TBILISI, Georgia—On Friday night the Georgian government tried to send a message of fear and intimidation to Tbilisi’s progressive young club culture and the international “Night Economy” of travelers visiting the ancient capital.
Riot police in balaclavas, still known by the old Soviet sobriquet Spetsnaz, brandished assault rifles as they raided every major night club in the the city. Specialized paramilitary units were mobilized. They came by the hundreds.
The government said it was cracking down on pills and narcotics at a time when there's a huge push to change the draconian drug policy left by the last two governments. It wanted to set an example—a precedent.
Instead it struck a nerve. Young people poured into the streets of the capital.
This came the same day as the Dr. Evil-esque billionaire giraffe-owning oligarch and former prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, officially re-entered politics as the new head of Georgia’s ruling Georgia Dream party.
The goal of the young protestors was at first simply to send a message: Don't mess with our clubs. The demonstration was not planned; it was not political. But as the scene developed in the course of the day on Saturday it became apparent that this government may be dealing with the biggest political problem it has ever faced, because now the improv leaders of this disco revolution are calling for the resignation of the prime minister in scenes reminiscent of those in next-door Armenia last month.
On Saturday morning young Tbilisians poured into the square in front of the parliament and the main boulevard in a social-media-driven movement called “For Our Freedom.” Their mantra: “We dance together; we fight together.”
That message is only growing louder.
On Friday night, the actions of the Georgian government resembled those of a police state, and they were met by hundreds of young people who gathered in nonviolent protest. Saturday, the numbers had grown to tens of thousands. The message is clear: the Georgian people, and not masked Spetsnaz troops, will decide what kind of Georgia they are going to live in.
“This is not about drugs. It is not even about music. It is about freedom and liberty,” says political analyst Dinara Gagoshidze. She notes that Georgia is a country where such ideas historically have been scarce. Though many of the young people dancing in the streets Saturday night may not remember the Iron Curtain, they have been raised in a culture that knows the true value of freedom precisely because it was so hard to come by in the past.
As night fell in Tbilisi, the crowds kept growing. Protestors pushed past the police line and blocked off the capital's central boulevard directly in front of Parliament. Among the shouts of the “leaders” trying to figure out what the goal of this movement is, one factor reigns supreme: electronic music. This is literally a dance revolution. There is no sign of it stopping.
And for the moment the message is wonderfully simple: You take over our dance clubs, then we take over your city. By Saturday night that is exactly what happened. The ruler of Georgia was not a billionaire or even a Georgian. It was a German DJ dropping electronic beats on Georgia’s central boulevard.