Protests in Georgia succeed in withdrawl of ‘Foreign Agents’ mini-law. European Union is taken as a model to replace in terms of political and civil rights and freedom

Politics - April 5, 2023

Georgia has been facing a difficult time full of instability for years, stemming, even today, from a complex past, characterized by the fact that this country was a member of the former USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) until 1991, the same year during which it declared its independence; even in recent times Georgians have been the victims of bloody battles (it is relevant to remember, among others, the violent clashes with Russian forces in the summer of 2008).

The divisions present in Georgian public opinion: pro-Russian or pro-European

There are two strongly opposing currents of thought within the country: on the one hand, there is a side that wants to pursue a more neutral and balanced relationship with the external actors, without declaring any political position in pro-Russian or pro-European terms; on the other hand, there is a willingness to continue on the path to becoming a full member of the European Union, following the process began last March by for EU membership (although this has not yet been accepted so far, as it is necessary that Georgia will implement several reforms in terms of independence of its judiciary).

The march protests in Georgia against the liberticidal laws

The social and political climate became particularly critical in recent days as massive protests began to fill the streets of the capital in early March. In particular, the riots began on March 8 with a large demonstration that took place in front of the parliament. After an initial phase that took place peacefully, some among the participants attempted to block the entrances to the building and police began using tear gas, water cannons, and pepper spray to disperse the protest. Nevertheless, the protesters did not give up and until the early morning hours remained on Rustaveli Avenue, which is one of the capital’s main streets, resisting the charges of the security forces. A total amount of people was arrested and 50 policemen were injured.

The main cause of the demonstrations was the draft law on so-called “foreign agents,” which was approved on first reading by the Georgian parliament last Tuesday, March 8. This law would aim to place an obligation on organizations that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from foreign sources to register themselves as, precisely, “foreign agents” or possibly incur fines.

This proposal is a clear throwback to the law Russia enacted in 2012, which appears in many of its aspects to be severely restricting freedoms. This law, wanted by Putin, is known as the “foreign agent law,” and it forces every Russian nongovernmental organization that receives grants from abroad to register with the state administration as a “foreign agent.” Thus, NGOs are faced with mandatory reporting of their activities, as well as mandatory disclosure of the composition of their bodies. Finally, all organizations that fall under this type of NGO must accompany the materials they intend to make public, including through the online network, with the indication “Inostrannij Agent” (i.e., foreign agent). It should be recalled that the law being proposed today in Georgia, was at the time also strongly contested when it was introduced in Russia itself. At that time, indeed, there had been protests against the adoption of this law, especially by human rights activists, who did not intend to follow the rules dictated to the law and intended to refuse registration for NGOs.

The Tbsilis demonstrations produced the result hoped for by the protesters involved.

The dreaded adoption of the law was skipped shortly thereafter, when the withdrawal of the disputed foreign agents bill arrived, marking a halt (we do not yet know whether final or not) to the implementation of what was envisaged in the regulatory text.

Reactions from around the world

The situation that has arisen has elicited reactions from all over the world: institutional, diplomatic and political figures and others have expressed their opinions and expressed their support for the achievement of a Georgia that can as soon as possible be realized in terms of independence and democracy.

The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, declares via Twitter as following: “Strongly concerned about developments in Georgia. Right to peaceful protest is at the ore of any democracy. Adoption of this “foreign influence” law is not compatible with the EU path which majority in wants. Commitment to rule of law and human values is key to EU project.”
What he said above would thus imply an almost total ouster of Georgia from the process that is intended to continue within the EU.

There was also a position statement from US Embassy of Tblisi:” Today is a dark day for Georgia’s democracy. Parliament’s advancing of these Kremlin-inspired laws is incompatible with the people of Georgia’s clear desire for European integration and its democratic development. Pursuing these laws will damage Georgia’s relations with its strategic partners and undermine the important work of so many Georgian organizations working to help their fellow citizens. The process and the draft laws raise real questions about the ruling party’s commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration.

The main themes that have the priorities for the world powers are related to the maintenance of peace and stability of the geopolitical settlement, especially when it comes to some specific political or geographical areas that could be linked with Russia and the Ukrainian crisis. That’s why the protests in Georgia had a relevance at a worldwide level and they received feedback from many institutional parts.

The European Union as a political and social model: rights and freedoms

It is undoubtedly that the European Union has played a very strong role in this context, and it has been perceived as a political and social model to refer to, in order to pursue the realization of a democratic and stable republic that can guarantee the rights and freedoms of all its citizens.

Thus, at the center of the demonstrations, there was Europe in all its shades. There was a various number of waving EU flags, mainly exposed by the main opposition parties: the United National Movement and European Georgia. These two realities have been fundamental to reach the goal of stopping the adoption of the bill.

European Union is positively perceived from the people of Georgia, when it comes to the ambition of independence. According to the poll realized by the IRI (International Republican Institute), 85% of Georgian support the alliance between their nation and the EU. It also emerged from the studies that Georgia strongly supports for EU membership, with a disapproval of Russian presence in internal themes.

The European context is an example to emulate. Being part of the European Union, having the opportunity to have an impact within its processes represents a goal to be achieved for many national realities that are still fighting for a political, economic and social continuity and stability.

All of these things are a concrete representation that the principles and the policies prosecuted by each member States singularly and by the European Union generally have succeeded in the intent of the EU experiment, succeeding in achieving a model unique in the world, which is admired and taken as an example for achieving a fully democratic political set-up and guarantor of the rights and freedoms of its citizens, who can express their opinions and pursue their demands.