Georgia’s majority party rolled back a controversial “foreign agent” law that was working its way through the country’s parliament as thousands of angry protesters took to the streets to revolt against riot police in the capital, Tbilisi. .
The protest quickly turned violent as police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the large crowd. The face-off of Parliament on the bill is a victory for the protest movement and signals that the government is listening to public opinion, at least for now.
Although the mood was said to be celebratory over the reversal, the struggle to improve Georgia’s democracy is still ongoing, and it is not yet clear whether the issue has been resolved permanently or is merely a pacification of public outrage. Delay until it happens is the strategy.
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“While the Georgian authorities’ U-turn is a welcome move, the fight is likely not over. The authorities did not back down because they changed their mind about the bills, but the public relations disaster the bills provoked,” Giorgi Gogia , director of the Europe and Central Asia division at partner Human Rights Watch, told Fox News Digital.
John Herbst, who served as the US ambassador to Ukraine from 2003 to 2006, agreed.
“I hope this is not just a pause by the Georgian government, but a recognition that it should strengthen democracy in Georgia, not weaken democracy,” Herbst told Fox News Digital.
The draft bill required citizens, non-governmental organizations, media outlets and other civil society organizations receiving funds from abroad to register as foreign agents with the Ministry of Justice. The law would have imposed significant burdens and penalties that many human rights organizations believed would marginalize and discredit opposition voices and have a chilling effect on free speech.
The draft bill was initially supported by the ruling Georgia Dream Party. Since declaring independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Georgians have had strong aspirations to join the European Union, with 83% of Georgians showing support. Tbilisi formally applied for EU membership in March 2022, shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While pro-European sentiment remains strong among the people, the ruling party is seen by many as sympathetic to Russia and an obstacle to Georgians’ ambitions to join the European Union.
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“The government has been very careful to avoid moves that would anger Moscow, and that includes turning its back on its longtime friend, Ukraine, since the invasion in 2022,” Herbst said.
Georgia’s pro-Western president, Salome Zourabichvili, promised to veto the law if it passed and strongly supported the protesters. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and his Georgia Dream party control a veto-proof majority in parliament and would likely override Zourabichvili’s actions.
Many of those opposed believe that the draft law will harm Georgia’s path to EU membership and pull Georgia further away from the West and closer to Russia. Since the Euromaidan Revolution in 2014, Georgia, like Ukraine, has struggled to integrate closer to Europe with its identity as a former Soviet republic. There is strong belief among experts and policymakers that Ukraine’s 2014 Dignity Revolution and the overthrow of its pro-Russian president ultimately led to Russia’s invasion in 2022.
For many protesters, the current standoff is all too familiar, and their own fight against Russian aggression is still a not-too-distant historical memory.
Years before Russia annexed Crimea and launched its initial invasion of eastern Ukraine in 2014, Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, under what many experts see as a similar pretext to protect Russian-speaking people in the hostile region Are. The five-day war ended with Russian-backed separatists taking control of 20 percent of Georgian territory in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Russia uses similar tactics in Georgia that it used in Ukraine and other countries it considers to be in Russia’s historical sphere of influence. The Kremlin disinformation focuses on the idea of a shared past based on Christian values, while portraying Europe as a hostile actor that opposes traditional tenets of Orthodox Christianity. The main idea is to demonstrate that European integration is inherently incompatible with Georgian values.
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Russia’s main goal, as has been in Ukraine, is to reverse the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of Georgian society and prevent further integration with European institutions.
“In the context of the war in Ukraine, misinformation narratives have become even more aggressive, pointing to the fate of Ukraine and portraying the ongoing war as punishment for Ukraine for its European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations, Natia Sescuria, fellow at the partner Royal United Services Institute, told Fox News Digital.
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