Georgia at a Crossroads: The Reintroduction of the Contested 'Foreign Agent' Bill, by Alexander Kavtaradze

Protesters face police at a Tbilisi rally against the

Protesters face police at a Tbilisi rally against the "foreign agents" bill, Georgia. ©REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

Alexander Kavtaradze | Special to AbkhazWorld
"Co-founder of 'Civic Hall' (non-profit focused on education and culture) and 'Georgian Udis.' Follow on X (formerly twitter): @alexkavtaradze_

On the 3rd of April of this year the governing party of Georgia decided to re-introduce the bill on the so-called foreign influence (previously referred to as foreign agents’ bill). The re-introduction of the bill was met by disbelief and anger by various segments of Georgian society as it is a second attempt by the “Georgian Dream” (the ruling party) to adopt this bill. Last year the ruling party was forced to back down due to the demonstrations and violent clashes between demonstrators and the police forces in the capital of Georgia. 

The foreign influence bill (the term “agent” was dropped from the bill this year as it caused a huge uproar last year) targets non-governmental organisations of the country. It is an attempt to label those organisations that receive more than 20 percent of their funds from abroad as organisations carrying out foreign interests in the country. The proposed bill would target almost all of the non-governmental organisations as they are dependent on foreign aid to carry out various educational, social, cultural and other work throughout the country.  The ruling party has insisted throughout the process that the bill is about financial transparency and is not similar to a Russian law on foreign agents but instead could be considered a milder version of the French and American laws. This claim has been debunked by various organisations as they compared the proposed bill to the aforementioned laws in some of the Western countries and also, by the very fact that all the finances of various organisations registered in the country are transparent and visible to the appropriate government departments. The bill itself and increasingly anti-Western rhetoric of the representatives of the “Georgian Dream”, including its leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, has made it clear for many in the country that, if adopted, the law would target those organisations that receive their funding from allied countries, organisations or institutions. Therefore, the proposed bill is also seen as a clear indication of government’s attempt to shift country’s foreign policy as it distances itself from the European Union enlargement process. Many experts claim that the proposed bill would take the country down the path of fully autocratic system and also, directly back to the sphere of Russian influence. 

Alexander Kavtaradze at the Tbilisi protests against the "foreign agents" bill, 1 May 2024.
Alexander Kavtaradze at the Tbilisi protests against the "foreign agents" bill, 1 May 2024. 

Numerous organisations that could be targeted by this law work on the issues ranging from healthcare and education to social services and conflict resolution and peaceful dialogue in the context of unresolved Abkhaz-Georgian and Ossetian-Georgian conflicts. The law would endanger the main democratic principles and stigmatise numerous organisations and people affiliated with these organisations, paving the way to clearing the field for the “Georgian Dream’s” unopposed rule for the foreseeable future. Many of the Georgian activists have pointed out timing and similarities between the introduction of a similar bill in Abkhazia and the resistance from the Abkhazian civil society. Abkhazian and Georgian contexts could also be seen as similar with regards to active propaganda tools employed in both cases by those who are proposing these bills. 

Massive rallies continue in Georgia against the bill as the parliament has voted in favour of its adoption during the second reading. The demonstrators are a diverse group of people, from various backgrounds and views, but the bulk of the most active protestors are the representatives of the younger generations. They are usually also the main target of the government propaganda. The intensity of the demonstrations grow as we approach the third and final reading of the bill, before its fully adopted by the “Georgian Dream” MPs. If the bill is adopted during the third reading then the next step would be overcoming the veto of the president by the “Georgian Dream”. As of early May, the government refuses to back down, despite numerous calls from various public figures, writers, sportspeople, artists and Georgia’s Western allies, paving the way for further escalation before the parliamentary elections that are due to take place in October of this year. Ultimately, this process is seen in terms of what sort of country Georgia becomes, which political system it chooses and also, what would this mean for the region as a whole. 

Tbilisi, Georgia




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