"Emotional solidarity" or "political corruption"
Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, Ilia II and Preimer Irakli Garibashvili
Georgian Catholicos-Patriarch’s recent initiative has stirred up heated debates in Georgia. Last week, he voiced an intention to be endowed, alike the President,with the powers to pardon prisons.
Under the Constitution of Georgia, only the country’s top official – the President enjoys the right to pardon prisoners.
‘I think, the Patriarch should have the powers to pardon prisoners and convicts. We have discussed it with the Prime Minister and the Premier will probably raise this issue, – Ilia II made this statement, that caused much ado, on the country’s main theatrical stage – in Rustaveli Theatre, after attending a performance played by the female prison inmates, on December 5.
The statement was made before the TV cameras, in Rustaveli Theatre Hall. Georgian Prime Minister, Irakli Garibashvili, was there, beside the Patriarch, at that time.
Catholicos-Patriarch, Ilia II presented his baptismal cross to Prime Minister, Irakli Garibashvili. Rustaveli Theatre, December 5, 2015.
The ruling team’s upper echelons took up the Patriarch’s initiatives in a blink.
Prime Minister, Irakli Garibashvili said, ‘His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II is a pastor and his advice is important and valuable to everyone.’ He also appealed to the president and parliament to launch consideration of this issue.
Corrections Minister, Kakha Kakhishvili, also saw no problem in transfering political function to the clergyman. ‘The man, who, for all his life, has been shouldering other people’s sins, is requesting to give him an opportunity to pardon … I can’t understand, how the Patriarch’s proposal can be left unconsidered?, he said.
Deputy Head of the Georgian Dream parliamentary faction, Eliso Chapidze, has gone even further, agreeing on holding referendum that is going to reveal, whether “we want to live in a secular state or a theocratic one.’
The ‘Republicans’ turned out to be the only party in the ruling team that immediately termed Catholicos-Patriarch’s statement as ‘misunderstanding’ and claimed that vesting Catholicos-Patriarch with the authority to pardon prisoners was unconstitutional.
The authorities’ reaction on the Catholicos-Patriarch’s iinitiative deserved sharp criticism from part of the public. Representatives of NGOs, journalists, analysts and bloggers have regarded the authorities’ response as a readiness to pass an unconstitutional decision.
This issue has also triggered sharp response in the social networks.
It was the Patriarchy that dotted the ‘i’s’ in this ‘misunderstanding’. It released a special statement the very next day, denying the fact that the Patriarch was demanding legislative changes. As the Patriarchy pointed out, Ilia II’s statement was misinterpreted and it was actually nothing but an emotional solidarity with prisoners, not implying any legislative changes.
This statement has apparently brought the issue to a close and no changes are expected to be introduced in the available pardoning practice. However, as Georgian experts have noted, this scandal has served as a litmus test for further identifying the vices in relationship between the Church and the politicians.
George Tskhadaia, ‘Radio Liberty’ blogger: ‘Whether we do want or not to live in a state, where a religious person will make political decisions, has been brought to agenda in one day . Of course, there have been the signs of this before, but, for the first time, the ruling power has seriously raised the issue of whether we want a secular state or not. Paradoxical as it may seem, but the country, where the ruling political party and the main oppositional party regard themselves as pro-European (at least, they call themselves so) has suddenly faced a serious risk of secularism crisis. ‘
Theo Khatiashvili, fine art expert: ‘It is not only the Patriarch’s or politicians’ mere desire, voiced against an emotional background. This is an indicator of a very serious problem of how powerful the Patriarchy’s influence is and how amenable are the politicians, who cannot oppose the Patriarchy despite the fact, that they have been backed by the Constitution. ‘
Giorgi Maisuradze, philosopher: ‘This was a certain litmus test, that once again showed, in whose’ (politicians) hands we are – people, who neither have state consciensness nor have the knowledge of the Constitution…as for the Patriarchy – if we are able to analyze the text, we could see that the Patriarch’s statement was not based only on emotions. Patriarch is more clever politician, than the members of the incumbent government. The Patriarch certainly knew that the government would not meet his request and wouldn’t change the Constitution. However, he still demanded that. The previous years’ practice has proved that when the Patriarchy demands something unrealistic, the government, that is afraid of the Patriarchy’s authority, in its turn, showers it with valuable gifts – residences, land plots etc., i.e. the national property.’
Giorgi Gotsiridze, ‘Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association lawyer: ‘The issue of transfer of the right to pardon to the Patriarch has shown the public, that the present government is ready to give up on a democratic system and shift to a theocratic one.’
Eka Tchitanava, Tolerance and Diversity Institute director: ‘The Patriarchy has demonstrated its power, has shown that it has political power and claims to become a political player. Georgian government, whose’ rating has dropped, is trying, in turn, to make use of the Church. That’s exactly, what previous governments did. A study, conducted by our organization, revealed that the hugest state funds are allocated to the Church in the pre-election period, which is a ‘political corruption’.
Sergi Ratiani, the ‘United National Movement’ executive secretary: ‘Representatives of the majority group do not understand a clear principle – the state and the church should be separated. They do not understand this principle. They can’t understand, that this separation is not simply spelled out in the Constitution, it is a fundamental principle, based on which the Constitution, itself, is written. This separation is perceive as opposition. Spiritual and secular spheres are separated because when talking about the Church, we touch upon sacredness, holiness and faith. There is no place for sacredness in politics. ‘
Alexi Petriashvili, ‘Free Democrats’ leader: ‘We are actually dealing with a disaster. In fact, this government has been cut off its own citizens; it is unable and unwilling to talk about their problems, it has no contact with its people. Regrettably, it has not even realized the grounds, based on which such statements are made. But the Patriarchy’s explanation has made things clear. We , the ‘Free Democrats’, have a very principled position in this case, and the Patriarchy’s statement has also confirmed that – the Church has its own function and the government – its’ own. ‘