Q&A | What does “Foreign Agent Law” mean for Georgia?

On December 29, 2022, The People’s Power, a sovereignist offshoot of the ruling party, Georgian Dream, presented the draft law, which envisages creating a registry for “agents of foreign influence.” According to the idea, “the definition of an agent of foreign influence will be introduced,” and “the direct involvement of the state in several processes that envisage the privileging of individuals or legal entities with foreign funding will be ensured.” Several Georgian Dream deputies have spoken in support.

The Georgian Institute of Politics (GIP) conducted an expert survey on the topic, which will be published shortly. We are providing some of the answers from international experts.

Hubertus Jahn, Professor of the History of Russia and the Caucasus, University of Cambridge

This policy was first adopted and used in the Russian Federation. Its outcome there is for everyone to see. It has led to a complete dismantling of democratic and civil society structures and the rise of an autocratic and corrupt dictatorship accompanied by numerous arbitrary punishments and incarcerations of innocent individuals. This policy stands diametrically opposed to legal practices and traditions of freedom in Europe. This will effectively stop the European integration process of Georgia (which may well be the intention behind the proposed law in the first place). It will have serious long-term effects on Georgia’s economic prosperity and development, and it will negatively affect the aspirations of Georgia’s young and educated generation, many of whom may even consider leaving the country (just as in Russia).

Stephen Jones, Director, Georgian Studies Program, Harvard University

This is a provocative bill, and I hope it is decisively rejected by the Georgian parliament. It is modeled on the legislation of Russia and other authoritarian states. It is the beginning of a process which will chip away at the freedom of Georgia’s CSOs to freely organize without fear of government restrictions and to express dissent. Georgian CSOs and their freedom of action are essential to the proper functioning of Georgia’s democracy. Without them, Georgia’s citizens will not have access to the informed analysis and commentary they require. But this bill, if it becomes law, will cast a deeper shadow over Georgia’s media and other parts of Georgian civil society. Anyone can be declared a “foreign agent;” it is an ominous reference to Soviet times when being “foreign” was dangerous. This bill is counter to Georgia’s aspiration for democratic openness and will undermine the goal of EU membership.

Sonja Schiffers, Director, Heinrich Boell Foundation Tbilisi Office

The discourse on the possible adoption of a so-called foreign agent law is aimed at intimidating civil society. Civil society has been very critical of the Georgian government’s incomplete implementation of the EU’s 12 recommendations. Understandably, the government is not happy about the criticism it is facing, but it needs to tolerate it if it sees Georgia’s future in Europe and democracy. I hope that Georgia’s Western partners make it very clear that adopting a foreign agent law would be unacceptable and lead to negative consequences in mutual relations.

Christofer Berglund, Associate Professor, Malmö University

GD has time and again demonstrated that it has zero interest in ensuring rule of law. After cracking down against opposition politicians and critical media outlets, this draft law creates conditions for harassing CSOs too. It makes no sense for the EU to extend financial, let alone political support to a state that demonstrates blatant disregard for its values.”

Thomas de Waal, Senior Fellow, Carnegie Europe

“This proposed legislation has echoes of Russia’s “foreign agent law” and, if passed, would clearly do a lot of damage to Georgia’s European aspirations. But let’s be clear on what this is really about. This initiative is very unlikely to pass and is better seen as a deliberate provocation. It’s the work of a group of politicians who have no interest in Georgia joining the EU and who want to advance their agenda and gain fame by picking a public fight with Western politicians. Caution, restraint, and skepticism which do not give these provocateurs too much “oxygen of publicity” are needed in coordinating the response.”

Julie George, Associate Professor of Political Science, Queens College, CUNY

“Laws on foreign influence are a way to isolate and harass civil society groups whose voices, while sometimes difficult to hear, are the essence of democratic governance. Democracies are difficult to govern. But they are the safest societies. Georgians deserve to live in a democracy. It could be that the current Georgian leadership does not intend to suppress voices but merely mark them. Even so, in those countries that have created foreign agency laws, over time the power of ALL civil society has eroded. Media freedoms have collapsed. Authoritarian regimes have emerged every time. This trajectory is well-studied and well-known. This law, then, is not merely a law – it’s a signal to the West that Georgia’s efforts to build democracy have ended. The Georgian government will have abandoned its people, who have worked for so long and endured so much to build the promise of an open and safe Georgia.”


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