How Stalin's Cult Strengthens Pro-Russian Forces in Georgia

Tuesday, 16 January 2024

A mass rally in the center of Tbilisi protesting the 'desecration' of an icon depicting Joseph Stalin may seem absurd, but in Georgia, it is fueling not only anti-Western sentiments but also an openly pro-Russian Conservative movement.

The activity of the Conservative movement is only gaining momentum.

It seems that Russia is seriously determined to ensure the entry of the party Georgian United Communist Party to parliament. This is a party that, amid a deep political crisis in the country, could claim to receive a "golden share."

More details can be found in the article by Yurii Panchenko, the editor of European Pravda – Defenders of Stalin's icon: How an openly pro-Russian party appeared in Georgian politics.

Right before Christmas (in Georgia on 7 January), the country faced a huge scandal erupted. An icon of the Russian saint Matrona of Moscow was found in the main cathedral of the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC), featuring scenes from her life, including her meeting with Stalin. Stalin in this depiction received a blessing for war against the Third Reich.

The meeting is not historically accurate, and the icon, considered to be made to whitewash Stalin, portrays him as a devout person.

A separate question is why the GOC accepted such a dubious gift and even displayed it prominently. Additionally, they made statements in the first days of the conflict that they had not seen a problem. This is not the first case though when the GOC effectively played into Russian propaganda.

As it turned out, the icon was presented by the leaders of Alliance of Patriots.

The political benefits from this situation, however, gained Conservative Movement, a new political force in Georgia, registered in late 2021.

This movement does not hide its pro-Russian course and actively participates in street actions.

After activist Nata Peradze poured paint on the controversial icon, Conservative Movement members tried to forcibly get into her house in response.

They organised the aforementioned mass rally in support of criminal prosecution for "insulting the feelings of believers," which is similar to the norms currently in effect in Russia. It looks like Georgian Dream is ready for such changes. At least, speakers of the ruling party claim readiness to approve the corresponding bill.

The emphasis on Stalin's image is not random. His popularity in Georgia in recent years has significantly increased, primarily due to the non-interference of Georgian Dream in the situation.

Immediately after coming to power, Georgian Dream in Gori reinstated the monument to Stalin, dismantled during Saakashvili's presidency. In general, during the Georgian Dream's tenure, at least 12 monuments to the tyrant have been erected in the country.

Is it possible that in the next parliamentary term, the Conservative Movement will receive a golden share and thus actively influence Tbilisi's policy?

This version is indicated by the fact that this year's elections will be held without a majoritarian system, and in conditions of exclusively proportional representation, there is a high probability that Georgian Dream will not gain a majority and will seek coalition partners.

The current ratings of Conservative Movement, however, barely exceeding 2% at the moment, which makes this scenario unlikely, at least for now.

According to Georgian political analyst Tengiz Pkhadadze, the Conservative Movement will continue to try to increase popularity through such scandalous actions, but overcoming the barrier will be possible only if the Kremlin convinces all pro-Russian forces in Georgia to march together.

At the same time, despite Georgia's pro-Russian tilt in foreign policy, which has become especially noticeable in the past year, Georgian Dream is still trying not to cross the red lines neither in rapprochement with Russia nor in conflicts with the West.

The entry of Conservative Movement into parliament could help the Kremlin solve this problem.

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