Orthodox Church goes on the rampage in Georgia
Recent events in Georgian capital Tbilisi are alarming many who hoped progressive views might win out over more intolerant, traditional values.
The clash of ideals was starkly evident at an event to mark the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), which was disrupted by up to 20,000 counter-demonstrators in May.
Despite a statement by Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili that lesbians and gays ‘have the same rights as any other social group’, Patriarch Ilia II, the spiritual leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church, called for the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans (LGBT) event to be banned, branding homosexuality ‘an anomaly and a disease’.
The confrontation descended into violence when the 50 LGBT activists at the IDAHO event were forced to flee after the Orthodox crowd broke through barriers, meeting little or no police resistance.
In a scene akin to a medieval witch-hunt, elderly women holding stinging nettles sought to thrash homosexuals, and priests wielded wooden stools to beat and smash anyone or anything they could find.
Two priests were among just a handful of people arrested. But human rights groups and local civil society organizations are concerned that the government is unable, or unwilling, to rein in Church power.
In the two decades since the country declared independence, the power and influence of the Georgian Orthodox Church appears to have increased.
Some activists are saying that Georgia risks resembling little more than a theocracy, while LGBT groups are already reporting a spike in the number of cases of harassment and assault.
But with the parliament ready to consider legislation to decriminalize cannabis use as part of its stated aim to modernize, more confrontation and upheaval seems unavoidable.
The Church and the government are likely to find themselves once again at odds, as the country prepares for a tense presidential election in October.