Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Georgia, Roman Catholic Church in Georgia, Muslim and Jewish groups will receive total of GEL 4.5 million (about USD 2.53 million) this year to “partially compensate” for the damage inflicted to them under the Soviet regime, according to the state ministry for reconciliation and civic equality.
According to the state ministry, whose portfolio also includes issues related to ethnic and religious minorities, this amount of money will be allocated from government’s discretionally, reserve fund. It means that it will be, at least for now, a one-time payment. But according to the state ministry discussions will continue how to proceed with allocation of state funds in following years.
Announcement about making state funding available for four religious groups in Georgia on top of the Georgian Orthodox Church, which receives annual funding from the state budget for more than a decade already, was made by PM Irakli Garibashvili at a government session early on January 27. He said without providing details of funding scheme that it would be a compensation for damages suffered by these religious groups during the Soviet times. He also said it would demonstrate that government “respects equally” various religious groups.
Paata Zakareishvili, the state minister for reconciliation and civic equality, said after the government session that total of GEL 4.5 million would be divided “proportionally” between the four religious groups; he stressed that it does not necessarily mean that funds would be divided equally.
But criteria of how exactly these funds should be shared between these four religious groups have yet to be elaborated.
“An inter-agency commission [on religious issues] and then the government took the decision to compensate damage to those religious organizations, which were under systemic pressure by the Soviet regime. Under this formulation, the government has been compensating damage to the Georgian Orthodox Church for a long time already under the constitutional agreement,” Zakareishvili said.
According to the 2002 constitutional agreement between the state and the Georgian Orthodox Church, the state “recognizes material and moral damage” suffered by the Georgian Orthodox Church during the Soviet regime and takes “responsibility to partly compensate” for this damage.
The Georgian Orthodox Church is the only religious group in the country with a line item in the state budget. But the budget does not specify that the fund is allocated for the purpose of compensation. 2014 state budget envisages GEL 25 million for the Georgian Orthodox Church. According to estimations by the Transparency International Georgia, the Orthodox Church received up to GEL 200 million from the state in a period between 2002 and 2013.
The Georgian Orthodox Church welcomed the government’s decision to allocate funds to four other religious groups as a “positive development”.
Patriarchate said in a brief written statement on January 27: “Along with the Georgian Orthodox Church, the Soviet regime inflicted damage to other religions too and this step by the government is an expression of restoration of justice.”
Public Defender’s Office said in its most recent annual human rights report that practice of allocating funds from the state budget to only the Georgian Orthodox Church is “discriminatory”.
Public Defender Ucha Nanuashvili said on January 27: “We have been recommending launching broad discussions with the involvement of religious groups to elaborate a model [for the funding]. It should be welcomed that the government took this recommendation into account, but it should be a subject of further discussions which religious groups should become eligible to state funding and our position is that no one should be discriminated.”
Multinational Georgia, an umbrella organization for dozens of groups working on ethnic and religious minority issues, welcomed the government’s decision as “unprecedented move in Georgia’s recent history in terms of restoration of historic justice.”
It, however, called on the government to also provide funding as a compensation for suffering repressions under the Soviet regime to three more religious groups – Evangelical Lutheran Church of Georgia; Evangelical Baptists and Yezidis.
State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality, Paata Zakareishvili, said that discussions would continue about adding other religious groups too.