Spoiler or Ambivalent Partner: the GOC and the Fate of Georgia’s European Future

Bidzina Lebanidze[1] Shota Kakabadze[2]

The Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) has long served as both a social glue in Georgia and a significant marker of the contemporary Georgian national identity. However, over the last few years, the GOC has been drifting away from its historical position of moral superiority and political neutrality towards something more radical. This was confirmed by the involvement of some clergy members in recent violent anti-LGBTQI protests and the adoption of anti-liberal and anti-Western language by high functionaries within the Church to an extent never before seen. These events point to a creeping radicalization of the GOC – an alarming trend that can ultimately lead to an identity crisis of Georgian society as well as undermine its social cohesion.

There are two major ideas around which Georgian identity was built after the end of the Cold War: Orthodox Christianity and the “Return to the European family “. Data from the Caucasus Barometer illustrate that an absolute majority of Georgians consider themselves Orthodox Christians (Figure 1), while Figure 2 suggests that support for Georgia’s possible membership in the EU has been consistently high among Georgian citizens.

Figure 1.

Figure 2.

These two pillars of Georgia’s national identity coexisted peacefully for the last two decades – this is thanks in part to the flexibility of the Georgian Orthodox Church. The GOC always managed to strike a difficult balance between traditional values on the one hand, and Georgia’s European orientation and path towards western integration on the other. The Patriarch of Georgia personally expressed his support for the EU membership amid the use of anti-Western discourse by several influential clergymen.

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