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Georgian Government's 'Transparency' Draft Law Draws Acute Protests at Home and Reaction Abroad

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Monday, April 22, 2024
"Very polarised" - this is how local and foreign experts assessed the situation in Georgia in recent years. Today, polarisation in Georgia has reached its peak. The reason is Georgian Dream's April 3 draft law on 'Transparency of Foreign Influence', which the ruling political power declares as 'European', while the opposition and the international community considers it a 'Russian law'.

Georgian society has been divided into two unequal parts - pro-Russian forces and people who support the western orientation of the country. The government attempted to pass the Russian law a year ago, and it was passed in the first reading, but due to the large-scale mass protests, the draft law was withdrawn and the ruling party promised to never bring it back.

The promise was broken a year later when Georgian Dream reintroduced the bill with a small correction, renaming it from the law on the 'agents of foreign influence' to the 'carrier of the interests of a foreign power'.

If last year, 76 parliamentarians supported the initiated bill, this year, on April 18, the ruling party adopted the revised version of it in the first reading with 83 votes. Last year and today, the party eagerly claimed that the draft law initiated by them was not Russian, and a number of EU countries have or are adopting such a law. In contrast to such statements, a number of Western politicians noted that the bill, which the Georgian Dream intends to adopt, is not a carrier of Western values and is unacceptable for the countries of the European Union. In response, former Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili invited foreign diplomats accredited in Georgia to an open discussion in order to prove to them the Western nature of the law. In addition to asserting the "non-Russianness" of the draft law, government representatives continue to make anti-Western statements and actively point out that Georgia is a sovereign state and will not do anything based on instructions from outside. Talking about sovereignty in this filter is strange given that Georgia's sovereignty is permanently violated by Russia, which has occupied two regions of Georgia.

The 'transparency' bill initiated is directed not against the ongoing aggression from Russia, but against Georgia's strategic partners. The draft law will give grant-receiving organisations the status of 'carriers of the interests of a foreign power', and the US, European Union and international funds that issue grants in Georgia, the status of 'foreign power'.

Georgia's international partners, including the US, the European Union and the Council of Europe, have expressed concern over the re-initiation of the draft law, which was 'unconditionally' withdrawn by the Georgian authorities last year. Western partners call on Georgia to refuse to adopt the mentioned law, because it will hinder Georgia's European perspective.

After receiving the status of a candidate for EU membership, the task facing Georgia is to fulfil 9 reservations, after which it will be possible to start negotiations on membership.

The adoption of the law on 'carriers of the interests of a foreign power' effectively excludes Georgia's progress on the path of European integration, ensuring thatGeorgia openly moves into Russia's orbit.

The government insists that the law only serves the financial transparency of NGOs and nothing else is behind it. However, Putin also mentioned this when adopting the law on foreign agents. In fact, it was the beginning of an anti-democratic process. Adoption of a similar law in Russia completely eliminated independent civil organisations and media. Russia has tightened this law over time, and it now applies to individuals and anyone who receives money from the West in any way.

The reintroduction of the bill rekindled the protest wave in Georgia. Georgian Dream most likely hopes that the protest movement will gradually subside and they will be able to smoothly implement the law this time.

They point out that the "radical forces" are trying to implement a revolutionary scenario in Georgia, and representatives of the public, outraged by the reversal of the law, talk about a constitutional coup organised by Georgian Dream.

According to Article 78 of the Constitution, any government of Georgia is obliged to do everything to speed up the country's Euro-Atlantic integration. The 'Transparency' law is directly against the process of integration. With the said draft law, it seems that the prolonged process of confrontation has started in Georgia. If the law is adopted by the Parliament, the right of veto of President Salome Zurabishvili remains, but Georgian Dream can overcome the veto as well.

The protests will continue, and the result will depend on many factors, among them on the Russia-Ukraine war. Much will rely on the West's reaction to the adoption of the law, but the most important force remains the wave of protests.