Georgia: Pig’s Head on Madrasa Sparks Religious Tensions
Georgia’s off-and-on cross-and-crescent tension hit a new low on September 10 after members of one provincial church placed a pig’s head on the doors of a planned Islamic school near the Turkish border.
The protesters, members of a Georgian Orthodox Church congregation in the Black-Sea resort town of Kobuleti, said they resorted to this gruesome form of protest to prevent the spread of Islam in their neighborhood. Earlier on, they had planted a large cross before the madrasa as well.
Many Georgians see the growing Turkish investment and presence in Kobuleti’s Turkey-adjacent region, Achara, as an existential threat.
The Kobuleti incident, though, was made even more disturbing by outlandish comments from one middle-aged female protester. “We did not desecrate it; we decorated it,” said the woman, radiant with joy, in reference to the madrasa, in a YouTube video. “When they brought the piglet, it was squealing so much, but I told him ‘Don’t be afraid, you will be slaughtered soon’ . . . “ she continued, beaming with pride, as if discussing the charms of a favored household pet. “ They have hung […] the pig’s head so handsomely, with its ears pulled to the sides, that it will be a pleasure for them to see when they show up,” she said of those connected with the medresa.
The video went viral, with some sharing it for laughs, others out of revulsion. Some protesters tried to strike more a respectful note, describing Muslims, ironically, as their brothers despite the hardly fraternal form of protest against the madrasa they had chosen.
The protesters claimed to a local TV station that the madrasa’s construction is “illegal” — the Turkish citizen who bought the building had first told them that he planned to build a hotel there, but later it transpired that he was planning to establish an Islamic school, they claimed.
Local officials have confirmed that the plans were illegal since the building’s owner did not hold the relevant license to open a school.
Georgia’s Mufti Jemal Paksadze has called the pig-protest an unprecedented insult to the country’s Muslim community. “If we’re talented and intelligent Georgians, then we should show respect for each other . . . “ he told Interpressnews.
The police, though, have launched an investigation into the protesters' actions.
In previous flare-ups against Muslims, which have included the hijacking of a minaret, it was often left to human rights groups and progressive intelligentsia to condemn such incidents actively. The Georgian Orthodox Church has distanced itself from the attacks, but not from the cause of the assailants.
The authorities, meanwhile, have been careful in dealing with the powerful Church. The Orthodox faith, which survived centuries of invasions by Muslim conquerors and 70 years of communism, is largely viewed as synonymous with national identity.
Giorgi Lomsadze is a journalist based in Tbilisi, and author of Tamada Tales.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter.