Georgia: Law Passed – Tensions Will Rise



What goals did the leadership of “Georgian Dream — Democratic Georgia” pursue by passing the “foreign agents” law, and what can we expect in the near future?

And yet, the «On Transparency of Foreign Influence» law officially came into force. Parliament members easily overcame the veto imposed by French citizen Salome Zourabichvili (gathering the necessary 76 votes is not a difficult task when your faction includes 84 members). Georgian Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili signed the bill, which requires foreign-funded NGOs and media to register in a special registry and submit annual financial declarations.

Sixty days after the final adoption of the law, by September 4–5, NGOs and media, whose foreign funding accounts for more than 20% of their annual income in 2023, must register in the registry of organizations conducting foreign interests.

But let’s go back a few months, to the beginning of this year, when commenting on the return of Bidzina Ivanishvili to big politics on December 30, 2023, we noted his statement that it was partly due to Georgia facing problems arising from a «complex geopolitical situation». The Honorary Chairman of the «Georgian Dream — Democratic Georgia» (GD-DG) party did not specify what these problems were.

Now, six months later, we can reasonably assume that the GD-DG leadership knew or anticipated the possibility of a worsening political situation in the country after the October parliamentary elections, which could lead to a regime change in the mold of a «color revolution».

Thus, it seems that the adoption of this law was a preemptive strike. And a rather painful one for the opponents of the current government.

The fact is that Georgian legislation prohibits direct foreign funding of political parties. To circumvent this, numerous NGOs legally receiving money from foreign funds, charitable and government organizations of other countries are used as «front companies» to fund opposition political structures. This applies to the entire post-Soviet space, where «foreign agent» laws do not yet exist.

However, the opponents of GD-DG are not giving up. Madame Zourabichvili, who has long earned a reputation as the «president from the opposition», has taken on the role of organizer and coordinator of essentially anti-government activities.

On June 3, she gathered 17 representatives of opposition parties at the presidential palace, joined by another five so-called «independent» parliament members. This group signed the «Georgian Charter», developed by a former French Foreign Ministry employee. Naturally, the leading opposition party «United National Movement» (UNM), founded by Mikheil Saakashvili, was among the signatories.

Although UNM has a solid chance of passing the 5% threshold in future elections, the party, after its recent split, desperately needs allies to help create at least a somewhat influential faction in parliament.

Without delving into the details of the «Charter», it is worth noting that the document prepared by Zourabichvili states that «after winning the parliamentary elections» in October this year, the charter participants commit themselves to call extraordinary parliamentary elections within a few months, which, according to Zourabichvili, will be truly «free and fair». That is, the defeat of the GD-DG is taken as self-evident.

The charter also proposes annulling laws that harm Georgia’s pro-European course, primarily the «Transparency of Foreign Influence» law. It also suggests a radical reform of the judiciary and law enforcement agencies and changes to the formation of the Central Election Commission apparatus.

Additionally, the government that comes to power after the October 26 elections will be formed not by political party representatives but by «professionals», whom the president herself will agree upon.

An interesting point! Is madame not claiming the role of Saakashvili 2.0?

In short, the opponents of the current government have grand plans. The catch is that to implement these projects, they need to win the October elections. That’s all.

To achieve this, at a minimum, it is necessary for all opposition parties, or at least most of them, to act as a united front, setting aside the personal ambitions of their leaders.

And this could be a problem. The fact is that practically all Georgian political structures (we are now talking about the opposition) are “leader-type” parties. By the way, this was the cause of the splits in UNM, provoked by having «two bears in one den» of equal influence and ambition. It cannot be ruled out that this factor already played a role, as only 17 party representatives came to the president’s residence, although there are dozens of parties in Tbilisi alone.

Let us remind you that in Georgia, whose population, even according to official data, barely exceeds 3.5 million people (in reality, this figure is significantly lower), there are about 235 officially registered political parties.

Nevertheless, as it currently stands, a serious struggle lies ahead.

However, a global front is forming against GD-DG. On one side, there is a bloc of opposition parties, if they can form and hold it until the October elections. Plus, NGOs angry about future difficulties, who may have been given additional funds for financing the opposition and upcoming anti-government protests during the law’s passage. Plus, Western countries, which not only express dissatisfaction but are ready to use their tried-and-tested, though not always effective, weapon — sanctions. Not only political but also economic.

Naturally, street protests of varying degrees of aggression and massiveness will continue for various reasons. Here, a caveat should be made about how to assess mass protests in Tbilisi and other Georgian cities.

Russian federal channels reported that up to 80,000 people participated in protest actions on Shota Rustaveli Avenue and Tbilisi squares. The number is indeed impressive. But it should be noted that there are currently between 10,000 and 20,000 different NGOs operating in the republic. It turns out that for a large turnout, they only need to delegate 8, or even 4, of their employees and (or) activists. No more than that.

As for «Georgian Dream — Democratic Georgia», its government and parliamentary majority continue their offensive.

This refers to the recent announcement at a briefing by Georgian Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili that the ruling party plans to adopt 19 laws under the general title «against LGBT propaganda among minors and for the protection of family values».

It is proposed that after the law is adopted, «propaganda of same-sex relationships and incest» in works of art, LGBT marches, the registration of «any relationships alternative to marriage» between a man and a woman, the upbringing of children by same-sex couples, sex-change operations, and gender identification different from biological will be banned. It is also proposed to establish a new state holiday in Georgia — «Family Sanctity Day» on May 17, when the West celebrates the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

A strong move! No doubt about it. The adoption of this law will undoubtedly ensure GD-DG’s support from the Georgian Orthodox Church, which enjoys authority and influence in the country, especially in the provinces. Moreover, considering the sentiments in Georgian society, where the overwhelming majority adhere to traditional values, the number of those who might vote for the ruling party in the fall will likely increase, allowing it to form a faction of at least 100 people, including supporters among independents.

And then, there could be a second impeachment of the president, with all the consequences that would entail.

Whether this will succeed or not, the future will tell. But it is clear that until the end of this year (at least), it will be genuinely hot in Georgia.