Georgia passes 'Foreign Agents' law in final vote despite mass opposition

Georgia passes 'Foreign Agents' law in final vote despite mass opposition
Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili told demonstrators she would call a referendum on "whether we want a European future or Russian slavery". / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews May 29, 2024

In a final vote on May 29, the Georgian parliament overrode the president's veto and passed the controversial new law that will label Western-backed civil society and media outlets as "foreign agents".

Western countries are now expected to impose sanctions on Georgia and its negotiations to join the European Union will in effect be suspended before having been even begun.

The proposal, which entails designating civil society groups that receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad as "pursuing the interests of a foreign power", was passed with 84 MPs in favour. Most opposition lawmakers left the parliament building to join the protesters outside before the voting. Parliamentary speaker Shalva Papuashvili will now sign it into law.

The governing Georgian Dream party asserts that the rules are necessary to prevent foreign influence, accusing NGOs of attempting to stage "a revolution".

Critics within the country fear it could signal a Russian-style crackdown on civil society ahead of nationwide elections in October. The opposition accuses the government of moving closer to Russia at the behest of the Georgian Dream founder Bidzina Ivavishvili. Already protests against the bill have been met with police violence, and demonstrators have reportedly received threatening phone calls.

Addressing protesters gathered outside parliament via a live stream after the vote, Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili said: "You are angry today and rightly so, but let's get to business," pledging to hold a referendum on "whether we want a European future or Russian slavery".

High Representative of the European Commission Joseph Borrell expressed the EU's deep regret over the veto override. He said that the law "goes against EU core principles and values" and "will negatively impact Georgia's EU path".

"The EU and its member states are considering all options to react to these developments," Borrell added.

Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze, at a press conference following the final adoption of the Foreign Agents' law by the parliament, stated that the adoption of the law "will create a better basis for ensuring Georgia's accession to the European Union".

"By 2030, Georgia will be better prepared than all candidate countries for joining the European Union, and Georgia will become a member of the European Union with dignity, independence, freedom, and sovereignty," Kobakhidze emphasized.

Washington has announced it will impose visa restrictions on representatives of the Georgian Dream government who undermine democracy and their family members. Specific individuals have not been named yet. Additionally, the US will review its cooperation with Georgia, citing concerns over the "Foreign Influence Transparency" law and related events, including "repressive tactics used to suppress protests".

The EU has signalled that it will announce its own sanction measures next week.