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Is Georgian Dream About to Start Looking for 'Agents of the West'?

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Wednesday, February 22, 2023
The party People's Power submitted a draft law on the detection of 'foreign agents' to the legislative body. As experts note, this is the transfer of a similar law existing in Russia to Georgia and aims to limit those non-governmental organizations that receive a certain part of their funding from the West. Adopting this law will further distance the current government of Georgia from the West.

It's easy to believe that a few deputies in the parliament, who call themselves People's Power, will not be able to pass any bill and their initiative should not be given much attention, but it must be taken into account People's Power consists of deputies who left the Georgian Dream remain in the parliamentary majority nevertheless.

People's Power announced for the first time on December 29, 2022, that it intends to present a draft law on non-governmental organizations operating with foreign funding. On February 14, 2023, the draft law was officially submitted under the title "On transparency of foreign influence".

According to this bill, a register of agents of foreign influence should be created, where all non-business legal entities and media organizations with more than 20% of their revenues financed by a 'foreign power' should be registered. Avoiding registration, as well as the failure to submit the financial declaration within the time limit set by the law, should be fined in the amount of 25 thousand GEL.

There are other obligations, the non-fulfillment of which also provides for fines. In addition, payment of the fine does not release the entity from the obligation to register as an 'agent of foreign influence'.

People's Power claims that the said draft law is mainly created according to the relevant legislation in force in the USA and also takes into account "the best practices of other democratic countries". However, the representatives of the opposition are more reminded of the law on 'foreign agents' adopted in Russia, which has existed in this country since 2012 and has been gradually expanded over time - it has also been extended to individual citizens and activists.

In 2022, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russian legislation on foreign agents violated human rights. It is also worth noting that a similar Russian law on 'foreign agents' has been in force in Hungary since 2017, although according to the decision of the European Union Court, the said Hungarian law contradicts the legislation of the European Union.

The representatives of the Georgian Dream do not disagree with the bill on 'agents of foreign influence' and noted that they have nothing against it in principle. Mikheil Sarjveladze, the chairman of the Human Rights Protection Committee of the Parliament, said that "the public has the right to see who is being financed and how".

Deputy Rima Beradze, a member of the Georgian Dream, states that although the financing of non-governmental organizations is still transparent today, the draft law on 'agents of foreign influence' will add 'more light' in this regard. Irakli Kadagishvili, the Committee on Procedural Issues and Rules Chairman, noted that the adoption of this law "will be useful for everyone".

The opposition directly criticizes the Georgian Dream and considers it to be the real author of the bill introduced by People's Power. Lelo representative Davit Usupashvili believes that People's Power directly voices Bidzina Ivanishvili's interests and initiates "the existing law in Moscow". The Georgian Dream declares everyone who takes a pro-Western position as a 'foreign agent'.

According to the opposition, the purpose of the bill is short and clear: to smear the reputation of non-governmental organizations and critical media organizations that receive grants from international, authoritative, democracy-oriented organizations. In short, in this way, the critical media and the third sector disappeared in Putin's Russia. It should be noted that the proxy regime of Abkhazia intends to adopt a similar law on 'foreign agents'. According to the opposition, the non-governmental sector, which receives support for projects important to democracy, receives transparent funding and has nothing to hide. The West transparently finances non-governmental organizations, but the funds received from Russia are completely concealed. People's Power and the Georgian Dream have not said a word about this. Badri Japaridze, General Secretary of Lelo notes that the Georgian Dream has not identified even one Russian agent during its 10-year rule.

There is also an opinion that talking about the bill on agents of foreign influence is a kind of tactic of the ruling party, by which it intimidates the opposition forces inside the country and also tries to respond to a frequent criticism from the West. However, the situation is such that there is no time for such 'maneuvering'. In today's international situation, copying the 'Putin model' is certainly possible, but it is hardly a rational step.