Attack at Vegan Cafe in Tbilisi Underscores Wave of Radical Nationalists
The exterior of the Kiwi Cafe exudes calm and quirk: a mint green paint job is covered in cartoon figures, including one of a bird riding a bicycle that has kiwi fruits for tires. But on Sunday, inside the cafe, which is in the Old Town neighborhood of Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia (a country sandwiched between Turkey and Russia), a chaotic scene took place.
According to witness accounts, a group of 15 or so nationalist radicals walked into the cafe–which serves vegan fare and has a counterculture ethos–and pulled out grilled meat and fish. They started eating the forbidden foods and then began throwing them at the cafe’s patrons, who were watching a screening of the American cartoon “Rick and Morty.” A brawl ensued, spilling into the streets. The police were called. People living near the cafe joined the commotion. One neighbor wielded a knife.
And while nobody was seriously injured, the incident highlights an emerging faction in Georgian society: radical nationalist groups that yearn for a closed Georgia populated by ethnic Georgians. Days before the assault, far-right nationalist groups marched in Tbilisi to mark Georgia’s independence from the Soviet Union decades ago. But the marchers summoned an old slogan with nefarious connotations: “Georgians for Georgia,” which for most Georgians drudges up memories of the ethnic clashes of the early 1990s.
On it’s Facebook page, the Kiwi Cafe posted a statement condemning the actions of the “neo-Nazis:”
“They said that we must leave ‘their’ street, leave the country, do not ‘establish our procedure’, because in Georgia it’s not accepted to act like we do.”
The statement also made mention of a group of people who a month ago asked a nearby store clerk about the “LGBT, foreigners, punks, etc.” that hang out in the Kiwi Cafe. And while an official investigation into the matter has not been launched yet, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, witnesses said the attackers fled before the police arrived so the police directed their questioning at the cafe staff and customers.
“Because most of the staff, and a lot of the guests, have piercings and mohawk hairstyles, the police thought they were the ones responsible for the incident,” wrote one witness in an online post.