Members of an eccentric Georgian political group have collectively flashed their behinds at Russian border guards, and say they will keep doing so to protest Russia’s military presence in Georgia’s breakaway territories. With their attention-grabbing act, the libertarian Georgian party Girchi (Pine Cone) displayed – along with its members’ nether regions – its intent to keep pushing the boundaries of Georgia’s political norms.
The “flesh mob” was a reaction to Moscow’s ongoing redrawing of Georgia’s borders by walling off the breakaway territory of South Ossetia from the rest of Georgia. On November 10, Girchi members, including party leader Zurab Japaridze, went up to the de facto boundary line and carried out the impromptu act of defiance. “We were thinking about what to do to show the world that the Russians are doing something bad in yet another place,” Japaridze said in a subsequent interview.
The Russian army may have been startled, but Russia has not responded in kind or in any other way. The impact of Girchi’s derriere demarche was felt mainly in Georgia’s domestic politics.
Many Georgians argued that the party made a mockery of what is in fact a somber state of affairs, with thousands of displaced Georgians unable to go back to their homes in the Russian-backed, self-declared republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Those who try are regularly arrested by the Russian troops that guard the two regions’ de facto independence from Georgia.
Others defended the act, saying that mooning is a time-honored way of defying imperial overlords. “The Scots did it to their English enemies,” pointed out one commentator in a dispute on Girchi’s widely followed Facebook page.
Provocative stunts are Girchi’s main tactic for carving out a niche in Georgia’s crowded political scene. Party leader Japaridze, known to devotees as Japara, also recently raised eyebrows by placing campaign ads for his presidential bid on Pornhub, the world’s largest pornography website.
To spread the word about their platform of deregulation and small government, Girchi put on the website a pop-up photo of a naked woman with a caption reading “More freedom, more sex - #japaraforpresident.” In another ad, a photo of a smiling young man said “I don’t promise to enlarge your size.”
In another ad, an online video, Japaridze explained his vision as he drove a moped together with his supporters, who wore animal costumes. “In this election, we are on one side and on the other is a collection of meaningless and outmoded hypocrites, who would do anything for power,” Japaridze said in the ad.
A marijuana enthusiast, Japaridze was briefly arrested just before the day of the recent presidential election for attempting to hold a “Marijuana Legalization Festival” in a public park. Earlier this year, Japaridze won a constitutional court case that resulted in abolishment of punishment for consumption of cannabis. Many restrictions still remain in place and cannabis policy is subject of fierce public debates.
All these antics bore some fruit. Japaridze’s photos and ads were shared across social media and picked up by news outlets. Japaridze caught the imagination of many voters who take a dim view of both the political establishment and the conventional opposition and also are in favor of legalizing marijuana.
Japaridze gained 2.26 percent of the votes in the first round, putting him well out of the running for the runoff vote. But that result was comparable to many candidates from more established political groups, no small feat for the relatively young party’s first-ever election, Girchi argued. Japaridze may have been defeated, but “nothing can defeat the idea of freedom,” he said over Facebook, adding that Girchi started “a new phenomenon” in Georgian politics.
It is true, in a way. Not taking itself too seriously is something no other political party has done in Georgia, where politics is largely a realm of suit-clad, stern-faced officialdom.
Established in 2015, Girchi says its mission is to promote a libertarian worldview and change the way politics are done in Georgia. Controversial publicity stunts have been a key element in the group’s strategy from the very outset, including setting up a church and ordaining young men into the priesthood in order to help them avoid conscription into the army.
It is an open question if such tricks can bring Girchi into the political mainstream, but the group plans to do more of it. “We may do it on regular basis,” Japaridze said, speaking about the bared rear protest. “So they [the Russians] know that every time they plant these posts a lot of people will come and show them their butts.”
Giorgi Lomsadze is a journalist based in Tbilisi, and author of Tamada Tales.