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Georgia, civil society in the streets / Georgia / areas / Home

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Georgia, civil society in the streets / Georgia / areas / Home

Demonstrations in Tbilisi – Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media

The ongoing protests across Georgia against the law on foreign agents, branded by the opposition as a “Russian law”, have resulted in police violence against demonstrators. A worrying sign in an increasingly divided and fragile country

Last week was dominated in Georgia by the discussion of the law on foreign agents and how to impose it on a national and international public opinion increasingly critical of the government.

The parliamentary plenary adopted the first reading of the law with 83 votes, new clashes in parliament and expulsions of parliamentarians. For it to come into force, three are needed: the process of approving the law – if not interrupted – could therefore continue until mid-May.

Outside parliament, the Georgian capital has become the daily scene of large peaceful demonstrations, with a massive police presence. On April 16, when the demonstration was waning, late at night, the security forces violently dispersed the demonstrators still in the square, with episodes of beatings and manhunts. Result: the following day in Tbilisi, but also in other cities in Georgia, there were some of the most well-attended protest marches in recent years.

Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze condemned the protesters during a press conference, calling them destabilizing forces that undermine Georgia’s peace and stability. He accused civil society organizations of attempting to orchestrate a revolution between 2020 and 2022, targeting the Georgian Orthodox Church, promoting LGBT+ rights and allegedly trying to instigate an armed conflict with Russia.

Kobakhidze also criticized President Salome Zourabishvili – who as always is dedicating herself to the country’s pro-European cause – accusing her of allying herself with warmongers and defining her as a foreign agent. She also denounced German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, both critics of the law.

On April 18, prominent members of the European Parliament issued a statement expressing concern that the proposed law on foreign agents could jeopardize Georgia’s aspirations for EU membership.

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Six opposition parties, including Ahali, Girchi — More Freedom, Droa, United National Movement, Lelo for Georgia and Aghmashenebeli Strategy, joined forces to oppose the law and denounced Bidzina Ivanishvili – founder and leader of the ruling Georgian Dream – as a “frightened Russian oligarch” bent on sabotaging Georgia’s European integration efforts.

Oligarch Ivanishvili and the privatization of the state

The return of the so-called “Russian law”, which could only cause public disorder, is a product of the political office of the Georgian Dream, which Ivanishvili is returned to preside.

His presence hovers not only over the return of the law, which would have implications on the ability of NGOs to monitor the result of the vote, as well as what happens in the country’s society and economy in general. Together with the Foreign Agents Law, parliament this week hastily voted on a measure that allows all foreign offshore capital to be brought back into the country without any verification or taxation.

Ivanishvili is on the scent of sanctions, and wants to secure capital, investments and properties. And it seems that he wants to turn Georgia into his personal fort.

The one approved is a law to the person, but it is equally likely that it will become the gateway to Georgia for Russian capital or even other countries seeking a safe haven from sanctions, controls and taxation. In short, a perfect tax haven for storing and laundering even illicit capital.

The privatistic use of the Georgian state by the pressured oligarch is reaching a new, increasingly explicit level. It is not only the government, parliament, judiciary and financial agencies of the country that show signs of private use, but also the security forces.

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Revenge and intimidation

The response of civil society has been courageous and constant. For a week the whole of Georgia, not just the capital Tbilisi, was a country in the grip of a great popular mobilization. In fact, they are not just the continuous self-organised demonstrations, which parade in the evening in front of the buildings of the country’s institutions. There are students taking to the streets, and various organizations and civil society entities.

The women demonstrated on Saturday. The trendy clubs have mobilized. The Armenian and Azerbaijani minorities did not fail to participate. The world of sport, entertainment and art has expressed full support for the freedom of action of NGOs, for their important role, and for the European choice of the country for which this bill is a deliberate and self-inflicted obstacle.

The leaders of the European Union recalled this with a joint statement by the High Representative Joseph Borrell and the Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi, as well as numerous European parliamentarians and politicians. Georgians abroad, whose vote was much discussed in these elections, also mobilized in many cities.

However, the mobilization was marked, as we said, on the night of April 16th by the extreme violence of the police. Aleko Elisashvili, who had attacked the promoter of the law in parliament, had been threatened by him that he would take ten times as many. But in fact they were much more, given that he was the subject of a lynching by the police with all due respect to his parliamentary immunity. He came out with the swollen face and a broken rib .

The role of the head of the police patrols Vazha Siradze stood out in the beating, while as regards the manhunt of the peaceful demonstrators, it was the section of Zviad Kharazishvili known as ‘Khareba’, head of special affairs of the police forces , to become the protagonist of the most ignominious acts. Acts that were not limited to taking place in the streets. Those arrested, 11 more on the night of the 16th, testify and bear the signs of torture.

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Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri was called to account for police violence during a hearing in parliament. In this case too it was forced to be escorted out of the classroom an opposition representative, Salome Samadashvili from Lelo after she protested the beatings of party general secretary Irakli Kupradze and Elisashvili.

In addition to the citizens, the representatives of the opposition, the press also suffered heavily from the repressive hand of the regime. The emergence and abundant documentation of the facts through the chatter of social media has brought the phenomenon of police violence back to the streets, and in recent days the continuous peaceful demonstrations of citizens have not been made violent by the intervention of the police .

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