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Presidential Candidate Zurabishvili VS Orthodox Church

By Levan Khutsishvili
Thursday, September 20
On September 18, 2018, presidential candidate Salome Zurabishvili, during the interview with Imedi TV journalist accused clergymen of Georgian Orthodox church in breaking the conditions of the concordat between the state and church.

As she said, clergy should not interfere in the presidential election campaign. The candidate supported by the ruling party evaluated the comments made by some clergymen regarding Salome Zurabishvili.

"How can the church take part in this election campaign? By the way, as the president, as the chairperson responsible for fulfilling the concordat between church and the government, I will have a strong protest because it is a violation of all the agreements between the Orthodox Church and the state. Church figures having such a high hierarchy are interfering in cases that are not their business. They should not express their position of supporting any candidate," said Salome Zurabishvili.

Zurabishvili’s comment came after she was criticized by the representatives of Georgian Orthodox Church because of her position regarding the initiative of the government to produce and export marijuana. As the presidential candidate said public discussions should be held on the topic and the position of Georgian Church should also be voiced during the discussions, though the legislative regulations on this purpose are needed and she supports the new law.

Orthodox Church has its negative position about the initiative and they are not planning to participate in discussions, as they believe that initiative of Government contains serious threats for young generations, adding the Parliament should reject the draft law.

As it seems the idea of exporting marijuana can become a reason for a confrontation between the state and church, and Salome Zurabishvili (if she becomes the president) can play an important role in this conflict; however, on the other hand, her statements regarding the Orthodox Church can have a negative influence on her election campaign. Patriarch’s bishop Jakob has already named Salome Zurabishvili as “the Queen of Cannabis”.

“I don’t know if she becomes a president or not, but she will be the “Queen of Cannabis” for sure,” said Bishop Jakob.

Bishop Jakob said that church has more supporters than does the government and if they don't reevaluate their decisions on the marijuana business, the government will get demonstrations organized by the church.

Deacon Shalva Kekelia believes that legalizing marijuana cultivation for export will promote drug-addiction in the country.

"How can we agree with Salome Zurabishvili? What does it mean? - We intervene in the future of our country, talking about the fate of our children. First was decriminalization, then legalization and the unconstitutional decision of the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court passed the decision without any regulations and then the government started talks about the cultivation,” he stressed.

The cleric says the Church thinks about the future of the country.

“We have the right to make our decisions and to warn the population what is right and what is not. They make a decision that will ruin the country tomorrow and we should not talk about it? We cannot keep silent when it comes to the laws that will destroy our country,” said Deacon Kekelia.

And here is a dilemma for Salome Zurabishvili, on the one hand, the government thinks that exporting marijuana will bring huge income for the country, on the other hand, the church is against it. To win the elections she will need to take a side or balance, in order to gain enough support.

On September 16, during the Sunday service, Patriarch Ilia II, disapproved the initiative of the government and in addition, some clergymen organized the demonstration in front of the Tbilisi City Assembly, protesting government's position on the marijuana cultivation and export.