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‘Family Values' Congress Brings Pro-Moscow Message To Georgia

  • Robert Coalson

Several thousand social-conservative activists from around the world are gathering in the Georgian capital this week in a high-profile event they say is aimed at countering the West's "fanatical liberal ideology."

The local host of the event, conservative activist and businessman Levan Vasadze, listed his "demands" in an appeal to the West at the plenary session of the World Congress of Families (WCF) on May 16:

Stop this insanity, he said to enthusiastic applause. Stop interfering in the internal affairs of this sovereign country; stop financing attacks on our church and family traditions through hundreds of your NGOs.

The main U.S. foreign-policy priority, Vasadze asserted, is "supporting homosexuality all over the world."

The World Congress of Families is a U.S.-based organization founded in the mid-1990s as an international umbrella organization of groups supporting conservative social values. Its positions include defending traditional marriage, opposing abortion, and opposing antidiscrimination measures intended to protect people of all sexual orientations.

In 2014, the Southern Poverty Law Center declared the congress and several of its constituent members in the United States to be "anti-gay hate groups."

In an interview with RFE/RL on May 17, Vasadze noted that millions of abortions are performed globally each year.

"No war, conventional or religious, has ever killed as many children as this fanatical liberal ideology under the banner of freedom and human rights," Vasadze said. "The movement against this in the West is gaining momentum, and this congress is the heart of this movement."

Conservative Georgian businessman Levan Vasadze

Conservative Georgian businessman Levan Vasadze

Georgia is a deeply conservative, Orthodox society that has been divided by some of the liberal social policies adopted by successive pro-European Union governments. On May 17, 2013 -- exactly three years ago -- conservative activists led by Orthodox clergy attacked the country's first-ever officially sanctioned antihomophobia rally, injuring around 20 people.

Georgia's Orthodox patriarch, Ilia II, blessed the Tbilisi congress on May 16, saying that "family is an institution that has been determined by God."

The 2016 congress – which opened on May 16 and runs for four days -- will present an honor to former U.S. President George W. Bush, a supporter of the organization who sent the Tbilisi congress a written message of greeting praising its "efforts to recognize the importance of families in building nations."

"Your work improves many lives and makes the world a better place," Bush wrote.

Kremlin-Linked Oligarchs

The WCF also has close ties to Konstantin Malofeyev and Vladimir Yakunin, two conservative Russian oligarchs with close ties to the government of President Vladimir Putin who finance Russia-friendly and Orthodox initiatives in former Soviet countries and the West.

Malofeyev's business partner, Aleksei Komov, is on the WCF board. Yakunin's wife, Natalia Yakunina, is the head of a WCF member group called Sanctity of Motherhood. Vladimir Mishchenko is the head of a Yakunin-created Orthodox organization called The Foundation of St. Andrew the First-Called.

Komov, Yakunina, and Mishchenko are on the agenda to address the Tbilisi congress.

The 2014 WCF congress was initially scheduled to be held in Moscow in September of that year. But after Russia annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea in March 2014, the event -- which was to be called Every Child A Gift: Large Families -- The Future Of Humanity -- was cancelled. However, the WCF co-organized an event sponsored by Yakunin's Foundation of St. Andrew that was held in September 2014 with the title Large Family And The Future Of Humanity.

Both Yakunin and Malofeyev addressed the 2104 event in Moscow.

In his opening address to the congress on May 16, Vasadze tried to use the event to build bridges between Moscow and Georgia, which have had strained relations since they fought a brief war in 2008, after which Moscow recognized as independent the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and set up military bases in both.

Only a handful of countries joined Russia in recognizing the two regions.

"Together with our Russian friends, we got rid of and defeated first fascism and then communism, both of which came from the West," Vasadze said. "The West continues to relentlessly act in Georgia and to pretend it is supporting Georgia's territorial integrity under the conditions of Russian occupation."

"The day when the Kremlin finally understands this and initiates a rapprochement with Georgia and contributes to reconciliation between Tbilisi [and Abkhazia and South Ossetia], will be the day when the West loses Georgia forever."

RFE/RL Georgian Service correspondent Sopho Vasadze contributed to this report from Tbilisi
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    Robert Coalson

    Robert Coalson covers Russia, the Balkans, and Eastern Europe. Send story tips to coalsonr@rferl.org

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