What Georgia's Foreign Agents Bill Is and Why People Are Protesting It: NPR


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Georgian students protested against the controversial “foreign influence” bill outside parliament in the Georgian capital Tbilisi on Monday.

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Georgian students protested against the controversial “foreign influence” bill outside parliament in the Georgian capital Tbilisi on Monday.

Giorgi Arjevanidze/AFP via Getty Images

Tens of thousands of protesters in the former Soviet republic of Georgia are fighting against a controversial law that will be passed by the country's parliament this week.

Many see the fight over the proposed “foreign agents” bill as a battle for influence between Russia and the West.

Supporters say the law is about transparency and curbing outside influence on Georgian politics, while opponents say the bill is based on a Russian law used to stifle dissent.

Here's what you need to know.

The 'Foreign Agents' Bill, and Why It's So Controversial

Draft legislation, proposed by The ruling Georgian Dream Party, or GD, will require non-governmental organizations and media companies that receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as “following the interests of a foreign power” and limit their activities. Provide financial statements about Those who fail to do so may face heavy fines.

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Georgia's parliament is scheduled to vote on the controversial law on Tuesday. Here, a protester Monday in Tbilisi, Georgia.

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Georgia's parliament is scheduled to vote on the controversial law on Tuesday. Here, a protester Monday in Tbilisi, Georgia.

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Proponents of the bill say it is necessary to curb foreign influence and would make information about foreign funding more transparent. They also say the bill is based on a similar US law – the Foreign Agents Registration Act – which dates back to 1938.

But critics, who call the proposal a “Russian law,” say similar legislation passed by Moscow in 2012 has been used to crack down on critics of the Kremlin, independent media reported. From organizations to human rights groups. Many say the Georgian government is using the law to push Georgia closer to Russia and stifle dissent ahead of key national elections this fall.

In an interview with NPR earlier this month, GD lawmaker Maka Butchersholli, who chairs the parliament's committee on EU integration, vehemently denied allegations that his party Aligning itself with Russia.

“Like [a] Georgian politicians and Georgian citizens, it's very insulting when someone puts Georgia and Russia on the same level,” Botchorsholi said.

He said Russia remains the “No. 1 threat” to Georgia because the Kremlin has seized parts of Georgian territory since a brief war in 2008.

Last year, mass protests forced the government to abandon efforts to pass a similar law.

What are the protesters saying?

The current protests began in mid-April, shortly after the Georgian parliament approved the first reading of the bill. Since then, protesters — including a large number of Generation Z people — have been gathering in nighttime marches to parliament. Many of them say they want to ensure Georgia's future EU membership.

While Georgia has been given official candidate status for EU membership in 2023, critics say the foreign agents bill is incompatible with European values ​​of democracy and freedom of expression. If the bill is passed, it will create a headache for Brussels to proceed with Georgia's EU candidacy.

A December 2023 poll by the National Democratic Institute found that 79% of Georgians support the idea of ​​EU membership.

“I want to be part of Europe, and I want my freedom, like my other friends,” Maryam Esayashvili, a university student, told NPR at a protest in Tbilisi earlier this month. “But this law takes us too far from that mission.”

“We're at a crossroads right now,” said Giorgi Gezirashvili, a 29-year-old IT specialist who has been protesting since April. We have to either secure our future by becoming a member of NATO. [the] The EU, or we won't exist in 10-15 years.”

How the latest protest unfolded.

Initially attracting young crowds, the largely peaceful protests have in recent days affected Georgians of all ages.

With more than 50,000 gathered over the weekend, huge crowds chanted “Georgia!” Saw them marching from Europe Square chanting slogans. Thousands of people stayed overnight in front of parliament, where they hoped to prevent lawmakers from entering the building who were due to debate the bill on Monday.

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Protesters clashed with police in Tbilisi, Georgia, where two Americans and a Russian citizen were among 20 people detained Monday during a protest against a foreign agent law.

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Protesters clashed with police in Tbilisi, Georgia, where two Americans and a Russian citizen were among 20 people detained Monday during a protest against a foreign agent law.

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Masked security eventually appeared in the early hours of the morning to disperse the crowd, using water cannon trucks, tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.

According to Russian official news, 20 people were detained, including two Americans and one Russian citizen.

Protesters are expected to continue gathering near parliament through the final vote on Tuesday – and perhaps beyond.

What happens next?

A final vote on the proposal is scheduled for Tuesday — and the bill is expected to pass.

Georgian President Salome Zorabicholi – a staunch critic of the bill – has said she will veto it, but the ruling GD party has enough control in parliament to override it.

Two of Georgia's biggest figures, Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze and billionaire founder of the Georgian Dream Party, Bidzina Ivanishvili, are both eager to get the bill passed.

Kornili Kakachia, director of the Georgian Institute of Politics, told NPR that he sees the law as a way for Ivanishvili to exert more control over independent media and civil society.

“This is the only sector. [Ivanishvili] doesn't control,” Cacachia said. “These people are not dependent. [on the] The government is their own income and they are the ones who criticize and challenge the government.”

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