A tactical victory for civil society: Georgia drops ‘foreign agent’ bill but faces more protests


Georgia’s ruling party said on Thursday it was dropping a bill on “foreign agents” after two nights of violent protests against what opponents said was a Russian-inspired authoritarian shift that imperiled hopes of the country joining the European Union, Reuters reports:

The Georgian Dream ruling party said in a statement it would “unconditionally withdraw the bill we supported, without any reservations”. It cited the need to reduce “confrontation” in society, while also denouncing “lies” told about the bill by the “radical opposition”.

The proposal, which received initial approval in Parliament on Tuesday, would require Georgian nongovernmental organizations and media outlets that receive more than 20 percent their funding from “a foreign power” to register as “agents of foreign influence.” They would face hefty fines if they failed to comply, The Times adds:

The legislation renewed questions about Georgia’s democracy, once a trailblazer among former Soviet republics that has more recently tilted toward pro-Russian authoritarianism under the grip of Georgian Dream….. Mikheil Kechaqmadze, an analyst of Georgian politics, said the governing party’s decision represents a “tactical victory” for the opposition and the country’s civil society. However, he said, it is not certain that “this page with this law is indeed closed.”

“There isn’t much trust between the government and its opponents,” Kechaqmadze said.

Undeterred, the opposition called for a fresh rally later on Thursday, AFP adds. “As long as there are no guarantees that Georgia is firmly on a pro-Western course, these processes will not stop,” a group of opposition parties said in a joint statement.

Kakhaber Kemoklidze, from the opposition For Georgia Party, said the reversal was a victory for the people. “Eight-five percent of the Georgian society is very European, and the European perspective is written in the Georgian constitution. This law drafted by the ruling party was directly undermining the Georgian constitution,” he told Al Jazeera.

Ruling politicians began to back off the bill on Wednesday evening, as tens of thousands of people took to the streets, The Post reports. They announced that Thursday’s discussions of the proposal would be canceled, and Parliament speaker Shalva Papuashvili asked for the measure to be assessed by the Venice Commission. The commission advises the Council of Europe, the continent’s leading human rights body, on constitutional matters.

The proposed law would have forced media outlets like ours to register as “foreign agents” and imposed administrative and financial constraints, which may force us to reduce operations or close, Civil Georgia observes. But CG has been operating since 2001 and its donors, including the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), “allowed us to function freely and serve millions of users, as the free repository of knowledge about Georgia,” it notes.

Many Georgians pushing for the country to join the EU feared the proposed legislation would complicate their already long route to joining the bloc, DW adds. 

Today’s panel organized by the Center for European Policy Analysis, a NED partner, unpacked Georgia’s “Foreign Agent” Bill and discussed what comes next (below).

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