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In Georgia, Generation Z leads the protest

Photo: Giorgi Arjevanidze Archives Agence France-Presse On the ground, in Tbilisi, the youth of the opponents of the bill on “foreign influence” is obvious.

Ola Cichowlas – Agence France-Presse to Tbilisi

Posted at 12:14 p.m.

  • Europe

In a trendy café in Tbilisi, Tekla Jaïlava serves her last customers before joining for a third night in a row a demonstration against the law on “foreign influence”, perceived by her generation of Georgians as liberticide.

At 21, she grew up in the 2010s in a country, Georgia, which loudly displayed its thirst for Western-style democracy and its ambitions of the European Union and NATO. Especially since the former Soviet republic was bruised by the lost war of 2008 against its former overlord, Russia.

Like a large part of Generation Z, which includes those who grew up in the 2000s and 2010s, Tekla says he is resolutely anti-Kremlin. It was therefore with anger that she welcomed the decision of the ruling party, Georgian Dream, to reactivate its bill on “foreign influence”, which the government had abandoned a year earlier in the face of a first wave of massive demonstrations.

Because this text recalls that on “foreign agents” adopted in Russia to repress NGOs and media accused of serving the interests of the West.

For Tekla Jaïlava, seeing Georgia – the scene of a pro-Western revolution in 2003 – following this model is all the more unacceptable as it saw an influx of thousands of Russians in 2022 fleeing repression after the invasion of Ukraine. “Since my childhood, we have always looked towards Europe,” she told AFP. “My upbringing, the way my brain organizes things, all of that is opposed to everything Russian. »

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“This law is stealing my future”

For the young woman and tens of thousands of other demonstrators, the government is stealing their European dream.

The EU has already said that the adoption of this law would undermine Tbilisi's aspirations, especially since the authorities resurrected the text just four months after the 27 had granted Georgia the coveted candidate status.

The authorities remain deaf to the protests, while legislative elections are scheduled for October. And they launched a campaign in the media denouncing NGOs deemed disloyal, while at the same time, critics of the government saw their homes vandalized by posters proclaiming them “foreign agents”.

“We can clearly see that they are trying to scare people with these good old methods [of intimidation],” annoys Tekla Jaïlava. But, she says, it won't “work” for members of Generation Z, who are used to freedoms and respect for their rights. “The youth of Georgia have made their choice, we have said loud and clear where we want to go: the European Union,” insists another activist, Ana Tavadze, who, at 26, is one of the oldest demonstrators .

She accuses billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who made his fortune in Russia and controls the Georgian Dream party, of “threatening” this European future.

In the crowd, the youth of the protesters on Roustaveli Avenue stands out. Some still have almost baby-like faces, their bodies draped in Georgian or European flags. “This law is stealing my future,” one of them, Anano Plievi, 19, rages near Parliament.

Mobilization spontaneous

If the country's president, Salomé Zourabichvili, pro-European and in open conflict with Georgian Dream, has sworn to veto the text, the ruling party ensures that he has the votes at the assembly to override.

The protest movement which has lasted for more than a month will continue, swear the demonstrators, who say they are proud of this largely spontaneous, somewhat chaotic mobilization, often at night – and above all without any real leader. “We just want to continue, put pressure on,” says Ana Maïssouradzé, 23.

Visibly annoyed by the enthusiasm of these young people, Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidzé, 45, lost his temper on Facebook in early May, presenting the young people as a violent cohort and accusing the opposition party United National Movement of “financing the movement of Generation Z.” Accusations considered laughable by the demonstrators who were mostly children when this party left power 12 years ago and who are still weighed down by their unpopularity. And when opposition leaders wanted to intervene in front of the crowd on Tuesday, they were whistled at.

“We do not coordinate with opposition parties” , insists Louka Beraïa, 24, one of the most prominent figures among the students. But he hopes that this movement can be structured to allow the defeat of Georgian Dream in the October legislative elections.

In the meantime, Tekla Jaïlava remains determined and will continue to descend in the street “as long as it takes.”

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