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Georgia protesters triumph over ‘foreign agent’ law

Editor’s note: On March 9, Georgia’s ruling party, the Georgian Dream, said it would withdraw its foreign agents bill “unconditionally”, citing a desire to avoid “confrontation”.

IF Government of Georgia Wanting to be part of the EU has a weird way of behaving.Over the past few days, the country’s ruling party, Georgian Dream, has begun pushing a law in parliament that would bring branded media and non-governmental organizations Receive funds from abroad as a “foreign agent”. The move drew comparisons to similar laws in Hungary and Russia and sparked mass demonstrations in the capital Tbilisi. Georgia’s U.S. and European partners have publicly and privately opposed it.

This comes at a critical time in Georgia, which makes the legislation all the more inexplicable. The country is working hard to implement reforms, European Union Has been required as a condition of their candidacy for full membership. Georgia has until the fall to comply. The foreign agents law would be a rollback of two reforms demanded by Brussels: media freedom and civil society. In fact, the move looks almost like a deliberate act of self-sabotage.

The law was rushed through its first reading on the evening of March 7, two days before it was due to be debated, with little advance notice.Thousands of protesters marched to the parliament building, chanting “Georgia!” and shouting “Russians!” Congressmaninside.Police respond with tear gas and water cannon; video of woman drenched as she waving defiantly European Union The flag went viral immediately.

The foreign agent law is the most ominous step yet in a series of political dramas that have raised doubts about Georgia’s leaders’ intentions toward the United States. European Union. a dark bunch CongressmanIn the 1920s, breakaway former members of the Georgia Dream that introduced the law had been voicing a steady stream of conspiracy theories, including allegations that the West was trying to drag Georgia into the war in Ukraine. Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire founder of Georgia Dream and the country’s unsung ruler, has hinted that Western governments are behind his Swiss bank’s troubles.

Georgia’s opposition often accuses Georgia Dream of colluding with Russia. Western diplomats believe the party remains committed to a pro-Western orientation. But they also believe that the paranoid conclusions drawn by the isolated Mr Ivanishvili from his banking problems are behind the latest anti-Western turn.

“Is there anyone who believes they are better off, that they can achieve their personal goals if [Georgia] absent European Union? Yes,” said a Western diplomat. Is Mr. Ivanishvili one of them? “I don’t know, he’s a complex character. But he definitely has advisers.”

It probably doesn’t matter.reject georgian European Union A bid would further strengthen anti-EU forces in the country, so club leaders may have no choice but to approve. “In Ivanishvili’s view – and perhaps he is not wrong – Georgia is too important geopolitically us and European Union give up, so he has leeway,” said Salome Samadashvili, a former Georgian ambassador to the United Nations European Union who is the opposition now Congressman.

However, foreign agent law remains a gamble. Maka Botchorishvili, Chairman of Parliament European Union The integration commission and the ruling party’s interlocutors in Brussels have worked hard to defend the bill. “It’s a huge discomfort to be called a traitor,” she said. “You work day and night to push the country towards European integration and then it’s challenged.” She added that the party would await the opinion of the Venice Commission, which advises the European Council, a human rights body. The final version of the Foreign Agents Act could be months away. If the past week is any example, the process will be far from smooth.

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