TBILISI, DFWatch–The government in Georgia plans to spend 3.5 million laris on traditional religious groups and dedicate a new square to the idea of tolerance.
As reported by DF Watch, there have been growing friction in Georgian society in recent years between adherents of the Georgian Orthodox Church and other religious groups.
Muslims have in many places had problems establishing places of prayer, and members of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been physically attacked, with little reaction from law enforcement.
Against the background of these developments, the government established the State Agency for Religious Issues in February 2014.
Little has been known about the media shy body until now, except that it is an advisory body to the prime minister, supposed to conduct ‘informational, research, scientific-educational and recommendatory activities in the field of religion’, as the decree which established it says.
On Monday, agency head Zaza Vashakmadze explained that in 2014, there was handed out 1.75 million laris from the state reserve to four minority religions as a partial compensation for the damage done by the Soviet Union. 1.1 million laris was allocated to Muslims, 300,000 to Armenian Apostolics, 200,000 to the Catholic church and 100,000 to the Jewish community.
In 2015, the agency is to improve relations between state and various religious institutions by offering compensation for religious oppression during Soviet times, he continued, by facilitating dialogue between different religious organizations and the state by creating several committees and commissions, and by raising public awareness about multireligious and multicultural Georgia.
This year, the state is going to divide twice as much as last year – 3.5 million laris – between these four religious minorities, which are considered ‘traditional religions’.
Other religious groups, such as for example Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals or Yazidis are not considered traditional and consequently not entitled to any financial support.
The Georgian Orthodox Church received 25 million laris from the state both in 2014 and this year. According to the Constitutional Agreement between the State and the Church, the former should annually compensate the damage done to the Church by the Soviets in 1920s and 1930s.
Another measure is that the agency publishes a calendar, for the second year this year, which marks not only Georgian Orthodox, but also Islamic, Armenian Apostolic, Catholic and Jewish religious festivals.
The Agency together with Tbilisi City Hall is establishing Tolerance Square, which will be located next to Europe Square and have a sculpture celebrating religious tolerance in Georgia.
Religious minority leaders who attended the presentation congratulated the state’s initiative to reach out to religious minorities, but it also stressed that Georgia needs to come up with a single law defining state relationship with various religious organizations.