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Georgians want a better future

Last year, Georgia’s government proposed a controversial “foreign agents” law similar to that in Russia. While protests forced the authorities to back down at the time, a renewed attempt has resulted in more demonstrations demanding a European future for the country.

May 15, 2024 - Mark Temnycky - Articles and Commentary

Protest march in Tbilisi on April 28th. Photo: Jelger Groeneveld / Flickr.com

Over the past several days, thousands of Georgians have gathered in Tbilisi to protest Georgian Dream’s latest gaffe. During the demonstrations, Georgian citizens have called for stronger ties with the European Union, and they have demanded that their government sever ties with Russia.

These demands have been apparent for quite some time. Last year, the ruling Georgian Dream party proposed a bill that would require organizations to register themselves as foreign agents if they received funds and donations from foreign entities. The bill was immediately criticized by Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili, members of the Georgian opposition, and most Georgian citizens. They argued that this would ostracize a significant portion of Georgia and that this was an attempt by Georgian Dream to gain further control. Given the backlash to the bill, the ruling party decided to scrap the proposal.

The legislation, however, has now returned. Failing to learn from last year’s error, Georgian Dream introduced the legislation again. Unsurprisingly, it was met with stiff opposition. Critics of the bill have stated that several nongovernmental organizations would be forced to shut down. In addition, the European Union noted that pursuing such legislation would damage potential integration efforts with the West, as it would undo government reform. Despite these calls for concern, Georgian Dream has decided that they will still review the proposed legislation. Rather than doing what the country has called for, members of the ruling party are only exploring avenues that would benefit themselves.

Now, it appears that the renewed foreign agent law may be the last straw for Georgian Dream. For several years, the ruling party has made questionable decisions. The government has opted to strengthen its relationship with Russia while distancing itself from the EU. Georgian Dream increased surveillance on civilians. The ruling party has also targeted political opponents. Recently, it even fabricated a narrative that EU-friendly members of the Georgian parliament were orchestrating a coup. Finally, despite previous cooperation with Ukraine in its European integration efforts, the Georgian government accused the Ukrainians of meddling in Georgian affairs. Georgian Dream even went as far as to say that the Ukrainian authorities were trying to overthrow the Georgian government.

Now, the Georgian people have had enough. Georgian citizens have continued to show their dislike toward the ruling party. They have called for better socio-economic opportunities within Georgia, for their government to strengthen ties with European institutions, and for a better future for their country.

This was most evidenced by the March for Europe demonstration that was organized by Georgian citizens. During the event, thousands of Georgians were seen waving the flag of the European Union. They were chanting slogans in favour of European integration, and many participants stated that Georgia’s future belongs in Europe.

Given these developments, it appears that Georgian Dream’s days are numbered. According to recent polling, only one-quarter of Georgians favour the ruling party. Many citizens are beginning to distance themselves from Georgian Dream and are supporting other groups.

It is unclear how the current debate on the foreign agent law will unfold but what is certain is that Georgian citizens want a better future. The outcome of these events will be most apparent this autumn, when Georgian citizens will make sure that their disdain for Georgian Dream is noted. Later this year, millions of Georgians will gather at the polls for the October 2024 parliamentary elections. During this period, many Georgians will opt to vote for political candidates who have campaigned for Georgian integration with the West and improved living standards in the country. This will likely result in a decline in seats for Georgian Dream during this year’s election.

As for Georgian Dream, it is unlikely that anything will change. Over the past several years, the ruling party has made several questionable decisions attempting to delay or reverse progress regarding European integration. Georgian citizens have made their positions well known, having protested against several Georgian Dream policies and decisions. Even if Georgian Dream was to withdraw the foreign agent bill, it is unlikely that this would mend relations with Georgians. In other words, the damage has been done. It would be surprising if Georgian Dream retained its majority status in the Georgian parliament following the elections.

In short, much is at stake for Georgia. The outcome of the parliamentary elections will clearly impact the future of the country. While there is uncertainty regarding how events will unfold, the current situation surrounding Georgian Dream’s recent decision to reintroduce the foreign agent bill suggests that Georgians have had enough with the ruling party. Georgian citizens want a country that will bring them new opportunities and standards of living. They want a government that will take European integration seriously, as well as leaders that will pursue anticorruption efforts and reform campaigns in their country.

Georgia’s future is bright. It is time for Georgians to take a stand and secure a better tomorrow.

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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