Voices from Russia

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Georgian Orthodox Church Weighs in Local Self-Governance Reform Debate


Nino Burdzhanadze (1964- ), one of the “white hats” in Georgian politics.


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

Civil Georgia



Civil Georgia receives USAID funding, that means that it takes Langley‘s shilling, so, take anything on it with caution. It’s probably “white propaganda“.




Sunday, 27 October 2013

Anti-Saakashvili Candidate Claims Victory in Georgia Vote

00 Voting in Georgia. 27.10.13


On Sunday, an opponent of outgoing president Mikhail Saakashvili claimed victory in the Georgian presidential election just hours after voting stations closed in the former Soviet nation on Russia’s southern border. Initial exit polls gave Giorgi Margvelashvili, from the anti-Saakashvili Georgian Dream party, about 65 percent of the vote in an election that marked the end of a decade in power for Saakashvili. On Sunday evening, outside his party headquarters in Tbilisi, where supporters had already taken to the streets to celebrate his win, Margvelashvili said, “I want to thank everyone who supported me. Thanks to the Prime Minister who facilitated today’s victory”. Margvelashvili is a close ally of Georgian Prime Minister and billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who led Georgian Dream to a crushing victory over Saakashvili’s United National Movement in parliamentary polls in 2012.

Twenty three candidates took part in Sunday’s election in the South Caucasus nation, but the presidential position is less powerful than it was under Saakashvili, as laws passed earlier this year diluted presidential powers. Margvelashvili’s main rival, Davit Bakradze of the United National Movement, got about 20 percent of the vote according to exit polls. He said shortly after polling stations closed that the exit polls provided a “clear picture” and that he was prepared to work with the country’s new president. Both front-runners in the election pledged to continue policies of integration with the EU and NATO, and indicated a willingness to improve ties with Russia, which soured badly under Saakashvili.

According to the country’s election commission, turnout amongst Georgia’s 3.5 million registered voters was 46.6 percent. On Sunday evening, outgoing President Saakashvili said that Georgian voters had “spoken” and called on his supporters to respect the election result. A Columbia Law School graduate, Saakashvili enjoyed broad public support early in his presidency after he swept to power following Georgia’s 2003 so-called “Rose Revolution“, accomplishing successful institutional reforms. However, a disastrous defeat in a brief war with Russia in 2008 contributed to a later precipitous drop in his approval ratings. Saakashvili’s bitter political rival, Ivanishvili, is a secretive tycoon; Forbes estimates his fortune at 5.5 billion USD (175 billion Roubles. 5.75 billion CAD. 5.73 billion AUD. 4 billion Euros. 3.4 billion UK Pounds), making him Georgia’s richest man. Ivanishvili, who became prime minister last October, pledged to quit politics after the presidential vote, but hasn’t named a successor yet.

27 October 2013



Editor’s Note:

Langley’s Charlie McCarthy is history. Shall Georgian-Russian relations improve? Only time will tell us, but Saakashvili’s party went down in flames. However, the turnout was meagre. Most voters didn’t like ANY of the choices on offer and stayed home. I seem to recall that most Georgian soldiers took “French leave” during the 2008 war. They didn’t like the prospects on offer and simply melted away, going home in such numbers that the government couldn’t punish them. A clash between pro-Western factions excited less than half of the voters. Does this mean that the rest are Left voters? God alone knows, but I wouldn’t bet against it…



Sunday, 8 September 2013

Georgia: What’s the Definition of Tolerance?

00 Mosque in Imiri GEORGIA. 08.09.13


A revival of the Orthodox faith in Georgia appears to be coinciding with an uptick in discrimination against the country’s Muslim population. For centuries, Georgians defined their existence in “us vs them” terms, as a struggle to survive as a tiny Orthodox Christian nation in a predominantly-Muslim neighbourhood. In part, this concept came, in part, from the Ottoman and Persian Empires’ past control of parts of Georgia. However, today, this definition of national identity seems to leave little room for Georgia’s estimated 433,784 Muslim citizens, roughly 9.9 percent of its overall population. Sociologist Iago Kachkachishvili, the chairman of the Tbilisi State University Sociology Department, said, “The dominant attitude in Georgian society is that being Georgian means being Orthodox. The meaning of being Orthodox isn’t the pure religious meaning; it’s very close to a national identity as well. Many don’t consider non-Orthodox Georgians proper Georgians; they’re Georgians who’re kind of deviants. If an individual wishes to be perceived as a ‘real Georgian’, they must be baptised in the Georgian [Orthodox] way”.

Efforts to convert local Muslim populations are now especially strong in Adjara, an autonomous region of western Georgia that was part of the Ottoman Empire for 300 years. The Georgian Orthodox Church spent millions in state funds building churches and seminaries in villages there; local priests actively encourage their congregations to convert Muslim neighbours to Orthodoxy. However, for most Muslim Georgians, the expectation that they have to convert to be truly Georgian is unacceptable. Georgi Sanikidze, director of the G. Tsereteli Institute of Oriental Studies at Ilia State University in Tbilisi, noted that although for generations their faith was dormant, today, Muslims are also experiencing a religious revival. He said that where local Muslims tried to build mosques or publicly express their faith, often, tension flared with local Georgian Orthodox believers.

This May and June, angry crowds in the eastern village of Samtatskaro succeeded in shutting down Friday services at the local mosque. The services resumed only after intervention by police and officials. Last October and November, similar outbursts occurred in the western village of Nigvziani in response to rumours about alleged plans to build a local mosque. The hubbub quieted after a senior cleric denied the rumours, and police cautioned locals against harassing Muslim villagers. However, last month, an event raised questions about what, if anything, the government learned from these episodes. On 26 August, troops barred the entrance to the southern village of Chela after the Revenue Service (RS) opted to remove the local mosque’s minaret for allegedly unpaid import duties. The action sparked sharp protests nationwide. RS officials issued a statement that the agency tried to contact the minaret’s owner five days before closing the village and removing the minaret for “analysis”. Currently, the minaret is sitting in “storage” at a nearby site under police guard. The incident aggravated fears about discrimination against Muslims. In comparison, the Georgian Orthodox Church isn’t required to pay taxes and duties on goods. RS representatives didn’t respond to requests from EurasiaNet for additional information about its minaret investigation.

Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili sought to ease concerns that Georgian ethnic and religious minorities face discrimination. In a 2 September speech to the diplomatic corps, Ivanishvili reassured Georgian Muslims that Georgia is a tolerant country, saying, “Religious tolerance … isn’t only our tradition, but it’s also one of the fundamental principles of the Georgian constitution”. He claimed that what happened in Chela had “nothing to do with religious intolerance”, without elaborating. Some political analysts in Tbilisi interpreted his comments as a reference to a possible “dirty tricks” campaign against the governing Georgian Dream coalition during the run-up to October’s presidential election. However, sociologist Kachkachishvili cautioned that the concept of tolerance as defined by many ordinary Georgians strongly differs from the common understanding in the West. In Georgia, it’s more of a willingness to forgive those who accept Georgian Orthodoxy. He added, “This is a kind of quasi-tolerance, I’d say”. Ivanishvili pledged that “an appropriate response” would occur for any violations of the law in taking down the minaret or for “excessive force” against villagers protesting its removal. Then again, how far that response would go could be open to debate. Whilst emphasising that the minaret’s forcible removal was “unacceptable”, Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani… whose ministry oversees the General Prosecutor’s Office, the government agency responsible for investigating the minaret removal… termed the structure “illegal,” and asserted that Georgia would have to discuss whether or not the country should contain minarets.

In comments to EurasiaNet, Tariel Nakaidze, head of the Georgian Muslims’ Union, welcomed the investigation into the minaret’s “unprecedented” confiscation, but expressed caution. He claimed that the government hasn’t yet properly investigated other past abuses against Muslims. We couldn’t reach government officials to respond to the allegation. Nakaidze said, “This isn’t just about minarets and mosques. This is about our country. Our democracy will have a problem and we shouldn’t allow that to happen”.

6 September 2013

Molly Corso




Sunday, 20 January 2013

Patriarch Ilya of Georgia to Meet Putin in Moscow



According to sources in the Georgian Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church, the First Hierarch of the Church of Georgia, Catholicos Patriarch Ilya Ghudushauri-Shiolashvili, will meet President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on 23 January. Patriarch Ilya, who left for Moscow on Sunday, is visiting Russia to receive an award from International Foundation for the Unity of Orthodox Christian Nations (IFUOCN) {editor: a paper “rotten borough” organisation with no real existence). IFUOCN grants awards annually to political and religious leaders, as well as public figures, for contribution to “strengthening the unity of the Orthodox Christian nations”. The award ceremony will be at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow on 22 January.

Archpriest Giorgi Zviadadze, a Church of Georgia spokesman, told journalists in Tbilisi on Sunday before the Georgian Church delegation left for Moscow, “A meeting of the Georgian Patriarch and the Russian Patriarch [Kirill] with President Vladimir Putin is scheduled for 23 January”. President Putin sent greetings to Patriarch Ilya, who marked his 80th birthday this month and the 35th anniversary of his enthronement in December, and said in his message that Patriarch Ilya’s leadership of the Church of Georgia was “exemplary” and his contribution to strengthening of Orthodoxy in Georgia “invaluable”. Putin went on to say, “We highly appreciate your warm relations with Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church (sic). Your personal efforts, your calls for peace, love, creativity, accord, and unity have largely contributed to maintaining multi-century ties of friendship and mutual understanding between our peoples during a difficult stage of history. I’m sure that fruitful spiritual, cultural, and humanitarian dialogue will become a reliable foundation for further development of relations between Russia and Georgia”. Mikhail Shvydkoy, Putin’s special envoy for international cultural relations, conveyed Putin’s greetings during his visit to Tbilisi on 11 January, when he attended events in the Georgian capital marking Patriarch Ilya’s birthday and enthronement anniversaries.

21 January 2013 (MSK)

Civil Georgia


Editor’s Note:

Here’s the 64,000 Dollar Question… is Ilya going to meet Nino Burdzhanadze in Moscow? If he meets with her, shall it be open or covert? Now, that’s something worth knowing. The so-called Georgian Dream coalition only agrees on one thing… the toppling of Saakashvili. Ivanishvili has no political experience… he’s a rich “empty suit”. Georgian Dream includes factions that range from former communists to pro-Western Free Market lickspittles such as Ivanishvili. It simply is too amorphous to last… that’s why I believe that Ilya’s going to meet with Burdzhanadze in Moscow. She’s the only Georgian leader with any real ability and cred. This trip is proof that Langley’s efforts to make Georgia a reliable American lapdog have failed. Remember, Fathausen went to Georgia a while back… it appears that his mission was in vain (after all, he’s in thrall to the worst Russophobic elements in the US Republican Party).

We’ll see… Georgia’s in flux… and the USA is about to lose its only reliable ally in the former Soviet space. Shall Saakashvili survive? On the other hand, shall he end as an embittered second-rate émigré professor at a third-rate American college (with a “fellowship” at one of the K Street stink-tanks)? Time will tell us… I’d bet on the latter outcome…


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