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Breaking: Foreign Agents’ Law Adopted, Amid Protest, Brawls

Georgia’s ruling party adopted the controversial foreign agents’ law in its third and final reading by 84 votes against 30 on May 14, amid widespread local protests and despite fierce opposition from the West.

The ruling Georgian Dream majority voted in favor of the law during a tense plenary session that included brawls among lawmakers, while a large group of protesters had again gathered outside the parliament building. The President is now expected to veto the bill, giving protesters and Georgia’s Western partners weeks of time to put more pressure on the party to withdraw the legislation.

The law “On Transparency of Foreign Influence”, reintroduced by the Georgian Dream party despite its defeat last year amid mass protests, will force foreign-funded NGOs and media organizations to register as “organizations pursuing the interests of a foreign power”. There are widespread fears that it will be used to stigmatize critical voices, while its vague provisions and proposed fines are feared to be arbitrarily applied, ultimately leading to the obstruction of the work of civil society organizations, as has happened with similar laws in Russia.

The ruling party proceeded with the adoption despite the ever-growing and weeks-long protest movement, which spread throughout the country and attracted various social groups, including a massive student movement. The authorities tried to suppress the protests with police violence, thuggery, and intimidation, all of which proved counterproductive as it brought even more people into the streets.

In overwhelmingly pro-Western Georgia, which became an EU candidate country in December, many are convinced that the law’s adoption will put an end to the country’s European aspirations and bring Georgia back under Russian influence. Georgia’s international partners, including top EU officials, politicians, and diplomats have warned that the law will stand in the way of the country’s European integration path. Brussels, however, has yet to specify the concrete consequences.

The young people carrying EU flags along with national flags and playing Ode to Joy in front of the parliament building have become the defining image of the ongoing protests.

Despite passing the final reading, President Salome Zurabishvili has promised to veto the bill, and while the Georgian Dream majority can easily override it, the measure is expected to prolong the process of signing the bill for several weeks.

In the past days, the leaders of Georgian Dream said GD is open to holding talks with Western partners after the presidential veto and making changes to the bill if they receive convincing “legal arguments”. Opponents of the law, however, reject such prospects and see them as a trap. President Zurabishvili called such promises “manipulation” and vowed not to “play these games.”

“Don’t count on me that I will enter into this game of embellishing this law. It is Russian and will stay Russian, just as you yourselves,” the President said in her May 12 briefing.

Theories vary as to why Georgian Dream is so adamant about risking reputational damage to pass the law. Some have attributed the determination to a desperate attempt to stifle criticism and undermine election monitoring ahead of October’s parliamentary elections. Others cited pressure from the Kremlin.

But later statements by Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze, as well as the context in which the bill was first introduced last year, suggest that the banking problems of GD’s billionaire founder, Bidzina Ivanishvili, may be part of the reason.

Ivanishvili, who made his comeback to formal politics months ago, has regularly cited his difficulties in accessing billions of dollars from the Swiss bank Credit Suisse. His allies have linked the problems to Western blackmail to draw Georgia into Russia’s war against Ukraine, in what is known as the “Global War Party” conspiracy theory.

Ivanishvili “had frozen 2 billion [U.S.] dollars that he had entrusted to the West, but which turned up in the hands of the Global War Party,” Kobakhidze said on May 13.

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This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)

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