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Rallies against law on “foreign agents” to continue until coalition government replaces Georgian Dream via elections, protesters say

Students protest against Georgia’s law on “foreign agents” in the country’s capital, Tbilisi. Photo: OC Media


Mass protests in Tbilisi against Georgia’s law on so-called “foreign influence,” which opponents see as an analog of the Russian law on “foreign agents,” have entered their second month. The protesters believe that the document threatens civil society and civil liberties while simultaneously hindering any potential rapprochement with Europe. Last year, Georgia was granted the status of a candidate country for membership in the European Union (EU), but European politicians are now openly stating that EU membership for Georgia is out of the question until the law is repealed. The possible abolition of Europe’s visa-free regime for Georgian citizens, in force since 2017, and even the imposition of sanctions, are being discussed.

The Georgian parliament passed the law on “foreign influence” on May 14, but President Salome Zourabichvili has vetoed it. Opponents of the law expect the parliament to override the veto — and intend to continue the fight against it. The Insider spoke with protesters about who is coming to the rallies, what they hope to achieve, and what the future holds for Georgia if it turns its back on integration with the EU.

“A people's protest”

Bachi, a regular participant in the rallies, told The Insider that the protests have no leaders and professional politicians do not play a significant role in them:

“There are no specific leaders or political figures who organized the protests. Of course, there are coordinators who announce dates and locations, and set up the ‘platform’ for speakers, but we call it ‘People’s protest.’ Almost all speakers are ‘regular’ people with no political background, just with the will to live in a better Georgia, without Russian influence and with a pro-European course.”

Another protester named Giorgi explains that there is no political force in Georgia today capable of uniting society and leading the protests against the government:

“As of now, there are some youth movements, such as ‘Jiuti’ (lit. ‘stubborn’ in Georgian), that coordinate massive protests. However, the majority of protesters, including myself, participate without being part of any political party or movement. It’s important to mention that there are no specific leaders directing the protests because the opposition parties in Georgia are quite unpopular. I think it’s quite similar to what happened in Russia or even in Hungary, where the opposition is so marginalized that some people prefer tolerating injustice just to maintain the status quo.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how the government can be changed through elections when the public support is definitely against the government, but not in favor of the opposition parties either. There are many videos and posts on social media where young people try to protest the law and the government while distancing themselves from the opposition parties and their leaders at the same time.”

From autocracy to coalition government

Protesters interviewed by The Insider are convinced that the confrontation provoked by the law on “foreign agents” law will continue at least until Georgia's parliamentary elections, set to be held in October.


“I’m not sure whether the protests will be as large as they were weeks ago; however, I can tell you for sure that opposition to the law and the government will remain strong until the elections. For now, I believe most protesters are looking forward to the response of the West to the passing of this law, which includes sanctioning the lawmakers who supported it and taking concrete actions rather than just making statements.”


“I think everyone is certain that parliament will override the veto. They [Georgian Dream] have more than enough votes to override it. Although it is natural that the protest will weaken eventually, I think that the majority of us realise that these protests do not end here in the streets of Tbilisi or other big cities.
We realise that we should continue voicing our opinions. We know that if we want this processes to be fruitful in the end, and if we want to receive the result we all strive for during elections, we need to explain the pros and cons of the law to other people, those who are somewhat neutral towards these processes or who think that this bill will not affect them.
Our ‘fight’ should [continue] by conveying valid and well-argued facts to every citizen in order to weaken the propaganda and misinformation spread by our government.
Communication with people who don’t understand the danger behind the processes that happen in the Georgian government is essential. There is no future in autocracy. We (and by ‘we’ I mean myself and like-minded people) want multi-party government without oligarchy. Our future and final fight must be during elections where we will overthrow the pro-Russian government. We want a coalition government.”

Another protester, Tsotne, told The Insider that the Georgian Dream party has already lost the support of the majority of the population and will not be able to win the elections in a fair way:

“Today, the ruling party ‘Georgian Dream’ no longer has many supporters, with at most 35-40% of the population supporting them. Many people hope that they will be defeated in the elections, leading to a coalition government in parliament. However, I think the ‘Georgian Dream’ will try to stay in power by falsifying the elections. For me, this is the biggest threat, so we must prevent them from rigging the elections. This is why our protest must continue strongly and persistently. Strong protests will help get the international community involved and push for sanctions against ‘Georgian Dream’ representatives. Over time, this will weaken the government's power and reduce its support.”

“Russification means regression”

The Insider's interlocutors are determined to continue protesting, as they are convinced that the refusal to integrate with the EU will lead Georgia to a rapprochement with Russia — which will ultimately lead the country backwards.


“I think there is a real possibility that the EU will bring the threat to completion if the bill passes. Having a candidate status does not guarantee anything yet. I think all the benefits we were given before can be taken away if we prove that our goals differ from the goals of the EU.
I personally believe that our future depends on this bill a lot, since adopting this law can cause a lot of negative backlash, which will put us, the citizens of Georgia, under attack. The oligarch [Bidzina Ivanishvili — The Insider] and his circle are clearly feeling safe the way they are right now.
Russification is not the future our ancestors wanted for this country, and certainly, this is not something we want for our families and our country. If the country changes its direction towards Russia and the government denies us every possibility and opportunity to be part of the EU, I personally think that the problem with migration [out of Georgia] will escalate further. No one wants to stay in a country that goes through regress instead of progress — especially my generation, who lived with certain perks and will have to adapt to the reality where these perks are taken away from them. If we are put in a situation where we no longer see a positive outcome, I think it will cause young people to leave Georgia actively. To be honest, I hear this a lot from people around me.”


“The adoption of the law will definitely have an influence on Georgia’s European integration, which has been made very clear by statements from European leaders and politicians. I believe that it will cause some people to leave the country and seek opportunities in Western countries, probably in the EU and the United States. However, I personally want to tell you that I’m not planning to leave this country in the near future, as I believe that the future is in our hands, the young people. Even if the entrance to the EU is delayed, which I hope it won’t be, I will not let my country revert to a Soviet-style system.”


“I am sure that Georgia's European future depends on rejecting this law. As for young people, we believe we still have a lot to fight for regarding the country's European integration. No one is thinking about leaving the country yet. We are all sure that no one can decide our European future without us.”

On May 23, Sozar Subari, a member of the Georgian parliament from the People’s Power party, told reporters that the vote to override the president's veto will take place at a session on May 28. “It will happen easily and fairly,” the MP said.

25% of Georgians said they were ready to vote for Georgian Dream in the fall of 2023, according to a survey of public opinion conducted by the Washington D.C.-based International Republican Institute.

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