Today’s session of the Inter-parliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy (IAO) has been cancelled at the Parliament of Georgia as opposition MPs of the European Georgia and United National Movement boycotted the Russian delegation’s presence in Tbilisi.
The situation became tense in the parliament’s plenary chamber when Russian MP from the Communist Party Sergei Gavrilov, who is also the President of the General Assembly of IAO, addressed the delegates in Russian from the Georgian Parliament Speaker’s seat.
Opposition MPs, who had been boycotting the visit of the Russian delegation much earlier, went into the chamber and blocked the presidium during the break, demanding that the Russian delegation leave the Parliament chamber.
“The Georgian Dream has brought the Russian occupiers in and let them sit in the Speaker’s Chair. This was a slap in the face of the recent Georgian history, [an affront to] April 9, war of Abkhazia, war of Ossetia, Russia’s invasion in our country and Russia’s occupation,” MP Elene Khoshtaria of European Georgia said.
She also added that “if the state does not protect our country from Russian occupants, we will protect at least this hall, and this event will not be held with participation of Russian delegates.”
Salome Samadashvili of UNM also joined Khoshtaria, saying “it is our country that needs to be protected from the government, which collaborates with occupants.”
Samadashvili then called on citizens irrespective of their political preferences, to gather in front of the parliament at 7pm to “protect dignity.” She also called on other delegates to adopt a resolution supporting Georgia’s territorial integrity and condemn Russian occupation.
“The meeting will only resume if the Russian participants leave this building,” Giorgi Kandelaki of the European Georgia addressed the delegates in English. “If this is not the case, the meeting will be cancelled and will not take place in the Parliament of Georgia,” Kandelaki added.
UNM’s Tina Bokuchava said the ruling party MP Zakaria Kutsnashvili, who is the head of Georgian delegation to IAO should take the political responsibility. Bokuchava said, Kutsnashvili “has trevealed the true face of the Georgian Dream most vividly,” which, she said proves it is “a Russian Dream.”
A group of opposition and civic activists had also gathered inside the parliament as well as outside the building since this morning, condemning Russian delegations’ visit to Georgia, calling Speaker Kobakhidze’s resignation.
The protesters are still gathering in front of the Parliament of Georgia where a large rally has been scheduled for 7pm.
Ruling party on the defensive
Following the outrage, that spread through the social media, the ruling party members have been on the defensive, trying to assign Gavrilov’s assuming the Chair to a “protocol blunder”.
The session of IAO has opened yesterday, on June 19 at the Palace of Ceremonies (the former Presidential palace) hosted by the Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze. While the ruling party has dismissed the criticism of the opposition towards IAO, and the Russian delegation’s participation yesterday, the Georgian Dream tried to change tack following today’s outrage.
Initial strong criticism was voiced by Tamar Chugoshvili, who is currently outside the country, via social media.
Later on, the Chairperson of the Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia (GDDG) Bidzina Ivanishvili released a statement that he “fully shares the sincere outrage of the Georgian citizens for the developments in the Parliament of Georgia.”
“It is unacceptable that the representative of the occupant country to be chairing any forum in the Georgian parliament,” Ivanishvili said, noting that he shared his “harsh position” with Speaker Kobakhidze, and that it was his recommendation to “immediately suspend” the session.
MP Mamuka Mdinaradze of the ruling party, who was in direct communication with the opposition MPs, said soon after their protest that “for the absolute majority” of the ruling party, “it is absolutely unacceptable” to see MP of the State Duma – the lower chamber of the Russian legislature – assuming Speakers’ seat in the Georgian Parliament, even though he is the President of the General Assembly of IAO.
Mdinaradze said “this was not agreed” with the parliament and the ruling party, and that according to the agenda, Gavrilov was not supposed to preside over the session. “Why did it happen so that Gavrilov appeared as the chairperson of this session? We will clarify the details, and this will followed by a rather harsh reaction,” Mdinaradze stated.
Mdinaradze also announced that the IAO sessions on June 20-21 will not be held at the building of the parliament and will move to another location, which will be set later. “Such mistake will not take place anymore in the Parliament of Georgia,” he added.
Kobakhidze echoed other GDDG leaders’ sentiments, saying as soon he was informed about the developments in the Georgian parliament, he “immediately demanded to suspend the session.”
“Russia is the country that has occupied out territories. We have underscored this at yesterday’s opening session as well, and the actions of the Russian federation have nothing to do either with Christianity or Orthodoxy,” Kobakhidze said, adding “what we saw in the Parliament chamber was absolutely unacceptable.”
“It is hardest thing to see the MP of an occupying country presiding Georgia’s main legislative chamber! This damages the idea of our freedom, affects Georgian parlaimentarism!” Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze stated.
President Salome Zurabishvili also released a statement on her Facebook page, questioning the very rationale of IAO.
“What does it even mean? What type of Orthodox ties can we have with the country that has not only occupied our territories, but also fights against religion and Christian norms,” President Zurabishvili stated, noting this is Russia’s attempt “to use religion for political reasons.” “And if indeed is so, why do we join this political game?” she asked.