Home News Georgia’s proposed law targeting ‘foreign interests’ angers opposition

Georgia’s proposed law targeting ‘foreign interests’ angers opposition


Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, has been engulfed in riots over the past month. Protesters took to the city streets night after night. A The punches and kicks broke. debate among lawmakers in the country’s parliament. Police and protesters clashed at a large demonstration in the city center over the weekend.

The unrest was triggered by the ruling Georgian Dream party’s decision earlier this month to push a bill through parliament that the pro-Western opposition said could be used to suppress dissent and hinder the country’s efforts to join the European Union.

this draft bill Non-governmental groups and media organizations with more than 20% of their funding coming from foreign sources will be required to register as organizations “carrying the interests of foreign powers” and provide annual financial statements on their activities. Violations will result in fines equivalent to more than $9,000.

The government abandoned previous attempts to pass the law last year after facing massive protests, but this time appears determined to push the bill through parliament.

The legislation is similar to a similar measure implemented by Moscow in 2012 been used Serves as a harsh tool to silence and stigmatize anti-Kremlin advocacy groups and media organizations. Critics say one of the purposes of the bill, which they call “Russian law,” is to align Georgia, a former Soviet nation of 3.6 million people, more closely with Moscow.

Two other former Soviet countries, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, have taken similar measures.

Lawmakers will begin debate on the second of three votes on the bill on Tuesday. Protests intensified on the eve of the debate, with thousands of protesters marching along Tbilisi’s main thoroughfare Rustaveli Boulevard on Sunday, chanting “No to Russian law!” At one point, a group of protesters clashed with police The police used pepper spray to disperse the clashes.

“Everything shows that this government is controlled by Putin,” Irakli Vachnadze, a 59-year-old architect, said on a recent evening as he headed to a rally in front of Georgia’s majestic Stalin-era parliament building.

Vakhnadze’s views are common among protesters and other critics of the law in Georgia. But experts say they believe Russia is unlikely to push for the law, which is aimed primarily at strengthening the Georgian Dream group, which has called for a more conciliatory approach to Moscow over the war in Ukraine.

More than 450 Georgian NGOs and media organizations Signed a petition opposing the lawincluding corruption watchdog Transparency International and the Georgian branch of charity Save the Children.

The government, which has been controlled by Georgian Dream since 2012, said the bill was simply a measure aimed at increasing transparency around foreign funding.The party said the legislation was modeled on U.S. law dating back to 1938, and other similar measures passed or proposed by European and other Western countries.

The first draft of the new bill was approved by lawmakers on April 17. The bill is unlikely to be signed into law before the end of May, as lawmakers may have to override an expected veto by the country’s President Salome Zourabichvili. Ms Zurabichvili, whose role in Georgia’s parliamentary system is largely ceremonial, was supported by the Georgian Dream party when she was elected in 2018, but has since become a fierce critic of the ruling party.

Georgian Dream says it wants Georgia to join the EU and NATO but advocates a more neutral approach toward Russia and accuses the opposition of playing a dangerous game of provoking Moscow and risking the war in Ukraine spreading to Georgia.

On Monday, the government gathered tens of thousands of supporters in front of the parliament building in central Tbilisi. In a rare public speech, former prime minister, oligarch and senior unofficial leader of “Georgian Dream” Bitina Ivanishvili accused pro-Western groups of trying to hijack the Georgian state in order to drag it into a conflict with Russia war.

“Georgia must be ruled by a government elected by Georgians,” Mr Ivanishvili said Tell crowd.

Maxim Samorukov, a fellow at the Carnegie Russia-Eurasia Center, said he believed the administration was unlikely to act on the Kremlin’s demands. He said the opposition could use the accusation to weaken the ruling party.

But Mr Samorukov said the public backlash against the law was understandable.

“Such laws are passed in countries where the government has been in power too long,” Samorukov said. He added that it could be used as “a very convenient tool” allowing the government to “knock out any opposition.” Framed as agents of malign foreign influence.”

The draft legislation was heavily criticized by EU and US officials, who explain it updated About Georgian democracy and the country’s problems promise Join the European Union. The European Union granted Georgia candidate status in December, a move widely seen as an effort to prevent the country from slipping into the Kremlin’s orbit.

Two other post-Soviet states, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, have introduced similar legislation targeting foreign influence in the past two years, raising concerns that the region is tilting toward Moscow.A law was also passed to limit foreign influence Hungaryand suggested Serb-dominated areas of Slovakia and Bosnia Republika Srpska.

Maxim Krupskiy, an American lawyer who has been studying Russia’s foreign agents law, said Russian law and Georgia’s proposed bill were markedly different from measures taken in the West. In the United States, for example, the government needs to prove that an “agent” is acting at the direction of a foreign power or individual, he said.

“You can’t become an agent just by getting money from abroad,” Mr. Krupski said. “If you do register as a foreign agent, you can also fight it in an independent court,” he said. He added that since 2012, there had not been a case in Russia in which a court overturned the government’s designation of an organization as a foreign agent.

Georgia spans a region that has been the scene for centuries of geopolitical tug-of-war between Russia, Turkey, the West and Iran. The war in Ukraine has exacerbated Georgia’s already polarized internal politics.

Iraqi Prime Minister Kobashidze has been a key supporter of the foreign influence bill and has angered the opposition by refusing to impose sanctions on Russia over the war in Ukraine.

In March 2023, the Georgian government made its first attempt to promote the foreign influence bill, which resulted in wave of protests This shocked Tbilisi.

Armaz Akhvlediani, an independent member of Georgia’s parliament, said the government’s decision to push the draft bill again, more than a year after the first attempt failed miserably, reflected broader geopolitical shifts.

He said he believed the government believed it now had more room to operate as the war in Ukraine raged and was preparing in case Putin’s influence expanded in the region.

President Zurabichvili said she was convinced that Georgian Dream had proposed the bill under pressure from Moscow and that she would immediately veto it once it was approved by parliament.

In a post on social media platform explain “Georgia will not succumb to re-Sovietization!” However, the ruling party had enough votes to override her veto.

The government has also been actively taking countermeasures. Posters plastered across bus stations across Tbilisi said the draft law had nothing to do with Russia and would bring Georgia closer to the European Union.

Former minister Pata Zakareshvili, who later parted ways with Georgian Dream, said the government “could not move on from last year’s defeat” and this time “knew what it was getting into”. He said he feared the latest effort could frustrate the country’s EU ambitions.

“They are doing everything they can to ensure that Europe rejects Georgia,” he said.

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