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From Pulpit to Politics: Comparative Study of Patriarchy and Government's Anti-Western Narratives

Despite Georgia's status as a secular state, the Patriarchate plays a pivotal role in the country's political life. The Patriarchate, as an institution, significantly influences public opinion. Clergymen often touch upon both domestic and foreign politics in their sermons, providing commentary on both Georgia’s foreign and domestic politics. The church uses television broadcasts, with priests often making guest appearances, especially on pro-Russian channels like 'Alt-Info,' 'Sezoni TV,' and 'Obieqtivi,' where some of the influential clergy members express anti-Western rhetoric. This study is unique because it not only analyzes the clergy’s anti-Western narrative but also compares it with the government’s messages. It allows us to identify areas where religious and secular messages align. The main objective of our research is to identify similarities between their rhetoric, which, at the same time, represents the primary novelty of our work.

One notable feature of this research is its focus on specific cases, such as the 'Agents' Law' and 'March Protests.' In this regard, the study is novel as it examines and compares the narratives using a case analysis approach. Furthermore, the research identifies specific clerics known for their anti-Western rhetoric through observation.

Main Findings of the Research

Through the analysis and tallying of the information and narratives gathered in the research, specific clerics spreading an anti-Western narrative similar to the government were identified. These include Archbishop Iakobi, Bishop of Bodbe, Deacon Spyridon Tskifurishvili, Metropolitan Stephane of Chkondidi, Deacon Andria Jaghmaidze, Father Shalva Kekelia, and Archimandrite Raphael (Karelin). (Appendix 1) After studying speeches from specific clerics, we categorized the topics and identified areas where the clergy and members of the ruling party agreed on specific narratives.

Narrative #1 - "The West Is Corrupting Georgia"

"Liberalism, unless viewed through a religious and moral lens, can pose a direct threat to the preservation of our security and sovereignty. If we examine our gene pool and its outlook, promoting it in this way, it could result in a disaster and jeopardize Georgia's sovereignty, I can assert this directly" (Juansher Burchuladze, May 12, 2023, [source link]).

"Sorry, friends, this is who we are. We want this Georgia. We are a conservative, nationalistic people who defend family values. If they want us to disappear because of this, I wish them success" (Irakli Gharibashvili, May 11, 2023).

"The West is pushing us toward a non-Christian way of life, which the Georgian people should not allow, as it would lead to the downfall of Georgia" (Deacon Archil Kiutashvili,, 15.09.2023).

Narrative #2 - The West Is Controlling Georgia and Attempting to Stage a Coup

  • "We are a sovereign state, and we must prioritize the needs of our country and our people. We respect all nations, but our love for our country comes first. We should address our country's immediate and future requirements." (Irakli Gharibashvili on November 18, 2022)

  • "We are a small country; are we too insignificant to resist oppression? Should we forsake our two-thousand-year-old path? Is this the essence of democracy? If democracy entails tolerating dissent, then tolerate me, for I hold a dissenting opinion. But no, I must tolerate you - is this democracy?" (Metropolitan Ioane of Kutai-Gaenati on 8.03.2023)

  • "For what reasons do you use the idea of joining the European Union? Almost twice you attempted the revolution. Why? If you assign us tasks, let us know, and we will complete them. Why impose deadlines? Are you doing this so you can fund another revolution?" (Archbishop Jacob on 23.07.2023)

  • "The State Security Services explained to us yesterday that the individuals planning this terrorist attack know that the West will not grant us candidate status. Thus, they prepare for a Maidan when the European Commission declares in October that we don't qualify for candidate status." (Deacon Spiridon Tskifurishvili on 13.03.2023)

  • "The scenario is chaos, revolution. We know the ultimate goal - opening up the second front in Georgia, which has been eluded since 2022 when the war in Ukraine began. Nevertheless, it appears that this goal is still being pursued. Such processes are being orchestrated, and it is particularly disheartening that USAID funding is linked to all of this. We will require clarifications from our friendly state in this regard." (Irakli Kobakhidze on October 2, 2023)

Narrative #3 - The EU Candidate Status is Insignificant 

  • "You discuss candidate status around the clock, and it's understandable. We completely agree that candidate status is important. However, I want to remind our fellow citizens that many countries have obtained candidate status, and since then, they've waited for years for membership without significant developments. This is just one stage, one part of the process. After this, another process begins, and so on. It will take years for our country to become a European Union member. This requires preparation, not deception and false promises that if we don't attain candidate status, everything will collapse," (Irakli Gharibashvili on November 18, 2022).

  • "The candidate status itself does not bring practical benefits. This has been clarified. It doesn't result in additional funding or obligations from the European Union," (Irakli Kobakhidze on June 15, 2022.)

  • "I'm not optimistic about Georgia's European Union membership. To begin with, EU candidate status doesn't provide any concrete benefits. Ultimately, Georgia might not become an EU member – you only need to look at the map for that," (Dean Spiridon Tskifurishvili on 12.10.2023).

Narrative #4 - Neutrality is Necessary for Georgia

  • "The war will eventually end, and the world will be reorganized. We must absolutely maintain good relations with everyone, whether it's with the West or an authoritarian country. We are a small nation, and no one will come to our aid. Regardless of the invitations we receive from foreign entities, we will not allow any country, regardless of who they are, to manipulate us with their schemes," (Archbishop Jacob on 23.07.2023).

  • "The most favorable global political and economic positioning for Georgia is neutrality. Georgia should seek guarantees of neutrality from both Europe and Russia and initiate negotiations on this matter," (Deacon Basil Akhvlediani on 03.04.2023).

March protests

Clergymen actively responded to the law "On Transparency of Foreign Influence" and the protests against the law. In the official post published in connection with the March protest, the Patriarchate of Georgia emphasizes the importance of peace, and the manipulation of the concept of peace has been the main narrative of the Georgian Dream since the Russia-Ukraine war. The spokesperson for the Patriarchate of Georgia, Deacon Andria Jagmaidze, demanded the Canadian model of the law of agents on Facebook during the March protests, and the Canadian model was the main argument of the ruling party against the opponents.


IBEX and Mediaspeech tools were utilized in the research stage. Firstly, keywords related to the research topic were developed. (Appendix 7)

Subsequently, data from IBEX was gathered using these keywords. With the assistance of IBEX, 268 relevant posts from Facebook, YouTube, and Telegram were collected. Once the data was obtained, the audio-visual content was processed, and transcripts were generated using Mediaspeech. A total of 7 voluminous sermons by the clergy were transcribed using Mediaspeech.

In the next research stage, the data was analyzed, and the main narratives spread by specific clergymen were identified, and categorized based on frequently discussed topics. Following narrative and thematic analysis, the clergy's statements were compared with those of government representatives, and similar rhetoric was identified. In the final stage, specific clergymen actively promoting the anti-Western narrative, aligning with the government's narrative, were singled out.

Recommendations for Future Research 

The Patriarchy wields substantial influence and power - people are more vulnerable to disinformation coming from their church authority figures. Furthermore, these clerics possess extensive platforms, extending from their church congregations to their own Facebook pages, boasting thousands of followers. Given the far-reaching impact of the narratives they propagate, they become valuable tools in the hands of the government. Our study lays the groundwork for further research, as the connection between the government and the clergy, while previously discussed, has not been examined through the lens of narratives, which is a straightforward and easy-to-digest way we can bring people’s attention to this issue. In light of imminent political developments, the clergy is poised to emerge as a pivotal actor in these processes.



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