A new book loaded with sexual material and whose title is a play on the Last Supper has caused outrage among Georgia's Christian community.
The Orthodox Church is calling for a law that would protect people from indecency, while the country's liberals have rallied to protect freedom of speech.
The heated discussions are even turning violent. A confrontation between liberals and members of the radical religious group “Orthodox Fathers” was shown live on the local TV channel Kavkassia.
Mayhem ensued on air, and arrests soon followed after eight members of the religious group were jailed for attacking a cameraman and several liberal activists.
At the heart of the scandal is a book that was recently released in Georgia. Provocative even by western standards, the book has an obscene title and is filled with incestuous undertones. Part of the plot focuses around two homosexual lovers engaging in oral sex in a camp while the national anthem plays on the radio.
When the book was presented at the Chavchavadze State University, further disruption occurred.
The author, 20-year-old Irakly Beisadze, fled to a remote village right after the book’s unveiling, fearing for his life. Independent studio GNS was the only media source Irakly agreed to meet with. The interview was shown on the same local channel, where the fight broke out between liberals and Christian conservatives.
“I received threats through email, phone calls and on Facebook, so I had to do something to keep myself safe,” the author said in the interview.
On the other side, the head of the “Orthodox Fathers” Malkhaz Gulashvili has fled to Russia, saying his family has started receiving threats following the incident at the TV channel. His supporters claim the country and the Orthodox faith are in danger.
“We want to free our people from this filth. We are protecting our faith, our patriarch. We are protecting the integrity of our people,” Malkhaz says.
Meanwhile, literary critics believe the uproar is unjustified.
“The book has a right to exist in a B category, nothing more, but it has been turned into a social scandal. For this to happen, the book would have to be written by someone at least like Salman Rushdie,” says literary critic Zaza Burchuladze.
“Georgia is trying with all its might to show its involvement in Europe, and that is where all these so-called European values come from. For Georgia and other Caucasus states, these ideas are unfamiliar and even inappropriate. It is an attempt by Saakashvili’s government and his supporters to show that Georgia has the same issues as Europe,” believes political analyst Vladimir Zakharov.
Church and state are inseparable in Georgia. Three quarters of the population are Orthodox Christians, so it is not surprising this scandal has reached gargantuan proportions, overshadowing the upcoming mayoral elections in the capital Tbilisi.
Ironically, the book has flown off the shelves and sold out within hours, and since the publishers promise a second edition, the scandal is far from over.
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