Protests in Georgia against defacement of Stalin icon

Protesters demanded severe punishment for a woman accused of vandalizing the icon.

In Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, thousands of people protested demanding severe consequences for a woman accused of vandalizing a religious icon featuring Soviet leader Iósif Stalin. The incident, which took place in the city’s Holy Trinity Cathedral, has exposed profound divisions in Georgia regarding Stalin’s legacy.

The protest, organized by the pro-Russian ultra-conservative group Alt-Info, condemned the “desecration” of the icon through a post on the Telegram messaging app. They likened the act to religious repression under Stalin’s regime, emphasizing their position on the events.

Thousands of Orthodox believers and Alt-Info supporters congregated in front of the parliament before marching to the cathedral, estimated by a Reuters reporter to be a 3,000-strong crowd. Police closely monitored the gathering, and a speaker addressed the crowd, criticizing the attack on the icon.

The Alliance of Patriots, a Georgian nationalist party with pro-Russian leanings, claimed to have gifted the icon to the cathedral. The icon includes a depiction of Georgian-born Stalin receiving a blessing from St Matrona of Moscow, a Russian Orthodox saint, during World War Two.

Georgia’s Orthodox church authorities suggested “appropriate changes” to the icon, questioning the historical accuracy of Stalin meeting St Matrona. The police initiated an investigation into “petty hooliganism” and questioned a suspect, while some activists and believers advocate for criminal charges and tougher laws against such acts.

Believers placed flowers by the icon on Saturday, with individuals lining up to kiss the part featuring Stalin. Reports indicate that Orthodox activists had attempted to storm the woman’s apartment earlier, but police intervention prevented the incident.

The deep-seated controversy reflects the struggle in Georgia over reconciling historical figures like Stalin within the context of religious sentiments.

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