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Street protests in Georgia.. Msgr. Pasotto (Apostolic Administrator): “an occupied territory is like a sword in the flesh”

From Tbilisi Msgr. Pasotto gives an account of the protests of young people outside Georgia’s Parliament building: “An occupied strip of land or an occupied home are comparable to a sword dug into flesh. Even though the pain diminishes with time, it takes nothing to reopen that wound. Sadness is seen in people’s eyes, silent pain. Poor people witnessing stifling injustice. This is true poverty”

“All is calm again and the peak of tension has passed. But in areas marked by injustice, where situations of injustice persist over time, one must have a big heart. We are aware that such difficulties can’t be resolved overnight, but we also believe that Europe must not forget them because nobody knows how these processes could develop in the future.” Msgr. Giuseppe Pasotto, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Catholics of the Caucasus sends a message from Tbilisi to Europe not to forget Georgia. Contacted by phone by SIR, Msgr. Pasotto describes the demonstrations and the rally outside the Parliament building in the Georgian capital city that took place in the past few days. The Russian State representative had sat in the Georgian parliament speaker’s seat while addressing a council of delegates from predominantly Orthodox Christian Countries. “This sparked off a fierce reaction”, the bishop said. “Protests began and the opposition took advantage of the situation.” It triggered the ire of the public, and people – notified also via social networks –took to the streets, numbering several thousands after just a few hours. Riot police used tear gas and fired rubber bullets, “the first night of protests ended with casualties and arrests, a disaster”, Pasotto remarked.

“On the second evening of protests several thousands of students took to the streets.  Yesterday – a rally is staged outside Parliament every evening  – the situation was not as tense as the first days. At least 240 people were injured, including 80 policemen, with 300 people arrested so far.”

The sadness of a seized home. Russia and Georgia severed diplomatic relations after the 2008 war broke out involving Abkhazia and South Ossetia, that is under Russian military occupation and whose independence in recognized only by Moscow. “The occupied territories are a big thorn in Europe’s flesh”, said Msgr. Pasotto. The image of the Russian representative who sat in the Georgian speaker’s seat sparked off ire against the backdrop of that never healed wound. “I saw the sadness in the face and eyes of some people, simple and poor, at the sight of the most important Parliament chair occupied by those who are not entitled to”, Pasotto said. “That chair reminded them of their occupied land, of the houses they left behind, the abandoned properties! A land, an occupied home is like a sword dug into flesh. Even though the pain may diminish with time, it takes nothing to reopen that wound. Sadness is seen in people’s eyes, silent pain. Poor people witnessing stifling injustice. This is true poverty.”

Russia’s prompt reply. Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin has approved a decree according to which, starting on July 8, Russian airlines are prohibited from carrying out air transportation (including commercial) of citizens from Russia to Georgia. “It’s a clear retaliation – remarked bishop Pasotto – that will have economic consequences.” The tension is high as a result of various actions.

“I am worried because future developments in these territories are unpredictable”,

the bishop cautioned. “This is a major concern. Just as the protests of the past few days have broken out all of a sudden, they could escalate and be rekindled at tragic levels and at an equally rapid pace. It’s worrying because these issues are exploited politically for partisan interests and goals.” Thus the bishop sends a message to Europe not to forget Georgia. “Since the Nations acknowledge the ongoing occupation then they must somehow jointly handle this situation and not leave the Countries to face it alone. I am thinking of the many occupied lands near and far, such as those in Africa or in the Middle East. Occupied land causes suffering. It’s what we identify with as our own home. Land for me means justice. When faced with such suffering we must raise our eyes to the skies and believe, believe believe that justice is the foundations of peace! We must believe that everything can change! In our present times we have no other option than to meet, to speak to one another and find joint solutions. This is the dialogue that is constantly upheld by Pope Francis. He repeated it here too during his visit to Georgia. We must never forget his message, for it will always bear topical relevance.”

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