The head of the Georgian orthodox church, Patriarch Ilia II turned 90. Widely venerated public figure, Ilia II presided over the momentous transformation. The adherence to the church has exploded since the end of Soviet rule, it got Constitutional recognition of its historical role, and increased its wealth and earthly possessions. Politically, things have changed too: the Church went from an active member of the ecumenic movement in the 1990s, towards closer alignment with the increasingly reactionary Russian Orthodox Church. The Patriarch got obligatory birthday salutations from the Georgian leadership, but also from the Belorussian Leader Alexander Lukashenka and the (now sanctioned) Russian Patriarch Kirill. Pope Francis also wished “good health and abundant spiritual gifts.”
Small rallies were held in more than twenty European capitals calling for the release of ailing former president Mikheil Saakashvili from prison on health grounds. The protests occurred in front of the Georgian diplomatic missions in Brussels, London, Warsaw, Vilnius, Riga, and in several other European capitals. International support has been gaining momentum: Mark Feygin, a prominent Russian lawyer and civic activist, as well as the Ukrainian official Alexey Arestovych, joined forces in a campaign. The Washington Post published this evening a matching call penned by Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador in Moscow.
Demands to “save Saakashvili” were also heard in major Georgian cities: Tbilisi, Batumi, Kutaisi, and Zugdidi where the opposition party United National Movement (UNM) rallied. A minor altercation happened in Chorvila – the home village of Bidzina Ivanishvili, patron of the ruling Georgian Dream party. The protests revealed that the UNM remains deeply fragmented by a simmering spat in its leadership, who sometimes held separate events. They were not widely attended.
Police are investigating an alleged physical assault on Ivane Merabishvili, Prime Minister and the Minister of Internal Affairs in Saakashvili’s cabinet. Merabishvili was sentenced to prison terms in several separate trials and was released in 2020. Even though he pledged to return to politics, he has not been a public figure since. There are rumors, that he remains influential in the UNM.