What is Georgia’s ‘foreign agents’ bill and why is Europe so alarmed?


Georgia’s parliament is set to pass a highly controversial “foreign agents” bill, which has sparked widespread protests in the former Soviet republic nestled in the Caucasus Mountains.

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated against the law in Tbilisi, the capital. Critics warn that it mirrors a foreign agents law already passed in Russia and could jeopardize Georgia’s bid for the European Union.

But Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze said the government was not considering “substantial changes” to the bill and pledged to pass it on Tuesday, when lawmakers in the former Soviet country are expected to vote.

Here’s what you need to know about the bill and the outcry it caused.

The bill would require organizations receiving more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad to register as “agents of foreign influence” or face crippling fines.

The legislation was drafted by the Georgian Dream party, which with its allies controls parliament. The proposal will be voted on Tuesday and is expected to be adopted.

Georgian President Salome Zurabichvili called the bill an “exact copy” of her Russian counterpart in an interview with CNN.

She has vowed to veto the bill, but that doesn’t mean much. The Georgian government is a parliamentary system, so Zurabichvili is in reality a figurehead. The real power lies with Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze. The billionaire founder of Georgian Dream, former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, also wields significant political influence.

Some reasons.

The proposed law is modeled after a similar law in Russia, which the Kremlin has used to increasingly stifle opposition and civil society. Many Georgians fear their foreign agents bill could be used in the same way as their northern neighbor: to stifle dissent and free speech by targeting nongovernmental organizations with financial ties abroad.

Georgian Dream says the legislation will promote transparency and national sovereignty and has hit back at Western criticism of the proposal.

But the possible adoption of the law touches on a more existential question: does Georgia’s future depend on Europe or Russia.

Georgia, like Ukraine, has been caught between two geopolitical forces since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Many Georgians feel deep hostility toward the Kremlin, which invaded Georgia in 2008 and occupies about 20 percent of its internationally recognized territory — roughly the same proportion as Russia occupies in Ukraine.

Georgian Dream has long been accused of harboring pro-Russian sympathies, especially since Ivanishvili made his fortune in the Soviet Union.

Passionately. So much so that lawmakers at one point came to blows over the bill.

A poll shows that around 80% of Georgians favor joining the European Union rather than drifting further into the Kremlin’s orbit, and many of those favor deepening ties with the West took to the streets.

Mass protests against the bill have been taking place every night in Tbilisi for a month. About 50,000 people came out Sunday evening in the capital, home to around a million residents, to denounce what they dubbed “Russian law.”

There were also counter-protests. The reclusive Ivanishvili was seen giving a rare speech to a crowd of supporters bused to Tbilisi from rural Georgia, where the Georgian Dream enjoys more support.

The speech showed deep paranoia and an autocratic tendency. Ivanishvili claimed Georgia was controlled by “a pseudo-elite nurtured by a foreign country” and vowed to go after his political opponents after October’s elections.

Yes, just last year.

The Georgian government tried to pass the same law, but was forced into an embarrassing revision after a week of intense protests, which saw citizens waving EU flags pushed back by water cannons.

The bill was reintroduced in March, about a month after Kobakhidze became prime minister. This time, authorities appear determined to pass the legislation.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan wrote on X that Washington was “deeply alarmed by Democratic backsliding in Georgia.”

“Georgian parliamentarians face a crucial choice: support the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of the Georgian people or adopt a Kremlin-style foreign agents law that goes against democratic values,” he said. declared. “We stand with the Georgian people.”

The Kremlin claimed the law was being used to “provoke anti-Russian sentiments,” adding that protests against the law were fueled by “external” influences.

“It is now a normal practice of a large number of states which do everything to protect themselves from external influences, from foreign influences on internal politics. And all countries are acting in one form or another, but all these bills pursue the same goal,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in April. “Once again, there is no way to link this bill and the desire to secure Georgia’s domestic politics with some Russian influence; This is not the case.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement earlier this month that she was following developments in George with “great concern” and reiterated Brussels’ unease over the law.

“Georgia is at a crossroads. It must stay the course on the road to Europe,” she declared.


Georgia first applied for EU membership in 2022 and was granted candidate status in December, an important but still early step in the process of joining the bloc. However, Brussels said last month that adoption of the law would have a “negative impact” on Georgia’s path to EU membership.

“Georgia has a vibrant civil society that contributes to the country’s success towards EU membership. The proposed legislation would limit the ability of civil society and media to operate freely, could limit freedom of expression and unfairly stigmatize organizations that provide benefits to Georgian citizens,” EU officials said.

“The EU urges Georgia to refrain from adopting legislation that could undermine Georgia’s path to the EU, a path supported by the overwhelming majority of Georgian citizens.

CNN’s Anna Chernova contributed to this report.

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