May 18, 2024

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What is Georgia’s “foreign agents” bill, and why is Europe so upset?

What is Georgia’s “foreign agents” bill, and why is Europe so upset?



CNN

The Georgian parliament is set to approve a highly controversial bill called “Foreign Agents” that has sparked widespread protests across the former Soviet republic located in the Caucasus Mountains.

Tens of thousands of people in the capital, Tbilisi, protested against this legislation. Critics warn that it mirrors a foreign agents law already passed in Russia and could jeopardize Georgia’s bid to join the European Union.

But Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze said the government did not plan to make any “fundamental changes” to the bill, and pledged to pass it on Tuesday, when lawmakers in the former Soviet country are expected to vote.

Here’s what you need to know about the proposed law and the uproar it’s causing.

The draft law requires organizations that receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as “agents of foreign influence” or face crippling fines.

The legislation was drafted by the Georgian Dream party, which along with its allies controls parliament. The proposal is scheduled to be voted on Tuesday and is expected to pass.

Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili described the bill as an “exact copy” of its Russian counterpart In an interview with CNN.

She has pledged to veto the bill, but that won’t mean much. Georgia’s government is a parliamentary system, so Zurabishvili is in effect a figurehead. Real power lies in the hands of Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze. The Georgian Dream’s billionaire founder, former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, has great political influence.

many reasons.

The proposed law is modeled on a similar law in Russia that the Kremlin has used to increasingly suppress dissent and civil society. Many Georgians fear that the foreign agents bill will be used in the same way as their northern neighbor: to suppress dissent and freedom of expression by going after NGOs with financial ties abroad.

The Georgian Dream asserts that the legislation will enhance transparency and national sovereignty, and responded to Western criticism regarding the proposal.

But the prospect of passing the law raises a more existential question: whether Georgia’s future lies with Europe or Russia.

Georgia, like Ukraine, has been caught between the two geopolitical powers since gaining its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Many Georgians feel deep hostility toward the Kremlin, which invaded Georgia in 2008 and occupies about 20% of its internationally recognized territory – roughly the same percentage that Russia occupies in Ukraine.

The Georgian Dream has long been accused of harboring pro-Russian sympathies, especially since Ivanishvili made his fortune in the Soviet Union.

Enthusiastically. So much so that lawmakers at one point He came to blows on the bill.

Opinion polls indicate that about 80% of Georgians support joining the European Union rather than sliding into the Kremlin’s orbit, and many of those who support deepening relations with the West have taken to the streets.

Mass demonstrations against the bill have continued in Tbilisi every night for a month. About 50,000 people He went out on Sunday evening in the capitalWhich is inhabited by about a million people, to speak out against what they called “Russian law.”

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There were counter-protests as well. One watched the reclusive Ivanishvili deliver a rare speech to a crowd of supporters who had arrived by bus into Tbilisi from rural areas of Georgia, where the Georgian Dream has more support.

The speech showed deep paranoia and authoritarian tendencies. Ivanishvili claimed that Georgia was controlled by a “foreign state-sponsored false elite” and vowed to pursue his political opponents after the October elections.

Yes, just last year.

The Georgian government tried to pass the same law, but was forced to do so An embarrassing landing After an intense week protests, Which witnessed citizens waving European Union flags and hitting them with water cannons.

The bill was reintroduced in March, about a month after Kobakhidze took office as prime minister. This time, the authorities seem determined to move forward with this legislation.

Mirian Meladze/Anatolia/Getty Images

Demonstrations against the bill continued until Monday.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan wrote on Channel X that Washington is “deeply concerned about democratic backsliding in Georgia.”

He said: “Georgian parliamentarians face a critical choice – either support the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of the Georgian people, or pass a Kremlin-style law on foreign agents that conflicts with democratic values.” “We stand with the Georgian people.”

The Kremlin claimed that the law was being used to “stir up anti-Russian sentiment,” adding that the protests against it were driven by “external” influences.

“This is now standard practice for a large number of countries that are doing everything to protect themselves from external influence, from foreign influence on domestic politics. All countries are taking measures in one form or another, but “All of these bills have the same goal.” And again, there is no way to connect this bill to the desire to secure Georgia’s internal politics with any kind of Russian influence; that is not the issue.

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement earlier this month that she was following developments in George’s case “with great concern” and reiterated Brussels’ concerns about the law.

“Georgia is at a crossroads. It must stay the course on the road to Europe,” she said.

definitely.

Georgia first applied for EU membership in 2022 and received candidate status in December, which is important but… It’s still an early step In the process of joining the cluster. However, Brussels he said last month Passing the law would “negatively affect” Georgia’s path toward European Union membership

“Georgia has a vibrant civil society that contributes to the country’s successful progress towards EU membership. EU officials said the proposed legislation would limit the ability of civil society and media organizations to operate freely, could limit freedom of expression and unfairly stigmatize the organizations.” Which provides benefits to citizens of Georgia.

“The European Union urges Georgia to refrain from adopting legislation that could jeopardize Georgia’s path towards the European Union, a path supported by the overwhelming majority of Georgian citizens.”

CNN’s Anna Chernova contributed to this report.