Live televised debates in Kavkasia TV’s studio between leaders of hardline Orthodox Christian groups and thier opponents grew into a fistfight outside the Tbilisi-based station’s studio late on Friday night.
Young men affiliated with radical group, known as Union of Orthodox Christian Parents, which has became associated with a newly established People’s Orthodox Christian Movement, verbally and physically assaulted some of Kavkasia TV program’s guests and also some members of the station’s staff, witnesses said.
Kavkasia TV’s talk show, Barieri (Barrier), hosted by Nino Jangirashvili, featured several invited guests and an audience in in the studio. Among the guests were Malkhaz Gulashvili, owner of the Georgian Times media holding and a co-founder of People’s Orthodox Christian Movement; Nana Devdariani, a former public defender and chairperson of Central Election Commission during Eduard Shevardnadze’s presidency and Levan Chachua, a member of Union of Orthodox Christian Parents. Thier opponents during the debates were professor Sergo Ratiani, head of Ilia State University’s administration; Teo Khatiashvili, a film critic and Beka Mindiashvili, a religious rights activist.
Topic of the debate was developments of recent days related to series of confrontations between young followers of radical Orthodox groups and thier critics, who consider newly established People’s Orthodox Christian Movement as "a fascist" organization. May 7 also saw a confrontation between the two groups.
In the beginning of the program, the host expressed hope that the debates would have been "vibrant, but much calmer and more constructive than they have been in recent days."
But from the very start debates took an ugly turn. Gulashvili told the opponents for couple of times: "Your are not liberals; you are liberasts."
He used a term which is a combination of liberal and pederast; the latter is used in Georgia as a derogative form for gays.
Beka Mindiashvili told Gulashvili that it was up to police to deal with the activists of his organization, because of the May 4 attack on peaceful demonstrators.
About an hour after the start of the program, Beka Mindiashvili said there was no reason to continue discussion with his opponents and left the studio, followed by Teo Khatiashvili and then by Sergo Ratiani.
Shortly after that the program was interrupted for a commercial break; it resumed about 20 minutes later - much longer than it takes for commercial break on Kavkasia TV.
When the program resumed, the host announced that after several guest of the program left the studio, before the commercial break, representatives of Union of Orthodox Christian Parents, outside the studio, started to verbally insult them, "trying to provoke them". She said it grew into fistfight in which several TV staff members were also physically assaulted. Kavkasia TV’s founder, Davit Akubardia, was also attacked.
Scuffle reoccurred again shortly after that announcement by the talk show host and she called on the police "to immediately come and curb this". Several minutes later, several members from Union of Orthodox Christian Parents, including several priest, entered into the studio telling the program host that it was "a provocation staged by you". Police also arrived in the studio . It was reported later that at least three men were arrested; some reports said that four men were detained.
The program resumed few minutes later with some opposition politicians arriving in the Kavkasia TV studio condemning the incident. General Director of Georgian Public Broadcaster, Gia Chanturia, accompanied by GPB’s boar chairman Levan Gakheladze also arrived "to express solidarity" towards the Kavkasia TV.
Some opposition politicians in the studio, including Tina Khidasheli of the Republican Party, part of the Alliance for Georgia, said that she thought the hardline Orthodox Christian groups were given free hand by the authorities.
"They would not have dared to do things like this without having support of the authorities," Khidasheli said and added that it was in the authorities interests to provoke this kind of incidents in order to redirect attention from upcoming local elections.
Malkhaz Gulashvili, who founded People’s Orthodox Christian Movement, in March, 2010, told the movement members at an indoor gathering on May 7, that the movement was launching struggle "to set Georgia free of a dictate by Liberty Institute" - an influential Tbilisi-based think tank with links to the authorities. Gulashvili said Liberty Institute and its affiliates in Ilia State University’s administration were "promoting anti-religious ideology."
Gulashvili in the past was a business partner with the Georgian Industrial Group (GIG), a conglomerate owned by lawmaker from the ruling party, Davit Bezhuashvili - a brother of Gela Bezhuashvili, chief of the Georgian intelligence service. Gulashvili and GIG were partners through holding shares in business news agency, Georgian Business Consulting. GIG also owns shares in Rustavi 2; Mze and Pirveli Sterao TV stations. Gulashvili, however, said recently that he no longer had any business or other type of links with Bezhuashvili.