Who is the Russian Orthodox communist who provoked protests in Tbilisi?
To understand why we are writing about a little-known Russian MP who is both a communist and an active Orthodox Christian, we need some background. Here it is:
At dawn on June 21, special forces in Tbilisi broke up a protest rally in front of the Georgian parliament that had lasted from 19:00 the previous evening.
Journalists estimated at least 30,000 were protesting. The rally was not organized by politicians, but it was attended by leaders of opposition parties, as well as civil society activists.
The main demand of the protesters was the resignation of the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the head of the state security service, as well as the prime minister and the speaker. The demonstrators made several attempts to storm the parliament, after which the police fired rubber bullets, used tear gas and water cannons.
Several hundred people were injured and taken away by ambulance – at least two people lost sight in one eye.
Although discontent over the policies of the ruling Georgian Dream party and personally with its leader, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvli, has been brewing for a long time, Russian MP Sergei Gavrilov was the immediate cause of the street protests.
The Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy opened on June 19 in Tbilisi. Gavrilov was given the right to open the assembly, and he did so while sitting in the chair reserved for the Georgian parliamentary speaker.
This event was like a “last straw” for much of the Georgian public. At first, the indignant parliamentary opposition left the courtroom, after which members of the parliamentary majority also protested.
And although the authorities immediately stated that the appearance of Gavrilov in the chair of the Georgian speaker was a “protocol mistake”, a protest was already brewing outside as thousands of people took to the streets in Tbilisi.
So who is the Russian Orthodox communist MP Sergei Gavrilov, and what is the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy?
Who is Sergei Gavrilov?
Sergey Gavrilov has been a member of the Russian parliament from the Communist Party since 2007. Prior to that, he ran three times for a spot in the State Duma of the Russian Federation, but without success.
After being elected to the lower house of the Russian parliament, Gavrilov served as chairman of the State Duma committee on information policy, information technology and communications, and later became deputy head of the transport committee.
Gavrilov does not take an active part in legislation, and thus he is not very well known even in Russia.
Russian media reports that Gavrilov became the chairman of the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy some time ago.
Those who came to the building of the Georgian parliament on the evening of June 20 were outraged by the fact that Gavrilov had previously advocated the independence of Abkhazia.
Gavrilov denies that he participated in the Russian-Georgian war:
“I think we should contribute not only to tourism and business, but also to culture,” he told Russian journalists. “I also want to respond to the fake news that has spread in Georgian media. [I] never took part in hostilities on the territory of Abkhazia. This is a lie.”
However, in 2008, Gavrilov, among other Russian MPs, voted to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
What is the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy?
The Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy – a session of which was being held at the Georgian parliament where Sergei Gavrilov spoke – was established in 1993 on the initiative of the Greek parliament.
It includes delegations and deputies from 25 countries, including from Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and the USA.
One of the main tasks of the Assembly, as stated on its website: “is to promote the role of Orthodoxy within the European Union as a significant and necessary political, cultural and spiritual expression in the formation of a new European reality”.
In previous years, the assembly held its meetings in Athens, Thessaloniki, Cairo, Sochi and other cities.
In Tbilisi, this event was taking place for the first time.