Massive Protests Erupt in Georgia Over Controversial 'Foreign Agents' Bill

Tens of thousands of protesters in Tbilisi, Georgia, demonstrate against a proposed "foreign influence" law, which critics say mirrors Russian legislation to stifle dissent. The law, which would require NGOs and media outlets to register as "foreign agents," has drawn international condemnation.

Mazhar Abbas
New Update
Massive Protests Erupt in Georgia Over Controversial 'Foreign Agents' Bill

Massive Protests Erupt in Georgia Over Controversial 'Foreign Agents' Bill

Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, is engulfed in massive protests as tens of thousands of demonstrators take to the streets to oppose a controversial draft law proposed by the ruling Georgian Dream party. The bill, titled "On the Transparency of Foreign Influence," has drawn sharp criticism from both domestic groups and international allies, who argue that it mirrors repressive legislation used in Russia to stifle dissent and crack down on independent voices.

Why this matters: The proposed law has significant implications for Georgia's democratic institutions and its aspirations to join the European Union and NATO, as it could lead to the suppression of civil society and independent media. The outcome of this controversy will also have broader implications for the global struggle between democratic and authoritarian values.

On April 30, 2024, an estimated 10,000 protesters marched from the parliament building to the offices of Georgian Dream, the House of Justice, and the Kashveti church, chanting "Georgia!" and "Our way is to Europe!" The demonstrators, waving Georgian and European Union flags, broke through security lines near the parliament, prompting police to deploy tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the crowds.

The controversial bill, which passed its first reading on April 17, would require non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and media outlets that receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as "organizations acting in the interest of a foreign power." Failure to comply with the law could result in fines and imprisonment for up to five years.

Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili has sided with the protesters, vowing to veto the law if it is approved in its final reading. She stated, "I will veto it if it's approved in its final reading," and added that "the bill is exactly a copy of Russian President Vladimir Putin's law." However, the ruling Georgian Dream party holds a majority in parliament, sufficient to override a presidential veto.

The United States and the European Union have strongly condemned the proposed legislation and the crackdown on protesters. U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller warned that the law is "Kremlin-inspired" and would "silence critics and destroy Georgia's civil society." He added that "the statements and actions of the Georgian government are incompatible with the democratic values that underpin membership in the EU and NATO and thus jeopardize Georgia's path to Euro-Atlantic integration."

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen echoed these concerns, emphasizing that Georgia is "at a crossroads" and should "stay the course on the road to Europe." She condemned the violence against protesters in Tbilisi and urged the Georgian authorities to respect the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.

The protests in Georgia are part of an ongoing struggle between pro-Western and pro-Russian factions in the country. Since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Georgia has sought closer ties with the West, aspiring to join the European Union and NATO. However, these ambitions have been met with resistance from Moscow, which sees Georgia as part of its sphere of influence.

The ruling Georgian Dream party, founded by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, has faced accusations of serving Moscow's interests and undermining Georgia's democratic institutions. Ivanishvili claimed that "a global war party is attempting to use NGOs to oust my government and push Georgia into a conflict with Russia," a statement that Georgian President Zurabishvili called "a blatant lie."

Protests continuing, the international community is closely monitoring the situation in Georgia. The final reading of the controversial bill is scheduled for May 17, and its outcome will have significant implications for the country's future and its relationship with the West. Activist Roman Gotsiridze urged Georgians to"confront the puppet government"and continue their fight for a European future.

Key Takeaways

  • Tens of thousands protest in Tbilisi against "foreign influence" bill.
  • Bill mirrors Russian law, threatening civil society and media freedom.
  • President vows to veto bill, but ruling party can override.
  • US and EU condemn bill, warning it jeopardizes Georgia's EU/NATO path.
  • Protests continue, with outcome impacting Georgia's democratic future.