Sunday, June 24, 2018

Church helps young Georgians avoid conscription

Eurasianet | A libertarian Georgian “church” aids young draft dodgers - Bradley Jardine:

May 29, 2018 - "In a modern office space in Tbilisi’s trendy Vake district, a scruffy haired teenager is undergoing his initiation into the priesthood.... [He] recites his vows to the seated bishop:

“'I believe that individual human rights are the most important and that personal freedom cannot be restricted,' he pledges. 'Those who believe otherwise are irresponsible bureaucrats, homophobes, xenophobes and other bullies who bully and use violence onto others in accordance with their wicked worldview.' And with that, a handshake, and a document signed by the patriarch, he is a priest in Georgia’s fastest growing 'church,' which ordains about 40 new priests per day.

"The ersatz church is a creation of a libertarian political party, Girchi, and cheekily named the 'Christian, Evangelical, Protestant Biblical Freedom Church of Georgia.' Its goal isn't the spiritual salvation of its followers, but rather saving them from Georgia's dire military conscription system.

"According to Georgian law, all men aged 18 to 27 are subject to a compulsory 12-month military service, with some exceptions made for those with ill health and for only sons.... But another group of men allowed to legally avoid conscription are priests, and Girchi is aiming to use that loophole to help Georgia's young men enjoy the liberty of not joining the military.... So far the church has registered 5,000 people and has opened an additional office in Georgia’s second city, Kutaisi.

"'We’ve cost the government about 10 million lari ($4 million) so far,' MP Zurab Japaridze, Girchi’s charismatic leader, told Eurasianet ... referring to another legal deferment category, with which men under 25 can delay their service by paying a fee of 2,000 lari ($775) per year. In the end, only the poorest Georgians, lacking money and connections, are likely to be conscripted, said Giorgi Noniashvili, a legal expert at the Tolerance and Diversity Institute....

"[P]romises over the years to scrap conscription have come to naught, primarily because conscripts provide cheap labor for the state. Over 6,000 men are conscripted each year.... Only a quarter of those recruits are assigned to the military; the remainder guard government buildings ... Noniashvili said. 'Recruits are still used as free workers and many of them serve as prison guards'....

"Georgia’s government has tried to force the Evangelical, Protestant Biblical Freedom Church of Georgia to close. Last year, officials argued that the church does not meet the legal requirements for a religious organization since it lacks a space for members to hold prayers.... Parliament also approved a draft law which could send young men to prison for avoiding military service. Irakli Sesiashvili, chair of the parliament's Military and Security Committee, said during a session last year that Girchi’s church was abusing Georgian law.

"'They tried to close the loophole but doing so would also take away the Orthodox Church’s privileges, and the Church doesn’t want that,' Japaridze said, as it would force them to debate 'what a "real" religion is.'"

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