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GEL 284 852 spent from state budget for consecration ceremony of a temple

By Levan Abramishvili
Thursday, August 8
GEL 893 340 was allocated from the state budget for the celebration of the ‘Day of Georgia’s Allotment to St. Mary’, according to the decree of the Government of Georgia dated May 3, 2019. GEL 480 thousand was given to the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture, and Sport of Georgia. The money was spent by the Government from the reserve fund, which is intended for unforeseen expenses.

On May 31, the decree was edited, and the Ministry got GEL 553 thousand instead of 480. Online publication Batumelebi tried to get an explanation on exactly why the Ministry needed this amount of money.

According to official information received from the Ministry on August 1, GEL 284 852 was transferred to ‘Studio 1,2,3 ltd’ on the occasion of Virgin Mary Day. This studio belongs to Basa and Tamar Potskhishvili.

According to Batumelebi’s information, the money was spent on the consecration ceremony of the Church on the According to the studio director; the money was used for the consecration ceremony of the ‘Iveria Virgin Icon Temple’ on Mount Makhata. The ceremony, which almost cost 300 thousand GEL included the following activities:

“The ceremony included the official protocol part, also decoration, flowers and the organization of the concert – the stage, lighting, decoration and the musicians,” said Giorgi Tatishvili, the director of the 1,2,3 Studio.

According to him, Nika Rachveli’s music center performed, as well as musicians Nato Metonidze, Natalia Kutateladze, and Mariam Roinishvili. According to Tatishvili, it was a small concert, and the money was used for organization of it, “the Patriarchate covered the rest,” he said.

From the allocated money, The Ministry gave GEL 15 230 to the Christian Studies Center of the Orthodox Church for public lectures on Georgia’s allotment to Virgin Mary. The series of lectures, according to the official document, was intended for teachers of Georgian language and literature, history and others. Some of the teachers who attended the lectures voiced their concerns on the social media, saying that they were forced to travel from one city to another to attend the lectures, without having the information on their religious content.

The same Center is supposed to print leaflets, which will include information on the Virgin Mary Day. According to the Center, they will include information that was provided at the lectures, as well as icons of Saint Mary. The Patriarchate will distribute the leaflets in schools and parishes, for the printing of which the Center received GEL 63 820.

The University of King Tamar, which is affiliated with the Georgian Patriarchate, received GEL 29 630 from the budget for the ‘Day of Georgia’s Allotment to St. Mary’, to conduct a literary-musical performance. The Batumelebi publication writes that the performance was, in fact, an evening of poems written by the rector of this university, Archimandrite Adam Akhaladze.

Gia Sulaberidze, a representative of the university, told Batumelebi that the evening of Archimandrite’s poetry would be held in several cities by the end of the year.

“The project is called “Georgian Land is also a Heaven,” which has already been held in Kutaisi on June 27. It is a literary-musical performance, presented by Archimandrite Adam with his poetic and prose works. Different theaters and musicians take part in the performance. Seven performances are planned to take place,” said Sulaberidze.

The Government is continuing the harmful practice of using state funds for the sake of the Georgian Orthodox Church. They pay the Church GEL 25 million yearly for the “material and moral damages during the loss of independence (1921-90 (the Soviet era))”, which completely disregards the fact that not only Orthodox Christianity, but all forms of religion were persecuted during the Soviet era and none of them, aside from the Orthodox Church, receives any funding from the state.

From 2002 to 2016, the religious organization received a total of GEL 226 million from the central state budget. From 2009 to 2013, the annual allocations ranged from 22 million to 27 million, and since 2013, the state budget has steadily allocated 25 million for funding the Church.

Aside from the 25 million, the Orthodox Church receives countless real estate and land plots for free. For example, according to the Tolerance and Diversity Institute, in 2016, the Orthodox Church was given 20 plots of land with a total area of 287,222 square meters; while in 2015, they received 21 plots of land, 568,060 square meters total. The Church, as seen by the recent transactions, also receives money from the reserve fund, Prime Minister’s fund, and other governmental sources.

The Constitutional Agreement between the Georgian state and the Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Georgia (Concordat), ratified in 2002, recognizes the special role of the Church in the history of Georgia.

Despite the Concordat, Article 9 of the current Constitution of Georgia guarantees “complete freedom of belief and religion,” and the Church remains separate of the State and Georgia is a secular state. However, there have been several instances of attempted interference in the state matters from the Church, which received backlash from the Georgian civil society groups.

However, with the Georgian Government spending more than 25 million of the state funds on the Orthodox Church, it is inevitable that it will remain a hub of corruption until this harmful trend is ended, with the clergymen feeling entitled by their “special role” to get involved and spread their influence on the spheres that are not within their responsibility.

The ‘Day of Georgia’s Allotment to St. Mary’ was first celebrated in Georgia this year on May 12. The initiative was first voiced by the Patriarch Ilia II. On April 4, 2019, PM Bakhtadze appealed to the Parliament to discuss the issue of setting the day ‘in an accelerated manner.’

As per Parliament’s decision, with 96 MPs voting in favor, the Labor Code of Georgia was amended, and May 12 was declared a day off. The day, however, was already a holiday, with Orthodox Christians marking the day of Saint Andrew’s, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, who came to Georgia to spread Christianity.