November 16 is the International Day for Tolerance. It is observed annually as a reminder of the need to respect diversity, to engage in a dialogue and cooperation with diverse cultures and civilizations.
The current year has proved extremely disturbing for Georgia from the perspective of human rights, principles of tolerance and equality. An already fragile democracy has been rapidly losing ground, human dignity and freedom have been infringed, people of different identity, religious faith, ethnic origin or political views have been persecuted and discriminated against. Human rights and freedoms, pluralism and the prospect of shaping a tolerant society have been imperiled. Hatred and animosity towards any different group and political opponent, nourished by the undemocratic rule of the government, and the impunity of emboldened violent extremist groups have polarized the society and fomented intolerance.
Against this tense and critical backdrop, it is crucial to remind society of those fundamental values without which no society can be democratic, no country can have a prospect of peaceful development or future.
The Declaration of Principles on Tolerance, adopted by UNESCO on 16 November 1995, states that tolerance is, above all, an active attitude prompted by recognition of the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms of others. Tolerance is harmony in difference and it is not only a moral duty but also a political and legal requirement. Tolerance is the responsibility that upholds human rights, pluralism, democracy and the rule of law.
In 2021 we have repeatedly witnessed massive violations of human rights, intolerance, persecution and systemic discrimination in Georgia. Current developments have made it clear that the government betrayed the Western values, has engaged in repressions against opponents and activists and has chosen the path of authoritarian rule. The political persecution, degrading and inhumane treatment of the third president of Georgia by the government have threatened not only his life and democratic institutions, but also the freedom, life and health of every individual.
A recent leak of materials on massive illegal eavesdropping and surveillance, allegedly carried out by the state, has exposed the efforts of the state to control and discredit religious associations, organizations and people who work hard for the protection of the Constitution and fundamental human rights. The government’s behavior during the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the discriminatory nature of religious policy pursued by the state, which violates the principles of secularity and equality towards people of different religious faith.
On 5 July 2021, the government openly declared the abandonment of Euro-Atlantic course of development by giving carte blanche to extremist violent groups who demonstratively removed and burnt the EU flag waving in front of the parliament twice, by not protecting the right to freedom of assembly and expression, the life and health of citizens. With their statements made when offenders were mobilizing in the city, the government and the Patriarchate of the Georgian Orthodox Church openly encouraged violent groups towards actions against the State and the constitution.
Similar to the government, the clergy of the dominant religious organization, the Georgian Orthodox Church, instead of preaching love and tolerance, often foment anti-Semitism, hostility and intolerance towards religious and ethnic minorities, LGBT community, media, human rights watchdogs and political organizations. Violent actions, attacks on journalists, spread of hate speech and incitement to violence by the Orthodox Church clergy have taken an alarming dimension in 2021.
Given the challenges Georgia faces now, universal responsibility for protecting human rights and principles of tolerance lies not only with the government, civil society and politicians, but also with each and every citizen. In this environment of extreme intolerance and polarization, it is vital for the society to unite in order to defend human dignity, fundamental rights and freedoms and to save the prospect of democratic development of the country.