Protests in Georgia: What is the controversial “foreign influence” law?

Protests in Georgia: What is the controversial “foreign influence” law?
Protests in Georgia: What is the controversial “foreign influence” law?

The last stage of a lasting political crisis. Despite a month of hostile demonstrations, sometimes severely repressed by the police and ignoring European pressure trying to put the foot on the brake, Georgia adopted, this Tuesday, a controversial law on “foreign influence” .

The situation is particularly tense in Tbilisi as opponents see this text as a way for Moscow to tighten its grip on this former Soviet republic. We take stock of the issues surrounding this controversial law and the repercussions it could have for this small Caucasian country.

Protests and a government that turns a deaf ear

As for a month now, numerous demonstrations were underway in front of parliament until late Monday evening and again at midday on Tuesday to oppose this law, which the deputies adopted during an examination in third and final reading. During the debates, elected officials from the majority and the opposition clashed with fists.

These new tensions come as the country has been the scene of anti-government demonstrations since the beginning of April, when the ruling party, the Georgian Dream, introduced this much-maligned bill.

The country’s president Salomé Zourabichvili indicated that she would veto after the adoption of the text, without this influencing the fate of the law since the Georgian Dream party assures that it has enough votes to override it.

VIDEO. Pro-EU versus pro-Russian: Georgia shaken by a political crisis

Stricter control of NGO funding

This text is not new: it appeared in a first cutting voted by parliament in March 2023 but was withdrawn in the face of outcry and demonstrations. “They withdrew it and the prime minister at the time went to Brussels and promised that this law was not going to be reintroduced. At the time, we believed it,” laments Thorniké Gordadze, researcher at the Jacques Delors Institute, teacher at Sciences-po and former Georgian minister in charge of relations with the European Union from 2010 to 2012.

In its very slightly watered-down version and presented to parliament on Tuesday, the law requires NGOs and media organizations receiving more than 20% of funding from abroad to register as “an organization pursuing the interests of a power foreign”. “The law also gives the government the possibility of searching the personal accounts of all members, this makes it impossible for NGOs and free media to function,” adds the researcher.

The stated aim of such a measure is to force the various organizations to be more transparent about their funding. The very influential leader of the Georgian Dream party, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who was Prime Minister of Georgia between 2012 and 2013, assured that “non-transparent financing of NGOs is the main instrument for appointing a government Georgian from abroad”.

This is a “serious threat to the rights to freedom of expression and association”, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk. Thursday, May 2, the latter requested the “withdrawal” of the text while signaling his concern about the “disproportionate use of force” against those who oppose it. Another episode of a protest movement which has crossed the borders of this Caucasian country, the ambassador of Georgia in France resigned because of this text, while calling for his withdrawal, in an interview for the newspaper Le Monde.

A law that distances the country from the EU

The text was renamed “Russian law” by its opponents. And for good reason, it imitates existing legislation in Russia’s legislative arsenal and allowing the repression of opponents. The Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitri Peskov, also welcomed “the firm desire of the Georgian leaders to protect their country against any blatant interference in its affairs”.

The pro-European population in Georgia fears that the adoption of this law will distance the country from the Twenty-Seven, while the European Union granted Georgia official candidate status in December 2023. A few hours before the vote this Tuesday, Peter Stano, a spokesperson for the European Union, wanted to maintain the pressure by indicating that the adoption of the law would be a “serious obstacle” to the accession of the Caucasian country to the EU. The institution had previously praised the “impressive commitment” of Georgians to European integration and called for an investigation into acts of violence against demonstrators.

A particularly complex situation as the country is divided between European and Russian influence. ” This what is happening on the streets in Georgia goes beyond the question of the law,” according to Thorniké Gordadze. “The first request is that this law be withdrawn, but the slogans are also no to Russia, yes to Europe. The protests also want free and transparent elections.” A particularly topical demand, as legislative elections will be held in October in the country, which will serve as a test vote for the ruling party.

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