Religious-political scandal erupts in Georgia
Author: By Zaza Jgharkava
The amendments made to the civil code on the legal status of religious confessions in Georgia approved by the parliament were followed by uneven reactions from the public. At a time when the Head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilia II, demanded that the president veto the amendment, Saakashvili signed it on the same day that it was approved- July 5.
The parliament of Georgia adopted legislative amendments on religious minorities’ legal status three-weeks after the visit by the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church Garegin II. According to the amendments, religious entities and confessions having close historical ties with Georgia and having legal status in countries of the Council of Europe will have the right to be registered as legal entities of public law in Georgia as well. These are the Roman Catholic Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Muslim and Jewish communities and the Evangelical Baptist Church.
Until now, religious confessions were registered in Georgia as multi-branch Ltd. and were renting buildings in order to hold religious services.
The parliament adopted the law in an accelerated way. It was submitted to the legislative body on July 1 and was adopted by the first hearing on the same day. The second and third hearings were held on July 5. The amendment was to be enacted upon its publishing. Therefore, religious entities can already attend to the public registry in order to acquire their status.
The political opposition correlated the accelerated adoption of the law in the parliament with the visit of Armenia’s Patriarch Garegin II. The oppositionists claim that the issue was decided during the face-to-face meeting with the Georgian president, without the involvement of the Georgian church.
The issue of granting legal status to religious confessions is not new. After the constitutional agreement “Concordat” signed by the Georgian state and the Orthodox Church in 2001, which granted the Georgian Orthodox Church a special legal status, other religious confessions also asked for this legal status.