Georgian Parliament Passes Controversial “Foreign Agent” Bill

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Protesters rally against the bill outside the parliament building in Tbilisi, Georgia May 16, 2023. (Irakli Gedenidze/Reuters)

Last week, the Georgian parliament passed a provocative “foreign agent” bill requiring media and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that receive at least 20% of their funding from abroad to register as “agents of foreign influence,” prompting protests and public outcry over what could potentially become an avenue to restrict democracy. The bill would make it easier for the government to control what information reaches the Georgian public, and could allow for those in power to enforce certain ideologies over others. The White House called the new legislation “Kremlin-style,” and Washington has warned that if the law does not meet European Union standards, it will review its relations with Georgia.

The law mirrors similar legislation that was passed recently in other nearby countries including Hungary and Kyrgyzstan, and critics suggest that Moscow may be influencing or even pressuring ruling parties to crack down on funding from international donors in order to exert a greater influence over these regions. The European Union has previously taken legal action against Hungary following its own incorporation of a “foreign agent” law in late 2023, but Georgia and Kyrgyzstan are not currently EU member states, making it more difficult to pursue a similar response.

Georgia’s pro-European President Salome Zourabichvili has already vetoed the law, but the ruling party has enough parliamentary members to override her veto by holding another vote, which it is expected to do. The majority of Georgia’s population also supports integration with the EU, and although Georgia has been a candidate country for months, many fear that this bill could derail Georgia’s chances of joining EU membership.

More notably, the news comes just months before parliamentary elections in October, leading many to speculate that this may be a political move by the incumbent Georgian Dream party to silence potential opposition. However, Georgian Dream is already significantly ahead in the polls, and a divided opposition looks to provide little resistance to what may be a landslide victory. If anything, the bill could trigger anti-government sentiments that might even prevent Georgian Dream from winning the upcoming elections.

Although the Western World is already pushing for anti-Georgian measures including travel bans on those who helped to orchestrate the law’s passing as well as their family members, a broad, heavy-handed approach to combat the bill risks alienating the wider Georgian public, the majority of which are pro-European. For a country that sees its future in the successful democracies of the West, a show of support for Georgia’s democratic aspirations may be what it needs best.

Written by Saachi Kandula

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