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Georgian Dream's Pivot to Russia Sparks International Backlash and Threatens European Integration

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Monday, June 10, 2024
By overriding the presidential veto on the "Russian Law," the Georgian Dream has shattered the final barrier, ushering in a new reality domestically and internationally. Bidzina Ivanishvili's team has decisively broken ties with the West, prompting calls for Western action to escalate from mere warnings to concrete sanctions. Despite widespread protests failing to sway the Georgian Dream's trajectory, opposition forces must now redirect their efforts towards preparing for the parliamentary elections on October 26 to oust the Georgian Dream from power and realign the country with the Western orbit.

The fight against adopting the law continued for a month and a half. It all began on April 3, 2024, when the Georgian Dream reintroduced the draft law "On the Transparency of Foreign Influence". This was clearly unexpected for the public, as the attempt to pass the same law a year earlier had triggered such a wave of protests that the Georgian government withdrew the draft law after its first reading and promised to never try to pass it again.

However, on Bidzina Ivanishvili's instructions, Georgian Dream acted differently. There are also suspicions that the reintroduction of this draft law was directed from Moscow, as the attempts to pass this law simultaneously in several countries seemed highly coincidental. It appears that the Kremlin is trying to delineate its sphere of influence with this law. The Georgian Dream had no choice, otherwise, it felt more secure without this law than after its passage.

The re-initiation of the draft law was met with mass protests, primarily led by the youth. This protest and its scale were likely unexpected for the Georgian Dream. The first protest took place in Tbilisi on April 9, followed by another on April 15, when the Parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs began discussing the draft law. From that point on, the protests became a daily occurrence. The Georgian Dream responded to the protests with police forces and crackdowns.

Despite the protests, on April 17, Parliament passed the draft law in the first reading with 83 votes in favour and 0 against. The opposition did not participate in the voting out of protest. The rallies continued, and on April 28, opponents of the law held an extremely large-scale rally.

The government countered the protest with a mobilisation of its supporters, bringing people from various regions and holding their own rally in front of the Parliament on April 29. On this day, Bidzina Ivanishvili addressed the gathered crowd, and with his harsh anti-Western statements, he severed all ties with the West. Essentially, based on the content of Ivanishvili's speech, it became clear to everyone that the Georgian Dream would not withdraw the draft law.

On May 1, the Parliament passed the draft law in the second reading with 83 votes in favour and 23 against. The article-by-article discussion took place amid intense debate and protests outside. On May 6, during Orthodox Easter, the protesters spent the night in front of the Parliament. Then, rumours spread that the draft law would be passed in the third reading on May 17, a day recognized for several years as the "Day of Family Purity" by the Orthodox Church. However, Georgian Dream hastened the process, and despite strong protests, passed the law in the third reading on May 14. The law was supported by 84 deputies, with 30 voting against it.

By this time, it was already known that President Zurabishvili would veto the law, for which she had a two-week period according to the constitution. However, she did not use the entire period and vetoed the law on May 18 without engaging in a substantive discussion of the law's content.

The Georgian Dream was urged both in Georgia and internationally not to override the president's veto. On May 27, during a session of the Legal Affairs Committee, the government demonstrated that they would override the veto, which they did on May 28. President Zourabichvili refused to sign the law which Parliament Chairman Papuashvili did on June 3.

The law will come into effect two months after signing it. During this period, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that receive 20% of their funding from the West must register as agents of foreign influence. However, none of the NGOs intend to comply. Consequently, they will face fines, and after being fined three times, they will be forcibly registered. By this time, the parliamentary elections on October 26 will be approaching.

Regarding the international reaction to the passage of the "Russian law", numerous warnings are now being followed by sanctions. The Georgian Dream hopes that there will be no sanctions from the European Union because, first, no decision will be made before the European Parliament elections, and secondly, several EU countries will not support sanctioning Georgia. However, the United States has introduced the first tranche of sanctions for a couple dozen responsible for "undermining democracy in Georgia".

Georgian Dream deputies are currently acting surprised, saying it is incomprehensible why they should be sanctioned for adopting the law, as their aim is to ensure the country's sovereignty. Prime Minister Kobakhidze also stated that the adoption of the "Transparency Law" would increase Georgia's chances of joining the European Union. If the threat of sanctions materialises soon, Georgian Dream's narrative about the possibility of the country's integration into the European Union by 2030 will significantly weaken.

In reality, the adoption of the "Russian law" has dealt a severe blow to the Georgian Dream party, resulting in the loss of its pro-Western supporters, whom they are desperately trying to keep. Despite this, they continue to maintain that the path to European Union membership remains unchanged. However, Western sanctions will likely reveal a new reality of altered foreign policy, a direction that the majority of the country's population opposes.