdnyakov, a 31-year-old fitness coach, founded Male State on Russian social network VKontakte in 2016 to “expose” and publicly humiliate Russian women once active in pornography.
It has become famous for its digital harassment of women, the LGBT community, and mixed-race and non-white couples on VKontakte and other platforms, including Telegram, TikTok, and YouTube. In some cases, male state administrators have publicly identified Russian activists, journalists and even women with non-Russian spouses or partners.
Pozdnyakov fled Russia after years of impunity in late 2018, when a court gave him a suspended sentence for inciting hatred against women.
He has since traveled to Poland and other European countries while in exile, often to spread misogyny, racism, LGBT slurs and a brand of nationalism that has arguably been part of Putin’s efforts for decades. decades to reshape “traditional” Russian values.
Russian authorities do not appear to be aggressively pursuing him abroad, fueling speculation fueled by Pozdnyakov himself that he may have ties to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). Some Russian rights activists have also suggested that Pozdnyakov began cooperating with the FSB after his arrest.
Egor Kutepov represents the Georgian branch of the Free Russia Foundation, an NGO that opposes the war in Ukraine and helps Russian activists arriving in Tbilisi from their homeland. He told RFE/RL’s Georgian Service that he thinks Pozdnyakov is useful to Russian authorities who are keen to discourage Russian opponents from seeking refuge in Georgia and to encourage enmity between Georgians and Russian immigrants.
Georgia officially aspires to NATO and EU membership but has been ruled for a decade by the Georgian Dream party, founded by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who made his fortune in Russia and fostered closer ties with Moscow than its predecessors.
Putin’s incentive to invade Georgia is weak, thanks in part to the fact that few Russian opposition leaders have resettled there, Kutepov says. “Putin doesn’t like it – he prefers the opposition in Europe,” Kutepov said, adding a reference to the FSB and its Soviet predecessor. “People’s hatred for each other is a purely Chekhist tool.”
Pozdnyakov boasted in 2021 that he was in Georgia to rally supporters, but his whereabouts are unclear since officials said he left Montenegro earlier this year.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine, he has enthusiastically supported what Putin’s administration euphemistically calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Pozdnyakov has previously campaigned for hostility against Georgia, which lost an intense five-day war with Russia in 2008 when Moscow sent troops to defend and occupy two breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. South.
“Now is the time to denazify Georgia,” Pozdnyakov wrote in his recent Telegram post, echoing an element of Putin’s public justification for the full-scale invasion of Ukraine that began on February 24.
Dedaena Bar’s campaign to exclude an entire segment of Russians is a rallying point for many of its patrons. Russians wanting to go to the bar must tick boxes next to eight statements such as ‘I did not vote for Putin, he is a dictator’, ‘I condemn Russian aggression in Ukraine’ and, in reference to the two Georgian secessionist regions occupied by Russian troops, “the regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali are Georgian”.
The last box reads “Slava Ukraini” or “Glory to Ukraine,” the rallying cry of Ukrainian defenders during eight years of mostly localized war against Kremlin-backed separatists and now, since February, against an all-out Russian invasion.
A code of conduct follows which includes a warning not to assume anyone speaks Russian or to “engage in political discussions while intoxicated”.
If you are approved, you get a “visa” by email which shows that you are “welcome” to the so-called “free place” and “democratic space” of Tbilisi’s Dedaena Park on the Kura (Mtkvari) River.
The nightclub, a nearby monument, and the park are all named after a 19th-century textbook that has special significance in Georgian history. Deda Ena, or Mother Tongue, was written by educator Iakob Gogebashvili in 1876 to teach children the Georgian language seven decades after the Russian Empire imposed Russian on the local population.
It also lent its name to street protests in Tbilisi in 1978 that forced Soviet officials to withdraw a plan to revoke Georgia’s status as an official state language.