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Prospects of Russian Patriarch's visit to Georgia

By Messenger Staff
Monday, January 11
Some high ranking officials of the Russian Patriarchate say that Patriarch Kiril is planning to visit Georgia. Georgian officials are sceptical about this, however some analysts suggest that a meeting of the two brotherly Churches' leaders might create the preconditions for further dialogue and a reconciliation of the nations.

The Georgian and Russian Churches, both Orthodox, share common principles. After the Russian invasion of Georgia and The Kremlin's recognition of the breakaway regions the Russian Orthodox Church refused to accept the Abkhazian and South Ossetian 'churches' as part of the Russian Church and still considers Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region as part of the Georgian Orthodox Church's ecclesiastical territory.

Of course it is in the Russian Church's own interests to maintain Church order rather than bow to political ambitions and moves, because even though formally the eparchies of the breakaway regions belong to Georgia services there are conducted in Russian if at all. The position of the Russian Church is quite clear, but verbally and legally it is radically different from that of official Moscow.

At the end of last year the NATO leadership advised, in effect told, Tbilisi that it should conduct dialogue with Moscow. Whether any dialogue should be conducted with an invader or whether a deal has been done between the West and Moscow are questions we are not going to touch on now. But if entering into dialogue is the West's condition for granting Georgia a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) it should be done, and the Orthodox Church could provide the best way of doing it.

The political leaders of both countries take rather seriously the role of their national Churches. Of course, in 2009 the Georgian media several times criticised Patriarch Kiril. The Georgian Patriarch was also subject to dirty attacks here, particularly when he criticised Georgia’s leadership for getting trapped into fighting a Russian-masterminded war. But still the two Churches and their leaders are trusted institutions, in which most people in both countries would have confidence in a negotiation process.

Until now no official dates have been announced for the visit of the Russian Patriarch or preparations made. Most probably he will visit Georgia after his trip to Jerusalem. A senior Russian clergyman has stated, according to Georgian sources, that the Patriarch will visit Georgia specifically to facilitate the process of a possible reconciliation between the opposing countries in the 2008 war. The official position of Tbilisi on this was aired by Minister Temur Iakobashvili, who stated that Kiril’s visit would have no significance unless Moscow renounced its recognition of the occupied territories. Such a visit will change nothing in the political arena - “Russia will try to give the visit a political dimension, or use it for that purpose, but nothing will change while Georgian land is occupied,” Iakobashvili stated.

However the Georgian media is highlighting some other statements being made by the Georgian leadership. For instance Saakashvili highlighted in one of his recent speeches the importance of the Russian language. He said the same in Ukraine some time ago and even conducted his press conference there in the Russian language, though he knows Ukrainian and could have held it in either English or Georgian. All this has led the opposition to believe that Saakashvili plans to embrace Russia. The Medvedev-Putin tandem continually says that it will not communicate with Saakashvili and his administration. However some opposition leaders are conducting very intensive negotiations with the Russians at leadership and other levels, and there are even rumours that some opposition leaders are doing this on behalf of the Government in a disguised way.

Meanwhile Georgia’s spiritual leader Ilia II has stressed that relations exist between the two Churches and two nations but Georgia’s territorial integrity must be restored. He has underlined the inevitability of such a development. He has also recommended to the Russian leadership that it reconsider its position. From time to time the Georgian media reports that if it had not been for the Georgian leadership's shortsighted moves the Russians would have withdrawn from the village of Perevi and town of Akhalgori thanks to Ilia II's activities, and the Patriarch continues to work for the deoccupation of Georgia in both word and deed.

We think that it might be quite profitable for Georgia, and Russia in the long run, if the two Churches are given the chance to continue negotiations. But these should of course be result-oriented.