Fairytale ‘royal’ wedding gives hope to Georgians

6th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

A wedding between two strands of a dynasty that once ruled the country is expected to end feuding over whom is the rightful heir to the throne and to boost popular support for turning Georgia into a constitutional monarchy.

Tbilisi -- It's a fairytale wedding in a country in need of a boost.

In Georgia, two strands of a dynasty that once ruled the country are joining together to end centuries of division in one of Europe's oldest royal houses.

The wedding of Prince David Bagrationi-Mukhraneli and Princess Anna Bagrationi-Gruzinsky on Sunday is expected to bring an end to feuding over whom is the rightful heir. It is also projected to boost a campaign to transform Georgia, buffeted by wars and unrest in recent years, into a constitutional monarchy.

Over 3,000 guests, including President Mikheil Saakashvili and representatives of Europe's aristocratic families, are expected at the ceremony in Tbilisi's Trinity Cathedral.

Spanish-born David, 32, and Anna, 31, have kept a low profile ahead of the ceremony, refusing to grant interviews.

But many Georgians are nonetheless captivated.

"This is an historic event," young actress Maya said as she sat in a cafe in downtown Tbilisi. "It will help Georgia to redefine itself in the modern world and deal with its troubled history."

Others are less enthusiastic.

"It would be better for Georgians to look to the future instead of the past," said her boyfriend, Sergi. "Brave kings and beautiful queens -- this is just legend. Is it serious to talk about a monarchy in 21st century Georgia?"

Claiming descent from the biblical King David, the Bagrationi dynasty ruled a large chunk of present-day Georgia from at least the 9th century -- until the country was absorbed into the Russian Empire in the early 19th century.

A noble family in Tsarist Russia, many of the Bagrationis were scattered across Europe after the Bolshevik Revolution and the Soviet takeover of Georgia in 1921, following a brief period of independence. Many of those who stayed were killed or thrown into Soviet concentration camps.

Eliminating doubt

Various branches of the family have laid claim to the ancient Georgian throne, with the Mukhraneli and Gruzinsky branches considered the most likely contenders.

David Bagrationi-Mukhraneli is the son of Jorge de Bagration y de Mukhrani, a prominent racecar driver whose branch of the family settled in Spain after World War II. A cousin of Spain's King Juan Carlos, the father died in 2008 after settling in Tbilisi.

Despite having spent his entire life in Spain and not speaking Georgian, David settled in Tbilisi in 2003 and obtained dual citizenship.

His bride-to-be, Anna Bagrationi-Gruzinsky, is the daughter of Nugzar Bagrationi-Gruzinsky, a Tbilisi theatre director.

The two houses have long feuded over their claims to the throne and historians say any children from the marriage would resolve the dispute.

"This marriage will eliminate any eventual doubts concerning the existence of a legitimate heir to the Georgian throne," said Marika Lortkipanidze, a historian with Georgia's National Academy of Sciences.

The marriage comes as support is growing for Georgia, which fought a brief war with Russia last summer, to become a constitutional monarchy.

The influential patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilia II, has promoted the restoration of the monarchy. A recent phone-in survey on Georgian Public Television showed more than 40 percent of callers supporting the idea.

Georgian political analyst Tornike Sharashenidze said that many Georgians are frustrated with the presidential system adopted after the country gained independence after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Critics say too much power is concentrated in the hands of the president and that the system needs more checks and balances.

"Georgians are largely disappointed with the presidential republic,” Sharashenidze said. “This is why the idea of a constitutional monarchy emerged and has gained significant support within society.”

Still, even Georgia's most ardent monarchists admit it is unlikely the country will have a king or queen soon after Sunday's ceremony.

Akaki Asatiani, the leader of Georgia's small Monarchist Party, said many Georgians are resistant to the idea of a constitutional monarchy and do not understand how it would work.

"The 200-year gap in the royal tradition is an issue and most Georgians lack understanding of the constitutional monarchy system," he said. "But sooner or later people will realize that this constitutional model is a guarantee for democracy and stability."

Irakli Metreveli/AFP/Expatica

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