Like the hundreds who took to Tbilisi’s streets on July 14 to protest Muslim immigration, 25-year-old ultranationalist Temur claims to represent a small group of ordinary Georgians marginalized by the élite. But his generation has one critical tool to make that point that earlier nationalists did not -- Facebook, the country’s 24/7 hangout spot.
In many ways, his story reflects those of other young, digitally savvy Georgians drawn to extreme nationalism as a way to gain security in an insecure era.
Born into a conservative family in Kobuleti, a town on Georgia’s Black Sea coast, Temur, who declined to release his last name, says he became aware as a child that "the ruling élite of the nation . . . were behaving badly” – a reference to perceived abuse of power, lack of jobs and the adoption of so-called alien, “European” values.
History lessons that touted Georgian struggles against Muslim invaders and his family’s own views encouraged his nationalist sympathies. The turning point, however, came in 2015 after he came to Tbilisi to study law at the East European University. In this city of over 1.1 million, he easily found others who shared his ideas.
Although no exact numbers exist for the number of Georgia’s ultranationalist organizations, Georgian Facebook groups promoting xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny and fascism appear to have increased in popularity over the past several years. Some outsiders attribute this to Russian influence, but Georgian ultranationalists heatedly deny such an association. Russia, they note, imposed communism on Georgia and occupies its two breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In fact, the ultranationalists are an amorphous mix, sharing each other’s Facebook content, but obscuring their ties to each other; including, usually, the identities of their page managers.
Some are neo-Nazis who say they put “the interests of the nation” above religion. Others, like Temur, describe themselves as fascists, but stress that they do not idolize dictators Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, even as they focus on the importance of ethnic origins. Still others are religiously inclined conservatives who identify with post-Soviet Georgia’s first president, the late nationalist Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who was deposed in 1992. There are masked radicals (Bergman, Edelweiss), who identify with the so-called "pan-European nationalism” movement, and are known for hooliganism at soccer games.
Plus, there are catch-all groups, like Resistance Georgia and the Anti-Liberal Club, which has attracted over 32,000 followers to its mission of opposing so-called "liberal–leaning centrists.” And then, there is Georgian Power.