Few video clips mocking head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, which were first disseminated via internet and then through TV report, triggered wave of condemnation from Orthodox groups, opposition parties, the President’s administration and the Georgian Orthodox Church.
One of the videos shows an animated picture of the Patriarch, accompanied by a voiceover mimicking Ilia II. In this 42 second clip remarks in the voiceover includes swearing and insulting terms in address of President Saakashvili. The video was first uploaded on YouTube on October 13 by a user who joined the video-sharing site on that day. Shortly after the video was uploaded it was shared on her Facebook page by Tea Tutberidze, one of key figures in an influential think-tank Liberty Institute.
The video clips attracted attention of broader public, as well as of political groups only after the fragments from these videos were aired by Report of the Week program on the Tbilisi-based Kavkasia TV on October 18. Given Liberty Institute’s close links to President Saakashvili’s administration, the TV report was alluding that “the campaign against the Patriarch” was orchestrated by some circles within the authorities.
The same report also suggested that this campaign followed remarks by Ilia II, when he said that it was possible to avert the August war – an opinion sharply conflicting with the government’s official line.
“It [the August war] should not have happened and it was possible for it not to happen. We had means for avoiding these problems,” Ilia II said while meeting a group of teachers two weeks ago. “When a ship is sailing on the sea, its head, the captain, should know where the cliffs are so as not to crash up against [cliffs]. We have been facing and are facing a wall, but we are crashing up against this wall with our heads.”
The same report by the Report of the Week also included an interview with Tutberidze, who described these remarks by the Patriarch as “anti-state” saying that the statement was in line of Russia’s interests. “It seems that Russia still has powerbase in many places, including in the patriarchate,” she said.
After the report was aired Tutberidze started receiving dozens of disparaging posts on her Facebook ‘Wall’, accompanied by messages in her inbox with some of them containing threats.
Few hundred of students rallied on October 20 protesting against, what they called, a deliberate campaign against the Georgian Orthodox Church.
Late on October 20 President’s office released a written statement saying that attacks on the Church “wittingly or unwittingly serve purpose of splitting the society.”
“Georgia is remarkable in the region for vibrant debating… At the same time, the Georgian President thinks that provoking of the Church and attempts to politicize [the Church] serves the interests of Georgia’s ill-wishers,” the statement reads. The statement praises the Patriarch and says that he “enjoys with huge support and respect of the society and of the President.”
“We will resort to any democratic mean to protect his reputation and we will not let anyone to misuse principles of freedoms,” the statement reads.
In a statement released on October 21, the Georgian Orthodox Church said that “the society and the parish of the Georgian Orthodox Church is insulted and wants answers.”
It also said that “the information campaign” against the Patriarch aimed at seeding mistrust towards the Church “in order to easily disrupt the foundations of the Georgian state, our fundamental values and to build Georgia’s future based on rules, which are unfamiliar and unacceptable for Georgian traditions.”
The Patriarchate said that attempts to involve the clergy in debates “is part of a provocation planned by hostile forces and we will not yield to these [provocations].” The Church also called on the public broadcaster to allocate airtime for a group of people, selected by the Church itself, “to allow them respond to wrongdoers’ actions.”
In their condemnation of the mocking video clips, some opposition parties even called for “banning” of Liberty Institute.
“We demand banning of activities of Liberty Institute like anti-Semitic and fascist organizations are banned,” Zviad Dzidziguri, co-leader of Conservative Party, said. “The struggle against the Georgian church, against the Georgian Patriarch has gone beyond the limits. The dirty videos disseminated through the Internet insults the religious and patriotic feelings of hundreds of thousands of Georgian citizens.”
He also said that such video clips may trigger “retributions” against Liberty Institute members, which he said, was totally unacceptable.
Irakli Alasania, leader of Alliance for Georgia, said that reaction on the mocking video clips demonstrated that it was impossible “to harm” the Patriarch’s reputation with “campaigns of this type.”