How a Russian-inspired Law Poses a Threat to Georgian Society

, by JEF Georgia, Nini Palavandishvili

How a Russian-inspired Law Poses a Threat to Georgian Society
Georgian opposition party supporters attend a protest against a draft bill on ’foreign agents’ in Tbilisi, Georgia, 1 May 2024. [EPA-EFE/DAVID MDZINARISHVILI]

We are born in a sovereign country but the fear of invasion, chaos and unfairness is present and real. Georgian youth, independent thinkers within society, are ready to protect the sovereignty of our country, its western course and our democratic values.

Protests in Tbilisi

On April 15th, Georgia’s ruling party, ’Georgian Dream’, initiated a law targeting ’people who carry the interests of a foreign power’ as a mechanism to restrict NGOs and the media, sparking a series of protests. Georgian civil society has opposed the hidden agenda behind the law. It’s notable that the ’Georgian Dream’ party already attempted to legislate a similar bill last year, which bore the same name except for one change, whereby they used ’ foreign agent’ instead of ’the carrier of the interests of a foreign power’. Yet, during last year’s protests, due to the significant resistance from society, they were forced to withdraw the law. The ruling party and the Head of the Government, Mamuka Mdinaradze, said that initiating something after such a harsh reaction would be dangerous for any government.

About the law

The government claims that the purpose of the law is to ’strengthen independence’ and ’support transparency’. The ’Agenda Law’ requires organizations receiving over 20% of their funding from outside of Georgia to register as ’organizations pursuing the interests of a foreign power’. This grants the government the ability to monitor and control media outlets and NGOs, even accessing their personal information by controlling computers and so on. An identical law is in effect in Russia and has become even more severe. This is why Georgian citizens refer to it as the ’Russian Law’.

Series of Events

The first reading of the draft law was preceded by a committee discussion on April 15th. On that day, two protests were announced in front of the parliament: one at 12 PM and another at 7 PM local time. Rustaveli avenue, the main street in Tbilisi, was filled with peaceful protesters who were singing, dancing, and encouraging each other with motivational speeches. From 7 PM, protesters began booing loudly near the parliament in an attempt to persuade politicians to reject the law.

Since April 15th, there have been protests every day organized by Georgian youth and NGOs. It’s notable that the excitement and determination to change the law hasn’t diminished over time. On the contrary, the protests saw the highest participation on April 28th, the day before the governing party ’Georgian Dream’ announced their own assembly for April 29th, a week later. Entire buses loaded with people from municipalities and big cities were driven to the center of Tbilisi. Some of them hid their faces from journalists, and some even admitted being there out of fear of losing their jobs. According to the media outlet Visioner, Georgian Dream gained 97,892 participants with an announcement 1 week prior, while the day before, 106,673 people attended the peaceful protests against the ’Russian Law’.

On April 30th, police started using violence against the protesters. They used water cannons, tear gas, pepper sprays, and rubber bullets against the citizens at the protests. There were also numerous arrests. Chairman of the opposition party ’National Movement’, Levan Khabeishvili, and American lawyer Ted Jonas were beaten by the police. The latter wrote on social media that he was hit 20-30 times, resulting in a concussion, and he spent 2 hours in a black police van.

Why 17th of May?

In order to adopt a draft law, it’s important that it be supported by the majority of the deputies during the three readings at the plenary sessions. May 17th is the final, third reading of the Russian Law. It’s interesting that the date of the 3rd reading is itself controversial. For years now, May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. In 2013, LGBTQ+ activists and their supporters tried to celebrate this day in Tbilisi, but Orthodox clergy organized a rally with its protestors not allowing the LGBTQ+ protests to take place. Instead, they held a homophobic rally along with radical conservative groups. The Georgian Orthodox Church declared that same day to be known as the ’celebration of sanctity of the family’. Homophobic and aggressive radical forces in the country are against the queer community celebrating their pride and put this vulnerable community under pressure and incite violence against them. For years, LGBTQ+ activists have not been allowed to celebrate this day freely in public spaces. This raises the logical suspicion that the ruling party wants to encourage extremely homophobic groups of society and does not hesitate to stir up discord in this way. It’s important to mention that the ruling party has been pushing for this homophobic rhetoric putting the safety of the Georgian LGBT community in jeopardy. During their numerous meetings on the “Anti LBGTQ Law” in rural regions pushed the agenda that there is an actual ‘threat’ to traditional values and orthodox christianity. They had initiated censoring movies and pieces of art containing “propaganda”. Chairman of the Legal Affairs Committee Anri Okhanashvili said “There is already a widespread trend where addressing ladies and gentlemen is considered discriminatory... There are a number of airlines that, when you fly abroad, will not address you as ladies and gentlemen, but as dear passengers. This is not accidental, just as the address of a woman or a man has been revised and there are approaches when it should be called not a woman and a man, but a parent”. It is therefore crystal clear that “Georgian Dream” fights with with windmills and with their damaging parasitic rhetoric pose an extreme threat to minorities who didn’t even have any rights before and haven’t been acknowledged by the government. The LGBTQ+ community has been disrespected and their rights have been violated.

Gender quotas under threat

It’s noteworthy that prior to these events, on April 4th, the government voted to abolish gendered quotas with 85 votes against 22. These quotas mandated a 25% gender representation per party. They had proven to be one of the most effective mechanisms in combating gender-imbalance and discrimination. Additionally, it’s worth noting that according to statistics, females make up 52% of the Georgian population, while males make up 48%. However, the majority of individuals present in parliament are men. Taking all these factors into consideration together, these events underscore how the ruling party is targeting our most vulnerable groups and our most important values: the LGBTQ+ community, women, youth, sovereignty and our path to European integration.

Representatives from the European Union, ambassadors in Georgia, major allies, sports figures, and individuals involved in politics are warning the Georgian government that this law is detrimental to Georgia’s chosen path towards the European Union, threatens democracy, and demonizes NGOs and their place in society.

We aspire for the vibrant voices of Georgian youth to resonate globally. Georgians passionately are advocating for their rights, freedoms, sovereignty, and our common European values.

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