Split of Georgian Orthodox Church — spiritual disintegration of Georgian nation

Split of Georgian Orthodox Church — spiritual disintegration of Georgian nation | Русская весна

This year Georgia celebrated the 28th anniversary of State Independence restoration act (April 9, 1991). Georgian political analysts often say in their comments to the Western media that Georgia has established itself as a state and has shown the world that it can be a European country. However, as it turned out, it is not at all obvious to Western politicians. Especially when we are talking not about ceremonial speeches at Euro-Atlantic forums, but about certain projects important for the West.

Thus, in August, former U.S. Special Representative of the State Department in Caucasus, and now a high-ranking business lobbyist Matthew Bryza said that if Georgia turned out to be unable to implement the project of a deep-water port in Anaklia, it would be the evidence that Georgia is a quasi-state.

What is the reason of such a message?

We should start by saying that Matthew Bryza’s negative statements should be considered under the context of the U.S.-European confrontation, which is unfolding today in Caucasus as well.

As you know new President of Georgia Salome Zurabishvili is a staff member of French Foreign Ministry. Her election the European Union celebrated with the plan to inject 3.5 billion euros into the development of infrastructure and logistics for the Southern Transport Corridor on the Georgian territory, which should supply Europe with Asian resources through the Black Sea region (bypassing Russia).

Some circles in the U.S. would prefer their own schemes for such routes. And business is business, and overseas democracy teachers do not consider corruption as corruption in matters of benefit. Therefore, the Americans got tense when the Georgian authorities launched an investigation against the longtime partner of North American businessmen Mamuka Khazaradze. The case came to the point of arresting the accounts of TLC bank controlles by Mamuka, including for irregularities in the organization of a tender for a construction contract for Anaklia port. The U.S. company Conti then announced its withdrawal from the project.

In June, Matthew Bryza, David Kramer (formerly a senior State Department official) and Michael Carpenter (formerly a senior Pentagon official) came to Georgia to defend their «field». Officially, they participated in a conference on «Russia’s policy in the post-Soviet space».

Apparently, the Americans couldn’t solve their business problems. Or they could but only partially and not quite as desired. As a result, Michael Carpenter sent the following signal via Twitter: «The Georgian authorities do not fully understand the possible consequences of the open-door policy towards Russia… Georgians will wake up one day and one hundred percent of their territory is occupied by Moscow».

The signal has passed — riots broke out in Tbilisi. On June 20th the opposition stormed the Parliament building, where Sergei Gavrilov, who headed Russian delegation at the meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of Orthodoxy, in cpeaker’s chair. It all ended with Russian tourism breakdown in Georgia, which Carpenter was so concerned about

This was followed by an escalation on the border with South Ossetia — the Georgian police set up an uncoordinated post in the village of Tsnelisi, and it vearly boiled up to a point of armed conflict.

However, one should not see only the American hand in these incidents. The current «European» authorities of Georgia probably do not mind to strengthen the field of tension in relations with Moscow too. Only they do not want to have a direct relation to it. After all, the repprochement of Transcaucasian countries with Russia is unprofitable neither for EU nor for the US. And this unites them in certain issues. In particular, in an effort to gain control access to key segments of Georgia’s security sphere, the relevant agreements on cooperation with NATO and European Union have already been signed by authorized representatives of Georgian authorities.

So, the sub-total is that we can state that regardless of the proportions of patriotism, pragmatism or corruption among Georgian politicians, as well as the interests of which circles in the U.S., Europe or other countries they combine with their own, the main vector of development of the Georgian state today is obvious — it is the course to the loss of sovereignty.

But as history shows, the sovereignty of Georgians is not based primarily on state borders and formal attributes of independence. In official Tbilisi today it is customary to say that the country gained independence less than thirty years ago, was subjected to foreign aggression (by Russia) and now aspires to NATO and the EU in order to preserve itself and take a worthy place in the civilized world.

But on the other hand, it is Russia that has united all the lands and peoples that make up Georgia today within its common borders. Before that, there was no Georgian national community. It was during the Soviet period that a modern Georgian nation was formed. And Georgian statehood in the Soviet Union was in the form of an autonomous socialist republic.

Today, when Georgia «strives for a democratic community», staying in the «family of Soviet peoples» is regarded as a period of loss of the acquired national independence after the collapse of the Russian Empire. But before entering the Russian Empire the Kartvelian kingdom and a dozen principalities were far from prosperity under the shadow of Turkish sultans and Persian shahs. And the democratic intelligentsia (local intellectuals — edit.) that put forward the idea of an independent Georgian state appeared during the period when Georgia was a part of Russia.

So, conjuncture assessments may change, but the fact remains the same — modern Georgia, as a state, was able toapeear because two hundred years ago, the components of its territory were under the authority of Russian Tsar.

However, the emergence of Georgia would not have been possible if there was not something that was specific to the Georgian nation — the so-called «Georgianness». If not for this core, the history of Georgian statehood would have ended in the XIII century with the invasion of Mongols.

What is this «Georgianness» if we talk about it as a core of self-preservation of identity of Georgians? What does it come down to? Mentality, traditions, ethnic origin, language, sense of community?

No. All of these would not provide sufficient support for the preservation of Georgian identity in the tumultuous passes of history.

If we talk about mentality and traditions, they are very, very changeable. It is often not obvious to the living generation, but still it is not necessary to be a Sorbonne ethnologist to note that in a hundred or even less years the way of life and customs of the people can change radically, and the phenomena that are associated with a deep antiquity, can be based on absolutely opposite senses and practices of the past.

As far as language and ethnic origins are concerned, we can give such an example. In the north-eastern part of Turkey there are representatives of the Lazs ethnic group who are related to the Georgians and who spoke one of the Kartvelian languages for a long time. If we get to the north-western coast of Syria, we can find there the province of Latakia, ancient Lazika, which is still called «Lazikia» in Arabic and «Lazkie» in Turkish. Among the local highlanders there are descendants of the same Lazs, but for many centuries they have been speaking Arabic, and together with the natives of the Phoenicians and other ethnic groups they form a community of Alawites. The cult of veneration of George the Warrior in Latakia can be found even today, but almost nobody knows anything about Georgians here.

How have all those ethnic groups and nationalities that are considered today as representatives of the united Georgian nation survived in Western Caucasus? Or rather, what is the Georgian core that attracted them?

Noble people could change their faith and nationality, tribes and clans could sit in hard-to-reach valleys and gorges, and the lack of large numbers of foreign migrants protected Georgians from linguistic and ethnic assimilation. But the Georgian Orthodox Church was the center of gravity for preserving national memory, forming community and self-identification in the history of Georgians. Spirituality in the Georgian language (and the literary language itself), legends about the great figures of the past, the idea of identity — all this was saved by GOC.

But today Georgian Orthodox Church is going through tough times. When pro-Western political analysts call Georgia a «European country» they mean not just political geography. They mean those «values» that Georgia has been implementing for three decades in a group of figures and institutions financed by Western governments and foundations. Young lawyers' associations, public policy institutes, republican parties — dozens and hundreds of names, behind which there is a liberal ideology of European grandees and American democrats, who do not meet resistance from neoconservatives in this field. Many in the Georgian political establishment have risen through political, scientific, educational and public organizations created with Western money. Fighting for power and resources, they are not inclined to defend the spiritual foundations. Liberalism in modern Europe requires freedom from the primacy of traditional institutions and morals. Legislation and power should correct morals. And one of the symbols of the «European vector of development» of modern Georgia is the ratification of the Istanbul Convention in spring 2017. The very one that the President of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, now promises to ratify, despite the protests of the Church.

The Istanbul Convention has a clause that legitimizes gender discrimination as interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights. It consists of state’s duty to protect transgender, bisexual, lesbian and gay persons, among others, from discrimination. The quota for LGBT persons has not yet been introduced in Georgian state institutions. Perhaps because Georgian Orthodox Church is still an independent force which is popular among common people. Although LGBT activist Nino Bolkvadze may run for as mayor of Tbilisi position by «dissidents-founded in 1978» Republican party, gay parades in the Georgian capital are being disrupted year after year by Orthodox activists and representatives of patriotic movements.

Mikhail Saakashvili’s comrades-in-arms managed to legalize cannabis smoking in 2017, but sale and cultivation of marijuana in Georgia is still prohibited.

So as you can see the «Orthodox Lobby» is preventing «doing business». Authorities played along with the opposition during the June riots under anti-Russian slogans for a reason. The scandal broke out around Russians who arrived at Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of Orthodoxy.

In fact, state institutions and secular ideologies in Georgia have become hostages to squabbles between elites, and the Georgian Church is currently the only support for the preservation of the national unity of Georgians in future. This is why GOC appears to be at the forefront of information war, as if it were a bastion being bombed from the outside and experiencing treason from the inside.

The strength or weakness of organizations lies in the people, especially if they are at the helm. Despite all the ambiguous assessments of the personality and activities of the Georgian Patriarch Ilia II, he is an extremely authoritative figure in Georgia. However, his declining years are becoming apparent. The «X hour» is coming for Georgian Church, and the name of the person on whom the conductors of Western politics rely is known. In 2008, when the head of GOC clearly disagreed with the anti-Russian course of President Saakashvili, the Patriarch’s supporters were ripped off TV broadcasting license by meabs of manipulations. The new Orthodox television was headed by Metropolitan Petre Chkondidsky (Tsaava).

The historical and symbolic significance of the Chkondidi Monastery can be compared with the Krutitsy courtyard in the history of Russian Orthodox Church. The fact that the head of Chkondidy diocese has been in virtually open opposition to the Patriarch for many years testifies to a great extent to the state of affairs within GOC and to the power of external pressure on church leadership. In 2017, Metropolitan Petre tried to organise the removal, if not of the Patriarch himself, then at least those hierarchs who could take his place and maintain an independent course in public policy. GOC Synod did not support Petre and deprived him of TV channel head position, but kept Tsaava chair. He recognized tomos of Constantinople Patriarchate and Ukrainian Autocephalous Church (as opposed to GOC in general). This tells a lot about the narrow gauge in which Peter Tsaava intends to drive Georgian Orthodox Church in case he takes Patriarch’s place.

And the Georgian society should think about what will happen to «European Georgia» in this case. Some may think that the Old Europe has a bright future ahead: millions of social protests are transient, the migrants' problems will be solved, same-sex marriages and demolition of Christian churches will not undermine human potential. So Georgia will join EU and NATO, and everything will be fine.

And what are the actions of Petre Tsaava’s secular allies on this path?

Now they are not very good at contesting «interference of the Church in public life», but if GOC is headed by figures like Metropolitan of Chkondidy, things will obviously go well. And what this course of Georgian history can lead to can be understood by the direction of where foreign funds' spawns are aimed at.

For example, the Institute for Tolerance and Diversity, which is loved by the Western media. It protects monuments of Armenian church architecture in the construction zones, organizes native language courses in Azerbaijani schools, defends the right of Turkey to conduct educational programs for Adzharia residents. Beka Mindiashvili, a «theologist» representating the Institute thinks that Salafist Muslims (one of their currents is well-known Wahhabi) should have their own separate spiritual administration in Georgia. This will supposedly help to prevent extremism among the Chechen Kists.

Of course, the rights of national minorities should be defended, especially if the authorities are inclined to infringe them (for democratic Georgia it is a painful topic). But let’s look at it from another angle.

In a country where each community has its own rights and self-governance, power should be decentralized. Maybe it is for the better — it will be easier for foreign inspectors to control the efficiency of their investments, taking into account that they have unlimited access to the main segments of state management. If it is decentralized, it is weak, and if it is weak, it will not have strong sovereignty to ensure the independence of politics. This is the cost of joining a «civilized community».

For Georgia, this may also result in new territorial losses, if not de jure, then de facto. Distant Europeans need to somehow build relations with Turkey, which is always interested in the coastal regions of Western Georgia. If anyone does not know, it is Turkey that is in charge of Georgia within NATO framework. This year, six different manoeuvres have already been held with the participation of Turkish, Georgian and Azerbaijani soldiers. And it is quite obvious that as soon as the European protege Pashinyan helрs to solve the issues with the Karabakh settlement, Turkey and Azerbaijan will closely deal with the western and southern regions of Georgia, because routes to Europe will not be laid past them. So the «institutions of tolerance and diversity» will be very much to the point against decentralization of the state.

Should we be surprised, knowing the role of Georgian Orthodoxy in the Georgian community evolvement, that now the most urgent task for external players is to weaken, if not split the Georgian Church? Because this automatically means collapse of the nation, its spiritual «decentralization». Given the state of Georgian politics and economy, the Church is probably the only obstacle on the way of eurointegrators in the elimination of Georgian independence.

Roman Kargopolov, Kavkazgeoclub, translated by «Russian Spring»

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