Georgian religious denominations to be sponsored
Georgy Kalatozishvili, Tbilisi. Exclusively to Vestnik Kavkaza
The Georgian government is preparing a draft on sponsorship of traditional religious denominations by the state. “We often hear that under our governance religious conflicts became more frequent. In fact, we equally respect all religious denominations, and our draft on sponsorship of four religious movements by the state confirms it,” Premier Irakly Garibashvili stated.
The initiative is interesting for several reasons. First of all, speaking about accusations of religious intolerance, Garibashvili meant an incident in Chela Village in the south of the country, where the local Orthodox flock headed by religious fanatics and supported by the Georgian Orthodox Church achieved wrecking of a mosque which was built by Muslim Georgians (the Adzharians). However, the mosque was soon rebuilt on the same spot, but the incident wasn’t forgotten by foreign partners of Georgia.
Secondly, it is unlikely that all religious denominations will be sponsored equally. Apparently volumes of aid will be differentiated. During recent years the patriarchy of the GOC received about $15 million annually. The sum is significant for the country. “Selective sponsorship” caused criticism of local human rights organizations and the West. However, leaders of the GOC and lobbyists of their interests in power circles referred to the concordat – a special agreement between the state and the GOC, which was signed in 2001. The document requires huge privileges for the GOC, including exemption from taxes, legal immunity, and so on.
The new Georgian authorities decided to response the criticism, but without signing similar agreements with other religious denominations and providing them with equal financial aid. However, making the decision on sponsorship of four religious denominations, Garibashvili’s government and Georgian Dream may face the same heavy criticism by other, non-traditional religious movements in Georgia. Garibashvili’s words on equal respect to all religious denominations contradict with the reality. It appears he respects Lutheranism less than Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, and Armenians, as their religious denominations will be financed by the Georgian state along with the GOC from now on.
Some local observers believe that such a settlement of the problem is worse than the status quo. First of all the USA will react sharply to the innovation, as they treated carefully the rights of “new”, “non-traditional” movements of Christianity. Therefore, trying to be tolerant supporters of religious minorities, the team of the former premier Ivanishvili won’t solve the problem of equality of religious denominations; it may cause accusations of selectivity and double standards.