Georgia, protests: what's going on

Georgia, protests: what's going on

Georgia, protests

On Tuesday 7 March, the image of a protester from Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, had gone around the world, advancing towards the police waving a large European Union flag, hit by a water cannon in the middle of the night, while around she the demonstrators chanted slogans against the Putinian drift of the country. On Thursday, March 9, the protesters scored a big point in their favor: the parliamentary majority withdrew the bill to designate NGOs with more than 20 percent of funding from abroad as "foreign agents", as it is "highly divisive".

However, in a joint statement, the Georgian Dream and People's Power parties define the label of "Russian law" attributed to the proposal by the pro-European square as "false", and accuse the media of a "mud machine" who have put the law in a negative light, "deceiving" the public. It won't end there. A EuroMaidan in the Caucasus? The comparison between the 2014 riots in Kyiv, which led to the flight of the pro-Russian Ukrainian government, and those in Tbilisi against The anti-NGO law has been agitated by many, but it works up to a certain point, and risks being sensationalist. 

The Ukrainian and Georgian squares undoubtedly have a similar composition: a middle class that idealizes the Europe by associating it with investments, job opportunities abroad, corruption monitoring and social recognition, and for this reason it finds support from the anti-Putin front.The Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky expressed his support for "friend Georgia", a recently candidate country, like Ukraine, for accession to the Union. And Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union, had defined the adoption of the law as an obstacle to Georgian integration since it harmed the freedom of the press.

Those who minimize the fears of the pro-European square say that, rather than the infamous "Russian law" against foreign NGOs, the Georgian draft would seem to resemble the US Foreign Agents Registration Act ( Fara ) which imposes "public disclosure" of individuals or bodies that carry out lobbying or support activities for foreign governments, organizations or citizens through registration with the Ministry of Justice in which their relationship with these foreign bodies must be declared, their activity on their behalf and the fees received.

But there are crucial differences between Fara and the Georgian reform, according to an analysis conducted by the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law in Washington (ICNL): many US non-profit groups and media organizations receive grants and other types of support from abroad, but the United States has not required them to register as foreign agents. Just a mere 5 percent of those registered under the Fara are non-profit groups, and mostly branches of foreign political parties, according to the report.

In its past revisions of the Fara, the ICNL has often criticized the law as potentially imitable abroad to be made even more illiberal, manipulable and usable against political opponents. According to Georgian critics, the new law is allegedly arbitrary enough to make it favorable only to NGOs close to the government.

At the same time, the idea that the government coalition and Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili are "pro-Russian " is too coarse. Georgia has not had diplomatic relations with Russia since 2008. The government has been very weak in condemning the war in Ukraine, some components of the majority look kindly on Moscow, but also and above all because they cannot afford anything, given the size and Georgia's position, to side with Russia in opposition.

It is probable that the newly withdrawn bill aimed at an isolationist framework, which appealed to patriotic, conservative and nativist sentiments. The model perhaps, more than the Russian one, is that of Azerbaijan: balance between the West and Russia, consolidation of the governing party, control of the institutions, control of NGOs and journalists. But it should not be forgotten that the Georgian political establishment is already pro-Western today.

According to the latest polls, public support for EU membership remains very high, around 70 percent: evidently not enough, according to some pressure groups, which will push for an even tougher confrontation with Moscow even at the risk of exacerbating tempers. We'll see if the demonstrators' goal was to withdraw the law or if, being in the square, they decide to stay there. There are already those who, like this Polish propaganda page, are calling for the overthrow of the government and the recovery of the Georgian territories torn from Russia in 2008. With what means and men, it is not known. Meanwhile, new elections will be held in Georgia in 2024.