Scuffles between a small group of free-speech campaigners and hardline Orthodox Christians outside a university in the Georgian capital yesterday have generated passionate but widely differing reactions here.
Giorgi Lomsadze reports in a blog post on the EurasiaNet website that the row began after a promotional event at the university for a new book which apparently mocks the Church – the most respected institution in the country. According to Lomsadze: “The title of the book, Saidumlo Siroba, is a profane send-up of the Georgian term for the Last Supper. (It translates literally as ‘Secret Hogwash’, but is closer to ‘Holy Crap’.)”
A post on media.ge suggests that the Orthodox protesters accused their liberal opponents of being traitors, scum, promoters of homosexuality and enemies of Georgia, then started to physically assault them. One prominent opposition politician, Conservative Party leader Zviad Dzidziguri, who’s currently standing in elections for the position of Mayor of Tbilisi, is reportedly backing calls for the controversial book to be banned.
The row follows a fierce dispute last year about a series of video clips which mocked the head of the Church. Musing on yesterday’s clashes, Tbilisi blogger Isterika says that he believes that some kind of cultural “war” is now going on in Georgia.
EurasiaNet’s Giorgi Lomsadze doesn’t see it in such apocalyptic terms, however: “The scuffles are symptomatic of challenges faced by Georgia as it tries to reconcile its reverence for the Church, part and parcel of the country’s national identity, with the dose of cosmopolitan liberalism that democracy and international openness bring,” he writes.