GD announced withdrawal of the draft law on “agents of foreign influence”
On 9 March, in the early morning, the political council of Georgian Dream, People’s Power, and the parliamentary majority issued a joint statement announcing the withdrawal of the draft law on “agents of foreign influence”.
However, they claimed that “The false label of “Russian law” was attached to the draft law, and its adoption in the first reading was presented as a departure from the European course in the eyes of a part of the public”. The parliamentary majority also blamed the “radical” opposition for involving some of the youth in illegal activities. According to their statement: “As the emotional background subsides, we will better explain to the public what the bill was for and why it was important to ensure transparency of foreign influence in our country. To do this, we will start meetings with the population and let the general public know the truth about each and every detail of the matter.”
Georgian society met GD’s promise of withdrawal with moderate skepticism, highlighting a number of previous cases when the ruling party did not deliver on their promises. Therefore, another demonstration has been announced for the evening of 9 March, citing the need from the ruling party to clearly define how they are going to withdraw the law, as well as, to demand the release of people detained during the protests in previous days.
EU Delegation in Georgia welcomed nnouncement by the ruling party to withdraw draft legislation and encouraged all political leaders to resume pro-EU reforms, in an inclusive and constructive way.
MEP Violla von Cramon also responded, welcoming GD’s decision, highlighting that “all this drama could have been avoided” and calling on the Georgian Government to focus on 12 priorities.
MEP Miriam Lexmann also tweeted, welcoming the news and stressing that “The only radical forces and the only machine of lies in this damaging episode proved to be the ruling party.”
For information: according to Georgian legislation, a draft law that has been adopted in the first hearing can not be withdrawn, but can only be rejected in the second reading. The parliamentary majority’s statement did not mention the second draft law on the same issue, which has not yet been discussed in the plenary session.
Another Day, Another Demonstration, Another Crackdown
8 March marked another day of protest in Georgia. Citizens holding flags of Georgia and the EU started to gather in the afternoon. The demonstration started at 7 PM.
Tens of thousands of people gathered in front of the Parliament in Tbilisi. leader of the Strategy Aghmashenebeli party – Giorgi Vashadze laid out the demands, calling on authorities to release the prisoners from the day before and withdraw the law on so-called “agents of foreign influence”. the authorities are given a 1-hour time limit to fulfil the demands.
After the ruling party did not respond, some participants of the rally started to encircle the parliament. They started to bang on iron barricades at the entrance of the back side of the Parliament, later broke them and threw eggs and stones at the windows of the building. special forces soon used water cannons and tear gas against the protesters. At the same time, big amount of people remained on the front side of the building, peacefully pursuing their protest. However, The riot police started dispersing protesters gathered near the parliament building. Water cannons, tear gas and pepper spray have been used against the protesters. Part of the protesters then moved to the House of Justice and blocked the road. Protesters also attempted to return back to the Parliament building, but riot police again used tear gas against them.
For information, the representatives of the “People’s Power” movement formed by the deputies who left the “Georgian Dream” and still remain in the parliamentary majority, initiated 2 draft laws on the so-called “foreign agents”, that were met with harsh criticism from the representatives of various groups of society, as well as the European Union, the USA, NATO, and UN. Despite this, the “Georgian Dream” decided to support the bills. the adoption of the draft law in the first reading on 7 March was met with protests on the same day, the demonstration was dispersed with the use of pepper spray, tear gas, and water cannons.
GD chair criticized the manifestation of the 7 March
On 8 March, in the morning, the chairman of Georgian Dream – Irakli Kobakhidze commented on the developments of the last day. He blamed the opposition, saying that they are hypocritical, while the so-called law on “foreign agents” is not Russian, but American, which is in compliance with human rights standards. According to him, it is a lie that this draft law distances Georgia from the EU. He also stated that Maidan caused war and occupation in Ukraine and said that they would not allow another revolution of spies: “We will act not according to the agenda of the radicals, or the agenda of Viola von Cramon, but in accordance with the interests of the Georgian society. Of course, we will not allow a new revolution of spies. We remember what it brought to the state in 2004-2012. We lost 20 percent as a result of what Mikheil Saakashvili did.”
International response regarding ongoing developments in Georgia
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova responded to the statement by EU High Representative Josep Borrell regarding the developments in Georgia through her Telegram channel: “Borrell said that the Law on Foreign Agents, which is being protested in Tbilisi, did not comply with EU values. Now it is understandable why the US has not joined the EU – this law has been adopted since 1938”.
Meanwhile, a number of partners of Georgia commented on the recent developments as well.
President of the European Council – Charles Michell made a statement, stressing that the adoption of the “foreign influence” law is not compatible with the EU path.
President of Ukraine – Volodymyr Zelensky also addressed the Georgian people. Zelensky thanked the Georgian people for coming to the demonstrations with the Ukrainian flag and stated: “We want to be in the EU and we will be. We want Georgia to be in the European Union, and I am sure it will be. We want Moldova to be in the EU and I am sure it will be”.
Prime Minister of Estonia, Kaja Kallas also commented: “Events in Georgia remind us that democracies may also gradually erode at the hands of elected leaders”, she tweeted. Georgian Ambassador Archil Karaulashvili has been summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia in connection with the so-called foreign agents draft law.
The Foreign Ministers of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania released a statement on the developments in Georgia. The Ministers called on the Parliament of Georgia to responsibly assess the real interests of the country and refrain from decisions that may undermine the aspirations of Georgia’s people to live in a democratic country that is advancing towards the EU and NATO. The Ministers also called on the Government of Georgia to respect the right of people to a peaceful protest. According to their statement: “The first reading of the law on foreign agents passed by the Georgian parliament raises serious questions about the prospects of democracy in Georgia.”
A number of MEPs also commented on the developments in Tbilisi. MEP Thijs Reuten stated: “adoption of the Russian-style foreign agent law is a vote against Georgia’s EU perspective, against democracy, and against the country’s own citizens. Georgia is Europe”. According to him, S&D group requested special debates on Georgia in the EP plenary session next week. Rasa Juknevičienė appealed to the ruling party of Georgia to listen to people, highlighting that “Georgia belongs in Europe. Foreign Agent Law proposal jeopardises the continuation of Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic path”. Markétka Gregorová called on GD to “stop this madness, stop Foreign Agents Law”. Viola Von Cramon tweeted, calling on Georgian people not to despair, because “Our doors remain open for any society that values freedom and other EU Values. You have proven it many times that you belong to Europe”. Later, 16 MEPs from different party groups released a joint statement on the “foreign agent” law, stating that “ this law is incompatible with EU values and standards and seriously jeopardises Georgia’s pro-European path. Georgia’s vibrant civil society has made a significant contribution to democratic reforms and preparing the country for its EU membership application.” MEPs urged “Georgian authorities to refrain from further attempts to discredit and limit the role of civil society, and instead to foster an environment of cooperation in the pursuit of EU candidate status”. Standing Rapporteur on Georgia Sven Mikser and chair of the delegation for relations with the South Caucasus Marina Kaljurand also issued a joint statement, saying that by adopting the law in the first reading “our Georgian colleagues ignored unanimous criticism expressed by Georgia’s civil society and western partners. We are deeply concerned by this move, which goes directly against the Georgian authorities’ declared ambition to receive candidate status for EU membership”. According to the statement, “the new law seems to be inspired by the nefarious Russian law on foreign agents passed in 2012, which has led to suppressing civil society and critical public opinion in Russia. It is blatantly inconsistent with the priorities identified by the European Commission, which the Georgian authorities need to tackle urgently if they genuinely wish their country to be granted EU candidate status. It might as well be unconstitutional, as the President of Georgia rightly underlined it”. They urged Georgian authorities to uphold their commitment to addressing the twelve priorities and the Georgian people’s constitutional right to protest peacefully as well as to reject this law.
During the press briefing, US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said: “We are standing with the people of Georgia and the aspirations that they have.” He expressed his hope that the government of Georgia reflects these aspirations. The spokesperson stressed that they have made their view in regard to draft laws on so-called agents very clear to the government of Georgia, stressing that: “There are number of countries and entities around the world who share these concerns, we have heard from the EU, we have heard from the UN, but the voices that we are listening to most closely are the voices on the ground in Georgia and we have heard a strong protest and concern expressed on the part of Georgian civil society, civil society groups, of independent actors, who are, I would argue, legitimately concerned that the passage and ratification of these laws would hamper and hinder their ability to exercise very universal rights that are at play in these protests.” Ned Price also urged the Georgian government to respect the rights to assembly and peaceful protest and called on both sides to refrain from escalation or violence and respect the rule of law as well as Georgia’s democratic values. He mentioned the draft law on so-called “agents of foreign influence” as Kremlin-inspired and once again stressed that pursuing it is incompatible with the European integration of Georgian people and will endanger Georgia’s Euroatlantic future.