The Streets of the Georgian Capital amidst Violent Clashes: The ‘Foreign Agent’ Law is Approved in Parliament

Georgian lawmakers approve 'foreign agents' law, requiring media with over 20% foreign funding to register as 'organisations serving foreign powers', causing social unrest and agitation.

The Streets of the Georgian Capital amidst Violent Clashes: The ‘Foreign Agent’ Law is Approved in Parliament
Source: Pawel Janiak via Unsplash 2017.

17-05-2024

Innocenti Chiara

Human Rights and Europe Researcher,

Global Human Rights Defence.

 

 

 

Tbilisi (Georgia) – On Monday 13, Georgian Dream along with other lawmakers moved to approve the ‘foreign agents’ law, though the final decision is to be announced on Tuesday. The process has been a simple affair, with Members of Parliament taking just 67 seconds to cast a vote while some of them did not even make it to the chamber. The third and final reading set for Tuesday is equally expected to be no more than a formality, yet the bill itself will enormously affect the dwellers. The result will be a controversial and divisive law that since the very beginning, caused social havoc and agitation for jeopardising freedom of expression and civil liberties.

 

For many, the bill is crystal-clearly modeled on the Russian Legislation since it takes similar measures in terms of civil society and the media. The law at issue, in fact, similarly to Russia, was intended to oblige all media that receive over 20% of the funding from foreign states to register themselves as ‘organisations serving the interests of a foreign power’, in other words, to degrade democratic values and freedoms, theoretically inherent to the people. The intention to pass the law harkens back to March when protesters fearing a clamp down on rights had taken to the streets, winning the cause after a few days. The idea to push the bill through notwithstanding the widespread dissent both among Georgians and other pro-democracy countries, came virtually simultaneously with the new Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze assuming office. In this scenario, the ties to the Russian Federation were remarked by many, especially because the majority party governing the Parliament – the Georgian Dreamer party – was, already several times, accused of harbouring pro-Russian sentiments. After Georgian President called the measure put to vote by the Parliament an ‘exact duplicate’ of its Russian counterpart, she vetoed the bill, but this act did not serve to change the fate of the meeting, with the Georgian President representing nothing more than a figurehead of the State.

 

The streets of Tbilisi have been witnessing chaos and protests for weeks now, but violence reached its peak in the hours preceding the Parliament’s voting on Monday. The rage spread especially among those who wished the procedure to enter the European Union, initialised in 2022, to advance swiftly and smoothly, as the ‘foreign agent’ provision was immediately recognised by EU leaders as a clear obstacle to accession. And this happens although Georgia represents a country where four out of five people long demonstrated to advocate the importance to join the 27-member state bloc for its continuous, estimable engagement in standing up for and promoting values such as human rights and dignity. Now that the European institutions granted candidate status to Georgia in December, the entire procedure risks sustaining a setback for the illiberal preferences of an ostensibly authoritarian administration. Ahead of the acts of extreme brutality of clashes and threats against peaceful demonstrators put in place across the Georgian capital by the local police, the European Commission’s President Ursula von der Leyen expressed serious concern urging local legislators to “stay the course on the road to Europe”.

 

 

Sources and further readings:

Berlinger, J. (2024, May 15). What is Georgia’s ‘Foreign agents’ bill, and why is Europe so alarmed?. The CNN. Retrieved on May 15, 2024, from:

https://edition.cnn.com/2024/05/13/europe/georgia-foreign-agents-law-explained-intl/index.html.

Boffey, D. (2024, May 13). “The whole country will strike”: protesters vow to keep fighting Georgia’s ‘foreign agents’ bill. The Guardian. Retrieved on May 15, 2024, from

https://www.theguardian.com/world/article/2024/may/13/protesters-fight-georgia-foreign-influence-law-bill-parliament.

Howard, J. (2024, May 13). Georgia protests: Riot police face off against foreign influence bill demonstrators. BBC. Retrieved on May 15, 2024, from:

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-69001339.

(2024, May 1). European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen issues statement on Tbilisi protests. Common Space Europe. Retrieved on May 15, 2024, from https://www.commonspace.eu/index.php/news/european-commission-president-ursula-von-der-leyen-issues-statement-tbilisi-protests. 

(2024, May 13). “Georgian ‘Foreign Agent’ Law Advances in 67 Seconds amid Violent Clashes Outside”. RadioFreeEurope: RadioLiberty. Retrieved on May 15, 2024, from:

https://www.rferl.org/a/georgia-foreign-agents-bill-vote-67-seconds-violence/32944589.html.