Georgia set to adopt 'foreign influence' bill despite mass protests

AFP , Tuesday 14 May 2024

Young protesters gathered outside Georgia's parliament Tuesday and announced fresh rallies as the ruling party geared up to adopt a controversial Kremlin-style "foreign influence" law.

Georgian demonstrators protest the controversial  foreign influence  bill in Tbilisi on May 14, 2024
Georgian demonstrators protest the controversial foreign influence bill in Tbilisi on May 14, 2024. AFP


Tbilisi has seen three straight nights of mass rallies over the bill that mirrors laws introduced in Russia that have been slammed by the European Union and the United States.

Tens of thousands of people have rallied in the ex-Soviet nation since the Georgian Dream party reintroduced the law over a month ago.

Despite the rising tensions, Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze said his government will push the bill through in a third and final reading later Tuesday.

A crowd of some 2,000 gathered outside parliament on Tuesday -- mainly students who have been refusing to attend classes -- and announced a fresh evening rally.

"I hope there will be peace here," 20-year-old Marta Doborianidze told AFP.

The bill requires advocacy groups and media outlets that receive more than 20 per cent of their funding from abroad to register as bodies "pursuing the interests of a foreign power."

Russia has used a similar law to silence public figures and organisations that disagree with or deviate from the Kremlin.

Protesters say its adoption would take Georgia off its trajectory of joining the EU and instead bring Tbilisi closer to its former master Russia.

The EU has said the bill goes against Tbilisi's aspirations to join the bloc and young Georgians have voiced outrage over the possibility that a future closer to Europe is at risk.

"We were five years old when the war with Russia happened. We have bad childhood memories of that," Doborianidze said, referring to Moscow's 2008 invasion of Georgia.


'Worried but not scared' 

Georgian Dream has said it will not cave to the protesters, depicting the protesters as made up of violent mobs and insisting it is committed to joining the EU.

But its billionaire backer Bidzina Ivanishvili, who made his fortunes in 1990s Russia, made an anti-Western speech last month and has accused advocacy groups of plotting a revolution.

Prime Minister Kobakhidze has said that Ivanishvili will not meet with US Assistant Secretary of State Jim O'Brien who is due to arrive in Tbilisi later Tuesday.

Washington has urged Georgia to drop the legislation that it said was "inconsistent" with its EU integration.

"These people in there don't listen to us at all," said teacher Mariam Javakhishvili, standing outside parliament with her son.

The 34-year-old said the ruling party lawmakers were undoing progress made since the collapse of the Soviet Union, adding: "I don't want to let that happen for my kids".

"I'm worried about police violence but I'm not scared of it," she added.

The controversy surrounding the bill comes five months before parliamentary elections and some protesters say their ultimate goal is to vote out Georgian Dream, which has been in power since 2012.

"We are waiting for when we will have a choice to choose a new government," said 27-year-old hotel manager Peter, who declined to give his last name over fears for his security.

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