Georgian Parliament passes law on foreign interference, thousands of Georgians take to the streets

The Georgian Parliament definitively adopted a law on foreign influence on Tuesday, brushing aside warnings from the EU and the United States and pushing thousands of Georgians back into the streets denouncing a text bringing this Caucasian country closer to Russia.

The deputies of the ruling Georgian Dream party, in the majority in the chamber, adopted the law by 84 votes in favor and four against, circumventing the veto that pro-Western President Salomé Zourabichvili had placed after the adoption of the text in Parliament on May 14.

Most opposition deputies left the chamber during the vote, AFP noted.

The head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell said he “deeply regrets” this adoption. He called on this former Caucasian Soviet republic to “return firmly to the path of the EU”, stressing that the 27 were examining “all options”.

Washington, through the spokesperson for the State Department, also “condemned” a vote ignoring “the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of the Georgian people”.

Critics of the text, who have demonstrated several times en masse since the beginning of April, call it a “Russian law” for its similarity to legislation on “foreign agents” used in Russia since 2012 to repress any dissenting voice.

The law requires NGOs or media outlets receiving more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as an “organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power” and to submit to administrative control.

Several NGOs said they expected their assets to be frozen and their work hampered after the law took effect.

“Don’t lose hope”

Pro-European demonstrators, who had started to gather in front of Parliament before the vote, numbered more than 10,000 in the evening, according to an AFP estimate.

“We expected this result, but I am so angry, so frustrated, the most important thing now is not to lose hope,” demonstrator Lizi Kenchochvili told AFP.

President Zurabishvili spoke to the crowd: “You are angry, aren’t you? Be angry, but let’s get to work. We must first prepare for a real referendum,” she said, referring to the legislative elections scheduled for the end of October.

“Do we want a European future or Russian slavery? 84 men can’t decide — it’s up to us to decide, all together,” she added.

The date of entry into force of the law is still uncertain, with NGOs having mentioned a possible appeal before the Constitutional Court which could delay its adoption.

If the Georgian Dream assured that the text only aimed to force media and NGOs to be transparent, the Georgian opposition and the European Union denounce anti-democratic legislation, incompatible with the ambitions displayed by this former Soviet republic of Caucasus, officially a candidate for EU membership since last December.

Opponents interviewed by AFP also see it as a particularly threatening instrument of repression five months before the legislative elections, which could undermine the chances of the pro-European camp of returning to power.

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze on Tuesday evening justified the adoption of the text, stressing that pressure for European integration had led Ukraine to war.

” Blackmail “

“It is such blackmail that brought Ukraine to the current situation,” he said during a press briefing.

He also brushed aside threats of sanctions from the EU and Washington: “no one can punish the Georgian people, and no one can punish the authorities elected by the Georgian people,” he said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned last week that the United States would review its cooperation with Tbilisi if this text were adopted, citing visa restrictions for people deemed responsible for “undermining democracy” in Georgia. .

Although the “Georgian Dream” formally supports the objective enshrined in the Constitution of one day joining the EU and NATO, this party, in power since 2012, has increased measures bringing the country closer to Moscow, especially since the beginning of the war in Ukraine.

The battle over the text – proposed for the first time last year by the Georgian Dream before being withdrawn in the face of protests – also revealed the influence of Bidzina Ivanishvili, a businessman who made his fortune in Russia.

Founder of the Georgian Dream, the billionaire was prime minister from 2012 to 2013, and according to his detractors continues to rule the country from behind the scenes. He has recently increased his anti-Western declarations and sees NGOs as an enemy from within.

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