Baptists believe more religious freedom is coming to the Republic of Georgia.

By December 16, 2003

Rep. of Georgia (MNN) — The “Revolution of the Roses,” so called because the opposition broke into the parliament chamber of the Government of Georgia with roses instead of guns and forced a change of government, was supported by the Baptists there, says Malkhaz Songulashvili, president of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia.

Baptist World Alliance leaders say the peaceful succession of government that took place on November 23rd when opposition supporters in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, successfully forced the resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze.

Songulashvili reported that Baptists helped by delivering hot drinks and food to the demonstrators in front of the parliament building during the night as it became colder and participated in the non-violent demonstrations. Songulashvili was also interviewed on television about
the role of the church in time of turmoil and national crisis. “We are rather proud,” said Songulashvili, “that the Baptist flags were flown on the freedom square in Tbilisi during the demonstration.”

Songulashvili sees four positive elements to the political changes. The bloodshed that seemed to be inevitable was avoided and he credits the ex-President who refrained from calling out troops to resist. The President had warned the Ministry of Interior Affairs and the Army not to use any weapons against the peaceful demonstrators under any
circumstances.

Songulashvili says this new change has brought confidence to the people of Georgia. “Now we realize that we may raise our voice against injustice without violence,” he said, “We experienced the power of non-violent opposition and for the people of Caucasus this is something
entirely new.”

Most important Songulashvili sees more democracy in Georgia that will lead to more religious liberty. Georgian Baptists have suffered in the last three years from Bible burnings and attacks on their worship from a dissident Orthodox priest who has not been held accountable by the
government.

“The changes that will come with the resignation of the President will certainly promote greater democracy in Georgia, therefore promoting greater religious liberty and the upcoming new parliament elections is an enormous encouragement for us,” Songulashvili wrote. “The result of
the falsified elections would have given more than 50 percent of the Parliament to the hardliners, including Guram Sharadze, a man who had openly supported religious terrorism.”

Songulashvili said the disputed results of the November Second election was not the only reason why the people of Georgia demonstrated and marched to the capital city of Tbilisi. “They had been fed up with years of poverty, corruption, hypocrisy, social injustice, unfairness,
the communist manner of doing things, violation of human rights and religious liberties. The people had kept silent for more than ten years,” he said, “We were told that we had to wait a little bit more for the desire of prosperity. However it was only the people of the Government and the Parliament who became rich while the poor became poorer.”

“This revolution may help us to get rid of our slavish legacy from the communist past when you were not supposed to question authorities above you,” Songulashvili wrote.

Songulashvili says Baptists are praying that the new elections announced will be carried out fairly. “Georgia deserves fair elections,” he said, “and Baptists in Georgia are determined to participate actively in the national life of the country.”

“I do understand the immediate future of the country is not going to be easy,” Songulashvili said, “It will not be easy for us Baptists either. But there is a hope that something good may emerge out of our suffering and fight for establishment of civil society, democracy and religious
liberty.”

Songulashvili noted that he and Baptists had been criticized by the previous government for their involvement in the revolution.

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