Opposition politicians and some lawmakers from the ruling National Movement party voiced protest over the authorities’ decision to demolish a half-constructed Orthodox church in the Khelvachauri district in Adjara on May 18.
“I am ashamed to comment on these issues. Any steps against our church, against our cross are absolutely unacceptable for me,” Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee for Human Rights Elene Tevdoradze of the ruling party said.
Opposition lawmakers condemned the move as “vandalism.”
“They [the local authorities in Adjara] received instruction to destroy the church from the central authorities and they simply could not resist. President Saakashvili is responsible for it,” MP Manana Nachkebia of the New Rights party said.
Salome Zourabichvili, ex-foreign minister and leader of opposition Georgia’s Way party, said the authorities had “crossed a line.”
“The Georgian people should not tolerate this act of vandalism,” she added.
“We need official explanations from the authorities… Can you imagine how the authorities would react if it were a temple of any religious minority? We demand that the rights of Orthodox Christians are guaranteed in this country, as it is with religious minorities,” MP Kakha Kukava of the Conservative party said.
Officials in the Adjaran Autonomous Republic said that construction of the church was “illegal” as it had not been agreed with the authorities. But Mikheil Makharadze, chairman of the autonomous republic’s legislative body, also said that the destruction of the church was a “misunderstanding.”
Some of the lawmakers from the ruling party made cautions remarks trying to shield central authorities from anticipated criticism.
“In any case, this action has been done by the local authorities and they are responsible for everything,” MP Nino Kalandadze, deputy chairman of the parliamentary committee for legal issues, said.
“Simply, such actions should be legal and I hope that it was legal. If permission [on construction of the church] was issued illegally, naturally they [the local authorities] had the right to take appropriate measures,” she added.
An influential lawmaker from the ruling party, Giga Bokeria, said that this “misunderstanding” would not trigger any tensions between the state and the Georgian Orthodox Church.
He also said that many opposition politicians would now try “to score political points” from this incident, “but they will fail.”