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Patriarch's Moscow Visit an Irritation for Georgian Government

By Messenger Staff
Wednesday, November 30
Catholicos Patriarch of Georgia Ilia II visited Moscow to congratulate Russian Patriarch Kiril on his 65th birthday. This was the official reason of the visit. However, the Georgian patriarch used it as an attempt to solve problems between Georgia and Russia. The Georgian leadership accepted this visit rather coldly. There was almost no comment about the visit of the Georgian patriarch, and all media outlets controlled by the state were commenting very negatively about patriarch Kiril.

The good relations between the two Orthodox Christian churches in Georgia and Russia based on very almost similar religious belief systems, irritates Georgian officials after the August 2008 invasion of Georgia by the Russians. However, the government does not dare to criticize steps taken by the Georgian patriarch due to the utmost interest and respect that Ilia II is held in by the Georgian public. Meanwhile, the Georgian president and other representatives of authorities repeated the Russian patriarch’s sentiments concerning disappointment at the collapse of the Soviet Union. This has enabled the Georgian authorities to paint the Russian patriarchate as cozy with the Kremlin. Yet, outside government circles, some in Georgia dare criticize Ilia II too. The former deacon of the Georgian patriarchate Basil Kobakhidze in his interview to Alia accused the Georgian church of advancing pro-Russian policies. According to him, the Georgian patriarch’s meeting with Bidzina Ivanishvili and visit to Russia are proof of a pro-Russian orientation.

The magazine Tabula sponsored by the former Minister of the Economy, millionaire Kakha Bendukidze, who earned most of his money in Russia, wrote that the Georgian church leans towards Russia and has an anti-western agenda. Officials in Tbilisi and the subordinated media follow the tradition of labeling any step taken independently as pro-Russian, and Ilia II is proving to be susceptible to that charge too. However, the Georgian people respect and support the patriarch and are irritated by official attitudes towards him. Independent analysts also do not feel it wrong that the Georgian patriarch is trying to reconcile the two nations. Ilia II, while in Moscow, several times repeated on different levels that a normalization of relations between the two countries and the return of IDPs to the breakaway territories of Georgia was necessary.

Opposition representative Nestan Kirtadze, said there should be no obstacles to the patriarch to conduct negotiations in Russia. Of course this is risky – the patriarch is an unelected figure whose business is first and foremost the church and not politics. It is difficult to believe that he can bring significant results. On the other hand, Georgia’s official position which shows irritation about the patriarch’s visit and comments about Russia are also risky. The Georgian population loves the patriarch and the church, and elections are approaching.