The Daily Beat: 6 March
The Parliament’s legal affairs committee endorsed the Russian-inspired “foreign agent” laws in a session accompanied by scuffles, forced eviction of some opposition MPs, and heavy security presence in and around the building. Civil society activists, students, and ordinary citizens protested at the back entrance of the Parliament. Journalists were barred from attending the committee meeting, and some were stripped of their accreditations since they participated in the protest on Friday. Majority faction leader Mamuka Mdinaradze announced late in the evening that the Parliament will hear the laws in the plenary session on Thursday.
The discussion over the draft laws is galvanizing public outcry. Georgian professionals, opinion-makers, civil society organizations, and professional associations spoke out against the repressive drafts. The Association of Trainers even pledged to stop providing training services to the public sector until the draft law is dropped from the agenda. The law has an unexpected football angle: former national team player Mikheil Kavelashvili, now one of the majority faction MPs, is sponsoring the bills. His former national teammate, Shota Arveladze, and his soccer crib, FC Dinamo Tbilisi, came out strongly against the initiative.
Influential US Helsinki Commission issued a stark joint statement over the Russian-style foreign agent legislation, calling it an attack on the US-Georgia strategic partnership and the Western choice of Georgian people. “It would also demonstrate the present government’s increasing embrace of Russia—the same country that occupies 20 percent of Georgian territory, kidnaps its citizens, disregards its sovereignty, and wages a genocidal war against Ukraine,” the statement reads. The Helsinki Commission is a US government commission composed of representatives of the Senate and Congress, as well as executive branch officials committed to promoting human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries across Europe, Eurasia, and North America.
US Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Dick Durbin criticized a Russia-inspired law on “foreign agents” endorsed by the ruling majority, warning that it could suppress civil society and free media in the country. Sen. Shaheen lambasted the bill, saying it does not resemble the American Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) but rather the Russian version. She warned that if passed, the legislation could have the same chilling effect on civil society and the media as it has had in Russia.
German Ambassador Peter Fischer, relatively new to the country, said the EU’s position on the draft laws remains the same, quoting the EEAS statement that “draft law’s adoption would be inconsistent with… Georgia’s EU… aspirations and with EU norms and values.” Ambassador Fischer signed off (ominously?) “Saying this as a friend.”
While foreign policy orientation and the state of democracy hang in the balance at home, prime minister Irakli Garibashvili is in Germany, participating in the ITB Berlin 2023, the world’s leading travel event. On the eve of the fair’s opening, the Prime Minister addressed the audience at the opening ceremony, recalling the Hellenic myth about the Golden Fleece to reclaim Georgia’s European identity. Elguja Khokhrishvili, Georgia’s former ambassador to Berlin, who worked to get Georgia the prized Host Country spot, slammed what he called “inexplicable legal initiatives” of the ruling party which, he said, represent “an open confrontation with our friends and partners.”