During his Sunday sermon on June 18, Patriarch Ilia II presented the idea of Georgia becoming a constitutional monarchy:
"Thank God, we used to be ruled by the king. Today it is common to have a king that reigns, but that does not have the power of ruling the country. This is called a constitutional monarchy and it brings peace to the country… Georgia is one of the oldest countries with one of the oldest cultures. Perhaps we should think about who we were in the past, who we are today, and who we will be in the future," the Patriarch said.
The issue of a constitutional monarchy has since entered political discussion, with some Georgian leaders saying the Patriarch’s words to be "truth" and "an interesting idea that deserves consideration". Parliamentary Chairman Irakli Kobakhidze met with Ilia II to discuss the issue.
Ilia II previously proposed introducing a constitutional monarchy in 2007, saying that "a candidate to the crown should be selected among representatives of the royal dynasty, and he should be suitably raised to be king from childhood."
If Georgia were to become a constitutional monarchy, its future ruler could be five-year old Prince Giorgi Bagration-Bagrationi Mukhranbatonishvili. Born in Madrid, Spain in 2011, Prince Giorgi is the son of Princess Anna Bagrationi-Gruzinski and Prince David Bagration of Mukhrani, whose marriage in 2009 in Tbilisi’s grandiose Sameba Cathedral united the Gruzinski and Mukhrani branches of the Bagrationi line. The two Bagrationi branches had previously made competing claims concerning rightful heirs to the Georgian throne. Prince Giorgi would become the Crown Prince after the death or abdication of his grandfather, current Crown Prince Nugzar Bagrationi-Gruzinski, and his mother, Princess Anna.
Through his mother’s ancestral line, Prince Giorgi is a direct descendant of George VIII, the last ruler of united Georgia.
Monarchy in Georgia extended from the 6th century, with the Bagrationi dynasty beginning in the 10th century. In 1783, King Erekle II of Georgia’s Kartli-Kakheti kingdom (Georgia became fragmented in the 15th century) signed the Treaty of Georgievsk with the Russian Empire. The treaty ensured the continuation of the Bagrationi dynasty and established Georgia as a Russian protectorate. In 1795, the Russian Empire violated the terms of the treaty, however, when it failed to protect Georgia from a Persian invasion. The Russian Empire eventually annexed the weakened Georgia in 1801, ending the rule of the Georgian monarchy.
In response to the Patriarch’s comments, the official Facebook page of The Royal House of Georgia posted a video on June 19 which shows Ilia II baptizing Prince Giorgi as the "Prince of Georgia" in 2013. The video quotes the Patriarch as saying "there has not been such a baptism like this since 1801." The Royal House of Georgia says that Prince Giorgi’s many official godfathers include businessman and anti-Western activist Levan Vasadze, former Minister of Defense Irakli Alasania, and former Minister of Finance, Nodar Khaduri.
The restoration of a monarchy has been a relatively rare event in world history, one of the most notable being the Bourbon Restoration of France in 1814. After the fall of Napoleon, King Louis XVIII took power and was later succeeded by his brother Charles X in 1824. The restoration period, which ended in 1830, saw numerous instances of civil unrest, political purges, and attempts by Charles X to dismantle civil institutions and grant the Roman Catholic Church greater authority within France.
The restoration of the Georgian monarchy would end an absence of royal rule lasting over two centuries. The restoration of a constitutional monarchy after such an extended absence has not occurred in Europe since the restoration of the Dutch Royal House in 1815. At the Congress of Vienna, European powers decreed the unification of the Dutch provinces and restored the Dutch monarchy after over 200 years of the Dutch Republic and subsequent French rule.
Spain, often used by pro-monarchy supporters as an example of a successful constitutional monarchy, restored its own Bourbon dynasty in 1975 when Juan Carlos took power as King. Francisco Franco, Spain’s dictator from 1939-1975, had previously appointed Juan Carlos as his successor just before his death.
No such government transition has occurred in post-Communist Eastern Europe. Albania held a referendum in 2007 concerning the restoration of the monarchy. Despite protests from the Crown Prince, a recount demonstrated the population’s overwhelming disapproval of restoring the monarchy with over two-thirds voting against the proposal.
Bulgaria did not become a constitutional monarchy but did witness a royal’s return to power when former King of Bulgaria Simeon Borisov Saxe-Coburg-Gotha II became Prime Minister in 2001. Saxe-Coburg-Gotha had previously ruled as King in his youth until his country fell under Communist leadership and his family was forced into exile in 1946.
Rumors have also emerged relating to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s desire to restore the Russian monarchy. In 2015, Express reported on leaked letters written by Vladimir Petrov, a member of Putin’s United Russia party, to descendants of the Romanov dynasty.
"I am sure that a return of the descendants of the last Russian ruler to the historic homeland will contribute towards smoothing of political contradictions left since the October Revolution, and will become a symbol of the revival of the spiritual power of Russian people…
The Royal family descendants might play an important symbolic role in Russian society.
Like in many European countries, Romanovs might become a symbol of preserving traditions and national culture" - wrote Petrov.
It is likely that Ilia II and others supporting the restoration of a constitutional monarchy in Georgia have similar motivations of "preserving traditions and national culture" against the growing influence of the seemingly morally corrupt and tradition-destroying West.
Georgia’s position today, however, differs greatly from those countries who restored monarchies and royal leadership in the past. Georgia has been a democracy for over 25 years - albeit with its various internal political obstacles - and no longer operates in a period where shifting monarchical leadership and European empires are the norm. Georgia is not seeking to recover politically after the rule of a strong authoritarian leader nor does the population lack democratic, political leadership.
Georgia’s future may be determined by its rich Orthodox past and its profound trust in Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II, likely the the most influential figure in the country, whose plan for a Georgian monarchy rests on the shoulders of his five-year old godson Prince Giorgi Bagrationi, the blessed heir to the Georgian throne.