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Formal investigation and far-right demonstration prompted by paint on controversial Stalin icon

10 January 2024
Far-right protesters gathered outside the house of activist Nata Peradze on 10 January 2024. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

A group of far-right activists on Wednesday surrounded the house of an activist accused of painting over a controversial icon, after Georgia’s interior ministry launched an investigation into the act on charges of hooliganism.

On Tuesday, activist Nata Peradze published a video on Facebook showing blue paint on an icon of St. Matrona that depicts the 20th century saint in the company of a man resembling the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. The icon is in the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Tbilisi.

Paint on the icon of St. Matrona in Tbilisi's Sameba Holy Trinity Cathedral. Photo via RFE/RL.

The icon has gained notoriety and provoked controversy in Georgia since its image was shared on Georgian social media by archpriest Ilia Chigladze on 6 January.

[Read on OC Media: Controversy after Stalin icon found in Tbilisi’s Sameba cathedral]

On Sunday, Davit Tarkhan-Mouravi, the leader of the conservative Alliance of Patriots party, announced that he had donated the icon to the cathedral, claiming that Stalin had met Matrona for counsel during World War II.

Georgia’s Interior Ministry told OC Media on Wednesday that an investigation was launched a day earlier into the icon’s painting on charges of petty hooliganism.

Although it has not been publicly confirmed that Nata Peradze was responsible for the paint visible on the icon in her video, both she and social media commentators have strongly implied that that is the case.

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Insults and attacks

On Wednesday afternoon, several hundred members of the radical far-right Alt Info group gathered outside Nata Peradze’s house in Tbilisi.

Members of the group called for others to ‘mobilise’ on social networks shortly after Peradze posted her video.

OC Media observed members of the crowd, which included a number of priests, shouting insulting phrases and attempting to disrupt the police cordon outside her house.

Far-right protesters gathered outside the house of activist Nata Peradze. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

Zurab Makharadze, one of the leaders of the Conservative Movement and far-right Alt Info, used insulting phrases towards Peradze while addressing the gathering. He appealed to the authorities, demanding that Peradze be punished on charges of ‘unlawful interference with the performance of religious rites’.

Peradze published personal messages she received on Facebook, in which she was insulted and threatened. The activist wrote on Tuesday that she had shared the threatening messages with the police. Georgia’s Interior Ministry did not respond to enquiries from OC Media regarding whether an investigation had been launched into the threats. 

According to RFE/RL the icon of St. Matrona has since been cleaned of paint, and its location changed to a ‘more visible place’.

Read in Armenian on CivilNet.