Despite massive protests and severe international criticism, Georgia's ruling Georgian Dream party voted through the controversial "foreign agent" law.

"Tbilisi, we hear you! We see you! "

This is how President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola responded to the grave news from Tbilisi, Georgia. 
Yesterday, Georgia’s ruling party, Georgian Dream (GD), adopted the law "On Transparency of Foreign Influence" with a vote of 84 to 30, despite widespread public protests and severe international criticism.

For over a month, Georgians have been demanding a complete withdrawal of the “foreign agents” law, which requires non-commercial legal entities and media outlets that receive more than 20% of their income from abroad to register as organizations serving the interests of a foreign power. Given the parallels with analogous Russian legislation, this law is expected to undermine the opposition and independent media. Protests against the law reflect fears that it will steer Georgia back into the Kremlin's orbit and jeopardize its EU membership prospects. 

Georgia’s President, Salome Zurabishvili, has promised to veto the law on the grounds that it contradicts Georgia’s pro-European aspirations. However, the ruling party has enough votes to override her veto. Several opposition parties and independent MPs announced a boycott of parliamentary work, and a number of opposition parties have expressed their readiness to set aside differences and collaborate with President Zurabishvili to unseat GD in the October 2024 elections. President Zurabishvili confirmed in an interview with CNN that she will lead the pro-European opposition in the upcoming elections. Although she will not run for office, she will, in her words, “serve as a guarantor for the pro-Western and pro-European coalition”. 

Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs James O'Brien traveled to Tbilisi hoping to meet with representatives from government, civil society, and the private sector, as well as with Bidzina Ivanishvili, GD’s founder. Ivanishvili refused the meeting. An influential figure behind Georgian politics, the oligarch has complained of difficulties in accessing billions from Credit Suisse and accused the West of blackmailing Georgia into supporting Russia’s war against Ukraine. In a recent press briefing, Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze suggested that Ivanishvili’s refusal to meet with O’Brien was related to these financial issues. Meanwhile, the country's economy is already suffering. Within 24 hours of the law's adoption, shares of Georgia's leading banks plummeted on the London Stock Exchange.

Some members of GD have expressed a willingness to discuss potential changes to the bill with Western partners following the presidential veto. However, their unwavering commitment to the law leads opponents to view these promises with skepticism. Any consideration of a softer version of the law would undermine the will of the Georgian people. It is crucial for Georgia’s allies to act now in support of the country's European aspirations. 

In the short term, Georgia’s Western allies can impose sanctions on oligarch Ivanishvili and the 84 MPs who supported the Russian law. Looking ahead, the focus will be on the parliamentary elections in October. International pressure on Georgian Dream must be increased, fully supporting Georgian civil society, NGOs, and independent media. Enhanced monitoring is crucial to ensure fair elections and protect voters from intimidation. Opposition parties in Georgia should set aside their differences and unite under a common banner. Their unified goal should be to integrate Georgia into the European Union, as stated in Article 78 of the Georgian Constitution. 


Cover image by Anuka Tsanava (