Georgia spiritually pressed by Armenia09.07.2011 | 15:01
To the country's surprise Georgia comes up with a law on legal status of religious associations that was quickly discussed and adopted in parliament and then immediately signed by president Saakashvili. As a result the Georgian patriarchate had no time to collect itself. The new document has already provoked a series of protests and scandals with representatives of the Armenian Church unconditionally satisfied with the law. Expert Giya Huhashvili shares his opinion why this important issue was solved at a flash-like speed with GeorgiaTimes.
The issue on legal status of Georgia's religious associations was solved unexpectedly. Only a fortnight ago Garegin II in charge of the Armenian Church had a fruitless talk with Georgian patriarch Ilia II on a possibility to grant a legal status to the Armenian Apostolic Church in Sakartvelo. The result was negative, so he went away: too many disputable issues were revealed to make a decision without preparation.
As we see, the problem was solved rather quickly. Georgian parliament didn't waste time and adopted the law on legal status of religious associations completely ignoring the opinion of the patriarch on the issue and passing the document to be signed by Saakashvili. The president signed it without thinking much. From now on all religious organizations "that have historical connection with Georgia or have such a status in the countries of the Council of Europe" can comfortably settle down in Sakartvelo.
The patriarchate, the opposition as well as experts of Georgia were puzzled at this decision - putting it mildly. The fresh law immediately provoked a series of protests. The Georgian Orthodox Church believes that the issue needed public debates and involvement of the patriarchate. The opposition agrees. As for expert lawyers - they shrug shoulders: phrases are vague, criteria are not defined, and it's not clear how the law will work at all. Only the Armenian side is satisfied to the full.
It should be remarked that initially the legal status was supposed to be granted only to the Armenian Apostolic Church, Roman Catholic Church, Evangelical Baptist Church as well as Muslim and Jewish communities. But the parliamentarians decided that the limitations in this issue stand for intolerance and threw all particularities out of the document. As a result, there is an impression that the law on the country's spiritual life was written as a rough draft. Expert Giya Huhashvili told GeorgiaTimes about the reasons for this absurd hurry.
- Mr. Huhashvili, why do you think the law was adopted so unexpectedly?
- Firstly, I would like to remark that the decision itself is civilized. And the public has nothing against it. At the same time any step must be done when all is ready for it. Now there are serious suspicions that the decision was the result of Armenian pressure on Georgian authorities. Let me refresh the chronology: at first the Catholicos of All Armenians came to Georgia and raised this issue before the Georgian patriarch to receive a rather logical answer that the Armenian Church in Georgia will have the same status that the Georgian Church has in Armenia. I think this parity is logical and fair. As for preservation of religious buildings of any church, it was reiterated that parity be observed. After that the issue passed onto the political level, the Armenian FM came to Georgia and achieved his purpose with some political levers. This is obvious. It is strange and too fast to adopt a law and have it signed by the president in a day. Backstage intrigues are evident.
Certainly the law itself is civilized. On the other hand, the Georgian Orthodox Church should somehow protect its interests in other countries. Lack of such a law was a sort of lever for the patriarchate to gain parity conditions all the time. Now the government adopted this law leaving the GOC without this lever. For instance, not all is simple with Turkey. There are enough Georgian churches in its territory that need protection. And GOC's interests must be preserved. Now the patriarchate has no chance to serve its interests.
I think when the Georgian church says that the adopted decision contradicts interests of the state in the long run strategically, this is exactly what they mean. I think, not only GOC's interests are derogated - the state's interests suffer too. If 80-85% of our population are Orthodox it is wrong to consider religious issues outside a political context. I think it was arm-twisting that led to this decision. The saddest thing is that the result is in prejudice to interests of our state.
The most important question is what approaches and possibilities to put pressure were used by the Armenian side and what was the reward promised to the Georgian leadership. Georgia's general public must find an answer what it takes to have such things done.
- Do you have any assumptions?
- The range is wide. Probably, Armenia suggested being a mediator in talks with Russia. Why not? I don't think there is any prospect but Armenians could promise it all right.
Generally speaking, everyone understands that the law was adopted for Armenia, under Armenia's hard pressure. Other religious organizations haven't been active recently.