When Tea Tsulukiani became Georgia’s justice minister her task seemed tough, but straightforward: Take former corrupt officials to task and build an apolitical, widely trusted institution.
She worked hard, and, finally, made a chilling discovery: Many of Georgia's government-issued personal IDs contain the number 666, which is, of course, the mark of the Beast; a phenomenon of the end times, according to the Bible's Book of Revelation.
Tsulukiani hurried to share her find with the public. “I don’t mean to frighten believers, but tens of thousands of old IDs contain the number six three times in a row,” she said on June 4, Interpress reported. But fear not, she went on. Tsulukiani has vowed to make sure that Georgia's new, electronic ID cards will be free of the Beast and his number.
Many Georgians refused to accept the new, smart ID cards after some Georgian Orthodox groups affirmed that the card could bear the stamp of the Antichrist. (The Georgian Orthodox Church itself, however, denied it.) Of particular concern were personal details, which, the thinking went, might come in handy for the Antichrist whenever he might choose to strike.
Tsulukiani has said that including information beyond name and date of birth would be optional.
President Mikheil Saakashvili’s government had no patience to entertain such -- or, critics might charge, any -- public concerns about the cards. But the new, Georgian-Dream-led cabinet is eager to show that they're listening to voters -- particularly in a presidential election year.
Georgia is rated as the most believing country in the South Caucasus. A 2012 opinion poll showed that 67 percent of 2,502 respondents believe that God is directly involved in their personal affairs.
With that background in mind, Tsulukiani, instead of arm-twisting Antichrist-wary citizens into accepting the controversial IDs, went to the Church to get a blessing for the cards in exchange for a promise to avoid the notorious 666.
But many other Georgians, who plant their faces in their hands when watching a top official discuss such topics, believe that the government is going overboard with its inclusive ways. The fear is that pandering to such voters could strengthen the ultra-conservative factions in the Georgian Orthodox Church and its parishes. In Tbilisi, such clerics have led attacks on a Halloween party and, most recently, staged an attack on an anti-homophobia rally.
How a top official evicting suspected demonic influences from identification cards will change that trend remains to be seen.