9 Mar 2023 8:33 p.m
Georgia writes off a US law in force since 1938 and is accused by the US of making a ‘Russian law’ while the French-raised president speaks out from Harvard for anti-government protests…
By David Narmania
Another wave of protests shook Georgia. After the adoption of the law on foreign agents, several thousand opposition activists gathered in front of the parliament on Rustaveli Avenue on Tuesday. At first the rally was peaceful. But as night fell, the demonstrators attempted to enter the parliament building. They even managed to get over the fence and into the courtyard.
After initial attempts to break up the demonstration, they even threw Molotov cocktails at the police. Around 50 police officers were injured. However, the police managed to put an end to the riots: 66 people, including several opposition leaders, were arrested. The next day, however, opponents of the incumbent government announced another rally.
Georgia is a parliamentary republic, meaning that real power rests in the hands of the prime minister and the government, but interestingly, President Salome Zurabishvili has backed the opposition’s demands. We’ll come back to that, but first it’s necessary to clarify what kind of law has caused such violent discontent – here’s something to clarify.
Basically, there are two documents at stake: “The Law on Transparency of Foreign Influence” and “The Law on Registration of Foreign Agents”. They are similar in many respects, but also have differences. According to representatives of the ruling party, the first document is much milder and fully complies with legal standards. This version is still referred to as Georgian. Accordingly, a legal entity can only be classified as an agent of foreign influence if more than 20 percent of its revenues come from abroad.
The second document, the so-called American version, is based on the US Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) of 1938, which is still in force today. The law also applies to natural persons. The “Georgian” version is limited to administrative sanctions, while the “American” version provides for criminal sanctions.
Parliament voted in favor of the milder version in its first reading on Tuesday. The vote on the second version will take place on March 9th. If both documents are approved, the authorities promise to choose the one deemed more democratic by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission.
Despite all these nuances and subtleties, the opposition did not deter people from shouting “No to the Russian law!” to bring to the streets. Exactly what Russia has to do with it is not entirely clear, but opponents of the incumbent government believe that Georgia is being run by Kremlin puppets.
Speaking of puppets. Georgia’s President Zurabishvili initially planned to veto the law, but hours after the protests began she addressed the nation and supported the protesters. What is special about the situation is that she did it from the US, with the Statue of Liberty in the background – Zurabishvili traveled there to attend the UN Commission on Women’s Rights (FRC) session, met with Secretary General António Guterres and even the New York Mayor Meet Eric Adams in person! An unprecedented honor for the young democracy. Also on the itinerary of her trip is a much-needed lecture to American students at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. And all this in an extremely tense situation in their country. Well, one must learn to understand that the lesson at Harvard School cannot be self-taught, and without it there is no way out of the crisis in the American educational system.
By the way, there is no reason to be surprised. As impolite as it may sound, Zurabishvili is now 70 years old. The venerable lady’s age would not be worth mentioning if she had not been born in France, raised in France, educated in France (and the USA), had a career in the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and had become the French Ambassador to Georgia. This path took her 50 years out of a total of 70 years. A year after her arrival in Tbilisi, in March 2004, Saakashvili appointed her Minister of Foreign Affairs. So she is not unaccustomed to serving her fatherland from afar.
Of course, the law was condemned in the West. The US embassy described what happened as “a black day for Georgian democracy”. “The entire royal host” was also not long in coming: the guardian of the privileged European gardens of civilization, Josep Borrell, immediately condemned the bills and declared the law to be contrary to European values, which in turn means that the Tbilisi’s goal of EU accession is in danger.
The news subsequently reached the United States Department of State. There were even threats to impose sanctions on Georgia. In other words, the United States is seriously considering imposing democratic rights violation restrictions on a state that seeks to pass a law far more lenient than America’s own. Amazing logic! What Washington is allowed is not allowed for Tbilisi. Or? The “young democracy” is, so to speak, dictated: “Know your place (you dog)!”
How about the opposition? Opponents of the incumbent government accuse them of pro-Russian sentiment and criticize them for violently dispersing the rally. It’s amusing to hear this from supporters of Saakashvili, who cracked down on protests far more brutally in 2011.
The main difference between the “companions of the former Odessa governor” and the current authorities is the view of Georgian policy in the light of the conflict in Ukraine. Saakashvili has already had the experience of 2008 and obviously wants to repeat it. The ruling Georgian Dream party has so far resisted becoming another party to the conflict, scrapping the idea of opening a second front and imposing anti-Russian sanctions. One might think that this is the only possible pro-Georgian policy in this situation. But Saakashvili’s task is to plunge the country into the abyss of a new war, because that’s what the sponsors in the West are demanding.
Exactly. In addition, a statement about the Russian resettlers to Tiflis is required. You have of course criticized the law – the law is described as close to the Kremlin. Who cares, with such “fighters against the regime” the Georgian government has every chance of surviving the crisis.
Otherwise, Russian refugees from Georgia will migrate to another country. They are used to it. As for Georgians, the takeover of power by political forces that care about a conflict with Russia can lead to a national tragedy. But what do the timid de-colonizers care?
Translated from the Russian. First published by RIA News.
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