Around 15 people showed up at the Kiwi Café in Tbilisi, Georgia, brandishing meat skewers and violently throwing meat at its patrons.
The Kiwi Café in Tbilisi, Georgia. All photos by Beth Ann Lopez
The Kiwi Café in Tbilisi, Georgia, is a hipster enclave in the city. It's located on a rundown street at the edge of the Georgian capital's Old Town and is known for its veggie burgers and falafel. But this weekend, the cafe became the target of an attack by extremists, who reportedly ransacked the cafe and bludgeoned its patrons with meat.
Around 15 people brandishing meat skewers showed up at the business on Sunday and began shouting at customers, throwing pieces of meat at them and into their food, according to Kiwi Café staff.
"They were wearing sausages on their necks," 20-year-old Giorgi Gegelashvili, who works at the cafe and seemed slightly traumatized by the event, told VICE. "They were yelling, 'We know your face, who know who you are.'"
Gegelashvili and other staffers told me the attackers were members of a local neo-Nazi soccer fan club who had harassed patrons of the Kiwi Café a month earlier.
According to Kiwi Café staff, as the yelling and abuse spilled into the street, over a dozen neighbors noticed the ruckus and joined in. They claim that the neighbors were yelling that the cafe's customers and staff were "punks" who were "not Georgian" and "had no respect for traditional values."
According to Kiwi Café's statement on the incident, a female cafe worker's face was shoved onto the street, while a customer's face was cut after a man hit him with a walking stick. A brawl reportedly ensued, with about four of the cafe's staff and patrons receiving some kind of injury.
"Our neighbors do not like us, maybe because we have piercings and tattoos and talk about peace," Gegelashvili told me.
Kiwi first opened in July 2015 and is run by a cooperative of vegans, most of whom sport dreads, tattoos, and piercings. The place is a symbol of counterculture, decorated with posters that say things like, "Not your mom, not your milk!" In New York or San Francisco, such an establishment would hardly cause a stir. But in a country like Georgia, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
"I do not like that Kiwi place," a small business owner on the same street as the cafe told me, although he said he knew nothing about the recent events. "They put things in their hair, their skin..."
The attack dovetails rising concerns in the country over the far right, and particularly the status of sexual minorities and immigrants. Earlier this month, a massive anti-gay conference was hosted in Tbilisi, and during Independence Day celebrations last week, hundreds of ultra-nationalists marched through Tbilisi chanting "Georgia is for the Georgians!"
Vegans and others with "alternative lifestyles" are often lumped together with gays and immigrants by the extreme right, according to Shota Kincha, a researcher at the Tbilisi-based Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center.
"Obviously, those who work or frequent [Kiwi Café] were and are identified as dubious or deviant in terms of their lifestyle and expression," Kincha told VICE.
According to Kiwi Café's statement, the chaos ended when police arrived at the scene.
It appears that police are investigating the incident. When I visited Kiwi on Tuesday, several of the cafe's staff members were meeting uniformed police officers and being driven to the police station for interviews.
No arrests have been reported so far, though Kiwi staff claim to know the identities of some of the sausage-wielding attackers.
For its part, Kiwi Café has promised to remain open "in spite of... everyday negative attitudes to us and other people who visit us." The cafe has also received support both online and offline, although that has been tempered by some anti-vegan vitriol on its Facebook page as well.
Earlier today, David Vashadze, who works as the Georgian Film Commissioner, came to Kiwi for a coffee and to show solidarity with the establishment. He was with a friend who denounced the assault as un-Georgian.
"That was very stupid," Vashadze told me, "and I'm not even vegetarian."
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