Georgian Parliament adopts law on foreign influence

Georgian Parliament adopts law on foreign influence
Georgian Parliament adopts law on foreign influence

The Georgian Parliament on Tuesday circumvented a presidential veto and definitively adopted a law on foreign influence, despite multiple demonstrations and warnings from the European Union and Washington against a text modeled on a repressive Russian law.

The deputies of the ruling Georgian Dream party, in the majority in the chamber, adopted the law by 84 votes in favor and 4 against, thus sweeping aside the veto that pro-Western President Salomé Zourabichvili had placed after the adoption of the controversial text in parliament on May 14.

Most opposition deputies left the chamber at the time of the vote, AFP noted.

Critics of this law, who have demonstrated several times in their tens of thousands since the beginning of April, describe the text as Russian lawdue to its similarity to legislation on foreign agents used in Russia since 2012 to suppress any dissenting voice.

The law requires any NGO or media outlet receiving more than 20% of its funding from abroad to register as anorganization pursuing the interests of a foreign power and to submit to administrative control.

An instrument of opposition control

Several NGOs told AFP they expected their assets to be frozen and their work hampered when the law came into force.

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Demonstration against the law on “foreign influence”, in front of the Georgian Parliament in Tbilisi, May 18, 2024.

Photo: Getty Images / VANO SHLAMOV

Even before the vote on Tuesday, demonstrators began to gather in front of Parliament, waving Georgian and European flags. A demonstration was expected in the evening, as Tbilisi has already seen, sometimes with tens of thousands of people.

If the Georgian Dream assured that the law only aimed to force media and NGOs to be transparent, the Georgian opposition and the European Union had denounced anti-democratic legislation, incompatible with the ambitions displayed by this former Soviet republic in the Caucasus to eventually join the EU.

Opponents and analysts interviewed by AFP also see it as a particularly threatening instrument of repression five months before the legislative elections planned in Georgia at the end of October, which could deprive the pro-European camp of any chance of returning to power.

The Georgian Dream knows it would lose power if elections were free and fairsaid Tina Bokouchava, MP for the United National Movement opposition party of former pro-Western president Mikheil Saakashvili. This is why they adopted the law in the run-up to the vote, they hope to use it to silence critics.

Outcry in the West

The debate which preceded the vote on Tuesday was heated, as is often the case in Georgia. Opposition MP Girogi Vachadzé was notably doused with water while he was speaking from the podium.

American Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned last week that the United States would reexamine all of its cooperation with Tbilisi after the adoption of this text.

Washington also announced restrictions on visas to stay in the United States targeting people deemed responsible for undermine democracy in Georgia, as well as their relatives.

The Georgian Dream party reacted by denouncing a visa blackmail and an blatant attempt to encroach on the independence and sovereignty of Georgia.

Accusations of blackmail also launched against a European commissioner, who tried to plead last week against the adoption of the law with Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze. The Enlargement Commissioner, the Hungarian Oliver Varhelyi, claimed that his remarks had been taken out of context.

Although Georgia has officially been a candidate for the EU since December 2023, and the Georgian dream formally supports the objective enshrined in the Constitution of one day joining the EU and NATO, this party, in power since 2012, has recently increased measures bringing the country closer to Moscow.

Ivanishvili’s influence

The battle over the text – proposed for the first time by the Georgian Dream last year before being withdrawn in the face of protests – has also highlighted the influence of Bidzina Ivanishvili, a businessman who fortune in Russia.

Founder of the Georgian Dream party, the billionaire was briefly prime minister from 2012 to 2013, and according to his detractors continues to rule the country from behind the scenes.

Even if he claims to want to bring Georgia into the EU, he has increased his hostile declarations against the West and sees NGOs as an enemy from within.

In this context, President Zurabichvili called, before the vote on Tuesday, for a gathering of all opposition forces to form a transitional government which would cancel several laws passed by the Georgian Dream distancing it from the EU.

We must forge a new political realityshe said. This requires a new form of unity (of opposition parties), a different Parliament, different elections and a different government.

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