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October 7, 2010

Georgia and the Evils of a Foreign Education

October 4, 2010

Is ignorance bliss for Georgians? In a way, yes, according to the country's highly revered spiritual leader, Georgian Orthodox Church Patriarch Ilia II.

With the domestic education system still in mid-reform, many young Georgians are seeking knowledge in the West, but, away from home and the mother church, their impressionable minds run the risk of cultural indoctrination, the patriarch warned in an October 3 sermon.

Georgia’s young are not “strong spiritually, culturally” and may easily drift away from their traditional moorings and also lose respect for parental authority, Ilia II posited.

Just look at what is going on over in Canada, he continued. When "lightly slapped" by their parents, Canadian youngsters can call the police on mom and dad, he fumed. “So he (she) is a whistle-blower, [a] betrayer of [his or her] parents.” To make sure that Georgian kids do not do the same, Georgian families should avoid sending them for studies abroad, he deduced.

Could His Holiness be worrying that his parish is thinning, amidst an onslaught of Western liberalism? Recent statistics do not suggest so. According to a 2008 poll, over 94 percent of Georgians, who are overwhelmingly Georgian Orthodox Christians, believe that Ilia II is the nation’s most trusted figure. The Church is widely seen as synonymous with Georgia's cultural identity.

Nonetheless, the patriarch's previously sacrosanct authority has faced a sporadic yet strong challenge of late. Some believe that a recent series of scandals hints at under-the-surface turf wars between the Church and the passionately Western-oriented government of President Mikheil Saakashvili.

In a bid to raise the level of education and mold a new, Western-minded breed of Georgian, Saakashvili first launched a state-run student exchange program, and then brought 1,000 teachers from English-speaking countries -- including alleged miscreant Canada -- to teach English in Georgian schools.

But certain limits likely exist for how far the patriarch will take his criticism of studying abroad. Saakashvili himself studied outside Georgia -- in the US, France and Ukraine. In the past, both Church and government have tried to avoid a heads-on confrontation over policy matters.

Perhaps with that goal in view, the patriarch admonished listeners that Georgia should not shut "itself up in its own shell," but "know the world."

Nonetheless, he drew the line at the word "cosmopolitan."

“For a cosmopolitan, it does matter is it Georgia, Russia, America or Europe. His homeland is wherever he lives," he said. "One man said that home is where the money is…We do not need such thinking. . . .This is why, once more, I want to convince you that there is only one homeland, just as there is only one God.”