WEDNESDAY, 8 MARCH 2023
On March 7, the Georgian Parliament passed the first reading of a bill labeling non-governmental organisations and some media “agents of foreign influence.”
This sparked massive protests in Tbilisi since at least 2019 or even much longer.
Having faced such solid public resistance, the ruling party “Georgian Dream,” took a half step back. They promised not to pass the bill in the second reading until the conclusion of the Venice Commission.
However, it cannot stop the crisis. Georgia has reached the point of no return, according to EuroPravda editor Yurii Panchenko in his article The Battle for European Future: How Government’s Actions Put Georgia on the Threshold of a Revolution (Ukr).
Georgia’s ruling party, “Georgian Dream,” while maintaining pro-Western rhetoric, is actually doing something completely different. European politicians have repeatedly criticised the “dreamers” for the inconsistency of their statements with real affairs. Georgians blamed Western “friends of Saakashvili, who are not really friends of Georgia” for failures on the way to European integration.
At the same time, the ruling party made a cunning move: several MPs formally left the party and founded their own political project, “People’s Power.” These MPs have become the loudest critics of the EU and the USA in the Georgian Parliament, voicing theses that the ruling party has yet to dare to speak directly.
It was they who initiated two draft laws capable of finally “zeroing” Georgia’s pro-Western vector.
One document is called “Transparency of foreign influence” and aims to control NGOs and media with at least 20% of their funding from overseas.
Given Georgia’s reality, all independent public organisations and media, without exception, fall under this norm. Only those financed by funds related to the country’s richest man and the founder of “Georgian Dream” Bidzina Ivanishvili remain “safe.”
Another of their draft laws is “Registration of foreign agents.” “People’s Power” claims that the bills are copied from current American legislation.
In turn, the State Department flatly opposes the similarity and says that the Georgian initiatives “are based on similar Russian and Hungarian laws, not on FARA or any other American bill.”
Voting on the draft laws was scheduled for March 9. All of a sudden, “Georgian Dream” changed its plans and passed the draft law “Transparency of foreign influence” on March 7. Moreover, it became known before the actual hearing.
The EU and the USA have reacted to it expectedly sharply. They immediately declared that this step contradicts at least two requirements for Tbilisi to obtain EU candidacy.
Law opponents spontaneously gathered in front of the Parliament. And this time, it was not only about party activists but also ordinary residents of Tbilisi, mostly youth.
Even though the ruling party promised not to use force against the demonstrators, the special forces almost immediately began arresting them (including two journalists). In response, the demonstrators blocked police cars and tried to block the parliament building.
It only gave the police reasons to use water cannons and tear gas against the protesters.
In response, a “Molotov cocktail” was thrown at the police. The opposition stated later that it was done by provocateurs who needed to “legalise” the actions of the special forces.
Meanwhile, the ruling party decided to calm the situation, saying that they would send both draft laws for consideration by the Venice Commission and only then pass them as a whole.
Speaking against the background of the Statue of Liberty, the president of Georgia supported the protesters and promised to veto the law if it gets passed.
The West looks more unambiguous and tough than ever. But will this be enough to force Georgia’s authorities to “go backward”? Things have gone so far that “Georgian Dream” will not be able to make concessions without losing face. This weakness could be the beginning of the end of its stay in power.
In addition, it is unlikely that the ruling party did not expect such a development.
Political scientist Tengiz Phaladze is convinced: the current actions of the Georgian authorities are taking place under Russia’s pressure, which needs victories, failing in the war against Ukraine. “They need at least some victories, so they are trying to force Moldova and Georgia to turn away from the European path,” the political scientist explains.
And if this logic is true, the political crisis will only intensify.
The West must, for once, really do show toughness. Mafia land is obviously trying to gain influence around its periphery in various ways. Another obvious thing is that mafia land’s military options in Georgia and elsewhere have been neutralized by Ukraine’s courageous fight. This should, in theory, make it easier for freedom to keep its place or to oust suppression.