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In just 67 seconds, Georgia’s ruling party managed to jeopardize the European dream of countless Georgians

by News Room
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Only 67 seconds. Members of the Legislature Committee of the Georgia House did not need much time Monday morning to approve the controversial law. When they raised their hands, they must have heard the noise of protesters in front of parliament on Rustaveli Street in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. Moments later, the riot police violently ended the blockade of the parliament building.

The blockade ended the weekend of protests in Tbilisi. On Saturday night, tens of thousands of Georgians took to the streets to demonstrate against the Foreign Influence Transparency Act, better known in Georgia as the “Russia Law”. The protesters fear that the current government will steer their country towards Russia and block the path to the European Union.

It was the largest demonstration since protests began almost a month ago, during the first three laws to be voted on. Ahead of Monday morning’s third vote, many protesters remained on the streets Sunday night, braving the rain with music, dancing and European flags.

Parliament will vote on the law on Tuesday. It is a formality: the ruling Georgian Dream party, which introduced the law, does not have a majority in 74 of the 150 seats, but it has the support of the breakaway Kansan Power party. They have a total of 83 votes. Equally certain is that President Salome Zurabišvili, a declared opponent of the law and the Georgian dream, will use her veto. After that, the parliament declares the right of veto null and void.

Polarization symbol

The “Russian law” has become Georgia’s biggest point of contention and a symbol of polarization in the country of 3.7 million people. More than a year ago, Georgian Dream also wanted to pass the law, but massive protests led to its cancellation. In the meantime, the desire to belong to the EU has only increased. In a recent survey by the American IRI, 89 percent of the population supported joining the EU more or less, which is four percentage points compared to the previous survey.

EU foreign policy chiefJoseph Borrell Passing this law jeopardizes progress on the EU’s path Josep Borrell EU foreign affairs chief

The goal of the law is to make foreign funding of non-governmental organizations and media visible. Organizations that receive more than 20 percent of their budget from abroad are classified as “foreign agents”. It’s a brand that scares off investors and advertisers and comes with other restrictions.

Independent journalists fear serious consequences. In Russia, where a similar law was introduced in 2012, independent media such as Novaya Gazeta in Medusa to move abroad. Also for many foundations that promote democratization and… civil society want to promote, for example, against corruption, the law is bad news.

According to Nino Ramishvili of the research platform Studio Monitor, there are more than three thousand non-governmental organizations in Georgia, and more than 90 percent of them receive foreign donations. “We are a poor country, we depend on partners and financiers.” The law is expected to lead – as in Russia – to the prosecution of organizations that protect civil rights.

Ironically, according to Georgian Dream – which also officially supports EU membership – the controversial law is intended to counter the polarization of society. Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze said at a press conference on Sunday that “the so-called polarization is being imposed on Georgia from outside.” According to Kobakhidze, his party fulfills the will of Georgian society by disclosing the income and expenditure of non-governmental organizations and relevant media in order to better guarantee sustainable peace, tranquility and stability in Georgia.

Georgian Dream was founded in 2012 by oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili. Formally, he is only the honorary chairman, in fact he determines the direction of the party and the government. In a rare speech on April 29, Ivanishvili lashed out at the West, civil society organizations and his jailed political opponent Mikheil Saakashvili.

According to the critics of the Georgian Dream, the purpose of the law is mainly to protect the political and economic interests of the people surrounding Ivanishvili. They see the law as an attack on civil society, which still functions well in Georgia, and on critical media that expose the self-enrichment of the political elite.

Georgian Dream is hoping for a fourth term in October’s parliamentary elections after victories in parliamentary elections in 2012, 2016 and 2020. Saakashvili’s party, the United National Movement, is not playing a prominent role in the current protests. The rest of the opposition is fragmented.

double jump

For Georgia’s protesters, there is more at stake than “Russian law”. In their eyes, their country is at a crossroads: oppression according to the Russian model or freedom according to the European model. The comparison with Ukraine’s Maidan revolution in early 2014 is obvious; In the end, the pro-Russia president had to leave the field.

In the meantime, EU pressure on the Georgian government is increasing. Last December, Georgia became a candidate for membership. However, foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said at the end of April that the law is “incompatible” with EU values. Borrell: “If this law is passed, it will jeopardize Georgia’s progress on the EU path.” German parliamentarian Michael Roth, who is visiting Tbilisi, said on Monday that accession negotiations will be ruled out if the law is passed. That’s exactly what the protesters in Tbilisi fear.

Also read
this opinion piece on the role of the EU

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