Russian exiles worry about the “scenario” at work in Georgia

Russian exiles worry about the “scenario” at work in Georgia
Russian exiles worry about the “scenario” at work in Georgia

Like Ivan, 37, a number of Russians opposed to the Kremlin and refugees in Georgia are observing with envy the demonstrations that have been sparked for weeks in this country by a law supposed to fight here too against “foreign influence”, but express their concern at seeing repeat a scenario of wear and tear that they experienced at home.

“I know exactly what the consequences of such a law are,” said Ivan, in the middle of a demonstration in Tbilisi against the text passed this week to control NGOs and media receiving funding from abroad and which the Georgian opposition says modeled on Russian legislation which contributed to silencing civil society in Russia in a few years.

Like thousands of other Russians, Ivan, who does not want to give his last name for fear of reprisals against his loved ones, left Russia after the Kremlin launched its military operation in Ukraine in February 2022 and a new wave of repression. Many of them also fled the mobilization which threatened to plunge them into this murderous war.

Ivan and his friend Sergei, a Russian of Ukrainian origin, took part in the protests in Tbilisi, in which thousands of Georgians chanted “No to Russian law!”

“I was sometimes overcome with jealousy because people didn’t go out into the streets like that in Russia,” says Sergei, also in his thirties. “And then these laws were unfortunately passed. We see what happens now, how they are used,” he adds.

The Russian law on “foreign agents” was actually passed in 2012 in Russia after several months of massive protests in Moscow against alleged election fraud and a new election of Vladimir Putin. This mobilization was finally suppressed by force, several repressive laws were passed and demonstrations are now impossible in Russia.

“I don’t want to see Georgia become another Russia or another Belarus,” says Sergei.

“Our Russian scenario”

Some Russians have joined the Georgian protesters, but others support them but refrain from participating.

Ivan confides that the atmosphere of these gatherings makes him “nostalgic” for the last demonstrations of 2017 and 2019 in Moscow, organized mainly by Alexeï Navalny, a charismatic opponent subsequently poisoned in Siberia, then imprisoned for “extremism” and finally died under unclear circumstances in an Arctic detention camp last February.

“All this can change in the snap of a finger,” worries the Russian exile, fearing that Georgians will exhaust themselves fighting for their rights as has gradually happened in Russia.

“I understood that our Russian scenario is repeating itself here,” says Maria Makarova, who worked for Alexei Navalny’s organization in Chelyabinsk, in the Urals, but had to flee her country in January 2022 after was declared an “extremist” and one of his colleagues was arrested.

“It was frightening to see the law on ‘foreign agents’ reappear here,” she said, in an apartment shared with two other Russian opposition activists.

“The worst thing is that the motivations are the same,” she adds.

“Russians go home!”

To defend its law, the Georgian government accused opponents of being directed from abroad and NGOs of fomenting a revolution.

For Russian exiles, it is a reminder of how a leaden pall fell on their country.

“I saw my country slowly sinking into dictatorship, how the noose gradually tightened,” says Maria Makarova.

“In Russia, fear is omnipresent,” recalls Maria, another exile who also does not wish to give her last name.

“This fear is only interrupted at times by the joy of not having been arrested or beaten,” continues this 25-year-old woman with a nervous laugh.

However, the situation of Russian exiles in Tbilisi, the capital of a Caucasian country which only freed itself from Russian domination with the fall of the Soviet regime in 1991 and which experienced an intervention by the Russian army in 2008, is not so quiet.

Although having fled their country, their presence is not free from tensions, with graffiti in the city: “Russians go home!”

“We are both brothers and enemies for them,” notes a 26-year-old Russian artist, who presents himself under the pseudonym “Grey”.



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