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Georgian Parliament Adopts ‘Foreign Agents’ Law, Drawing Ire of Collective West

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Moscow accuses the West of interfering in the domestic affairs of a sovereign nation.

After weeks of protests and political wrangling, Georgia’s parliament approved legislation aimed at combatting perceived foreign influence in the small South Caucasus nation.

Once enacted, the legislation will require foreign-funded entities to register as “organizations pursuing foreign interests” or face financial penalties.

“The bill has been approved,” assembly speaker Shalva Papuashvili said after the May 14 vote, in which lawmakers endorsed a final reading of the legislation.

Eighty-four members of parliament voted in favor of the so-called “foreign agents” law, while 30 voted against it.

Proponents of the law say it is needed to safeguard the country from malign foreign influences operating under the guise of “civil society.”

Opponents, however, fear the law will stifle free speech and expression and impede Georgia’s chances of joining the European Union (EU).

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Critics derisively call it “the Russian law,” comparing it to legislation ostensibly used by Moscow to suppress political dissent.

The Kremlin, for its part, denies any association with the Georgian law or its recent ratification by parliament.

“This is an internal matter for Georgia,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said after the parliamentary vote.

“We see explicit intervention in Georgia’s internal affairs from the outside,” he added when asked about Western pressure on Georgia to scrap the law.

West Rebukes Law

In the run-up to the vote, several Western states—including the United States, Britain, France, and Germany—had urged Georgia to drop the legislation.

After the vote, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the United States was “deeply troubled” by what she described as the “Kremlin-style” law.

“If this legislation passes, this will compel us to fundamentally reassess our relationship with Georgia,” she told reporters on May 14.

The next day, Brussels also called on Georgia to scrap the law, saying it threatened to derail the country’s hope of eventually joining the EU.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks to the media during a press briefing, on April 15, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks to the media during a press briefing, on April 15, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

“Adoption of this law negatively impacts Georgia’s progress on the EU path,” Josep Borrell, the European bloc’s foreign policy chief, said in a statement.

Brussels granted Georgia candidate status last December.

“The choice on the way forward is in Georgia’s hands,” Mr. Borrell added. “We urge the Georgian authorities to withdraw the law.”

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili, a vocal critic of the law, has threatened to veto the legislation in line with her constitutional prerogative.

However, the law’s supporters, which include the ruling Georgian Dream party, have vowed to override the president’s veto in yet another parliamentary vote.

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili delivers a speech in Paris, on August 28, 2019. (Eric Piermont/AFP via Getty Images)
Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili delivers a speech in Paris, on August 28, 2019. (Eric Piermont/AFP via Getty Images)

Ruling Party Says Law Combats ‘Pseudo-Liberal Values’

Last year, a similar effort by the ruling party to pass the bill was abandoned after several days of demonstrations in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital.

In April, Georgian Dream and its allies reintroduced the legislation, triggering a fresh round of protests by the bill’s opponents.

According to the ruling party, the law is needed to preserve Georgia’s national sovereignty and combat “pseudo-liberal values” imposed by foreign entities.

James O’Brien, U.S. assistant secretary of state, has warned that Washington could impose financial and travel restrictions on Georgia if the text of the legislation remains as it is.

“If the law goes forward without conforming to EU norms, and this kind of rhetoric … against the U.S. and other partners continue, I think the [U.S.-Georgia] relationship is at risk,” he said during a visit to Tbilisi this week.

Mr. O’Brien further warned that all U.S. assistance to Georgia would come under review if the country’s leadership persisted in viewing the United States as an adversary.

Earlier this month, Georgian Dream founder Bidzina Ivanishvili condemned what he described as an undue Western influence on the country.

Addressing supporters, Mr. Ivanishvili claimed that the West’s “global war party” was attempting to push Georgia into another conflict with Russia.

In 2008, Russia won a brief war with Georgia—initiated by the latter—over the small but strategically important regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Spokeswoman for Russia's Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova attends the annual press conference in Moscow, Russia, on Jan. 18, 2024. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)
Spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova attends the annual press conference in Moscow, Russia, on Jan. 18, 2024. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

Russia Responds

Maria Zakharova, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, slammed Western criticisms of the law, describing Ms. Jean-Pierre’s statements as “an open threat.”

“Everyone understands why there is such hysteria in the West, because now it will be seen what they are financing, and how they are destroying the sovereignty of various states” Ms. Zakharova said in remarks to the Russian press on May 15.

“For months, the West has been browbeating Georgia about what it should—or should not—do regarding its own legislation … This is absolute interference by other countries in Georgia’s internal politics,” she added.

Russian officials also point out that many of the law’s Western critics have adopted almost identical “foreign agents” legislation.

These include Washington’s own Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, which has remained in effect since 1938.

Georgian pro-democracy groups protest against a 'foreign influence' bill outside the parliament in Tbilisi, on April 15, 2024. (Vano Shlamov/AFP)
Georgian pro-democracy groups protest against a ‘foreign influence’ bill outside the parliament in Tbilisi, on April 15, 2024. (Vano Shlamov/AFP)

Renewed Protests

Demonstrations against the Georgian law began in mid-April when parliament approved the first reading of the draft legislation.

Late last month, the government staged a counter-protest in support of the law, which reportedly drew tens of thousands of people.

On May 1, parliament approved a second reading of the law, sparking a fresh round of protests in which demonstrators clashed with police.

After the May 14 parliamentary vote, protesters again returned to the streets, converging on central Tbilisi and bringing traffic to a standstill.

The protests are organized by the bill’s domestic opponents, which include a coalition of opposition parties, “civil society” groups, and local celebrities.

Protester Laliko, a university student who declined to give her last name, told Reuters that the demonstrations—which appeared set to continue on May 15—were aimed at securing “the European future we deserve.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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