Georgia, a proud nation in the Caucasus that went to war with Russia in 2008, is no stranger to conflict. But a weekend assault by sausage-wielding attackers at a vegan cafe in central Tbilisi is fanning concerns that a simmering culture war could be intensifying.
The attack began Sunday evening at the bohemian Kiwi Cafe a popular spot for foreigners and Georgians alike – when, witnesses say, more than a dozen men carrying slabs of meat on skewers suddenly showed up and began pelting patrons with grilled meat, sausages and fish.
Witnesses writing on social media said that customers at the cafe, who were watching an animated science fiction sitcom called Rick and Morty, felt intimidated by the men, who refused to leave. The cafe referred to the attackers, some of whom wore sausages around their necks, as anti-vegan “extremists.”
“A group of people who prepared an anti-vegan provocative action, entered and started to be violent,” said a post on the cafe’s Facebook page. “They pulled out some grilled meat, sausages, fish and started eating them and throwing them at us, and finally they started to smoke.” It added, “They were just trying to provoke our friends and disrespect us.”
The cafe said that it called police, but that the assailants fled and no one was arrested.
Who is behind the attacks remains unclear, and analysts cautioned it was too early to say whether the incident was a violent prank, a revolt against veganism or part of a nationalist attack against the freewheeling Western liberal values epitomised by the cafe.
But the cafe said in a statement that the same group of men had come to the neighbourhood last month at night and asked a “friend in the next shop” if members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender community hung out at the cafe.
That has led some analysts to suggest that the attack should be seen against the backdrop of a continuing cultural battle as the country, a former Soviet republic long pulled between East and West, seeks to draw closer to the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, even as some conservative forces push back at perceived encroaching liberalism.