Georgian government "trying to gain favour with Orthodox Church"
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When a prank video clip of Patriarch Ilia II sounding off about President Mikheil Saakashvili emerged on YouTube on October 13, the nation was outraged. But so to was the government. As one of our Observers in Tbilisi explains, their strong reaction only highlights their weakness alongside the Orthodox Church. ...
When a prank video clip of Patriarch Ilia II (an important high Orthodox priest in Georgia) sounding off about President Mikheil Saakashvili emerged on YouTube on October 13, the nation was outraged. But so to was the government. As one of our Observers in Tbilisi explains, their strong reaction only highlights their weakness alongside the Orthodox Church.
On the same day that it was posted on YouTube, the video was picked up by Tea Tutberidze, an anarchist analyst from liberal think-tank Liberty, and posted on her Facebook page. Brought to the attention of the national media, the reaction was explosive. Many believed it to be a sneaky message from the authorities in response to comments made by Patriarch Ilia II a week earlier, when he criticised President Saakashvili for going to war with Russia in 2008.
However, the government immediately condemned the prank, and within just eight days had orchestrated the set up of an NGO called ‘Movement in Defence of our Honour'. Its sole purpose: "to defend the Patriarch's reputation". They also called in a number of people for questioning, including Ms Tutberidze, although she claimed to have posted the video as a way of denouncing it.
“Politicians are using the affair to try to gain favour with both the church and the people”
Nana Sajaia is a journalist from Tbilisi. She works for weekly newspaper Georgia Today.
We did think that the person behind this video might have been somebody with a political motivation at first, but now, it seems that it was just some college students having a bit of fun. What's interesting, is the way the politicians reacted to it. They rallied around the church and made it very clear to the public that ‘Nobody should insult the patriarch!'
Ilia II is incredibly powerful in Georgia, as is the Orthodox Church, in creating public opinion. Because of a special law here, the church doesn't pay any taxes and also receives a lot of money in funding from the state.
Recently the International Republican Institute conducted a study asking Georgians which institution they trusted most in the country. Ninety-four per cent said it was the church [up from 39% in 2003]. For the majority of Georgians, this video was a huge insult. And the government knows it, which is why they sided with the church.
It seems like a strange decision on the part of Tea Tutberidze to have published the video on her Facebook page. However, the Liberty think-tank she works for is known for having been critical of religion in the past. It's a pro-secular group. But it's also a minority, and will certainly not garner any support from the masses by doing this kind of thing. The government, however, is now using the affair to try to gain favour with both the church and the people.
There are many reasons why Georgians are so devoted to their church. One of them is because its return was the direct result of the collapse of the Soviet Union - it was forbidden during the USSR. It's also a common feature of developing countries in general, because they appreciate something which remains constant. After the Rose Revolution there was an increase in support for the church, and again after last year's war with Russia. Before that the Georgian Army was not far behind the Orthodox Church in terms of trust, but, although it stayed in second place, it took a dive in the following months."
The dubbed prank
Translation by Nana Sajaia. Subtitles by FRANCE 24.