Georgians again demonstrate against Russian-inspired law | Europe

In Georgia, International Women’s Day is a national holiday, but this year the march that marks the event was affected by protests against the “foreign agents” law passed by Parliament this week. For the second consecutive day, Tbilisi was the scene of anti-government demonstrations against a law that, according to its critics, leaves the Caucasian country further away from the European Union.

Opposition party leaders had called for a second day of protests to be organized against the law backed by the governing coalition. The day before, thousands of people marched through the center of the capital, carrying Georgian and EU flags.

The protests were marked by violent clashes between demonstrators and the police. According to Reuters agency, some people shot molotov cocktails and stones against police forces, who used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd. At least 66 people were arrested, according to the Ministry of the Interior.

At issue is the approval by Parliament of the first draft of the “foreign agents” law, which obliges all organizations that obtain at least 20% of their funding from foreign sources to register, otherwise they risk paying heavy fines. For many, this legislation is identical to the one approved by Russia in 2012 and which ended up weakening the position of several non-governmental organizations and even the media.

The result, fear many Georgians, will be the weakening of civil society and entities that oversee the work of public administration or business.

The Prime Minister, Irakli Garibashvili, reiterated the Government’s support for the law, which he said was inspired by American legislation from the 1930s, and not the Russian model, also accusing the opposition of being “radical and destructive”.

Moscow influence

Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili has criticized the bill and vowed to veto it if given the opportunity, although a second pass by parliament would be enough to override the presidential veto. “This law, which no one needed, does not come out of nowhere, it is something dictated by Moscow,” Zurabishvili said in a video message during his official visit to the US, which coincided with the protests.

“Georgia sees its future in Europe and will not allow anyone to steal that future from it”, added the head of state, who, although she was elected with the support of the Georgian Dream, the ruling party, has multiplied the criticism for her growing proximity to Moscow.

This approximation has been denounced by the opposition, and the approval of a law with identical objectives to the one in force in Russia seems to confirm these fears. At stake is the influence of former prime minister and businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili, considered close to Russia, where he has most of his economic interests and where he made his fortune during the 1990s.

Ivanishvili founded the Georgian Dream in 2012, and since then, the party has been the dominant force in national politics. At the time, the promise of the businessman turned politician was to normalize relations with Russia, four years after Georgia was invaded by the Russian army, in a short war that ended with the occupation. in fact of two territories, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which are still not controlled by Tbilisi.

The businessman “restored several forms of influence in Georgia that were useful for the Kremlin, such as pro-Russian political parties, pro-Russian narratives in the media sphere and commercial connections”, observes analyst Régis Genté, in a article recent European Council on Foreign Relations.

Despite the ruling party’s pro-Moscow bent, Georgian society advocates a rapprochement with the West. According to the most recent polls, cited by the guardian, about 85% of the electorate want the country to join the EU. However, last year the European Council rejected granting Georgia candidate country status, demanding further progress in implementing reforms to improve press freedom and the rule of law.

The approval of the law on foreign agents seems to go against the grain of desires for greater integration with the EU, raising several criticisms from Brussels. “The adoption of this ‘foreign influence’ law is not compatible with the path towards the EU desired by the majority of Georgians”, said European Council President Charles Michel.

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