Georgian people against Russian law

The opposition described it as a Russian-style law that would stigmatise and clamp down on Georgia’s vibrant civil society and independent media.

Russia passed its own version of a “foreign agents” law in 2012, expanding it over the years to target and suppress Western-funded NGOs and media. 

“The law is Russian as we all know… We don’t want to be a part of the ex-Soviet Union, we want to be a part of the European Union, we want to be pro-West,” one protester told Reuters news agency. 

The country’s President, Salome Zourabichvili, says she supports the protesters, saying they represented what she called free Georgia which saw its future in Europe.

But inside the parliament building, 76 lawmakers from the governing Georgian Dream party gave their initial support to the new “transparency of foreign influence” draft law.

On Monday, a committee hearing into the proposed legislation ended in a parliamentary brawl. 

Passing the law would see Georgia join a list of undemocratic and authoritarian post-Soviet states such as Belarus, Tajikistan and Azerbaijan which have copied the Russian law on restricting the activities of NGOs.

Historically, the term “agent” in Russia and Georgia has the meaning of “spy” and “traitor”, giving a negative connotation to the work done by civil society. It suggests they are acting in the interest of foreign forces rather than doing good for the country and society.

The US embassy issued a statement describing Tuesday’s vote as a “dark day for Georgia’s democracy”. 

It added that parliament’s advancing “of these Kremlin-inspired laws was incompatible with the people of Georgia’s clear desire for European integration and its democratic development”. 

The two bills, on the “transparency of foreign agents” and the “registration of foreign agents”, were submitted to parliament by the openly anti-Western People’s Power movement, a close ally of the governing Georgian Dream party.