Georgian government withdraws controversial legislation amid protests

ita eng
9 March 2023

Following two nights of protests that saw riot police use tear gas and water cannon, the Georgian government announced that it has withdrawn controversial legislation that critics say would set back democratic development in the country and reverse the country’s stated policy of joining the European Union. Photos and text by  Onnik James Krikorian, from Tbilisi

The law that passed its first reading on 7 March would make non-governmental organisation, including media, obliged to register as ‘foreign agents’ if the amount of funding from abroad exceeded 20 percent of their budgets. The legislation has been compared to a similar 2012 passed in Russia that stifled civil activism in the country.

It is for this reason that critics of the bill have labelled it the ‘Russian law."

The European Union delegation to Georgia welcomed what appears to possibly be the withdrawal of the bill but others warn that it might only be a temporary suspension, citing the need for parliamentary procedure to determine any conclusion to what has become a new flashpoint in the country.

Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili had already said she would use her largely symbolic power of veto to frustrate its passage into law.

Though the protests that blocked off the Tbilisi’s Rustaveli Avenue were largely peaceful there were instances of violence with some protestors overturning and burning police cars or throwing stones and molotov cocktails. Riot police used what appeared to be disproportionate amount of tear gas even when the situation was calm.

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the granting of EU candidate status to Moldova and Ukraine, Georgia’s own application is currently under considerations. The opposition claims that the passage of the law on foreign agents would set back the country’s aspirations for EU membership year or even derail it.

Now all eyes will be on what happens next.