On Wednesday, Patriarch Ilia Ghudushauri-Shiolashvili, First Hierarch of the Georgian Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church, said that a government-proposed draft law on local self-governance reform is a “threat” because it would cause Georgia’s “disintegration” and he vowed to prevent the bill’s passage. The bill, based on a concept first unveiled by the government more than nine months ago, envisages promoting more engagement of citizens in decision-making on the local level. It also introduced direct election of mayors of at least seventeen towns (now, only Tbilisi’s mayor is elected directly), as well as heads of all municipalities; the reform is expected to lead into division of existing municipalities and increasing their number from the current 69 to about 120.
Patriarch Ilia II said during a sermon in the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta outside Tbilisi, “The Parliament and the government are discussing local self-governance law. This is rather difficult issue. If implemented, it’d lead to Georgia’s disintegration. We’d never tolerate it and we’ll do everything possible in order not to have it implemented. Georgia was and will be a united nation, a single state, and we should remember that when the government was strong, the regions [united] around it, the country was strong too. We believe that every district [raioni or municipality] should have direct links to the [central] government. The government should know the problems existing in each and every district; we need no intermediate link for that purpose; the [central] government should consider the hardships facing each district, it should study what each district needs, and the government itself should be trying to address problems existing in districts. For some reasons, some are trying to pass this law on the local self-governance hastily. I think, the Church thinks, that we should discuss it with the people; the people should consider whether it’s acceptable and whether it’s good for Georgia. Therefore, we shouldn’t hurry… I’d like to respectfully ask our parliament and government to take into consideration this threat and not to hurry with adoption of this [bill on local self-governance]”.
The Patriarch’s remarks both in respect of “threat of disintegration” and “attempts to hastily” adopt the bill echoed allegations voiced recently by some non-parliamentary opposition parties. On Wednesday, Giorgi Akhvlediani of the Christian-Democratic Movement said, “This artificial division [of municipalities], which the government calls decentralisation, may create serious problems in terms of separatism”. On Wednesday, before the Patriarch’s sermon, responding to this criticism of the draft by the opposition, parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili said, “The notion that the self-governance somehow poses a threat to the integrity of the country is complete nonsense. Did the absence of decentralisation and self-governance prevent separatism in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali? It’s a mistaken notion that self-governance can incite separatism. Lack of rights incites separatism”. Commenting on the Patriarch’s remarks, Zviad Dzidziguri of the Conservative Party, a lawmaker from the Georgian Dream parliamentary majority group, said, “There’s no threat whatsoever of country’s disintegration in this draft [law on local self-governance]. I think that the Patriarchate simply lacks information [about the draft law]. The Patriarchate needs to be more informed and we’ll do that”.
4 December 2013