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“Foreign influence” law passed in Georgia, despite protests

Photo: Shakh Aivazov Associated Press A protester draped in the flags of Georgia and the European Union confronts police officers blocking the road to Parliament on Tuesday in Tbilisi.

Ola Cichowlas – Agence France-Presse to Tbilisi

Posted at 1:06 p.m.

  • Europe

The Georgian Parliament adopted the controversial “foreign influence” bill on Tuesday, despite large-scale protests against a text which, according to its detractors, is modeled on a Russian law and diverts Europe this Caucasian country to drag it towards Moscow.

During a third and final reading, the deputies voted 84 votes “for” and 30 votes “against”, according to images broadcast on public television.

A sign of the ambient tension, elected officials from the majority and the opposition briefly confronted with fists during the debates. Similar fights had already occurred in recent weeks.

In front of Parliament, around 2,000 demonstrators gathered at the end of the afternoon, supervised by a large police presence, according to an AFP correspondent on site. Protests against this text, which targets media and NGOs receiving foreign funds, have lasted for more than a month.

Georgian President Salomé Zourabichvili, pro-European and former French diplomat in open conflict with the government, is expected to veto the text, but the ruling party, “Georgian Dream”, claims to have enough votes to override.

“We will protest until this Russian government leaves our country! » swore Salomé, a 20-year-old protester, just after the vote.

“They are trying to deny the last 30 years,” or the path traveled since the fall of the USSR, Mariam Javakhichvili, 34, said earlier in the crowd of demonstrators.

< p>Its critics have nicknamed this text the “Russian law” because of its similarity to legislation passed in Russia to suppress opposition. The reference is sensitive in Georgia, a country which swings between the Russian and European spheres of influence and was invaded by Moscow during a military intervention in 2008.

So that the police, during certain gatherings, used rubber bullets and tear gas, the adoption of the bill could lead to new clashes.

“Obstacle” towards the EU

In 2023, massive demonstrations forced “Georgian Dream” to abandon a first version of this text. But, this time, the majority deputies ignored the protests.

Shortly before the vote, an EU spokesperson reaffirmed that the adoption of this text would nevertheless constitute a “serious obstacle” on the country's path to membership in the European Union.

An American Assistant Secretary of State, James O 'Brien, met Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze on Tuesday in Tbilisi. The latter's office affirmed that the two officials had said they were “worried” about the “processes” at work in the country in recent years.

In the United Kingdom, the Secretary of State for Europe, Nusrat Ghani, called on the Georgian government to “withdraw this legislation”. “This bill and the coordinated intimidation of demonstrators accompanying it do not correspond to the democratic values ​​of a country aspiring to join NATO,” she said, quoted in a government press release.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told AFP on Tuesday that he was going to go to Georgia with his Icelandic, Estonian and Latvian counterparts to express their “concerns to political leaders.”

“Organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power”

The law should require any NGO or media outlet receiving more than 20% of its funding from abroad to register as an “organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power.”

The government assures that its law simply aims to force organizations to demonstrate more “transparency” about their funding. Its detractors see this as proof of a new turn of the screw, capable of condemning the ambition of one day joining the EU.

The Kremlin spokesperson , Dmitri Peskov, praised “the firm desire of the Georgian leaders to protect their country against any blatant interference”.

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The controversy surrounding this text also highlights the influence of Bidzina Ivanishvili, a wealthy businessman perceived as the shadow leader of Georgia.

Prime Minister from 2012 to 2013 and today honorary president of the “Georgian Dream”, he is suspected of proximity to Russia, the country where he made his fortune.

Even although 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. For some demonstrators, the ultimate goal is to dislodge the “Georgian Dream,” in place since 2012, from power.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116