A group of eight Georgian civil society organizations (CSOs) and human rights watchdogs, including the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy and the Georgian Democracy Initiative, issued a joint letter on July 25, criticizing Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili’s July 23 statement that secularism “in its classical sense is misplaced in Georgia.”
Speaking at the opening ceremony of a social enterprise hotel in village Sno of Stepantsminda Municipality in the presence of Ilia II, Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Prime Minister Kvirikashvili said that the Orthodox Church and the Georgian state are “interwoven” and added that although the state and the church are “independent” today, “secularism in its classical sense is misplaced in Georgia.”
“We believe that our nation features a unique model [of church-state relations] in the world,” he also noted, adding that he would like to thank Ilia II, “whose words are embraced so dearly by the entire nation, for strengthening this model.”
Commenting the statements on July 25, the CSOs emphasized that “constitutional secularism has only one meaning and that it stands for the separation of church and and the nation state and for their independence from each other.”
“The principle of secularism is a necessary condition for establishing a modern, human rights-oriented, democratic and legal state; it represents a cornerstone for legal order,” the organizations noted.
The CSOs also said that Georgia’s further democratic development and its Euro-Atlantic integration “are impossible” without secularism and added that it prevents the undue influence of both - the state against the influence of clerics and vice versa – the church against the influence of the state.
Stressing that the Prime Minister Kvirikashvili “cast doubt over Georgia’s legal order, as well as its major historical and legal values,” the organizations called on him to refrain from “irresponsible statements and protect the fundamental principles of the constitution and the religious neutrality.”
PM Kvirikashvili’s statements earned the criticism of opposition parties as well.
Khatuna Samnidze of the Republican Party convened a special news briefing on July 24, saying that the Prime Minister’s statements “are dangerous and unconstitutional.”
“European, democratic state based on institutional secularism is the choice of the citizens of Georgia, and the Prime Minister does not have a mandate to cast doubt on this choice,” Samnidze said.
“In the period of Georgia’s independence, not a single leader has made such an unconstitutional statement,” she noted, adding that the Prime Minister “should immediately explain why he went beyond the limits of the constitution.”
The Prime Minister was criticized by two parliamentary opposition parties as well.
“[The statement] brings Georgia closer either to the Russian Federation, where the church is directly dependent [on the state] or to the fundamentalist states of the Orient,” said MP Sergo Ratiani of the Movement for Liberty – European Georgia.
“In normal countries the Prime Minister’s statement would prompt his resignation or impeachment,” United National Movement’s MP Roman Gotsiridze noted.