Georgian Parliament Approves “Foreign Agents” Law Despite Mass Protests

Published: 14 May 2024

Georgia Protests 140524Protesters in front of the parliament holding banner that reads: “A Long Time Ago in a Democracy Far, Far Away.” (Photo: Aidan Iusubova)

By Aidan Iusubova, Khatia Nikolaishvili and Marika Dudunia

In a session marked by yelling and physical confrontation, the Georgian Parliament adopted a law on Tuesday that opponents call the “Russian bill” and believe could dismantle civil society and divert the country from the European Union path.

“Traitors!” members of the opposition shouted as lawmakers pushed and hit each other during the discussion, while outside, the crowd yelled “slaves!” and blew trumpets to disrupt the approval of the controversial bill.

Nevertheless, the Law on Transparency of Foreign Influence, pushed through by the ruling Georgian Dream, was adopted with 84 votes in favor and 30 against.

Upon hearing about the outcome of the vote, several people - some wrapped in European Union flags and wearing gas masks - picked up whatever they could and started banging against metal barricades put up by police to prevent them from breaking into the building.

“We, the citizens, will fight for our freedom and to protect the state status of our country,” Ana Charkhalashvili, a member of the “Ahali” party, told OCCRP. “This fight will continue until this Russian regime ends,” she pledged.

The legislation will now land on the desk of President Salome Zourabichvili for signing, but she has previously announced she will veto the law. However, Georgian Dream has enough hands in parliament to eventually override her veto.

Protests have rocked the country since the bill was reintroduced in April after Georgian Dream was pressured by the public to withdraw it last year. Only on Saturday, an estimated 300,000 people turned out for a rally, according to the open-source intelligence site Visioner.

The bill would mandate that non-governmental organizations and independent media outlets receiving funds from abroad register as agents of foreign influence, “pursuing the interests of a foreign power,” which subjects them to government scrutiny. Opponents believe it will suppress independent voices in the country, similar to a law in Russia.

“We are not Russia, we are not Belarus, and therefore we will not surrender, we will not retreat. We cannot allow anyone to turn our country into Russia,” said Lia Chakhunashvili, the Executive Director of the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics.

“Neither a media outlet, nor an NGO, nor a person with a different opinion will remain. They want to keep the whole country in silent obedience and we will not allow that,” she added, pledging that although the fight will be tough, “Georgia will definitely return to its European path and we will definitely become a member of the European family.”

The Georgian Dream party was founded by Bidzina Ivanishvili, a businessman who made his fortune in Russia. The party is seen as pro-Kremlin and has been steering the country away from the EU.

Member of the European Parliament Miriam M. Lexmann tweeted that it was “very sad to see Ivanishvili’s interests being put before that of Georgia. A sad day for Georgian democracy.”

She urged European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to act, emphasizing that “it’s time for the EU to send a clear message to the oligarch and stand with the Georgian people.”