Thousands march in Georgia over foreign influence bill


Protesters gathered in the capital’s Europe Square, waving Georgian and EU flags, and chanting “no to the Russian law.” The law in question aims to regulate civil society organizations and independent media that receive foreign funding.

Massive protests have gripped the Black Sea Caucasus country for nearly a month after the ruling Georgian Dream party brought back the bill. Despite a campaign of threats and physical assaults against NGO workers, activists, and opposition politicians ahead of Saturday’s rally, thousands of protesters showed up, undeterred by the heavy rain.

Opposition parties call the bill the “Russian law” because it mirrors similar legislation passed in Russia in 2012. They argue the government will use this law to suppress dissent. The US has also criticized the bill, stating it threatens free speech. In Russia, the law has been used to silence voices critical of the Kremlin, including media, cultural figures, and civil society groups.

Many Georgians at the rally do not want Russia’s authoritarian-style leadership to influence their country. “We don’t need to return to the Soviet Union,” said 38-year-old Georgian-language teacher Lela Tsiklauri. “We are protecting our European future and our freedom,” added Mariam Meunrgia, 39, who works for a German company.

The bill could harm Georgia’s efforts to join the EU, which has given it candidate status. On Friday, foreign ministers of Nordic and Baltic states urged the government in Tbilisi to reconsider the bill. Last week, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the Georgian people want a “European future.” “Georgia is at a crossroads. It should stay the course on the road to Europe,” she posted on social media platform X.

However, the Georgian Dream government defends the bill, claiming it will increase transparency over NGOs’ foreign funding. They plan to sign the measure into law by mid-May. If passed, the law would require any independent NGO and media organization receiving more than 20% of its funding from abroad to register as an “organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power.”

Protesters fear the law could be used to silence critical voices ahead of parliamentary elections later this year. The bill passed its second parliamentary stage with 83 votes in favor and 23 against. After a third reading, it must be signed by President Salome Zurabishvili, who has promised to veto it. However, Georgian Dream has enough votes in parliament to override her veto.

In 2023, mass street protests forced Georgian Dream to drop plans for similar measures. This history has given protesters hope that their efforts could again prevent the bill from becoming law. The ongoing protests are a clear sign that many Georgians are willing to stand up for their rights and their desire to align more closely with Europe rather than follow an authoritarian path similar to Russia’s.

The current political situation in Georgia is tense. Many people are worried about the future of their country’s democracy and freedom. The proposed law represents a significant point of contention. The protesters’ determination to oppose it shows their strong desire to protect Georgia’s democratic values and maintain its path toward European integration.

The Georgian Dream party’s insistence on passing the law has raised concerns among international observers. They worry about the potential negative impact on civil society and free speech in Georgia. The EU and other international bodies have been closely watching the situation, urging the Georgian government to consider the long-term implications of the law on the country’s democratic institutions and its relationship with the EU.

The protests have drawn a diverse group of people, including students, professionals, activists, and ordinary citizens. They are united by a common goal: to prevent the erosion of democratic freedoms in Georgia. The atmosphere at the rallies has been charged with a mix of determination and hope, as people from different walks of life come together to voice their opposition to the proposed law.

As the situation continues to develop, it remains to be seen whether the Georgian Dream government will heed the protesters’ demands and reconsider the bill. The outcome of this political struggle will have significant implications for Georgia’s future, both in terms of its domestic policies and its international relations.

In summary, the proposed law in Georgia has sparked massive protests, with thousands of people rallying against it. The bill, seen as a threat to civil society and independent media, has drawn criticism both domestically and internationally. Protesters are determined to protect their democratic freedoms and keep Georgia on a path toward European integration. The outcome of this conflict will be crucial in shaping the country’s future.


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