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Kavkasia TV, which broadcasts to the Georgian capital Tbilisi, has aired a report linking the government of President Mikheil Saakashvili to a series of video clips mocking the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II, that have been posted on the popular social networking site Facebook.
The clips were posted by Tea Tutberidze, the head of the Liberty Institute, an influential nongovernmental organization with close ties to the authorities, on her personal Facebook page (where she has over 950 friends, the report stressed). She was said to have done so in response to a statement by Ilia II on 10 October about the August 2008 war with Russia.
"The campaign against the Georgian catholicos-patriarch was stepped up after Ilia II spoke about the August war and Georgian leader's responsibility for this war at a meeting with teachers. After this, the Liberty Institute, which is considered the main ideologue of the government, declared a real internet war against the patriarch on Facebook," Nana Lezhava, the host of the "Weekly Reportage" magazine programme, said in her introduction to the report.
The report then showed Ilia II's statement in question. He said: "The events that happened in Georgia, in Abkhazia, in Tskhinvali weighed very heavily on our people. It should not have happened and it was possible for it not to happen. We could have avoided these problems. When a ship is sailing on the sea, the leader, the captain, should know where the cliffs are so as not to smash up against them."
Tutberidze said she objected to these remarks' obvious subtext that Saakashvili was responsible for the start of the war. "For me, that statement was truly anti-state. Whose hands does that play into? Russia's," she said. "It seems that Russia still has support in many places, including in the patriarchate."
Over the next few days, Tutberidze posted a series of videos mocking Ilia II - a revered figure in Georgia - on her Facebook page.
The report included fragments from three of the videos: One shows a still photo of Ilia with moving lips superimposed. A voiceover, mimicking the aging cleric's slow and laboured speech says: "People, let's get together and f*** Saakashvili." Another showed video of the patriarch sitting at a keyboard with another mocking voiceover, this one manipulated by auto-tune, singing a children's song to a techno beat. A third advertised a concert at a Tbilisi nightclub commemorating the patriarch's birthday.
The report also showed selections from the heated debate that ensued in the comments section under the videos: some praised Tutberidze for breaking the taboo on criticizing the patriarch, while others were very negative, expressing disgust and describing the videos as "nauseating".
The chief spokesman for the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate, Davit Sharashenidze, was then shown condemning the videos as a "pathetic attempt" on the part of "neo-Bolsheviks" to "neutralize the high level of authority that the patriarch naturally has among the public".
Giorgi Andriadze, the head of Iveria TV, a religious-themed station affiliated with the patriarchate, said Saakashvili's government was behind the videos, asserting that the campaign was an act of "revenge against a political rival".
Tutberidze rejected the criticism of the clips, saying that, since the president and other politicians are constantly mocked and derided in the media and other public forums, the patriarch, too, is fair game. "Let me remind you that the patriarch is not God," she said. "We don't live in Iran, and I think a lot of people would do better to look at this from a different viewpoint, with more pluralism and tolerance."
At the end of the report, Tutberidze was asked directly if she had posted the videos at the behest of the government. She responded sarcastically, laughing as she said: "The government, parliament and president simultaneously ordered us to do this and we did. This is how it happens all the time. Every video I post has been ordered by the government."
Source: Kavkasia TV, Tbilisi, in Georgian 1700 gmt 18 Oct 09
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