The messenger logo

Georgia's Transformative Year: From Mass Protests to EU Candidate Status in 2023

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Tuesday, January 9, 2024
The attainment of EU candidate status on December 14 can be unequivocally named as the main historical event for Georgia in 2023. Simultaneously, when recalling significant events of the year, the events of March 6-9 should be recalled, when mass rallies opposed the Georgian Dream government's so-called "Russian law."

Throughout the year, Georgia grappled with two contrasting trends: the Georgian Dream government's pro-Russian leanings and the pro-Western aspirations of society. Despite long-standing anti-Western propaganda, initially dismissed by the Georgian Dream, it ultimately failed to sway public opinion. Notably, in early March, attempts to "Putinize" the country and enact a law on "foreign agents" sparked mass protests, primarily led by young people. Although the rallies were forcefully dispersed, the Georgian Dream ultimately retreated, refusing to adopt the Russian law.

The March protests are often credited with Georgia obtaining EU candidate status at year-end. The government's fulfillment of only three out of the 12 conditions set by the European Union could have led to rejection, but the EU's decision aimed to avoid bolstering anti-Western propaganda in Georgia.

On December 15, the Georgian Dream celebrated the candidate status without the opposition and the president, who they claimed "did not deserve" to partake in the celebration. Another noteworthy event was the impeachment procedure against President Salome Zurabishvili, initiated on September 1. Despite a Constitutional Court ruling against her, the impeachment failed on October 18, leading to the Georgian Dream ignoring President Zurabishvili.

In 2023, a significant challenge was the uncontrolled entry of Russian citizens and capital into Georgia, along with strengthening Russian influence. The opposition's call for a visa regime with Russia was disregarded by the Georgian Dream. On May 15, 2023, Georgia received a "gift" from Russia-the cancellation of the visa regime-further distancing itself from EU policy.

Politicians strategically positioned themselves for the upcoming 2024 general election, with the Georgian Dream refusing to lower the electoral threshold and banning pre-election blocs, disadvantaging the opposition. Internal conflicts within the United National Movement also characterized the year.

Despite obtaining candidate status, Georgia faces nine reservations for EU membership negotiations. The Georgian Dream pledges to address these reservations promptly, while the opposition insists that fulfillment depends on a change in government. The anticipation of 2024 parliamentary elections continues as it is to drastically impact the country's future development.