Protests in Georgia: government withdraws bill

After massive demonstrations, Georgia's government has officially withdrawn its draft law "on the transparency of foreign influence". The law would have made it possible for media outlets, media workers and NGOs to be classified as "foreign agents" and their work restricted, as is already the case in Russia. Europe's press praises the country's civil society and calls for vigilance.

Open/close all quotes (UA) /

Garibashvili in a shaky position

Despite the law's withdrawal the Georgian government's days are numbered, writes Bacho Korchilava, former Georgian press attaché in Ukraine, on

“I think this government will have a hard time in the future. Prime Minister Garibashvili has already resigned once after the brutal suppression of the Gavrilov's Night protests [in June 2019]. ... And now he's made the same mistake again - by daring to go head-to-head with society and have a demonstration dispersed. I think that withdrawing the bill will not help him to keep his position.”

Handelsblatt (DE) /

A model for Europe

Handelsblatt is full of admiration for the protesters:

“That this law has been prevented is solely thanks to civil society, which is prepared to take to the streets for its rights to freedom and to belong to Europe. What's more: the protests in Tbilisi are also clearly directed against Russia's influence in the country, which remains very strong. ... Although Georgia was denied EU candidate status last year, its people are showing us what Europe stands for. People all over Europe should take this as an example - because neither freedom of the press and free speech nor freedom from Russian influence can be taken for granted in this day and age.”

Helsingin Sanomat (FI) /

The West must curb autocratic tendencies

Democracy in Georgia is still in danger, Helsingin Sanomat comments:

“The relationship between Russia and the ruling party Georgian Dream, with its godfather billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, is not quite as simple as the opposition claims. But it is clear that despite their Western rhetoric, those in power are trying to install one-party rule, control the institutions and silence critical media and non-governmental organisations. The 'foreign agents' law was part of this goal. The fact that the bill has been withdrawn does not mean that the danger is over. The West must now try by all means to ensure that Georgia's democracy does not become even more fragile.”

Polityka (PL) /

Don't provoke Moscow

The threat from Russia is immanent for Georgia, Polityka points out:

“No matter who governs in Tbilisi they must take the Russian factor into account and be careful not to give Russia a pretext for a repeat of the 2008 war. That intervention, which lasted a few days, was directed against Georgia's attempts to join Nato. And it was successful: membership of the alliance is unlikely given the occupation of 20 percent of Georgian territory by Russian-controlled quasi-state entities. ... Today's demonstrations are being compared to the Maidan. Back then, Russia reacted by seizing Crimea and part of Donbas.”

Echo (RU) /

Russia working to create belt of unfree states

Publicist Maxim Trudolyubov explains in a Telegram post picked up by Echo, citing similar events in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan:

“Russia's state power encourages the adoption of Russian-style laws wherever it wants to undermine Western influence. ... It is no mere coincidence that laws on foreign agents play a key role in this. The Kremlin disdains the autonomy of individuals and societies and believes that the US is using NGOs to stage revolutions and install pro-Western regimes internationally. ... We need to understand the plans to spread the 'Russian matrix' to neighbouring countries. The way the Kremlin sees it there should not only be no Nato in these countries, but also no free civil society and no free media.”

Echo (RU) /

Witch hunt and a break with Brussels

With the draft law the government risked a deliberate break with the EU, writes Dozhd editor Ekaterina Kodrikadze in a Telegram post republished by Echo:

“Numerous NGOs and independent media receive funds from Western foundations and live off grants - this guarantees freedom of expression. The Georgian authorities will see this as espionage and as foreign agent activity. Yet this state could also see itself as a foreign agent since Georgia receives huge financial support from the EU and the US. Undoubtedly, the bill will make it possible to launch a witch hunt in Georgia to restrict rights and freedoms. Moreover, in my opinion this is a deliberate break with the EU.” (PL) /

Georgians fear their path to Europe will be blocked

Commenting on website, author Ziemowit Szczerek sees parallels with the Ukrainian Maidan:

“This Russian-style law has triggered a similar reaction to Viktor Yanukovych's rejection of European integration in Ukraine, which led to the Maidan protests and rebellion against Russian dominance. Like the Ukrainians back then, the Georgians today fear that all of a sudden their path to the West has been blocked.”

Postimees (EE) /

Putin's influence very conspicuous here

Postimees is alarmed:

“The foreign agents law that is causing an outcry in Georgia looks like a duck, walks like a duck and is optically the same duck as the Russian law of the same name that came into force in 2012. This marked the beginning of the total suppression of free thought and the final downfall of Russia. It's astounding that Putin's influence on the current Georgian leadership is so great that they have already started to copy Russia's repressive laws. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the very hesitant attitude of the Georgian government, which was clearly at odds with the mood among the population, was conspicuous.”

El Mundo (ES) /

The starred flag is its only hope

Brussels must do something, says El Mundo:

“The Kremlin's shadow is again looming over Georgia, which Putin invaded in 2008, occupying a fifth of its territory and lighting the first fuse of the powder keg that has now exploded in Ukraine. A draft law muzzling the press and NGOs has driven thousands of Georgians onto the streets. ... Their democratic aspirations and dream of joining the EU are disappearing down the drain. Georgia is waving its star flag like a flare and demanding help from Brussels, which has so far denied the country candidate status. ... The EU must listen to the sirens before the fire in Russia's backyard engulfs another territory.”