Sozar Subari: “Necessary Changes Shall Be Carried out by the Church Itself and Not According to Directives of Liberty Institute
-Mr. Sozar, how do you evaluate the campaign launched on the social network “Facebook” which was assessed as anti-patriarchate and anti-patriarch campaign? How do you think, have they announced the questions which have bothered our society for a long time or it is purposeful propaganda?
-This campaign started with famous video-rolls which were stark obscenity (in the video-rolls a strange voice was put on the video of the Patriarch who was cursing and using foul language). Freedom of expression is much spoken about but it does not protect obscenity at all. I categorically condemn criminal investigation of this fact, as well as inviting certain people to the prosecutor’s office and their interrogation. Our law does not envisage similar offence. However, it shall be considered that in several countries obscenity is prosecuted and punished under civil law. As for the questions which were asked in regard with the patriarchate and the patriarch, I most of all condemn the tone of these questions. Everybody has right to ask questions but when the question sounds more like accusation and insulting, it cannot be a question any longer. Besides that, I have personally witnessed several facts which are mentioned in this questionnaire and I know that these are groundless accusations. For example, they ask about April 9 of 1989; I was there when the patriarch arrived at the demonstration. He told us that a tragedy might have happened and asked us to shelter Kashveti church. People fell silent and suddenly somebody shouted “No” then second… and finally Irakli Tsereteli (one of the leaders of national movement) who was standing next to the patriarch called upon the demonstrators to pray “Our Father is Heaven“ . Nobody has left the area, neither the patriarch left the people and his life, like lives of all of us, was in danger. One of my friends – Shmagi Dolidze (he is dead now) personally covered the patriarch when the tragedy started. Accusations against the patriarchate as if it had wrong position about the so called “plane boys” (in 1983 several young Georgian people kidnapped plane who wished to break through the soviet iron curtain and travel to Europe; later they were arrested and sentenced to death penalty) or Gaioz Keratishvili at the trials was wrong. In fact, everything was in the opposite. Vasil Maghlaperidze told me that patriarchate completely ignored the request of the court to appear at the trial and make testimonies. Consequently, we doubt about other questions too and think that percentage of the truth in them is also low. In fact, they are not questions because they sound like accusations.
As for the third part of your question, whether it is part of purposeful campaign … in May of 2004 before the parliamentary elections member of the National Movement Koba Subeliani (currently minister of refugees and accommodation), who occupied the second place on the election list, said in his TV-debates with journalist Inga Grigolia: “Who can return Abkhazia without war?! It is impossible.” When I met him I told how he could say similar thing. He said I was right, he should not have said similar thing in public. Then I told him that the problem is not his public statement but his understanding of the conflict resolution. Koba did not announce his personal opinion but the feeling of the government. Simply he announced it publicly. Nobody has ordered him to say it like nobody had ordered Tea Tutberidze to publish similar video-rolls but it was general opinion and feeling of the people around her. Similar feelings go beyond boundaries and finally turn into a campaign. I do not know whether it was planned or not but it is clear that it was opinion of certain circles.
-Do you see any links with the government in this campaign?
-It was opinion of the people who are close to the government – the people who work on the ideology of the government.
-Lately, the patriarchate is often blamed in the interference in political life of our country and vice versa, politicians are blamed in the oppression on the patriarch. What do you think about these accusations?
-Patriarchate has a great influence and the patriarch himself is very poplar; so it is natural that he influences each field of our life as well as our political life. It is difficult to make some borders here. My general position is that we should accept neither Caesar-popism where the king rules the church, nor pope-caesarism where the pope has obtained the functions of the government; however the church and religion will always have influence on the society. Chinese wall cannot be set up between the church and society. Secularism can achieve it. It means we should be atheists because it is impossible to be a believer and believe that the country shall develop in this direction and on the other side vote for those politicians who claim completely opposite. Thus, it is impossible to separate these two fields; however, on the other side personal involvements shall be excluded; more precisely government shall not interfere in the activities of the patriarchate and dictate them what to do. In Georgia, several statements of the patriarch might be unacceptable for certain people and acceptable for others. The video-rolls published by Tea Tutberidze and astonishment of the group of people have resulted from the statements of the patriarch who said that we could avoid the war with Russia and when a ship has a captain the captain shall not crash the ship against the rock; the captain shall find way through the reefs. The idea that we should not crash against the rack is quite correct for me and not only in general but in concrete cases too. I think, we really could avoid the war with Russia and I completely agree with the patriarch in it. These people got astonished with this statement and immediately started to look for the traces of Russian espionage in it; it is completely unacceptable for me.
-It has been actively discussed lately that you have requested to look through the Concordant between the Georgian state and Orthodox Church.
-It is not right! MP Khatuna Gogorishvili requests it and I have not made similar statement at all! I made very simple statement: there are a lot of confessions in Georgia and Constitution shall guarantee equality of people regardless their gender, religion, ethnicity. Consequently, every religion shall have equal rights. For example, when the Concordant states that orthodox clergyman does not go to the army, it shall work for other priests too. Even in Greece, where unlike Georgia, Orthodox religion is the state religion, this principle of equality is preserved. There neither orthodox clergyman, nor catholic priest nor Muslim mullah go to the army. However, there are other directions where the state can grant some privileges to the leading religion. For example, in Germany there are 4 churches, whom the believers pay some taxes. In Georgia Concordant states that property of the Orthodox Church, more correctly, part of the property which belonged to the church historically shall be returned to the Orthodox Church. It is completely acceptable. I also understand that the state cannot do the same with all other confessions because it is impossible. Orthodox Church is singled out because of its historical merit and role and it is quite clear. By the way, in my reports I criticized the government of Georgia because they did not follow the requirements of the Concordant and did not do anything to finish this process. Simultaneously, Georgian state has assumed responsibility to do its utmost to return the property which Orthodox Church had abroad. The Foreign Ministry of Georgia and the government in general have not done anything in this direction. I criticized the government for it. When we speak about the return of the property, there is one painful issue here which deals with chapels. In this case, state shall have equal policy with everybody. If a plot or a building shall be returned to the church, I think the state has right to single out one church and declare that the property shall be assigned to it and not to every church. But when the discussion is about chapels (whether it is mosque, synagogue or others), everything shall be done based on the principle of equality. They should not say that they return everything to the Orthodox Church but nothing to Synagogue and maintain a theatre or a library in the old building of Synagogue. By the way, I was seriously involved in the problem of a Jewish community who requested to return old Synagogue to them; it is located in Leselidze Street in Tbilisi. Our effort succeeded and several months ago, the president and city mayor attended the ceremony of assigning the Synagogue to Jewish Community. The same shall be done about Armenian Church. They request 6 churches back. There was serious noise about this issue in the parliament; they claimed certain scientist had written Armenian Church owned 600 buildings in Georgia and I demanded to assign those 600 buildings to Armenian Church. I do not know what the scientist wrote. I have neither seen book nor studied the issue. I spoke about 6 buildings and it was clearly written in my report. If we are sure that several of these 6 buildings really belong to Armenian Church, the state shall assign them to the owner. Why shall the church be subordinated to the Ministry of Culture or Ministry of Economic Development? If something is arguable, we should establish a commission of scientists, representatives of the university, architects, and representatives of the Orthodox Church, Armenian Church which will compare the sources and find out the truth. Unfortunately, it was not done. As a result of the delayed procedure, one of those churches in Sololaki district (Old Tbilisi) pulled down. What is best solution of the problem – pulling down of cultural monument or its assignment to its owners who are our compatriot Armenian people who live in Tbilisi and want to go to the church?
- Now, what kind of resolution of the abovementioned problems do you see? Shall some amendments be introduced to the concordant, or is it necessary to adopt anew document which will regulate the relationship between the state and church?
- I do not know what kind of document shall be worked out. We cannot forbid people to express their opinions. For somebody it is acceptable while it is unacceptable for others. For me personally, similar form of expression is completely unacceptable. People have right to be atheists and unbelievers and make loud statements that there is no god – we cannot forbid them to do it; simply it shall not turn into obscenity and insulting. Maybe somebody shall say: “Do you know what kind of video-rolls is made about pope and chief episcope of Canterbury?!” in this case it does not mean anything. The European Court of Human Rights has declared several times that obscenity and public moral can be different not only for different countries but within one state too. For example, a book for children which describes what is masturbation, sex, etc was banned by English Court but the same book was freely realized in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, not to speak about other European states. Author of the book appealed against the English Court at Human Rights European Court – he claimed why England prohibited his book while it was freely sold within the UK. The book was banned by Lord Chamber which is last instance in England. European Court stated, that “public moral can be different not only in different states but within one state and English Court better knows what is public moral in England; finally the European Court concluded that the prohibition was correct.” Just like Supreme Court of the USA has clarified that public moral is different in New York from any other conservative state like Iota. Thus, we cannot treat everything with one principle; since Georgian society considered that these video-rolls were obscenity they really are and I personally agree with it.
- And what does the Georgian law say in this situation?
- Georgian law does not protect obscenity by freedom of expression. In the past, slander was punished under criminal law if it aimed to accuse a person in crime. Now this law is changed and it is correct. Slander has been decriminalized. As for term “obscenity”, it is written in the law that the law does not protect it though it does not clarify any sanction for it. Thus, appealing to the civil court is the only source to fight against it. The Patriarch will not go to the court and sue the authors of the video-rolls. Thus, those people are free. On the other hand, since the state cannot interfere in the situation and the patriarch will not sue, it is natural that society has very strict reaction and it was expressed in many letters and demonstrations. Something shall regulate similar cases. In this case reaction of the society was regulation. I do not exclude that somebody took advantage of this fact for his/her political goals; while others got astonished. We can do nothing, it is the society and in the whole it was healthy and natural reaction. In the healthy reaction I do not mean threats against Tea Tutberidze. Threat is inacceptable behavior and its author shall be punished. In the healthy reaction I do not mean interference of the state when people were called to the prosecutor’s office where they were interrogated.
- What are real reasons for the controversy with the church? It is incredible that only one statement of the patriarch could cause similar reaction?
- Real reason is beyond all these but it covers everything. Georgian Orthodox Church and Patriarch are very popular and have huge influence. Consequently, when the government is losing its confidence and authority day-by-day, of course the ruling party is very afraid and sees big threat in the more authoritative institutions; so they try to discredit the patriarchate. The government cannot increase its authority and uses the method of discrediting of influential institution.
- How ready is the Georgian society for the analyze of those painful issues which are related with the religion and smooth resolution of these problems?
- We all accept the issues related with the religion very painfully and it is very natural reaction. Everybody has equal right and as a human rights defender I should confess it; however for me personally there are two principle rights – right of expression and right of religion. There is nothing more precious and intimate for a person than religion. I always recall an example of 100 000 saints from Tbilisi. Can you imagine any other value to which 100 000 people could sacrifice their lives?! Even if we look through the histories of Europe and eastern states, people always died for religion. For example, Huguenots, protestants, Catholics, Shaolin monks… now when somebody touches these values, of course, the reaction shall always be very sharp. These are very sensitive issues because what is not insulting to our opinion can be insulting for others and vice versa. Recently in the west a new term was introduced in the human rights law – religious insulting. It appeared as a separate phenomena and it was estimated that religious based insulting is unacceptable. It was resulted from the very famous scandal about caricature of Mohamed. We shall not treat the issue of Mohamed’s caricature indifferently and say it is no problem because somebody can print caricature of St. Peter who is holding a key to heaven. On the other hand, somebody might fail to realize why people had such a sharp reaction on the video-rolls spread about the patriarch because similar has done about Rome Pope several times… those who do it, shall not rely only on his/her opinion but on the future reaction of the society. We should always find interval between the freedom of expression and insulting of person’s religious feelings.
- As for the Orthodox Church, do you agree with the idea of the authors of the appeal to the patriarch who claim that Georgian Orthodox Church is fundamentalist and needs reforms?
- Church is always developing. Something is permanently changed in it. Today, Episcope cannot have a spouse while Apostle Paul wrote in his epistle that Episcope should have one spouse. It worked according to the epistle on the early stage of Christianity. Later when monasteries and monks appeared, Church Meeting estimated that Episcope shall be a monk. Consequently, he shall not have a spouse. Church concluded that he should worry about his parish only and not about his own family. I speak about this regulation in order to prove that church is permanently changing; but the church makes these changes inside itself. When church is changed by inside actors it is clear but when people from outside, who have no connection with the church, try to change something is completely unclear for me. Why? Is it their duty? Member of the church has this right. For example, I served as a psalm-reader in Davit-Gareji Church for some time in the past. After the first Lent, we read prays for 10-11 hours a day according to the monastery rules. It was very hard. Only experienced monks do it. We could not afford it and carried out small reform in the church. We started to shorten the prayers. It is acceptable. But it shall be done inside the church and when somebody is dictating you something from the outside it is not right. If the church finds it is necessary, the reform shall be implemented inside the church. Today, the church does not consider it is necessary to do something while they consider it is necessary to do something and they are introducing some changes as well. For example, you can see frescos on the west facade of Sioni Church. It was painted during the patriarchate of Ilia II and it is completely different from old frescos. It was concluded that we can make completely different paintings from the ones of 11th, 12th and 19th centuries. When speaking about reforms we can bring many other examples. For example, new style of many orthodox churches. Our church, Jerusalem, Serbia and Russia celebrate Christmas Day on January 7 though in fact it is December 25 and old style of calendar is more correct. Orthodox Churches of other countries considered that it is not right and shifted to a new style too. We call December 25 a Catholic Christmas by mistake. It is not catholic one and many orthodox countries celebrate Christmas on December 25. It is up to the church to decide and nobody can interfere in it.
- They say that even clergymen oppose each other about some issues inside the Orthodox Church. By the way, the questionnaire is signed by two clergymen as well as former clergyman Basil Kobakhidze…
- I do not know anything about controversy. And by the way it is no business of politicians and human rights defenders. Basil Kobakhidze was member of the Orthodox Church. For a long time he was fired though nobody has deprived right of clergyman from him but he took off the cassock himself and refused to be a clergyman. As for Zaza Tevzadze, he is my friend and I respect him very much; though I was really surprised when I found his name among signatures on this questionnaire. He is a liberal person who thinks that something shall be changed in the church. I repeat in this particular case he has right to have similar opinion because he is member of the church and does not dictate the church something from the outside like Liberty Institute.
- You are often blamed in the fight against Orthodox religion and in the protection of sectarians. For example, they always mentioned the tolerance center and council of minorities at the public defender’s office. How do you think today, are the rights of other religions minorities as protected in Georgia as the rights of orthodox parish?
- As for tolerance, you can read the last epistle of the Patriarch where he states the same – we do not need to learn tolerance in Georgia. It is our historical and traditional habit and we often repeat it. Coexistence of Mosque, Synagogue, Catholic Church and Sioni is a good example of our tolerance. We should not lose this tradition. When somebody fights against this tradition, we should fight against it. During Shevardnadze’s government Jehovah’s Witnesses were attacked, dispersed and their books were burnt – it was crime and I fought against it; I was protecting these people. As for Orthodox Church, I am member of Georgian Orthodox Church and my third child was baptized by Patriarch and now we are expecting the fourth child. However, I do not like when Orthodox faith is proclaimed and I do not use my faith as a tool of political struggle. I am not an MP who thinks that if she speaks much about Orthodox Church, and if she enters Jordan River in front of journalists and then declares: “I went out of the river so clean” she will be exposed as a perfect orthodox…However, next day she will falsify elections and will be first fabricator in Georgia. Everybody knows her name and you also know her. It is not orthodox faith for me. For me orthodox faith is to live as a Christian person. As Apostle Paul said, faith is dead without deeds. The deed means not to fabricate elections, not to lie and not to steal, not to kill and to serve a person. Christ teaches us two things: We should Love the God and our brother. These two testaments are the most important and who tries to behave in accordance to them, s/he is Christian. Those who do not behave in accordance to it and only speak much and visit church 5 times a day in order to show off before people, cannot be orthodox. This is Christianity in my point of view. As for equality, when concrete religious group is dispersed, I always protested it. I was often criticized – why I do not protect the rights of orthodox people and only speak about minorities. They forget one thing: only state can breach the rights by its activities or inactivity. For example, when Basil Mkalavlishvili was persecuting religious minorities it was not violation of their rights; it was ordinary crime but when the state did not punish the offender, it was violation of the right. Thus, when Khatuna Gogorishvili accuses me in not protecting the rights of orthodox people, she should know that if the rights of orthodox people were violated, nobody could do it but her team-mates, her government and parliament. And by the way, were the rights of orthodox people violated? Their rights were breached when a church was deconstructed on Peria Mountain and nobody was punished for it. Prosecutor’s office was responsible for it and not public defender. I made a statement and it was the only thing I could do as a public defender. I also requested resignation of Vano Merabishvili, (minister of internal affairs) but they did not resign him. In one occasion, a very rich MP purchased a land with an orthodox church on it. This church was built by Russian people and belonged to military unit. When a priest entered there to conduct service, the security guard of the MP physically assaulted the clergyman and kicked him out. Of course it was violation of his rights but the owner of the land is still MP. So, as a rule, the government creates the problem of tolerance when it encourages group of offenders. We can always find people who are ready to abuse people with different opinion but when the government does not do anything, intolerance is encouraged and increased. We might have an impression that there is no more intolerant nation in the world besides us. For example, when a group of Basil Mkalavlishvili was dispersing Jehovah’s Witnesses, it was the main news which was reported from Georgia and it became the face of our country. As soon as the problem was eradicated, everybody forget and nobody mentions the Jehovah’s Witnesses now. Why was it main topic of our TV-Companies then? Because the state was inactive.
- How do you think, should the church regulate this problem itself?
- Basil Mkalavlishvili was not member of the Orthodox Church by that time. Since 1996 he has not been member of the church. Before that, Jehovah’s Witnesses were not persecuted like that. It has become very active late in 1990s. Only Mkalavlishvili is not a problem; there are people and they will always be who will persecute different opinion. America is tolerant society but after September 11, if you listen to the statements of several pastors you will get astonished. It happened and will always happen everywhere but in this case government shall make borders and declare what is acceptable and what is not. Georgian society has never been intolerant and cannot be considered intolerant today either.
Nino Chichua, News Agency “Pirveli”
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