Georgian PM Backs Controversial 'Foreign Agent' Bill Amid Violent Protests

Tens of thousands of protesters in Tbilisi, Georgia demonstrate against a "foreign agents" bill, which would require NGOs and media outlets to register as "agents of foreign influence" if they receive over 20% of funding from abroad. The bill is expected to pass parliament despite international criticism and violent protests.

Aqsa Younas Rana
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Georgian PM Backs Controversial 'Foreign Agent' Bill Amid Violent Protests

Georgian PM Backs Controversial 'Foreign Agent' Bill Amid Violent Protests

Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in Tbilisi, Georgia in opposition to a controversial "foreign agents" bill backed by Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze and his ruling Georgian Dream party. The bill, which is set for a final vote in parliament on Tuesday, would require non-governmental organizations and media outlets that receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as "agents of foreign influence."

Why this matters: The passage of this bill could have far-reaching implications for Georgia's democratic progress and its relations with the European Union, potentially jeopardizing its path to EU membership. It also sets a worrying precedent for other countries to adopt similar laws, undermining free speech and civil society globally.

Supporters argue the legislation is necessary to ensure transparency and prevent foreign meddling in Georgian politics. However, critics say it is modeled after a repressive Russian law used to stifle dissent and punish independent voices. "Georgian Dream has made a decision to go the path of one-party rule, of shutting down basically all checks and balances on executive power, and this Russian law is the last instrument that they need to put in place," said Ian Kelly, former U.S. ambassador to Georgia.

The protests, which began in mid-April, turned violent on Monday as demonstrators tried to prevent lawmakers from entering parliament to vote on the bill. Police used water cannons and pepper spray to push back the crowds, arresting at least 20 people, including two U.S. citizens and one Russian national. Prime Minister Kobakhidze criticized the unrest, saying, "I really dislike such incidents. I again urge everyone to meet all provocations with maximum tolerance."

The controversial legislation has drawn sharp criticism from the international community. The U.S. State Department warned it would undermine Georgia's vibrant civil society, while EU officials cautioned it could jeopardize the country's path to European Union membership. A December 2023 poll found that 79% of Georgians support joining the EU.

Despite the domestic and international outcry, the bill is expected to pass parliament, where Georgian Dream holds a majority. President Salome Zourabichvili has vowed to veto the legislation, but the party has enough votes to override her objection. "Tomorrow the Georgian parliament will act in accordance with the reasonable will of the majority of the Georgian population and will pass the third reading of the bill, which will play a crucial role in ending the so-called polarization that was imposed from the outside," Kobakhidze declared.

The showdown over the foreign agents bill represents the latest chapter in Georgia's tug-of-war between Russia and the West. In 2008, a brief war between Georgia and Russia resulted in Moscow occupying parts of Georgian territory. Since Georgian Dream took power in 2012, critics have accused its billionaire founder Bidzina Ivanishvili of harboring pro-Kremlin sympathies and eroding the country's democratic progress.

As parliament prepares for the decisive vote, protesters remain defiant in the face of the government's crackdown. "We are in the crossroads right now. We either have to ensure our future by becoming a member of NATO and [the] European Union, or we'll not exist in 10-15 years," said Giorgi Gzirishvili, a 29-year-old IT specialist demonstrating in Tbilisi. The outcome could determine Georgia's geopolitical trajectory for years to come.

Key Takeaways

  • Tens of thousands protest in Tbilisi against "foreign agents" bill.
  • Bill requires NGOs and media outlets with 20%+ foreign funding to register as "agents of foreign influence."
  • Critics say bill is modeled after repressive Russian law, undermines free speech and civil society.
  • International community, including US and EU, criticize bill, warning it may jeopardize Georgia's EU membership.
  • Bill expected to pass parliament, despite President's vow to veto, and could determine Georgia's geopolitical future.