Four religious groups have so far been registered as legal entities of public law, as a result of legislative amendment approval of which this summer triggered two days of Georgian Orthodox Church-led protest marches.
All-Georgia Muslim Administration becoming the first religious group to be registered under the new provisions in July. This group was first registered in January, 2011 as a noncommercial organization and its creation triggered angry reaction from the Baku-based Administration of Muslims of the Caucasus, which has an office in Tbilisi formally in charge of advocating interests of Muslims in Georgia; the administration’s long-time head Allahshukur Pashazade described the creation of the new group as a Georgian-government venture.
Other groups that have so far underwent registration under the new provisions are Caucasus Administration of Latin Catholics; Chaldo-Assyrian Catholic community of Georgia and Spiritual Assembly of Yazidis of Georgia.
Before the legislative amendment in July, in order to receive a legal status religious groups, other than the Georgian Orthodox Church, whose special role and status is recognized by the 2002 concordat with the state, had to registered as a noncommercial entity of private law. Such form of registration, however, was unacceptable for some religious minorities, saying that this rule was depriving them privilege to be formally recognized as religions in Georgia.
The legislative amendment triggered the Georgian Orthodox Church’s protest, leading to protest marches on July 9-10, few days after the amendment was signed into law by President Saakashvili. Later the Georgian Patriarchate softened stance, but called on the authorities to consult more closely with the Georgian Orthodox Church while deciding on religious-related issues.
President Saakashvili said in an interview with Imedi TV, aired on September 24, that by adopting this legislative amendment the authorities “told our citizens, that everyone is equal; we love you all equally.”
Saakashvili also said that unlike his predecessor Eduard Shevardnadze he would not have in anyway yielded to the pressure from the street protest on this issue.
He was referring to the events of September, 2003 when the Georgian Orthodox Church's intervention, including through a protest rally outside the Parliament, led to thwarting signing of an agreement between Georgia and Vatican, which would have guaranteed legal rights for the Roman Catholic Church in Georgia. At the time, in a last-minute decision then President Shevardnadze canceled plans to sign an interstate agreement with Vatican. As a result, Cardinal Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran, who at the time was Secretary for the Holy See's Relations with Foreign States, and who arrived in Tbilisi for signing of the agreement, had to leave Georgia empty-handed.
According to Saakashvili’s words, at the time Cardinal Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran allegedly said, as he put it, “prophetic phrase” that the government, which was afraid of 100 people protesting in the street when it comes to fundamental issues, such government could not last long. By “prophetic”, Saakashvili was referring to the Rose Revolution in November, 2003, which brought him into power and ousted Shevardnadze.
“I would have done it [adopting legislative amendment on religious minorities] even if 100,000 people turned out [at the street protest rallies this July],” Saakashvili said. “I would have explained to my citizens why I was doing it – because I want Georgia to be strong; I want Georgia, which is based on unity, equality and equal chances for all of its citizens regardless of their origins.”