In Georgia, there are again rallies against the law on “foreign agents”, which copies the Russian one. The police disperse and beat the oppositionists. And, it seems, the main battle is still ahead

Yuliana Skibitska
Dmytro Rayevskyi
In Georgia, there are again rallies against the law on “foreign agents”, which copies the Russian one. The police disperse and beat the oppositionists. And, it seems, the main battle is still ahead

Protests in Tbilisi against the law on "foreign agents", April 28, 2024.

Getty Images / «Babel'»

On May 1, 2024, the Parliament of Georgia adopted the second reading of the draft law "On Transparency of Foreign Influence". The final third reading is scheduled for May 17. Human rights activists and the opposition call the project a carbon copy of the Russian law on foreign agents, which was adopted back in 2012. According to this law, independent media, human rights activists and opposition parties were banned in Russia. The same may happen again in Georgia. This is already the second attempt of the Georgian government to adopt a controversial draft law. In March 2023, a similar project was approved in the first reading — this led to numerous protests throughout the country, then the matter did not reach the second reading. Currently, the ruling party Georgian Dream, which is headed by the pro-Russian oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, plans to continue despite the protests. Police detain and beat protesters and opposition leaders, and Ivanishvili publicly promises political repression after the October 2024 elections, which Georgian Dream plans to win again. "Babel" briefly tells what is happening in Georgia.

The draft law proposes to define "foreign agents" as non-commercial legal entities and media that have at least 20% of their financing from abroad. Such media and organizations are obliged to apply themselves to the National Public Registry Agency and ask to register them as "foreign agents". Every year they have to submit a declaration. If "foreign agents" do not comply with the requirements of the law, they will be fined 25,000 GEL. The Ministry of Justice of Georgia will have the right to monitor organizations and media in order to identify "foreign agents". An ordinary written denunciation can be the basis.

All that has changed in the new draft law, as compared to the draft of 2023, are the terms and the authors of the document. In the first version, it was about "agents of foreign influence", now — about "leaders of foreign power". Georgian human rights defenders explain that this is a formality that does not actually change anything.

The first draft law was promoted by deputies of the Peopleʼs Power movement, which positions itself as the opposition. In fact, these are former members of the Georgian Dream who fully support its initiatives. Now Georgian Dream itself has already taken responsibility for the draft law.

The bill was voted on in the first reading on April 17, 2024. It was supported by 83 deputies, no one voted against it — simply because the opposition boycotted the vote. Opposition MPs chanted: "No to the Russian law" and pounded their fists on the tables.

Opposition MP Aleko Elisashvili punches Mamuka Mdinaradze, leader of the ruling Georgian Dream party, during a speech at a parliamentary debate on the draft law on foreign agents, Tbilisi, April 15, 2024.

Getty Images / «Babel'»

Protests began a few days before the vote. Thousands of people took to the streets of Tbilisi, they too chanted: "No to the Russian law." Georgian police detained and beat protesters.

On the night of May 1, the largest rally was held in the capital of Georgia — almost 30,000 people came out. Protesters blocked the main avenue of Tbilisi — Rustaveli, the police used tear gas and water cannons. However, people still continued to take to the streets, spontaneous protests broke out in various districts of Tbilisi. The head of Georgiaʼs largest opposition party, the United National Movement, Levan Khabeishvili, had his nose broken by the police. In total, approximately one hundred people were detained at the rallies.

The police used a water cannon against protesters on the night of May 1, 2024.
The police detained protesters, journalists and opposition leaders.
Levan Khabeishvili after the rally where the police broke his nose.

The police used a water cannon against protesters on the night of May 1, 2024. The police detained protesters, journalists and opposition leaders. Levan Khabeishvili after the rally where the police broke his nose.

Getty Images / «Babel'»; X (Twitter) / «Бабель»

On April 29, Georgian Dream held a rally in support of it. The party gathered up to ten thousand people. The majority, as the independent Georgian media Jam News wrote, were state employees who were transported from the country regions by buses.

The head of Georgian Dream Bidzina Ivanishvili spoke at the rally. The politician confirmed that it was his initiative to put the draft law on "foreign agents" to the vote again. Ivanishvili called the West "a party of global war", which in 2008 "pushed Russia and Georgia against each other, and now it has done the same with Ukraine". Non-governmental organizations, according to Ivanishvili, are sponsored by the West in order to deprive Georgia of its sovereignty.

Ivanishvili also called the opposition foreign agents. He stated that Mikheil Saakashviliʼs United National Movement staged the Rose Revolution in order "to take away Georgiaʼs freedom at the behest of the West." According to the politician, the law on "foreign agents" should put an end to this. Jam News journalists write that "with his speech, Ivanishvili confirmed that he is in fact the informal leader of the country," although he does not currently hold official positions.

Georgian experts believe that Ivanishviliʼs speech is the program of the Georgian Dream for the next four years. Parliamentary elections will be held in the country in October, and Georgian Dream plans to win them. The party has been in power for 12 years.

At the rally, Ivanishvili directly announced future political repressions after the elections: "Many of our fellow citizens are upset that we did not properly punish the nationalists in 2012. There was no trial of the United National Movement as a single criminal and treasonous group. After the elections, we will have the opportunity to pass a tough political and legal verdict on the collective National Movement.

Ivanishvili (in the center) at a rally for the Georgian Dream on April 29, 2024. On the right is Prime Minister of Georgia Irakli Kobakhidze.

Getty Images / «Babel'»

In November 2023, Georgian Dream was still the most popular party in the country — 25% of residents were ready to vote for it. The United National Movement would get half as many votes, while it has the highest anti-rating — 40%.

In fact, the ruling party lost a lot of ground — as early as 2022, 39% were ready to vote for it. Besides, with such percentages, it will not be able to form the constitutional majority it has now. However, in the Georgian Dream itself, such data are called falsification.

"Todayʼs data are exactly as follows: we have 60%, and National Movement has 18%," said the Prime Minister of Georgia and member of Georgian Dream Irakli Kobakhidze in March of this year. — That is, we get a constitutional majority." Kobakhidze did not specify where he got such figures from.

The West criticizes the draft law on "foreign agents", while Russia, on the contrary, supports it. In 2023, the Chairman of the European Parliament, Josep Borrell, said that with this law, Georgia was closing its way to the European Union. On April 25, 2024, the European Parliament adopted a resolution proposing to impose sanctions on Ivanishvili and review the countryʼs visa-free regime with the EU.

But State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin and Deputy Chairman of the Security Council Dmitriy Medvedev supported the bill. And they wrote that Washington and Brussels have some plans for Georgia, which this law supposedly disrupts.

This reaction confirms the trend of recent years — the Georgian Dream is increasingly drifting towards Russia. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Georgia took a neutral position. The country did not join the sanctions against Russia. Prime Minister Kobakhidze said that this "contradicts the economic interests of Georgia."

Cooperation between the Russian Federation and Georgia is increasing — in 2022, the State Statistics Service of Georgia reported that the turnover between the countries increased by half. Georgian non-governmental organizations accused the government of sending dual purpose goods to Russia through Georgia. For example, microchips, which Russia then uses to manufacture weapons. The Georgian authorities deny this.

The Georgian government is working on yet another initiative to ban LGBTQ+ people in the country. Georgian Dream plans to constitutionally ban same-sex marriages, as well as gender reassignment and adoption of children by LGBTQ+ couples. If the amendments are accepted, the country will close its way to the EU.

According to Tbilisi State University political science professor Cornelia Kakachia, Georgian Dream is trying to find a balance: to keep power in the next elections and at the same time to keep up with its ambitions for the EU. Surveys show that almost 80% of Georgians support joining the European Union.

"However, the ruling party has already begun to dictate its conditions to Brussels. They want to be like Orban. After all, LGBTQ+ "propaganda" is prohibited by law in Hungary," says the professor.

Rally against LGBTQ+ people in Tbilisi, 2022.

Getty Images / «Babel'»

At a rally on April 29, Ivanishvili promised that by 2030 Georgia would join the European Union. "However, Georgia intends to join the European Union only with its unique history, traditions and identity," he added.

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.

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