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Georgian Dream’s shenanigans continue

The past year has seen the Georgian Dream administration engage in a variety of questionable actions. Ranging from laws on “foreign agents” to spreading conspiracy theories, it appears that these moves are designed to question the country’s pro-western orientation. Georgia’s citizens must now use the ballot box to challenge this record of mismanagement.

November 17, 2023 - Mark Temnycky - Articles and Commentary

Georgian dream political event in Tbilisi in October 2021. Photo: Eval Miko / Shutterstock

This year has been one to forget for Georgian Dream. Over the course of 2023, the ruling party within Georgia’s parliament has made questionable decisions, turned heads and upset many of its citizens. Somehow, the political party’s precarious decisions continue. It is as if the governing group has no shame in its decisions.

At the start of the year, Georgian Dream attempted to introduce a bill that shocked many at home and abroad. The proposed piece of legislation, if passed, would “force Georgian organizations to declare themselves as ‘foreign agents’ if they received 20 per cent or more of their funding from international donors.” The bill sparked outrage, with the opposition stating that Georgian Dream was attempting to target its opponents. After much pushback, the proposed piece of legislation was withdrawn.

One would assume that Georgian Dream would have learned its lesson when proposing controversial legislation, but it clearly did not. Following the failed “foreign agent” bill, the party introduced a controversial new law. In this legislation, authorities would be permitted to “increase the duration of covert surveillance”. Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili and the opposition immediately spoke out against the bill. President Zourabichvili said it would “restrict human rights”, but her pleas were ignored.

By the summer, Georgian Dream was caught up in another scandal. In a report from the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, the political party was deemed to have “unlawfully obtained and purposefully edited audio recordings from an opposition media newsroom”. President Zourabichvili requested that the Commission, the “Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters”, swiftly investigate the incident. The European body stressed that “covert surveillance measures should be cautiously worded and narrowly interpreted by state agencies and courts.”

Matters became worse when it was discovered that Georgian Dream sought to strengthen relations with Russia. This summer, a ban on flights from Georgia to Russia was lifted. Russia also removed visa restrictions on Georgian nationals, making it easier for them to visit the Russian Federation. This was all done while Russia continues to occupy regions within Georgia, something they have done since 2008. At the same time, Georgian Dream withdrew from its observer membership with the Party of European Socialists. This suggested that the ruling party in Georgia was seeking to rebuild its relationship with Russia while also distancing itself from Europe and its institutions.

Finally, this autumn, Georgian Dream made baseless claims that pro-European politicians in Georgia, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Ukraine were all orchestrating a coup against the Georgian government. According to these false claims, pro-European officials were planning to “overthrow the state”. The Georgian officials were apparently receiving assistance from USAID and were planning a revolution. Finally, Ukraine would provide military assistance to Georgian fighters currently in the country who would begin the coup. The Georgian State Security Service attempted to aid Georgian Dream in these allegations as well. To date, there is no evidence to support any of these claims. Instead, Georgian Dream is attempting to spread fear across the country to remain in power.

Now, Georgian Dream’s latest attempts highlight the poor and questionable decisions it has made this year. Last month, Georgia’s leading political body attempted to impeach President Zourabichvili after she met with European officials to discuss Georgia’s potential candidacy to become a member of the European Union. The president had not previously received permission from the government, and Georgian Dream wanted to punish the president for her actions. It is worth noting that Georgian Dream denied several previous requests by President Zourabichvili to visit European and Ukrainian officials this year.

Despite its attempts, the impeachment bid fell short. Of the 100 votes needed to impeach the president, only 86 lawmakers voted in favour of the motion. Georgia’s Constitutional Court, influenced by Georgian Dream, stated that the president had “violated the constitution”. However, the impeachment inquiry failed.

Georgian Dream is now getting desperate in its attempts to hold onto power. Having failed to persuade individuals about the false coup attempts, and following the inability to impeach the president, the ruling Georgian party is making a new avenue of inquiry. Last month, Georgia’s ruling party “passed controversial amendments to the country’s law on protest”. The revisions stated that protestors are prohibited from “erecting ‘temporary constructions’ that are considered to cause a threat to protestors, prevent police maintaining public order, or obstruct the ‘normal operation’ of an enterprise”. Citizens believed that the new law would prohibit them from pitching tents, putting up stages and sound equipment, or building fires to keep warm during rallies in the cold winter months. If the authorities deemed that individuals had broken the law, they could be placed into administrative detention for up to 15 days.

Overall, Georgian Dream has had a horrendous year. The ruling party, on numerous occasions, has attempted to silence the voices of the opposition. It has sought to undermine opposition parties as well as the president of Georgia. Finally, it has sought to impose its will upon the citizens of Georgia, pursuing anti-western practices.

But not all hope is lost. Next year, Georgia will have new parliamentary elections. Given Georgian Dream’s widespread unpopularity, it would be a surprise if the party remained in power. The Georgian president, opposition groups and Georgian citizens all support closer relations with the West. They want their country to become an EU candidate, and they want to enjoy the benefits of having a true democracy, a strong economy and being part of western institutions.

Given the current course, Georgian Dream’s days appear to be numbered. Georgian citizens will soon have a chance to change the trajectory of their country. It could also be a historic moment that will help them finally return to the path of European integration.

Georgia’s citizens must not squander such a moment. It is a gift. Citizens of other countries throughout the world have died fighting for such an opportunity.

Mark Temnycky is an accredited freelance journalist covering Eurasian affairs and a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. He can be found on X @MTemnycky


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