The appearance of a Russian Duma MP in the Georgian Parliamentary chair seat has triggered protests across Georgia as politicians from both opposition and ruling parties condemned the action. Sergey Gavrilov, who was escorted out of parliament, warned that ‘negotiations on humanitarian-economic issues between the two countries may fail’ due to the incident.
Russian MP Sergey Gavrilov, a member of the Communist Party, was visiting Georgia together with colleagues to participate in the 26th General Inter-Parliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy. Gavrilov addressed MPs in Russian from the chairperson’s tribune and sat in his chair, triggering protests from opposition politicians.
MPs from the European Georgia and United National Movement parties occupied the tribune of the Georgian Parliament on Thursday to prevent Gavrilov from returning to the chair. After their protest, the session was cancelled and delegates left parliament.
The 26th General Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of Orthodoxy started in Tbilisi on 19 June and is set to last until Friday. The assembly was opened by Georgian Parliamentary Chair Irakli Kobakhidze on Wednesday as he said that ‘Christianity was not only about faith or a means for saving national identity’, but that ‘christian traits […] saved Georgia as a state and brought it to where it is today, to freedom’.
According to Money Waste Detector, a group watching government spending, the Georgian Government spent ₾61,000 ($22,000) on the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of Orthodoxy over the last two years.
The following day, the assembly sitting was opened by Gavrilov. After seeing him address the assembly from Kobakhidze’s seat, opposition MPs rushed to the tribune during a break and occupied the chair, insisting they would not let Gavrilov return to it.
They were confronted by Ada Marshania and Emzar Kvitsiani, MPs from the Alliance of Patriots Party. Kvitsiani, who demanded the opposition leave and let Gavrilov back to the chair, was accompanied from parliament by guards. He told journalists that Gavrilov was ‘pro-Georgian’.
Gavrilov has previously voted in favour of Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s independence from Georgia.
After the session was cancelled on Thursday and delegates started leaving the parliament, anti-occupation activists stormed the building in protest. The head of the Georgian delegation of the Orthodox assembly, Georgian Dream MP Zakaria Kutsnashvili, was surrounded by activists who called him a ‘traitor’.
Kutsnashvili unapologetically tore up a banner saying ‘Shame on the government’ that activists were waving behind them.
He later apologised after a large demonstration was announced to take place outside parliament and politicians including Georgian Dream chairman Bidzina Ivanishvili, PM Mamuka Bakhtadze, and President Salome Zurabishvili denounced Gavrilov’s presence at the parliamentary tribune.
The opposition has demanded that the Chair of the Georgian Parliament, Irakli Kobakhidze, resign.
Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili accused Russia of using religion for political reasons.
‘What does Orthodox inter-parliamentary assembly mean? What kind of Orthodox union can exist between us and the country which is not only the occupier of our territories but also persecutes religion and all Christian rules […] There is nothing Orthodox about it. It’s characteristic for Russia to use religion for political reasons. And if this is true, why do we play along’, said Zurabishvili.
Both Parliamentary Chair Irakli Kobakhidze and the Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze said that it was ‘very hard’ seeing a Russian politician sitting in the parliamentary chair.
Chairman of the Georgian Dream party Bidzina Ivanishvili said that he shared the outrage of the public.
‘It cannot be allowed for a representative of the occupier state to chair any kind of forum in the Georgian Parliament. As I’ve been told, this was a protocol mistake, the political importance of which the organisers were unable to foresee. This has to be handled accordingly’, said Ivanishvili. He added that he had spoken with Kobakhidze and recommended the session be cancelled immediately.
Zakaria Kutsnashvili also suggested there could have been ‘a mistake’ regarding the chair of the session. He said the Greek chairman general was supposed to lead the session, instead of Gavrilov.
Another Georgian Dream MP, Archil Talakvadze, also said that the Greek chairman was supposed to lead the session. He added that the Russian delegation must leave Georgia.
However, Gavrilov said he was not planning to change his plans regarding their stay in Georgia. He told Russian state-owned news agency Ria that they were not considering shortening their stay until discussing the whole agenda.
Regarding the developments in parliament, he said it was ‘a useless attempt to thwart the international Orthodox forum’.
After leaving the parliament, Gavrilov moved to the Radisson Hotel, pursued by protesters. Protesters threw eggs at the building and demanded that he leave Georgia. He was again met by protesters upon leaving the hotel.
Besides in Tbilisi, protests against Gavrilov also took place in Batumi and Gori.