Prawa autorskie: Fot. Vano SHLAMOV / AFPFot. Vano SHLAMOV / ...

On 2 march, the Foreign Relations Committee and the Defence and Security Committee endorsed two bills in the Georgian parliament

  • ‘On the transparency of foreign influence’
  • and ‘On the registration of foreign agents’.

Both strike hardest at NGOs and the media. Representatives of these sectors were not allowed to attend the committee meeting, which was held in the shadow of protests and clear objections from the opposition.

The ‘foreign agents’ bill was submitted to the Georgian parliament on 14 February on the initiative of one of the parliamentary factions, People’s Power. The faction was formed in August 2022 and consists of former MPs of Georgian Dream, the ruling party in Georgia.

Georgian Dream is the party that has been in power in Georgia since 2012. It was established by Bidzina Ivanishvili, the richest man in Georgia, sometimes referred to as its owner (on the photo above – protests against Ivanishvili in Tbilisi in 2020 – protesters show a picture of him with Kim Jong Un).

Ivanishvili made his fortune on the privatization of the Russian economy in the 1990s. He is accused of maintaining business ties with Russia. Georgian Dream officially declares that it is willing to integrate with Europe and the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance.

But after the escalation of the war in Ukraine, the Georgian government has not introduced any anti-Russian sanctions (not counting economic sanctions). According to Kyiv, it is even helping circumvent them.

Drift towards Russia

A tightening of economic relations between the countries has been visible since February 2022 and democratic standards in Georgia have been deteriorating.

Przeczytaj także:

This indicates a change in the orientation of Georgia’s foreign policy and a drift towards Russia.

It is an open secret that People’s Power is managed by Georgian Dream. Its leader, Sozar Subari, is a former journalist and ombudsman, as well as a former advisor to Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili. He also has extensive experience in working for NGOs.

People’s Power openly opposes the ‘Western conspiracy’, which intends to drag Georgia into a war with Russia.

It justifies the acts it has submitted by the need for transparency and clarity of the financing of NGOs and the Georgian-language media.

A copy of the Russian version?

The group’s representatives call the ‘transparency’ bill the ‘Georgian’ bill and the ‘foreign agents’ bill the ‘American’ bill. The second bill envisages giving the status of ‘foreign agent’ to media, NGOs and all natural and legal persons receiving more than 20% of their funding from abroad.

If the act enters into force

  • ‘foreign agents’ would need to register in the ‘Register of agents of foreign influence’ under the sanction of a fine of 9400 dollars (for legal persons) or imprisonment of up to five years (for individuals);
  • anyone deemed to be ‘foreign agents’ would have to submit annual income declarations, and the Ministry of Justice would have the right to check them.

The ‘foreign agents’ act appears to be a copy of a Russian law that Putin introduced in 2012 and then tightened.

The President of the Russian Federation then drew attention to the neutrality of the word ‘agent’, citing, for example, estate agents and insurance agents. He asked that the word not be given a pejorative meaning. The same arguments were used by the leader of Georgian Dream, Irakli Kobakhidze, when commenting on the bills.

It is worth remembering that, in Russia, the act started to include the media as late as in 2017

It became a tool of repression, led to the destruction of civil society and the complete death of the free media. The result of its enactment was that a number of NGOs in Russia were first declared agents of foreign influence and then delegalized.

Even so, neither People’s Power nor Georgian Dream agree with the opinion that the bill is modelled on Russian law.

According to the leader of Georgian Dream, Irakli Kobakhidze, this bill is very similar to the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). However, he points out that the Georgian variant is decidedly easier and softer, because it is in line with ‘European standards’.

According to the U.S. FARA, which was introduced in 1938, a foreign agent is someone who is either wholly or substantially subsidized from abroad and conducts political or quasi-political activities. He is required to disclose his relationships, as well as his financial ties with the foreign government that supports his activities.

A comparison of the bill proposed by the People’s Power with the U.S. FARA encountered objection from the press officer of the U.S. State Department, Ned Price. He stated that anyone voting for this bill would be directly responsible for destroying Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic future.

Why is Georgia going against the grain?

Both bills have been openly criticized both in Georgia and in the West. In June 2022, Georgia was the only country not to be granted EU candidate status, for which it had applied together with Ukraine and Moldova. The European Commission gave it a chance to be granted a European perspective by the end of 2023 if it fulfils 12 recommendations. Among others, it should focus on improving the rule of law, media freedom and human rights, as well as concentrate on working to reduce corruption, electoral irregularities and de-oligarchization.

According to a poll conducted by the International Republican Institute, 88% of Georgian citizens support EU integration and 75% want to join NATO. The act that Georgian Dream intends to support could affect the country’s integration process with the European Union and the Euro-Atlantic alliance.

A member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, Andrus Kubilius, warned that the bill strikes at the list of reforms that Georgia needs to fulfil to be able to file another application for candidate status. Meanwhile, the EU Ambassador to Georgia, Paweł Herczyński, said the bill is in conflict with the European Commission’s recommendations.

In turn, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, wrote in a letter to the head of the Georgian Parliament that the act could freeze the development of civil society in Georgia.

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili also expressed her objection, promising to veto the act. She considers it an unconstitutional activity and distances Georgia from Europe. However, the parliament can reject the presidential veto.

The opposition Girchi, Droa! and Strategy Aghmashenebeli parties have created a petition in which they want to collect a million signatures to present it to the European Union. In it, they are calling on EU representatives to negotiate on Georgia’s future in the EU with the opposition rather than the government

However, Georgian Dream is fixed on its position. According to netgazeti.ge, Kobakhidze made the assurance that one of the two bills would be enacted. Although he also pointed out that amendments would be introduced into them.

Dimitri Khundadze, one of the leaders of People’s Power, says the bills will be sent to the Venice Commission after they are approved in the first reading. In other words, to the Council of Europe commission that analyses constitutional law. However, he added that, regardless of its assessment, the new law will be enacted before the end of the parliament’s spring session, namely by the end of June.



Stasia Budzisz

Stasia Budzisz, tłumaczka języka rosyjskiego i dziennikarka współpracująca z "Przekrojem" i "Krytyką Polityczną". Specjalizuje się w Europie Środkowo-Wschodniej. Jest autorką książki reporterskiej "Pokazucha. Na gruzińskich zasadach" (Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, 2019).