Kiwi Cafe in Tbilisi reminds us we are all connected
Last week, the vegan Kiwi Cafe in Tbilisi, Georgia, was invaded by a group of a dozen neo-Nazis who threw meat at the patrons.
At first blush, it seems like something out of JP Sears viral video “What if meat-eaters acted like vegans?” The popular YouTube video lampoons the earnest behaviour of vegan activists and argues that, if carnivores acted the same way, it would be immensely annoying. The video is cute, but its popularity also reminds us our culture finds it annoying when people care too much about issues deemed trivial by the majority.
A little Georgian history
The attack on Kiwi Cafe is deeply troubling, but to understand why, it’s important to know a bit about Georgia’s history.
A member of the former Soviet Union, many Georgians collaborated with the Nazis because they feared soviet leadership. But this fascist undercurrent did not disappear after Germany’s defeat in World War II. Extreme right-wing sentiment has remained a force in the country since Georgia separated from the former Soviet Union in 1991.
In the case of the attack on Kiwi Cafe, the instigators were said to be members of the Bergmann group, a neo-Nazi society that has a record of attacking ethnic minorities in addition to gays (and now vegans).
Homophobia in Tbilisi
Being gay, or being supportive of LGBT people – can be dangerous in Georgia.
The former soviet nation is rife with anti-LGBT discrimination. The country held its first ever parade against homophobia and transphobia (notice, it’s not even a PRIDE parade!) in 2012. That event was plagued with angry mobs of anti-gay activists. But it paled in comparison to the following years’ event, in which protesters became so violent that the event was forced to end and dozens of participants were injured.
In 2015, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Georgian authorities had failed to adequately protect rally participants against violence.
Tbilisi’s gay community has not held a parade since. Instead, the Georgian Orthodox Church holds a “family day” rally each year on the same day as the UN-sponsored International Day Against Homophobia.
Why Kiwi Cafe was targeted
Kiwi Cafe was targeted because it’s a place where members of Tbilisi’s counterculture feel safe to gather. In fact, patrons of the cafe reported that men had been questioning people in the area about businesses that supported gay rights, and chose the cafe as their target. A comment from the Cafe’s owners on their Facebook page put it this way:
Some neighbors had already showed us their negative attitude a lot of times, because we (the way we look, music that we listen to, ideas we support, and the fact that we don’t eat meat) are out of the world to which they are used to, because we act weirdly by their measurements and are not embarrassed of who we are.
Being vegan in North America and Western Europe isn’t always easy, but most of the pressure we face is of the “what if meat-eaters acted like vegans” variety. As a result, it’s easy to become disconnected from the struggles of vegans in other parts of the world.
We forget that in many places, being different simply is not tolerated.
Not all advocates of non-violence have the freedom to spend their time basking on sunny beaches and starting petty arguments over the internet. We can never forget that, at its core, veganism is about ending violence and suffering for all sentient beings on this planet.
This principle is alive and well at the Kiwi Cafe, despite (or perhaps because of) being under genuine threat.
As the cafe owners responded on their Facebook page:
In spite of the situation and everyday negative attitude to us and other people, who visit us, café is continuing to work and is ready to accept all costumers regardless of nationality, race, appearance, age, gender, sexual orientation, religious views, etc. Equality is the most important thing for us.
The people who gather at Tbilisi’s Kiwi Cafe recognize how precious it is to be able to have a community of like-minded individuals. As vegans and vegetarians living in the west, I think it’s important to reach out and offer our support and encouragement. We need to let them know that we are not just bystanders, but active participants who are willing and ready to help however we can.
Let the owners of Kiwi Cafe know you care by visiting their Facebook page.