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Discord between ruling administration and Georgian church

By Messenger Staff
Friday, July 8
At the last session before its holiday, the Georgian parliament granted legal status of public law to all religious faiths which were acknowledged by the Council of Europe. Up to 70 representatives of the ruling party in the parliament voted unanimously for this decision despite protests from the opposition as well as Georgian Patriarchate. The latter was against such a hasty adoption of the law and demanded public discussion and analysis of the conditions before adopting the amendment in the civil code.

The events in the parliament developed at Guinness record speed. The decision took place in Tbilisi when neither President Saakashvili nor chair of the parliament Bakradze were in the capital. On July 1 parliament adopted the draft law at the first hearing. On July 4 the Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia Ilia II spread a statement where he was expressing his surprise for the decision of the parliament to accept such a serious document in a speedy way without solid public discussion.

The Patriarchate asked for public discussion involving the whole nation. The ruling team ignored this request and on the very next day on July 5 held the second and third hearings and adopted the code. The major question which now arises for Georgian society is why was the position of the Patriarchate not considered by the ruling forces? And why was it approved in such an unusually accelerated manner? On a superficial level certain highlights are outlined.

Some days ago Georgia was visited by Armenian Catholicos Garegin II and during this meeting with the Georgian Patriarch he asked Ilia II to provide his followers the same judicial status of a legal entity of Public law. Ilia II responded that Georgia would like to receive the same status in Armenia in return. So the deal was not concluded. Just a few days later the Armenian foreign minister came to Tbilisi and, as it turned out, during his meeting with his Georgian counterpart the Armenian FM addressed the same issue.Is it just a coincidence that this visit was followed by this hasty adoption of a new law and the subsequent granting of extra status to foreign churches? It also became known through some unconfirmed sources that president Saakashvili promised Garegin II to make the abovementioned decision. The Georgian media is now openly speculating about the "cold war" between the rose administration and the Georgian Orthodox Church.

The adoption of this law without carrying out public debates and therefore ignoring the position of Patriarchate gave ground to the media and analysts to announce an ‘attack’ on the authority of the Georgian church. On the same day, July 5, the Patriarchate released the statement that the adopted amendments contradict the Georgian church and the country’s interests as well and that this law will yield negative results very quickly.

Nobody should doubt that Georgia should comply to Western standards but it should be done in a democratic way.

Some opposition parties asked President Saakashvili to veto its decision however the document has already been signed by the President. As some analysts have said, this step was taken by Saakashvili and his team to confirm to the westerners their commitment and loyalty to its western liberal-democratic image in order to receive support for the forthcoming elections in the hope that the west will turn a blind eye to any manipulations from the ruling power during these elections