Georgian Ruling Party To Introduce Foreign Agent Law - Again

Published: 03 April 2024

foreign-agent-bill-georgiaProtests in March 2023 against the proposed foreign agent bill. The signs say, “No Russian influence in Georgia!” and “Georgia will not become Russia!” (Photo: OCCRP)

By Khatia Nikolaishvili and Nana Bregadze

A year after the so-called ‘foreign agent law’ was ditched after massive protests, the ruling party of the country of Georgia announced on Wednesday that it will again try to push it through the parliament.

If passed, the bill would require non-governmental organizations and opposition media who receive funds from abroad to register as agents of foreign influence.

Such a law was used in Russia to crush government critics. “Foreign agents” are seen there as spies.

“We’ll submit the same draft as it was introduced last year,” announced Georgian Dream party Spokesperson and MP Mamuka Mdinaradze in Parliament. “Only the term ‘agents of foreign influence’ will be replaced with the new term ‘organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power.’”

“We see how the inflow of non-transparent money increases in the run-up to elections in Georgia, and most of these funds are directed to supporting radical parties, radical NGOs, and radical propagandist media,” he added.

Parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held in October this year.

Last year’s attempt to adopt the law  prompted massive protests which forced the ruling party to drop it. In an official statement, Georgian Dream said back then that it would "unconditionally withdraw the bill we supported, without any reservations."

The announcement of its reintroduction on Wednesday was followed by a clash between Mdinaradze and opposition lawmaker Aleko Elisashvili.

Elisashvili shouted at Mdinaradze, calling the draft law a “Russian bill,” while Mdinaradze shouted back: “Why is it Russian?”

The Speaker of the Parliament, Shalva Papuashvili threatened to “turn off everyone's microphones” if opposition lawmakers used the term “Russian bill.”

“I will not allow anti-Georgian propaganda!” Papuashvili said. “You succeeded last year, you will not succeed this year! Don't lie to the people!”

Following the parliamentary session, a group of female opposition lawmakers held a press conference to condemn the bill’s reintroduction.

“The series of attacks on non-governmental organizations, the West, the opposition, and Georgian democracy was a warning sign that they [the ruling party] dared to once again introduce a law that deprives the country of the opportunity to live as we choose, not by the dictates of the Kremlin and Georgian Dream," opposition MP Teona Akubardia said.

On December 30 last year, former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili announced his return to politics, citing the “complicated” political situation as the reason.

Ivanishvili is a billionaire who is widely believed to hold huge political influence in Georgia. He founded the Georgian Dream party in 2012 and served as prime minister in 2012–2013. He has retired from politics several times, only to return at critical moments.

Now Ivanishvili is officially the party’s “honorary chairman,” which he has described as a purely advisory role.

According to the spokesperson Mdinaradze’s announcement, the “honorary chairman” supports the reintroduction of the draft law.

“All members of the Political Council have the same opinion on this issue,” he stated.