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Ukrainian NGOs voice support for Georgians protesting “Russian-style” foreign agents law

Ukrainian NGOs express solidarity with massive protests in Georgia against a Russian-style “foreign agents” law targeting civil society. They warn the law pushed by the ruling pro-Russian party risks establishing a dictatorship & derailing EU integration.
Protest in Georgia, 1 May 2024.
Protest against a bill on “foreign agents”, in Tbilisi, Georgia, 1 May 2024. Credit: Irakli Gedenidze, Reuters
Ukrainian NGOs voice support for Georgians protesting “Russian-style” foreign agents law

A statement initiated by PEN Ukraine, a cultural and human rights organization, expresses solidarity with the Georgian people and calls on the international community to defend Georgian sovereignty and human rights.

“We, the representatives of Ukrainian society and independent civil society organizations, are watching with pain the events in Georgia,” the statement says, referring to the government’s efforts to pass a law on foreign agents.”

The law “On Transparency of Foreign Influence” has similarities to the Kremlin’s law on foreign agents. It brought “tens of thousands of protesters to the Georgian streets,” and voting for the law in the second reading on May 1 “further sparked public outcry.” Security forces used brutal force against the protesters, mass arrests began, and many activists were imprisoned.

The legislation is scheduled for its third and final reading on May 17. It would likely stifle NGOs and civil society organizations, including those that monitor election integrity and government corruption.

The statement warns that the law, lobbied by the Georgian Dream party, “contradicts the principles and norms of European law and the democratic world.” It expresses concern that Georgia faces “the threat of the establishment of a dictatorship and the dismantling of the country’s European integration course.”

The signatory organizations, including PEN Ukraine, Centre for Civil Liberties, and others, state: “We express our full solidarity with the Georgian people in their honest struggle against the intentions to swallow up a free Georgia with an authoritarian copy of the ‘Russian world.'” They call on the international community to “stand firmly in defense of Georgian sovereignty and human rights.”

The US State Department told the Georgian authorities that Russia is trying to drag Tbilisi into a war, not the West.

“It is Russia that is dragging Georgia into the war in Ukraine. Russia is starting to build a giant military port in Georgia that Russia occupies (Abkhazia – Ed.). Abductions and sometimes murders of Georgian citizens continue,” he said.

What is known about the situation in Georgia and mass protests?

On 1 May, thousands of protesters gathered outside the Georgian parliament building and attempted to storm it, leading to clashes with police who used tear gas and rubber bullets. Some protesters were injured, including prominent Georgian opposition politicians. The bill passed its second reading in parliament despite the protests.

The situation is described as “heated” with a “red level of danger” declared in parliament on the night of 1 May. The ruling Georgian Dream party, backed by the Russian billionaire of Georgian origin Bidzina Ivanishvili, holds a majority and pushed the bill forward along with the allied pro-Moscow Force in Georgia party.

The people on the streets could not stand it and went to storm the parliament, which cynically turned away from them and did not hear the people’s opinion.

The European Union and the United States have expressed concerns. The EU “proposed to strip Georgia of its candidate status for EU membership.” A US State Department spokesman said the bill and Georgian Dream’s “anti-Western rhetoric” have put Georgia “on a dangerous trajectory” incompatible with EU and NATO values.

The US State Department told the Georgian authorities that Russia is trying to drag Tbilisi into a war.

“It is Russia that is dragging Georgia into the war in Ukraine. Russia is starting to build a giant military port in Georgia that Russia occupies (Abkhazia – Ed.). Abductions and sometimes murders of Georgian citizens continue,” he said.

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said: “Georgia is at a crossroads. It must stay on the course towards Europe.” She condemned the violence and said the Georgian government “must listen to this clear signal” from citizens demonstrating their commitment to democracy.

On April 18, when the draft law on foreign agents passed the first reading, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry called on its “colleagues” to respect the choice of the Georgian people. At the same time, the Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Kobakhidze, said that this law was needed to prevent the “Ukrainization” of Georgia.

“The comments of the Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Kobakhidze, regarding the threat of “Ukrainization” that the draft law is supposedly aimed at countering are outrageous. <…> Russification, not mythical “Ukrainization,” is a real threat to Georgia. Ukraine is interested in a peaceful and friendly atmosphere in Georgia, has always strongly supported and continues to support its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said.

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