Georgian Parliament Adopts Controversial Law; President Proposes Referendum

The text provoked a storm of demonstrations and Western criticism. The Georgian Parliament definitively adopted the controversial law on “foreign influence” on Tuesday, May 28, thus circumventing the veto of pro-European President Salomé Zourabichvilli. The law, inspired by repressive Russian legislation, was adopted by 84 votes for and four votes against, noted an AFP journalist. Most opposition MPs left the chamber at the time of the vote.

This bill on “foreign influence” was adopted on May 1 in second reading by Parliament. The text notably requires that NGOs and media organizations receiving more than 20% of their funding from abroad register as “organizations pursuing the interests of a foreign power”, under penalty of a fine. A similar law, targeting “foreign agents”, has already been applied in Russia since 2012. It has helped to silence many voices of opponents of Vladimir Putin.

The government led by Irakli Kobakhidze cites a simple obligation of “transparency”. But for its detractors, the law will weaken the activities of the associations concerned. The opposition also sees it as a repressive project, contrary to the process of accession to the European Union.

Strong criticism and call for referendum

At the end of this solemn vote, thousands of people came out to oppose this text, nicknamed the “Russian law”. The head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell said he “deeply regrets” this adoption. He called on this former Soviet republic in the Caucasus to “return firmly to the path of the EU”, while Georgia has been a candidate for membership of the Union since March 2022. Across the Atlantic, the spokesperson for the department of State, also “condemned” a vote ignoring “the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of the Georgian people”.

In an address to the nation on Tuesday evening, Georgian President Salomé Zourabichvilli reacted to this adoption by encouraging Georgians to mobilize in view of the elections scheduled for October 2. “I stand alongside the nation gathered on Rustaveli Avenue this evening! This is the new Georgia, the Georgia of the future!”, she declared in a message published on the social network to the main artery of the capital. She also announced that she will ask for a referendum to be held on this bill, if enough signatures are collected. “Do we want a European future, or slavery under Russia?” she asked.

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