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What is Georgia’s ‘foreign agents’ bill, and why is Europe so alarmed?

Georgia's parliament is set to approve a controversial "Foreign Agents" bill that has sparked widespread protests in the former Soviet republic in the Caucasus Mountains.

Tens of thousands of people protested against the legislation in the capital Tbilisi. Critics warn that it mirrors a foreign agents law already passed in Russia and could jeopardize Georgia's bid for the European Union.

But Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze said the government was not planning to make "fundamental changes" to the bill and pledged to pass it on Tuesday, when lawmakers in the former Soviet country are expected to vote.

Here's what you need to know about the bill and the outcry it's causing.

What's in the law?

The bill requires organizations that receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as “agents of foreign influence” or face crippling fines.

The legislation was drafted by the Georgian Dream party, which with its allies controls parliament. The proposal is expected to be voted on Tuesday and is expected to pass.

Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili called the bill an “exact copy” of her Russian counterpart in a CNN interview.

She has pledged to veto the bill, but that doesn't mean much. The Georgian government is a parliamentary system, so Zurabishvili is effectively a figurehead. The real power is in the hands of Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze. The billionaire founder of Georgian Dream, former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, enjoys great political influence.

Why is this so controversial?

many reasons.

The proposed law is modeled after a similar law in Russia, which the Kremlin has used to increasingly suppress dissent and civil society. Many Georgians fear the foreign agents bill could be used in the same way as their northern neighbor: to suppress dissent and free speech by targeting NGOs with financial ties to the country. stranger.

The Georgian Dream says the legislation will strengthen transparency and national sovereignty, and responds to Western criticism of the proposal.

But the possible adoption of this law answers a more existential question: does the future of Georgia depend on Europe or Russia.

Georgia, like Ukraine, has been caught between the two geopolitical powers since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Many Georgians feel deep hostility toward the Kremlin, which invaded Georgia in 2008 and occupies about 20 percent of its internationally recognized territory — roughly the same percentage that Russia occupies in Ukraine.

The Georgian dream has long been accused of pro-Russian sympathies, especially since Ivanishvili made his fortune in the Soviet Union.

What do most Georgians think of this situation?

With enthusiasm. So much so that at one point, lawmakers disagreed on the bill.

Opinion polls indicate that around 80% of Georgians favor joining the European Union rather than falling into the Kremlin's orbit, and many of those support deepening relations with the West took to the streets.

Massive protests against the bill continued every evening in Tbilisi for a month. Around 50,000 people came out on Sunday evening in the capital, inhabited by around a million inhabitants, to denounce what they called “Russian law”.

There were also counter-demonstrations. The reclusive Ivanishvili was seen giving a rare speech to a crowd of supporters who arrived by bus in Tbilisi from rural Georgia, where the Georgian dream has more support.

The speech showed deep paranoia and authoritarian tendencies. Ivanishvili claimed Georgia was controlled by a “fake elite sponsored by a foreign state” and vowed to go after his political opponents after October's elections.

Hasn’t Georgia already experienced this?

Yes, just last year.

The Georgian government tried to pass the same law, but was forced to embarrassingly back down after a week of intense protests, during which citizens waved European Union flags and water cannons.

The bill was reintroduced in March, about a month after Kobakhidze took office as prime minister. This time, the authorities seem determined to move forward with this legislation.

What did other countries say?

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan wrote on Channel X that Washington was "deeply concerned about Democratic backsliding in Georgia."

“Georgian parliamentarians face a crucial choice: either support the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of the Georgian people, or adopt a Kremlin-style law on foreign agents that contradicts democratic values,” he said. “We stand with the Georgian people.”

The Kremlin claimed the law was being used to “stir up anti-Russian sentiment,” adding that protests against the law were driven by “external” influences.

“It is now a common practice for a large number of countries which do everything to protect themselves from external influences, from foreign influences on internal politics. All countries are taking action in one form or another, but “all of these bills have the same thing. “Again, there is no way to connect this bill to the desire to secure Georgia's domestic politics with any Russian influence; "This is not the case."

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement earlier this month that she was following developments in George's case "with great concern" and reiterated Brussels' concerns about the law.

“Georgia is at a crossroads. It must stay the course on the road to Europe,” she declared.

Could the law affect Georgia's ability to join the European Union?


Georgia applied for EU membership for the first time in 2022 and was granted candidate status in December, an important but still early step in the process of joining the bloc. However, Brussels said last month that adoption of the law would "have a negative impact" on Georgia's path to EU membership.

“Georgia has a vibrant civil society that contributes to the country's success towards EU membership. EU officials said the proposed legislation would limit the ability of civil society and media organizations to operate freely, could limit freedom of expression and unfairly stigmatize organizations that offer benefits. . » For citizens of Georgia.

“The European Union urges Georgia to refrain from adopting legislation that could jeopardize Georgia's path to the European Union, a path supported by the overwhelming majority of Georgian citizens. »


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