Ilia II and Bidzina Ivanishvili: everything is under control
By paying a visit to Catholicos Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II, chairman of the Georgian Dream ruling party Bidzina Ivanishvili tried to put an end to gossip and rumors, which have already started to suffocate the local society. It all started when Bishop Jacob (Yakobashvili) of Bodbe told one of the Georgian TV channels that certain people want to dismiss head of the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) Ilia II.
An influential clergyman said that two years ago, then-Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, current Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia and Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri, as well as Chkondidi Metropolitan Petre tried to persuade him - Jacob - to participate in a conspiracy against Ilia II. Including in the scenario of the elimination of the patriarch, Jacob said.
It's not clear why the Bishop of Bodbe suddenly decided to tell about the events dating back to more than 2 years. However, the language he used on television led to suggestions that the priest might not be sober.
The response to Jacob's statement was swift. Kvirikashvili categorically rejected the allegations, saying that he would never dare to go against Ilia II. Chkondidi Metropolitan Petre laughed and advised "to deal closely with the fate of Archpriest Giorgi (Mamaladze)," who is serving a prison sentence for plotting the murder of a high-ranking clergy member of the GOC. Petre believes that the "cyanide case” was far-fetched, and Giorgi Mamaladze was an innocently convicted victim of the GOC intrigues.
Immediately after Jacob's statement, Ilia II dismissed him from the post of chorbishop (Catholicos assistant) and head of the GOC "financial department". In another TV statement, Bishop Jacob explained inappropriate language used in his scandalous statement with a difficult emotional state caused by the need to "keep the unpleasant plot secret for so many years."
Mamaladze also drew attention to himself, saying once again that he has some serious compromising information, and if he is not released, he would make it public and then there’ll be hell to pay. He was arrested on February 10, 2017 at the Tbilisi airport, when he was about to leave for Germany to visit Ilia II, who was treated there. During a search, police discovered cyanide on Mamaladze - a potent poison. The investigation established that the cyanide was not meant for Ilia II, but for another influential person of the GOC. Later, there were assumption about the referee of Ilia II - Shorena Tetruashvili - a laywoman, who really enjoys strong influence in the GOC. Mamaladze was sentenced to a long prison term, but his guilt was questioned. Including by high-ranking clergy led by Chkondidi Metropolitan Petre.
During the cyanide scandal, there was a clear separation of the GOC governing elite. The split in the church power has been discussed for a long time, but now it has become virtually open. The conservatives - the majority - have clinched with the liberals, the so-called supporters of reforms and renewal of the GOC, informally led by Metropolitan Petre, who was associated with Georgia's former secular authorities back then, i.e. the United National Movement led by Mikheil Saakashvili.
Theologians associated the aggravation of intra-church strife with ...ill health of Ilia II and, as a result, the current issue of his possible successor. Perhaps they were right, because there has been a period of relative calm when in November 2017 Ilia II unexpectedly declared bishop of Senaki and Chkhorotsku Shio (Mujiri) as the patriarchal locum tenens.
Bishop Jacob's scandalous statement caused a new storm. Ilia II convened a meeting of the Holy Synod. Theologians assumed that nothing serious would happen at the meeting, since many high-ranking and influential priests were not in Georgia. On the whole, they doubted the advisability of a meeting on a criminal topic, which should be addressed by law enforcement agencies, considering the fact that when organizing a conspiracy, the option of physical elimination of the head of the GOC was considered. However, the outcome of the meeting was sensational. Metropolitan Petre was dismissed from the post by Ilia II, and he retired to one of the monasteries at the beginning of the week. He said that the decision of the Catholicos was unfair, and was taken after he uncovered sodomist sin within the Georgian church. In his second commentary, made a few minutes later, Petre accused Ilia II of this sin ...
The Georgian authorities take the side of the Catholicos Patriarch unconditionally and unanimously. They did it so vigorously that it is suitable to return to Bishop Jacob's accusation and ask the question - at the end of it all, what do we have?
Bishop Jacob, one of the leaders of conservative Orthodox clergy of the GOC, accused the secular authorities and Metropolitan Petre of conspiracy. As a result of which, he was deprived by the Catholicos of all posts, except for being a bishop. Metropolitan Petre, instead of a pause that came to the logic - one of his main rivals was weakened by the decision of Ilia II - made a move that did not correspond well with the situation that was visible from the outside. Namely, he openly attacked Ilia II and lost. At the meeting, the Synod decided to appeal to the country's president with a request to have mercy on the aforementioned Archpriest Giorgi. Secular authorities unequivocally supported Ilia II. And their opponents - the National Movement and ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili, whose protégé allegedly was Metropolitan Petre, have blamed the ruling Georgian Dream party, which, they say, wants to eliminate Ilia II and put its man on the throne in order to increase influence of the Russian Orthodox Church and, accordingly, Russia in Georgia.
The theater of the absurd ceases to be such to a certain extent if we analyze the relations of Georgia's secular authorities with the GOC. By and large, they had one serious contradiction in public, which almost led the Georgian Dream to big trouble.
Shortly before the 2018 presidential election, a bill on the legalization of marijuana was submitted to parliament. The document, in addition to the abolition of the criminal prosecution for the use of marijuana, implied the legal cultivation of hemp for subsequent export abroad for medical and cosmetic purposes. The authorship of the bill was ascribed to virtually Ivanishvili, which was probably close to reality, since he, who does not tolerate publicity, quite actively entered into public debate on this issue, proving the feasibility of adopting the bill as promising enormous economic benefits for Georgia. He was not stopped even by the harsh statement of the GOC, and then personally by Ilia II about the inadmissibility and sinfulness of such a step.
They backed off when pro-government presidential candidate Salome Zurabishvili showed a depressing result, and the fate of the presidency was to be decided only in the second round. Then the church showed all its strength, detaching from political processes for some time. Or by pretending it was doing it. In the second round, when the bill was recalled from parliament, the electorate showed much greater activity and ensured Zurabishvili a confident victory. Thus, the church demonstrated its capabilities in the electoral processes and made it clear to the authorities once again that it's no accident that it has been the most authoritative institution in Georgia for many years, capable of both helping the authorities and ... let's say, step aside and leave it alone with secular same problems.
With this in mind, the Georgian authorities, on the one hand, should maintain good relations with the GOC. On the other hand, the authorities may be interested in weakening this institution, albeit allied by it, but too influential, which to some extent makes the secular power a hostage to spiritual power in the country. But it’s unlikely in the interests of the authorities to ensure dominance over the GOC right now, when the most difficult parliamentary elections are just around the corner, when it is much easier to continue allied relations, win with the unspoken help of the church the 2020 fateful elections, which will be held using a fully proportional voting system and zero entry threshold for the first time in the country's history, and only then, if it wants to, to tackle the weakening of the ally with the prospect of its subordination to their interests.
As for the opposition's stormy reaction, it's understandable. It uses any scandal, any reason for the hype and possible destabilization of the situation - that’s why the Russian Orthodox Church and Russia. Despite the fact that relations between the GOC and the ROC are quite allied now, despite the absence of diplomatic relations between Moscow and Tbilisi and a huge tangle of political contradictions. But, it seems, the opposition failed to play "this game".
Bidzina Ivanishvili visited Ilia II with his wife. During the meeting, the leader of the ruling party touched on all the latest scandals, noting that there were attacks not only on the church, but on the Georgian state as a whole. "His Holiness, for his part,paid particular attention to the ongoing situation and the challenges Georgia facing today. At the end of the meeting, Catholicos Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II thanked Bidzina Ivanishvili and Ekaterina Khvedelidze (Ivanishvili’s wife) for the visit and blessed them," the patriarchy's statement reads.
Thus, the meeting of leaders - secular and spiritual ones, which took place in a benevolent atmosphere, demonstrates to society: unrest, whatever caused it and whatever its goals may be, was overcome. And calls for calm, it can be added - everything is under control.