Role of Georgian church in European integration process
30 June, 2018
Role of Georgian church in European integration process
On June 28-29 Tbilisi hosted EPP Group intercultural and religious dialogue. The representatives of the civil societies and the churches/religious communities discussed “The role of Churches and religious communities in the European Integration process: the Georgia - EU perspective”.

Georgian Journal interviewed Jan Olbrycht, MEP, Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats).

As this conference deals with the role of churches in the European integration process of Georgia, how would you assess the role of the Georgian Orthodox Church in
this process? Does it play a positive role?
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Jan Olbrycht met Ilia II, Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia. Photo courtesy: imedinews.ge

-Yes, we hope that it will be positive. What we observe is a very important and growing role of the religion and churches inside the European Union. Why? Because the situation is very complex and without understanding the dynamics of the religion we won’t be able to understand a new phenomenon like, for example, the problem of the freedom of religion, which is a new one. This is something that is linked, for example, to a massive immigration, etc. This is also the question of the attitude to the European Union. How do we see the European Union?

Do we have a real image of the European Union or do we have a simplified version of European Union? We count on all important actors in the society and the church is a very important one, especially in Georgia because of history, tradition etc. So, we hope that the church will be also interested in what is going on inside Europe. Secondly, we’ll be also transferring the truth about the situation inside the European Union. The situation is complex; this situation is not very easy. We see very often that it’s about the stereotypes, especially concerning the religion, the question of morality, the question of family etc.
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Sameba or The Holy Trinity Cathedral in Tbilisi. Photo courtesy: georgialovesyou.com

We are the politicians from the Christian-Democratic group. So, we are the politicians who are linked to the Christian system of values. We are not hiding that this situation is not very easy. We have an internal debate inside the European Union and I think that the churches will understand more and more the whole situation, how complicated it is and not just using the stereotypes by saying, for example, that Europe is anti-Christian, that they’re not believers, etc. No, Europe is complex. There are different traditions. So I think it’s much more about presenting a real image of Europe and hoping that the church, in terms of the institution and the people, will be open to discuss, to debate and to see the truth of Europe because this is very important for understanding each other. Without it we will not be ready to solve new challenges and problems together.
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Former PM of Georgia Giorgi Kvirikashvili, Patriarch Ilia II and the President of Georgia Giorgi Kvirikashvili. Photo courtesy: gov.ge

I’d like to ask you about the influence of Russia over this process, namely the European integration process.

-I don’t want to take a position because my knowledge is very limited but we as parliamentarians who are working very closely with different churches inside and outside the European Union, we are observing the activity of Russia in Europe now, going very often through the influence of churches. I think that we should be aware of this and we are observing very closely the debate of the Ukrainian church.
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The Holy Synod Of Georgia. Photo courtesy: netgazeti.ge

In your opinion, should the Georgian Church support the autocephaly of the Ukrainian church? It’s a very complex issue. What kind of position should the Georgian Church take?

-I’m not ready to give any good advices to the church, but the situation of the Ukrainian church is very important because the orthodox churches are linked to the national elements; so we can see how the Ukrainian church is supporting the social and political changes inside Ukraine. So, I think that this is the whole dynamics inside the Orthodox world. This is the influence of the Moscow church, the whole debate about the role of church.
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Jan Olbrycht. Photo courtesy: vimeo.com

I don’t want to give any advice but I think it’s important to be independent and to have its own role, because the history of Georgia is very different than the history of Ukraine, even though they’ve been together during Soviet Union but the situation is different. To be independent in such a world is very important because if it’s not independent, it can be used as an instrument.

There are two approaches. One is liberal approach stating that the state should be more and more secular; the second one is conservative saying that the religion and the church should play a role in the political and social life of the society. In Georgia there is also this liberal approach stating that in order to become a European country, Georgia should become more secular with less involvement of the religion and the church. In your opinion, which approach guarantees becoming a truly European country?
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Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta. Photo courtesy: lonelyplanet.com

-I’m not neutral. First of all, I’m from Poland; secondly I’m a Christian democrat. I think that we should keep the characteristics for our countries. This is very important for Europe. Of course, there is a tendency of secularism which is going through Europe. Very often we see the secularism as a result of the European Union, which is not true. It has the influence in many countries, especially the Western countries but not only there. We should keep a clear separation of the state and the religion but in terms of institutions. I mean, let say the government and the church means hierarchy but at the same time when we speak about the church as the people, they’re part of the church, part of the state, so you cannot separate it; they’re in very different roles.
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The members of the Holy Synod of Georgia in the USA. Photo courtesy: commersant.ge

I think the role of the church in religious communities is very important and it should be so. That’s why I think that if Georgia is deeply rooted in this, I see no problems to have a real importance of the church and the religion in social life. This is not the same as the separation of the power.

I don’t share that view that the secularization is typical for Europe. I don’t see it. For me what should be common for European Union are the democratic values. This is about democracy, transparence, rule of law, justice, integration, peace. These are democratic values which we should share. Democratic values are the result of an agreement.
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Jan Olbrycht. Photo courtesy: ipn.ge

Author: Natia Tsurtsumia

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