Quick Take | “Foreign Agents” Bill Down, but Ruling Party Rhetoric Not Out
On March 10, the ruling majority was forced to vote down the law “On Transparency of Foreign Funding” that it passed with the first reading only three days before, on March 7. Massive rallies that lasted for three days despite heavy-handed police crackdown forced this decision.
The quick look at the voting record shows that the ruling party has not voted down its law, but registered for the quorum and then did not vote, thus allowed the opposition “nays” to carry. Out of the 76 majority MPs that voted for the law on March 7, none voted against on March 10. The ruling party leadership’s rhetoric stigmatization of civil society organizations and leaders as “radicals” and “foreign agents” is growing, rather than receding.
The ruling party shows no intention to change the strategic course. Its leaders are considering the defeat in the streets mostly a public relations failure and attempt to focus on winning the “hearts-and-minds” battle in the new round of public relations confrontation.
Several strands of argument take shape. Here are some of them.
“The Draft Served its Purpose”
The foremost argument is that the “draft did its job,” by sharpening the public focus on the issue of foreign influence and exposing the agents.
GD Chair, Irakli Kobakhidze, speaking on March 10, said
“This draft law has done its important job in several senses – firstly, everyone recognized that being an agent is reprehensible, whoever’s agent one might be, this is our the first achievement of the law. Secondly, everyone understood, that those individuals and organizations, that are engaged in various nonstaste activities […] are not the agents of a Georgian, but those of of foreign influence.”
Tamar Chiburdanidze, of the People’s Power grouping that initiated the draft law amplified:
“People’s Power! We showed to the whole world and the Georgians, who is really against democracy, who keeps our country in slavery and who is afraid of the word ‘agent’! […] We forced them to admit publicly, to shout on the streets that they are agents working against the country.”
These statements represent a clear departure from the argument made by Mr. Kobakhidze when the draft was proposed, that “agent” should not be understood to mean “spy.” Clearly, the intention is to paint certain individuals and organizations as foreign spies, and that intention is maintained whether or not the law has been passed.
“Machine of lies”misled people
The key argument made by the ruling majority after the decision to take the law out of the legislative pipeline, is that the opponents managed to mislead a significant portion of the population concerning its trye nature.
The official statement of the majority from March 9 reads:
“The machine of lies managed to present the draft law in the negative light, and to mislead a section of population. They stuck the false label of “Russian law” to the draft, and presented the passing of this draft in the first reading as turning away from the European path.”
The majority whip Mamuka Mdinaradze had this to say during the briefing on March 9:
“You know what we have discovered? From those who were protesting [the draft] 99 or even 100% have not read it they did not know what those several sentences were about, that it was only creating the responsibility to declare [oneself as the foreign agent] and foresaw administrative fines as a sanction. Many did not know it, but had their head filled with fake narrative that you [the media] have been putting together even before the law was written.”
Speaker Shalva Papuashvili, March 9:
“The fake narrative was established not only by our own opposition, but it was helped from others, including from foreign countries – even before the law was written, it was branded as the Russian law, which is a patent lie.”
From this premise emerges the stated intention to “start meetings with the population and inform the widest strata of society about the true nature of each detail” concerning the law, as stated in the majority statement. This seems to imply, that while the specific law may be out of the pipeline, the idea of introducing similar legislation remains intact.
Government protecting the “Children”….
Another element in the ruling party narrative is that of “protecting the children” who the malevolent actors (“agents”) put in a harms way from the lies, and from danger. According to this paternalistic and patronizing narrative, the ruling party asked responsibly by withdrawing the law, to avoid harm to those “children,” while the opposition acted irresponsibly by pushing them to the barricades. This narrative element clearly responds to the widespread appearance of the new and dynamic generation of citizens on the streets, whose determination kept the protest going despite the heavy crackdown. It also speaks to the electoral basis of the “Georgian Dream” which happens to be considerably older than that of the opposition-minded citizens.
Mamuka Mdinaradze, during the briefing of March 9
“As a political party which feels its responsibility, we ware having [people’s] interests in mind, the key interest is human life and health and this is what we have cared about. Yesterday [viewing the footage] we saw the children of such [young] age, that we said – we cannot oppose those children on general principle.”
The majority statement, March 9:
“Radical forces managed to drag the part of youths into illegal actions. Our gratitude ges towards the law enforcement officers, who responded to violence with patience and highest standards [of conduct].”
Kakha Kaladze, Tbilisi Mayor in his March 9 statement:
“Luckily, we succeeded, and the protest of the public, especially of the emotional youths did not descend into chaos and harmful confrontation, which goes to the credit of law-abiding citizens, law enforcement officers, the government and the church.”
…from anti-Georgian “agents”
The ruling majority officials, especially its leader, have doubled down on the portrayal of the opponents of the draft law – and its erstwhile targets – as anti-Georgian, anti-Church and promoting alien values. LGBT community was mentioned in this context as well, as a dog whistle to the right-wing violent homophobia.
GD leader, Irakli Kobakhidze, March 10:
“These organizations are engaged in various nonstate activities, such as the demand of the government to be removed […], or declaring the fair elections as invalid, or denigrating the church, or LGBT propaganda, provocations at the so called “border” [the administrative boundary with occupied provinces – eds.].”
Irakli Kobakhidze, March 9:
“Shame Movement,” “Droa,” those who denigrate the church, call for resignation of government are the agents of foreign interest. they Act not in the name of the Georgian people, but in accordance with the interests of the foreign forces.
With Dignity to Europe
Painting opposition as anti-Georgian and anti-Church fits into the pattern of the ruling majority transitioning towards the sovereignist and nativist pre-election agenda, which we spoke about in our previous Quick Take.
The new slogan of the ruling majority was coined – “With Dignity to Europe.” It appeared on official party social media banners and was used repeatedly by the leaders. The slogan paints the pro-European activists as those who want to be subjected to the Western diktat, blindly subservient to its decadent way of life.
The ruling majority presents itself as a political force which could attain closer ties, and perhaps even membership in the European Union on its own terms, preserving “Georgian dignity” – its ecclesiastical traditions and the conservative way of life.