PM Bidzina Ivanishvili reiterated on Tuesday that the authorities would bring to justice those “who were calling for violence and those resorting to violence” in the May 17 developments, when a large group of Orthodox clergy-led people confronted a small group of gay activists, who were intending to mark the International Day Against Homophobia in downtown Tbilisi.
He also said that there was a suspicion that the violent crowd was “orchestrated from outside” by unspecified “forces”.
“What happened on May 17 was a shame,” Ivanishvili told journalists after meeting a group of civil society representatives and political analysts on May 21.
“What has happened is neither Georgian nor Christian character; violence is not preached by the Christianity. What has happened should be condemned. I think that police reaction and position was very adequate as they have done maximum of what was possible to do in that situation. It was the first case when the minorities were protected and led away by the police [from the scene] and they were not raided,” he said.
“I will repeat once again my clear-cut position that being a member of the clergy cannot be an alibi for anyone and those, who committed a crime and exceeded the law, those, who were calling for violence and those who resorted to violence, will be punished,” Ivanishvili said.
He said that the investigation was still underway and although no immediate results had yet been delivered, there was no reason for “anxiety” about it.
“Stance of the law enforcement agencies, the [Interior] Minister and of the entire government is that everyone should be held responsible for violation of the law no matter whether it is an ordinary citizen or a cleric – everyone is equal before the law,” he said.
“I think that those questions, which exist from Europe and America, will be responded by proper actions from the law enforcement agencies and everyone, who exceeded in their rights and who were calling for violence, will be punished; that will be the answer.”
He also said that there was a suspicion that some forces, which he did not specify, could have been “behind those who were resorting to violence” on May 17.
“I think that the Interior Minister has a reasonable suspicion that it was orchestrated from outside. There were forces, which were encouraging and financing it. What happened on May 17 was not spontaneous,” Ivanishvili said.
When he was asked if he suspected any political force being behind it, Ivanishvili responded: “I share suspicions which the Interior Minister has”, but refused to elaborate.
“I assure the Georgian society that the response from the state will be adequate,” he added.
Asked if he thought that the Georgian Church confronted the government following his remarks in defense of sexual minorities’ rights, Ivanishvili responded, that such formulation that the Patriarchate “confronted” the government or vice versa was wrong.
“The Church is independent and its independence from the state should be further deepened, but if any member of the clergy violated the law, he will be held responsible before the law like any other citizen. These questions are asked because we have seen from TV screens that several clerics were very active [during the May 17 developments]; it’s up to the investigation to find it out,” Ivanishvili said.
“In no way the Patriarchate is confronting us; I have no such information whatsoever; neither the state can in any way confront the Church,” he said.
President Saakashvili also commented on Tuesday about the May 17 developments.
When asked during a press conference if he thought that the May 17 violence showed “state’s inability” and if the country was facing “the threat of theocracy”, Saakashvili started answering by saying that there were number of aspects about the issue and then said: “That small group [referring to gay rights activists], who came there for some kind of rally, everyone has the right to hold a rally – how justified it was to hold there a rally when in the vicinity of [that attempted anti-homophobia rally] a ceremony to honor Georgian soldiers, fallen in Afghanistan, was held a day earlier – well, that’s another issue, but I am not talking about it.”
He said that for those who were engaged in violence it did not matter who the target of their violence was.
“There are elements in the society, the group of people, for whom the violence is an end in itself,” Saakashvili said.
He also said that “climate” of violence was a problem and expressed hope that “the relevant authorities will create climate wherein such [violence] becomes inadmissible.”
President Saakashvili said that perpetrators should be punished, “no doubt about it.”
“Violence has no religious dimension. Georgia will never have a broad problem of [religious] fundamentalism; there will be a problem if the state institutions do not work and if laws are not observed by the citizens,” he said. “I am absolutely sure that not a single institution, including the Orthodox Church, is interested in the violence.”