Several members of Georgian political party Girchi (Georgian for pinecone) have established their own religion to help young men in Georgia avoid mandatory military service.
The move comes after Girchi’s attempts to abolish compulsory service failed. Previous to this, in June 2016, then Minister of Defence Tina Khidasheli ended mandatory recruitment of young men at the ministry — which accounted for 25% of draftees. However, It was reinstated on 14 February by new Defence Minister Levan Isoria, reversing his predecessor’s decision.
The Christian Evangelical Protestant Biblical Freedom Church has been officially registered with the Ministry of Justice, and now issues documents to young men who do not wish to join the army, certifying that they are ‘priests’.
According to Georgian law, clergy and students at theological schools are exempted from compulsory service. This is why Girchi’s new organisation ordains young men as priests.
[Read: Young Georgian draftees question compulsory ‘guard duty’]
‘This is a 100% legal method, but if the government still attempts to turn those men into slaves, we will protect them in court’, Girchi explained to On.ge.
The new ‘religion’ has called for donations from supporters and members to help with their expenses, including the issuing of documents, notary services, and lawyers.
Abolishing compulsory military service was one Girchi’s main promises in the run up to the 2016 parliamentary election.
‘Military service will be professional and voluntary. Serving and training in the reserve will be voluntary from the age of 21’, Girchi’s election programme read.
Girchi withdrew from the running just prior to the election, after their coalition with the State for the People party collapsed, and have no seats in parliament.
Irakli Sesiashvili, head of parliament’s Defence and Security Committee says that Girchi’s action is wrong and cannot be justified.
‘I think that there should be some other way to take this case to court. I don’t know, this could be either a constitution related case or something else, but certainly this cannot be a civil case’, he said, adding that Girchi’ solution was clearly a way of giving the opportunity to Georgians to avoid a constitutional obligation, which is unjustifiable.
Other opposition parties, including UNM and European Georgia, have defended Girchi, saying that if the law allows the registration of new religious organisations, then there is nothing wrong with this initiative. Girchi argues that the current legislation on compulsory service violates basic human rights.
‘This system is legalised slavery. It is ineffective and economically unjustified. It doesn’t serve to develop the country’s defence, but serves the bureaucracy's caprices’, their statement reads.
Military service is compulsory for men aged 18 to 27 in Georgia.
According to a study conducted by NDI, in 2013, 63% of respondents supported the initiative to abolish compulsory military service and to introduce a professional army, while 26% opposed such a move.
The Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure, which is in charge of the draft process, told OC Media that according to the most recent government resolution on conscription, which was adopted on 3 February, in 2017, 422 recruits will be drafted to the State Security Service, 865 to the Interior Ministry, 1,400 to the Defence Ministry, and 1,000 to the Ministry of Corrections.