brawl breaks out in Parliament as MPs prepare to pass ‘foreign influence’ law

brawl breaks out in Parliament as MPs prepare to pass ‘foreign influence’ law
brawl breaks out in Parliament as MPs prepare to pass ‘foreign influence’ law

A fight broke out on Tuesday between Georgian deputies during the examination in Parliament of the controversial bill on “foreign influence”, which the ruling party wishes to adopt during the day despite significant and tenacious opposition demonstrations.

Georgia is preparing to adopt the controversial law on Tuesday, May 14“foreign influence”, despite large-scale demonstrations against this text which, according to its detractors, diverts this Caucasian country from Europe and drags it towards Moscow. Hundreds of young demonstrators were already gathered in front of parliament in the middle of the day, in anticipation of the vote of elected officials. But so far the strong protest movement, which brought together tens of thousands of people, has not made the government bend.

In 2023, massive protests forced the party to “Georgian Dream” in power to abandon a first version of this text. Her detractors nicknamed her the “Russian law” because the text imitates Kremlin legislation to suppress the opposition. The reference is particularly sensitive in Georgia, a country which swings between Russian and European spheres of influence and was invaded by Moscow during a brief war in 2008. During the debates with a view to its adoption at final reading, elected officials from the majority and the opposition clashed with fists. Similar fights had already occurred in recent weeks.

If adopted, the law will require any NGO or media receiving more than 20% of its funding from abroad to register as an“organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power”. Georgia has been shaken for a month by large demonstrations, spearheaded by young people. For several days, these gatherings have continued into the night and the students, who have gone on strike, are planning another Tuesday evening. Because despite the tensions, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze promised that Parliament would vote on the law on Tuesday, ignoring calls from the streets and criticism from the United States and the European Union. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov greeted “the firm desire of the Georgian leaders to protect their country against any blatant interference in its affairs”.

“Deny” progress

“These people don’t listen to us”Mariam Javakhichvili, a 34-year-old demonstrator who came with her young son, was annoyed in the crowd. “They are trying to deny the last 30 years” of progress, the path traveled since the fall of the USSR, she said. “I don’t want to let this happen, for my son.” “We were 5 years old when war with Russia happened, we have bad childhood memories of it”says Marta Doborianidzé, another 20-year-old demonstrator.

While the police used rubber bullets and tear gas during certain rallies, Tuesday’s vote could lead to new clashes. The government assures that its law simply aims to force organizations to demonstrate greater “transparency” on their financing. Its detractors see this as proof of a new turn of the screw, capable of condemning the ambition of one day joining the EU.

Shadow leader

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili, a pro-European in open conflict with the government, is expected to veto the text once voted on, but the “Georgian Dream” ensures that he has enough votes to override. The controversy surrounding this text also highlights the influence of Bidzina Ivanishvili, a wealthy businessman perceived as the shadow leader of Georgia. This man, prime minister from 2012 to 2013 and today honorary president of “Georgian Dream”is suspected of proximity to Russia, the country where he made his fortune.

Even though he claims to want to bring Georgia into the EU, he has recently made hostile statements towards the West and sees NGOs as an enemy from within. The moment is particularly sensitive in Georgia, where legislative elections will be held in October seen as an important test for current leaders. For some demonstrators, the ultimate goal is to dislodge the government from power. “Georgian Dream”in place since 2012. This is what Peter, a 27-year-old hotel manager who did not wish to give his last name, has in mind. “We are waiting for the moment when we can choose a new government”he said.

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