Vegan cafe in Tbilisi gets attacked by meat-throwing mob

Patrons at the Kiwi Cafe in Tbilisi, Georgia, were the target of sausage-bearing, right-wing extremists. 

J.M. Hirsch/AP
A vegan Caesar salad is ready to eat. Although slow to gain momentum in mainstream cultures around the world, vegetarian and vegan diet are growing in popularity.

The hipster, vegan Kiwi Cafe would be commonplace in a city like San Francisco or Portland, but in Tbilisi, Georgia, it's apparently a target of neo-Nazi hate.

On Sunday, when Kiwi Cafe tried to host a viewing party for the science-fiction cartoon "Rick and Morty," alleged right-wing extremists wearing sausage links around their necks attacked the cafe, throwing fish and meat at its patrons. Who the perpetrators were and what motivated their assault isn't entirely clear. 

The restaurant serves no meat or animal products. Instead it dishes up veggie burgers and falafel, homemade lemonade, and a variety of teas, adorning its walls with pro-animal rights slogans such as "Meat's not green." 

It attracts patrons with piercings and dreadlocks, and hence the disdain of its neighbors who are distrustful of alternative appearances. "I do not like that Kiwi place," a local Tbilisi business owner told Vice. "They put things in their hair, their skin." 

About 10-15 men stormed the restaurant and pulled out slabs of meat and fish, as the Cafe reported on its Facebook page, then broke the establishment's rules by not just eating it, but smoking cigarettes. Staff members asked them to leave as they began throwing meat at customers, but they refused and the tensions exacerbated.

As cafe staff pushed out the "neo-Nazis," as they called their attackers on Facebook, they mockingly shouted, "Why are you so aggressive? What about love?" As the scene spilled out into the street, the neighbors became involved, with many siding with the anti-vegans and yelling that Kiwi Cafe fans were "not Georgian" "punks" with "no respect for traditional values," staff told Vice reporter Charles Rollet. 

"Locals took the side of the fascists just because in their view we are 'different,'" Kiwi Cafe later wrote on Facebook.

One man from the street beat a customer in the face with his cane, and another gripped the hair of a female staffer and threw her upon the ground. About four patrons were injured in the brawl.

Giorgi Gegelashvili, a 20-year-old cafe staffer, told Vice the attackers were part of a local neo-Nazi soccer fan club who had also assaulted cafe patrons a month prior. The group had asked patrons in the neighboring shop about Kiwi's clientele, implying that they were gay or foreign, staff said on Facebook.  

"Our neighbors do not like us," said Mr. Gegelashvili. "Maybe because we have piercings and tattoos and talk about peace."

When the police arrived on the scene, the attackers had already fled and the cafe staff were in part blamed for the conflict.

"In spite of the situation and everyday negative attitude to us and other people, who visit us, cafe is continuing to work and is ready to accept all customers regardless of nationality, race, appearance, age, gender, sexual orientation, religious views, etc.," the Kiwi Cafe Facebook post continues. "Equality is the most important thing for us. Animal liberation! Human liberation!"

The vegetarian movement is spreading around the world, but is often viewed with suspicion where it has been slower to catch on to the mainstream, such as in Georgia.

"We have been seeing in Georgia, the growth of nationalists — fanned by Russia — who are questioning foreign Western values such as gay marriage or gay rights being imposed on the country," Giorgi Gogia, the south Caucasus director at Human Rights Watch, told The New York Times. "The Kiwi Café attracts hipsters, gays, people who are different, and they symbolize liberal Western values."

Countries with the highest number of vegetarians include India (40 percent), Austria (9 percent), and Israel (8 percent). In the United States, about 3.2 percent of adults, or 7.3 million people, do not eat meat, according to a study published by the Vegetarian Times. Just .5 percent, or 1 million of them, are vegans, who avoid all animal-derived products, such as eggs and dairy. 

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