Georgia’s liberal politicians say only alignment with Europe and the US will allow the country to overcome its post-Soviet past and survive as an independent nation.
But is the country’s anti-Western and increasingly influential Orthodox Church using schools to breed a generation of religious conservatives whose beliefs are more aligned with Vladimir Putin’s Russia than the West?
When 14-year-old Giorgi came home from school on 16 October 2014 in Tbilisi, Georgia, his older brother Dato knew immediately something was wrong. Bruised and battered, Giorgi described how four older boys took turns kicking him in front of other schoolmates. “This wasn’t just a boys’ fight,” Dato says.
Giorgi was beaten because he had called himself an atheist.
Rights groups say this is just one example of growing religious intolerance in Georgia’s state schools, fostered by what they say is a campaign of indoctrination encouraged by the country’s Orthodox Church.
“They told me: ‘You offend our religion, you are an infidel,'” Giorgi says. The school principal confirmed the story, but said the issue has been resolved.
But the brothers, who didn’t want their last name used, say the intimidation has continued, and they are angry the perpetrators have not been punished. The only alternative school is private, they say, and their parents can’t afford it.
Dato’s atheism puts him in a minority in Georgia. More than 80% of Georgians call themselves Orthodox, with the young among the most religious.
But the church’s conservative message is increasingly at odds with the country’s liberal, pro-Western direction, which paradoxically most Georgians also support.
Schools have become an ideological battleground.
By Natalia Antelava
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