Georgians Protest ‘Foreign Agents’ Bill, Fear Russian Influence

Thousands of Georgians defy warnings to join protest against ‘Russia’ bill | Politics News

Georgian ‘Russia’ Bill Ignites Mass Protests

Thousands of Georgians are defying warnings and government threats, joining protests against a controversial ‘foreign agents’ bill. The proposed legislation, which mirrors repressive Russian laws, has sparked widespread anger and some of the largest protests since Georgia’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Defiant Stand Against Russian-styled Legislation

Protesters began gathering in Tbilisi around 10.00pm (18:00 GMT) on Sunday. Many pledged to spend the night outside the governmental building, aiming to prevent lawmakers from starting the bill’s third reading on Monday. The government, however, has insisted on pushing forward with the legislation.

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze has expressed his determination to pass the bill this week, even threatening protesters with prosecution. The bill stipulates that organizations receiving more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad must register as foreign influence agents or face hefty fines.

Protesters Rally for European Future

Waving European Union and Georgian flags, protesters flooded Tbilisi’s main Rustaveli Avenue. Georgia’s pro-EU President Salome Zurabishvili urged demonstrators to stay vigilant against “provocations”, following reports of harassment and the use of water cannons and tear gas against protesters. Despite the warnings, protesters appeared to remain resolute, fearing the bill would derail Georgia’s long-held ambition of joining the European Union.

“We, as students, don’t see a future with this Russian law,” said 20-year-old Nadezhda Polyakova, a Georgian of Russian ethnicity. “We stand with Europe,” she stated, reflecting the sentiments of many protesters. The protests have been dominated by Georgia’s younger generation, many of whom are still at school or university.

Government Accused of Aligning with Moscow

The ruling Georgia Dream party initially attempted to pass the law last year but had to abandon the plan due to a massive backlash. The party’s billionaire founder and funder, Bidzina Ivanishvili, has since declared NGOs the enemy within, accusing them of working for foreign governments and plotting a revolution.

The controversial bill was revived in April with only one change. Under the revised version, NGOs, media, and journalists would need to register as an “organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power” instead of an “agent of foreign influence”. Protesters accuse the government of drawing the ex-Soviet country back into Moscow’s influence, especially following the 2008 war where Russia seized the Georgian region of Abkhazia.

In conclusion, the controversial ‘Russia’ bill has ignited mass protests in Georgia, with a significant portion of the population fearing a potential shift towards Moscow’s influence. These developments have occurred despite Georgia being granted EU candidate status in December, highlighting the tension between the government’s actions and the aspirations of its citizens. As the government remains steadfast in its plans to pass the legislation, it remains to be seen whether the protests will influence a change in policy direction.