The Georgia parliament on Tuesday voted to adopt a new law designating Western-backed NGOs and media outlets as “foreign agents.” The law mandates that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and media outlets receiving at least 20 percent of their funding from abroad must register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power.” The bill, which some say could undermine Georgia’s aspirations to join the European Union (EU).

Georgia Parliament Overrides Presidential Veto of Foreign Agent Bill

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The law stipulates that civil society groups receiving more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad must register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power.”

The bill was passed with a majority, 84 votes to 4, with most opposition lawmakers abstaining from the vote.

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili had refused to sign the bill into law branding it a “Russian law” that contradicts both the Georgian constitution and European standards.

However, her veto was overridden by a simple majority in parliament and parliamentary speaker Shalva Papuashvili will now sign it into law.

The ruling Georgian Dream party has defended the law claiming it is necessary to prevent undue foreign influence. They accuse NGOs of promoting “LGBT propaganda” and attempting to incite revolution.

Some fear the law could lead to a Russian-style crackdown on civil society, particularly ahead of nationwide elections scheduled for October. The law has sparked protests with huge crowds taking to the streets of Tbilisi.

Addressing protesters via live stream, President Zourabichvili pledged to hold a referendum on “whether we want a European future or Russian slavery.”

She called on citizens to collect signatures to initiate a referendum, although referendums do not have the power to adopt or repeal a law.

Washington announced it would impose travel bans and other sanctions on politicians complicit in “undermining democracy in Georgia.”

The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell expressed deep regret over the bill’s passage, warning it would contravene Georgia’s commitments under its EU candidate status.

Brussels may freeze the country’s path to EU membership, pending the outcome of the October elections.

The country was granted EU candidate status in December despite concerns over human rights issues and failure to implement key reforms.

The EU has stressed that the new law would obstruct Georgia’s chances of further integration with the bloc.

Tina Bokuchava, leader of the largest opposition party in parliament, the United National Movement, accused the government of depriving the Georgian people of their European future.

She called for opposition leaders to rally together to rescind the law and keep Georgia on the European track.

Institute of Politics stated that the passage of the law marks the consolidation of authoritarianism in Georgia.

He noted that while Brussels may await the election results before freezing candidate status, it is unlikely to be “business as usual” with the government.

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The controversial law has ignited weeks of mass protests. Demonstrators clashed with police, who used tear gas and water cannons to disperse crowds. Protests have been among the largest since Georgia regained independence from Moscow in 1991.

Protesters argue that the law is a step toward authoritarianism and jeopardizes Georgia’s European future. The demonstrations peaked on May 24, with thousands marching in Tbilisi carrying banners reading “Serve Georgia” and waving Georgian, EU, and U.S. flags.

The legislation officially titled “On Transparency of Foreign Influence,” requires NGOs and media organizations receiving over 20 percent of their funding from foreign sources to register as entities acting on behalf of a foreign power.

The Ministry of Justice will have powers to ensure compliance with non-compliance punishable by fines exceeding $9,000.

The bill was initially vetoed by President Salome Zourabichvili on May 18, but the Parliament, with 84 votes in favor and four against, managed to override the veto on May 28.

The bill has sparked continuous protests in Tbilisi with thousands of demonstrators rallying outside the Parliament.

Many carried EU flags, symbolizing their desire for closer ties with the West. Protests often escalated into clashes with police, who employed pepper spray, tear gas, and physical force to disperse the crowds.

Dozens of protesters were beaten and arrested. Demonstrators voiced strong opposition with slogans like “Russians” and “slaves” directed at lawmakers as they exited the Parliament building under heavy police protection.

President Zourabichvili criticized the 84 lawmakers who voted for the bill, asserting they “cannot change the future” of Georgia.

She urged the opposition to prepare for the upcoming parliamentary elections in October. Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze, a Georgian Dream member, defended the bill claiming it would foster “peace and stability” and prevent “radicalization and constant attempts to stage revolutions.”

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The passage of the bill threatens Georgia’s EU membership prospects. The EU which granted the country’s candidate status in December 2023 has expressed deep regret over the law warning it could hinder further progress.

Western-funded NGOs, critical in Georgia’s post-Soviet development have announced they will not comply with the legislation, calling it “insulting” and “factually incorrect.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced a review of bilateral cooperation and imposed visa restrictions on individuals “responsible for or complicit in undermining democracy.”

Russian officials praised the Parliament’s decision. Senior diplomat Grigory Karasin commended the Parliament for demonstrating “character and maturity.”

Georgian Dream maintains that the law is crucial for ensuring transparency and protecting the country from foreign interference.

The government’s stance is that a neutral approach to Russia is necessary to avoid entanglement in the regional conflict.

The foreign influence law is part of a legislative package proposed by Georgian Dream. This includes restrictions on LGBTQ+ groups, amendments to the tax code to facilitate offshore capital inflow, and changes to the electoral code to enhance the ruling party’s control over the election administration.

Opposition parties and civil society activists continue to oppose the bill. They fear it will stifle dissent and make way for authoritarian rule akin to Russia and Belarus.

With parliamentary elections scheduled for October, the opposition and civil society are mobilizing to challenge Georgian Dream’s dominance.

President Zourabichvili has introduced a new charter aimed at restoring trust and steering Georgia towards Europe. The charter proposes reforms including the depoliticization of the judiciary and security services.

Opponents have dubbed the measure “the Russian law” due to its resemblance to legislation passed by the Kremlin to crack down on independent media, nonprofits, and activists.

Some claim the law may have been driven by Moscow to thwart Georgia’s EU integration. Georgian Dream founded by Bidzina Ivanishvili, a former prime minister and billionaire who made his fortune in Russia denies these allegations.

If President Zourabichvili does not sign the bill within five days, the parliament speaker can sign it into law.

The government maintains that the bill is meant to increase transparency on NGO funding. The president’s call for a referendum requires public support and procedural steps including collecting 200,000 voter signatures.

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