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politicsUSA

Georgian parliament passes controversial ‘foreign agents’ law amid widespread protests and criticism

The Georgian parliament adopted a law that critics see as a threat to media freedom and the country’s aspirations to join the European Union – and a step toward the type of draconian laws that have crushed political dissent in neighboring Russia.

By backing the so-called “foreign agents” law, Georgian parliamentarians defied weeks of large protests in the capital against the legislation, which also saw thousands express anger at Russia.

Tens of thousands of protesters closed a major intersection in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi on Tuesday, Reuters reported, and demonstrations gathered again on Wednesday outside parliament.

The law will be sent to the president before it can take effect, and President Salome Zourabichvili – increasingly at odds with the ruling party – has vowed to veto it, but the ruling Dream party Georgian, has a sufficient majority to override his veto.
Below is an overview of this divisive law and why it causes so much angst.

What is the “foreign agent” law for??

The law would require media outlets, nongovernmental organizations and other nonprofits to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20 percent of funding from abroad.

GEORGIA-POLITICS-DEMOCRACY-LAW-DEMO
Protesters gather against the “foreign influence” law in front of parliament in Tbilisi on May 15, 2024.

GIORGI ARJEVANIDZE/AFP via Getty Images


The law is almost identical to one that the ruling Georgian Dream party was pressured to withdraw last year after similar protests. This version passed its third and final reading in Parliament on Tuesday.

The ruling party says the law is necessary to stem what it sees as harmful foreign influence on Georgia’s political scene and prevent unidentified foreign actors from trying to destabilize it.

The opposition denounces it as “Russian law” because Moscow uses similar legislation to stigmatize independent news media and organizations critical of the Kremlin. Opposition MPs accused the ruling party of trying to drag Georgia into Russia’s sphere of influence.

What are Georgia’s relations with Russia?

Relations between Russia and Georgia have been tense and turbulent since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and Georgia’s departure from its role as a Soviet republic.

In 2008, Russia fought a brief war against Georgia, which had tried unsuccessfully to regain control of the breakaway province of South Ossetia. Moscow then recognized South Ossetia and another breakaway province, Abkhazia, as independent states and strengthened its military presence there. Most countries around the world still consider these two regions to be part of Georgia.

Tbilisi has severed diplomatic ties with Moscow and the status of the two regions remains a major irritant, although relations between Russia and Georgia have improved in recent years.

The opposition United National Movement accuses Georgian Dream, founded by Bidzina Ivanishvili, a former prime minister and billionaire who made his fortune in Russia, of serving Moscow’s interests – an accusation the ruling party denies.

What is the EU position?

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called Parliament’s decision a “very worrying development” and warned that “the final adoption of this legislation would have a negative impact on Georgia’s progress on way of the EU”.

Borrell previously said the law was “not in line with EU fundamental norms and values” and would limit the ability of media and civil society to operate freely.

European Council President Charles Michel said after the law was passed that “if they want to join the EU, they must respect the fundamental principles of the rule of law and democratic principles.”

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