Georgia sets an example of tolerance for the world to follow – Zalkaliani

18.07.2019, Washington - The Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani spoke before the Ministerial Meeting to promote the Religious Freedom organized in Washington D.C. 
He extensively spoke about the experience of Georgia as a multicultural and multiethnic country, whose history provides an example to follow in terms of unique tolerance. According to Zalkaliani, for centuries, Georgia has been and remains a special place where various ethnic and religious minorities live peacefully and worship freely, side by side. He said that tolerance to diversity is an inherent part of the Georgian way of life and the value on which the entire European community is based. Besides, “the culture of diversity, deeply rooted in our society, plays an essential role in Georgia’s democratic and economic development as well as in advancing our European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations”.
The Minister highlighted that the Georgian Constitution enshrines absolute freedom of religion and equality for all.  The national human rights strategy and action plan translates this provision into concrete policy and action.

The Minister drew the attention of the attending audience to Russia’s violations of human rights, including religious freedom, in the occupied regions.
According to Zalkaliani As a result of Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia and subsequent occupation, those regions became black spots of human rights violations. For more than a decade, the Georgian parish and orthodox clergy have not been allowed to enter the occupied territories for religious services and ethnic Georgians living in these areas are deprived of their right to celebrate religious holidays or attend services in their native language.
Access to churches and cemeteries in the occupied territories is restricted due to barbed wire fences and artificial barriers installed by the occupation regimes have along the dividing line. Those who try to visit are running the risk of detention by the so-called border guards.
Moreover, significant number of Georgian orthodox churches and monasteries in the occupied territories are either destroyed or at risk of irreversible damage aimed at obliterating any association with Georgian history and religious identity. The situation is even more alarming provided that international organizations do not have access to the occupied regions of Georgia. 

“Georgia remains firmly committed to the peaceful conflict resolution and unilaterally undertakes all efforts to move forward in this regard. I take this opportunity to ask the international community to once again send a strong message to Russia that its policy directed against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia is unacceptable” – the Georgian Foreign Minister said.

Zalkaliani once again reaffirmed Georgia’s readiness to further undertake the role of a mediator among various cultures and to continue its active engagement in bridging different religious communities.