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Opposition calls on Saakashvili to veto amendments on religious groups’ law

By Mzia Kupunia
Thursday, July 7
The Georgian Patriarchate and some of the opposition have slammed changes made to the Georgian Civil Code on Tuesday, envisaging giving permission to the religious minority groups in Georgia to register as legal entities of public law in Georgia. In its second statement for the last two days, the Georgian Orthodox Church authorities said the officials and the Patriarchate representatives held a meeting on July 5, however the sides failed to reach an agreement over the issue.

“The newly adopted law contradicts with the interests of the Church, as well as the interests of the country,” the Patriarchate’s statement reads “we think that this law will bring negative results in the nearest future and the government is responsible for this,” it continues.

According to the amendments to the civil code, the religious faiths in Georgia will get a status of legal entities of public law. Currently they hold a status of private entity of public law. However, several amendments have been applied to the final version of the draft package. The final version of the law does not include a list of the faiths which are able to get a new status. The previous draft amendments package included the Armenian Apostolic Church, Roman Catholic Church, Evangelical Baptist Church, as well as Muslim and Jewish communities as the ones eligible to receive a legal entity of public law status. The newly adopted amendments define that all religious groups, having “historic links” with Georgia, as well as the religious confessions which have such a status in the Council of Europe member states, will be able to get a new status.

Another difference between the first and the last version of the amendments is that there is no indication in the adopted law that the Georgian state takes responsibility to hold negotiations with other states about the status and protection of Georgian churches abroad. This was one of the points actively demanded by the Patriarchate and the opposition representatives. The newly adopted law does not include a paragraph about carrying out additional activities in terms of protection of the Georgian churches on occupied territories.

Some of the opposition politicians have called on the Georgian President to veto the newly passed amendments. Leader of the Free Democrats, Irakli Alasania criticized the ruling party lawmakers for adopting the changes to the civil code without preliminary multisided discussions on the matter. “I call on Mikheil Saakashvili to use a right to veto and not to sign a hasty decision made by a single-party parliament,” Alasania said. The young wing of Alasania’s party also supported his position. Leader of the Young Free Democrats, Sulkhan Ghlonti said the National Movement Party has “humiliated” the Georgian Patriarch by adopting a new law. “The solution to this situation is vetoing this law and starting public discussions,” Ghlonti said “We support defending interests of all religious groups in the Georgian legislation, however this should not be happening without considering the proposals of the society, the Patriarchate and the representatives of the religious groups,” he added.

Georgia’s Labour Party has also demanded vetoing the newly adopted amendments. One of the leaders of the opposition party, Giorgi Gugava said the new law could bring the “heaviest results.” “This is an anti-state and anti-religious war, which aims at triggering religious and ethnic hatred between the peoples,” he said at a special press conference on Wednesday “against this background, dictator Saakashvili is trying to portray himself to the Western society as a liberal ruler and convince them that he should stay in power.”

According to the Georgian legislation, the amendments to the Civil Code should be sent to the President in 7 days and the President should sign the document in 10 days time. The amendments come in to force as soon as President signs the amendments.