10/04/2018, 09.42
GEORGIA
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Orthodox Church accused of interference in Georgian elections

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Salome Zurabishvili, of the patriotic and anti-Russian "dreamers" group, makes accusation. Patriarch Ilja II demands greater neutrality from members. Fears of repercussions on relations between the patriarchate of Moscow and Kiev.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The elections of the President of Georgia will be held next October 28, and the candidates are trying to pull the Orthodox Church to their side. The main opponents are Bidzina Ivanishvili, who leads the currently governing coalition "The Georgian dream - a democratic Georgia" (GMDG) and Grigor Bashadze, ex-foreign minister and former president Mikhail Saakashvili, of the "Force in unity" block, a set of lists formed around the "National Unitary Movement "(NUM). The third candidate could be another woman, Salome Zurabishvili, from the so-called "dreamers", formerly foreign minister under Bashadze and once close to Saakashvili, before passing to the opposition.

During the election campaign, Zurabishvili accused the local Orthodox Church of having broken the concordat with the state, signed in 2002 between the President Eduard Shevardnadze and the Katolikos (Patriarch) Ilja II. According to the agreements, the authorities recognize and respect the rights and property of the Church in the country, and the members of the clergy undertake to stay out of politics. Zurabishvili believes that the Georgian Church has failed in the pact by repeatedly intervening in the political debate. On the Imedi TV channel, the "dreamer" candidate stated: "How is it possible that the Church participates in such a shameless way in the electoral campaign?".

The accusations are all the more current, as the Patriarch Ilja II himself undersigned them, stating that "unfortunately, some members of the clergy have issued statements of political content on the occasion of the approaching elections, arguing in a very incorrect manner for one candidate or another. I invite priests and bishops to refrain from these actions; the Church has been and will always be neutral with respect to politics, as a unifying force of the country ".

The anger of the katolikos and the candidate was provoked by the behavior of a member of the Synod of the Orthodox Church, the Metropolitan of Chkondidsky Petr (Tsaavi). On 18 September, he criticized Zurabishvili during a Sunday homily in the cathedral of the city of Martvili (northern Zvanetsia). The prelate has accused the candidate of poor patriotism, having been born and raised in France, so much so she speaks Georgian with a strong French accent. The "dreamer" has worked in the past in the foreign ministry of Paris, and only this year renounced French citizenship. Metropolitan Petr likened her to the French missionaries of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, who went to Georgia to make propaganda of Catholicism "deceiving the Georgian population; since then the term Frenchification is used, to indicate in Georgian an evil behavior".

It should be noted that the "dreamers", the group that supports the Zurabishvili, mostly resort to "patriotic" arguments, comparing for example Russian occupied Abkhazia occupied a "gangrene". The candidate has promised that, in the event of an election, she will bring Abkhazia and South Ossetia back under Georgian sovereignty, no longer with the weapons of war, but that of love for the homeland and the common welfare of the whole population of the country.

Metropolitan Petr opposes the Zurabishvili and favors the candidate Bashadze, representative of the most anti-Russian and aggressive faction, according to the line of the former president Saakashvili. The latter has been involved in the last years of Ukrainian politics, covering in 2015-2016 the position of governor of the Odessa region and participating in the recent conflict against Russia. Other positions of various members of the Church have stood up for or against the various candidates, creating a climate of confusion among the faithful and in the population.

The echoes of the Ukrainian conflict, and of the 2011 conflict with Putin's Russia in Abkhazia, heavily affect Georgian politics. For this reason, the Orthodox Church of Tbilisi has attempted to clarify that, at an ecclesiastical level, the problems between Moscow, Kiev and Constantinople are internal to those same Churches, trying to stay out of the controversy. The presidential elections could make the framework of social life and ecclesiastical relations even more complex.

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