Protests erupt in Georgia over foreign agents bill

(Photo provided by Zurab Tsertsvadze / Associated Press)

Recently, the Parliament of the Republic of Georgia just passed the first reading of a draft law regarding “foreign agents.” Under this new law, any organization receiving more than 20% of its funding from external, non-state sources would need to register as a “foreign agent”, unless they want to face heavy fines from the government.

On the surface, it doesn’t seem that bad. However, many critics of the bill point out how this draft is similar to a law that Russia passed in 2012. Back then, independent Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) involved in political activities that received funding from abroad would have to undergo “extra checks” by the Russian government and be labeled as foreign agents. However, many critics stated that this was one of the many ways in which Russian President Vladimir Putin has been trying to crack down on independent activists/journalists in order to push his own agenda. “You have the right to know who is trying to influence your opinion. Our country must have an opposition, but if it is protecting foreign interests, you have the right to know that,” stated a video in support of the bill.

Now, many activists in Georgia fear that the same may happen in their country. Georgia was once a part of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, and it had been that way for almost two centuries. However, ever since Georgia seceded from the Soviet Union in 1991, its relationship with the Russian Federation has only gotten worse over the years. Russia even went as far as to invade Georgia back in 2008, in which it now has troops occupying the breakaway states of Abkhazia and Ossetia within Internationally recognized Georgian territory. Passage of a law such as this may put the country at risk of being a part of Russia’s sphere of influence through a clampdown on independent media.

The new draft law could also negatively affect NGOs in Georgia with ties to Europe, and possibly lower the chances of it ever joining the European Union (EU). Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International also stated that this bill could threaten the freedom of expression and association in the country.

And because of these various concerns, protesters have been taking to the streets ever since the announcement of its first passing. At the capital of Tbilisi, people could be seen throwing petrol bombs, stones, and insults aimed at Georgian politicians and Putin, while also carrying Georgian and EU flags. Police warned the protesters through loudspeakers that they would have to resort to other methods of crown control, and when they didn’t listen, local police started to use water cannons and teargas. A total of 66 people were detained on Tuesday, with charges ranging from hooliganism to disobedience toward the police.

However, the people do have the current President of Georgia, Salome Zourabichvili, on their side. “I said on day one that I would veto this law, and I will do that,” stated Zourabichvili. “The path of European integration must be protected. Those who support this law today, all those who voted for this law today are violating the Constitution. All of them are alienating us from Europe.”

Although, the same can’t be said for the country’s Prime Minister (PM) and its ruling party. The Georgian PM, Irakli Garibashvili, restated his support for the bill from Berlin, saying that it meets European and International standards. Moreover, the ruling party, the Dream party, holds a majority in Georgia’s legislature, so if President Zourabichvili were to veto the bill, it could easily get overridden by a majority vote. The Dream Party also accused those who opposed the bill to also oppose the Georgian Catholic Church, one of the most highly respected institutions in the country.

The draft bill has only passed the first reading and will need to undergo more before it can officially become law. More than 60 civil society organizations say that even if this bill were to get passed, they would not obey it. “The ‘foreign agent’ bills seek to marginalize and discredit independent, foreign-funded groups and media that serve the wider public interest in Georgia,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.


One thought on “Protests erupt in Georgia over foreign agents bill

  1. Nice article. This process reflects well mindset of new generation of Republic of Georgia, who want to move ahead to civilized , bright future and move away from authoritarian, oppressive and dark past under the Russian influence.


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