Georgia’s ruling party dropped foreign agent bills after major protests
The ruling Georgian Dream party have formally voted down the draft foreign agent law in its second reading, killing the bill after two nights of protests shook Tbilisi. On March 9, the ruling Georgian Dream’s Political Council, People’s Power, and the Parliamentary majority released a joint statement stating that the draft regulations regarding foreign agents had been withdrawn from the parliament as a result of internal deliberations.
“We can observe that the passed law has led to societal disagreements. The deception apparatus successfully portrayed the law negatively and misled certain members of the public. The measure was given the false name of ‘Russian legislation,’ and some people perceived the bill’s passage in the first reading as a break from the European route,” the statement said. According to the Government’s statement, the protesters involved some children in illegal activities, too.
“We should be more worried about peace, tranquillity, and economic growth in our nation, as well as Georgia’s progress toward European integration. Hence, it is important for each of our fellow citizens to focus on helping the country develop in the correct path rather than engaging in conflict,” the joint statement added.
The ruling party had initially said they could not schedule a second reading of the bill to vote it down for over a week, insisting it would be legally impossible to expedite it. After protest leaders and opposition figures expressed concern they may be attempting to play for time, the party called an extraordinary session of parliament to take place on March 10.
Two days of mass protests and clashes forced the ruling Georgian Dream party to reverse course on the bills, widely seen as a direct attack on critical voices and national hopes for integration with the European Union.
On March 7, following a last-minute schedule change, the parliamentary majority adopted the first of the bills, “on transparency of foreign influence,” in the first reading.
The legislative deliberations inspired massive protests as tens of thousands rushed to the parliament building over the past two days. On both protest nights, riot police used water cannons, tear gas, and pepper spray to disperse the crowds, only to see large groups of protesters reassemble and continue their resistance.
The situation was particularly dramatic on the night of March 8-9, when protesters turned to blocking roads, building barricades, and dancing to police sirens in response to the police’s use of force. Over 130 persons were detained during the protests, according to official sources.
The adoption of the first bill in the first reading came amid enormous international pressure. In particular, Brussels made it clear that adopting the “foreign agents” bill would go against the country’s declared (and constitutionally enshrined) path of European integration and threaten the country’s bid to receive EU candidate status later this year.
The United States echoed the sentiment. “Today is a dark day for Georgia’s democracy,” said the US Embassy in Tbilisi. “Parliament’s advancement of these Kremlin-inspired laws is incompatible with the people of Georgia’s clear desire for European integration and its democratic development.”
Following the bill’s defeat, Georgian Dream struck isolationist and ultraconservative notes in its justification of the law. Party chairman Irakli Kobakhidze praised the bill for exposing organisations that engage, among other things, in “LGBT propaganda” and “denigration of the Church.”