A thousand demonstrators, most of them young, were still gathered on Monday May 13 in front of the Parliament of Georgia, a Caucasian country agitated by a massive protest against a law on “foreign influence” accused of diverting Tbilisi from its European path to drag it into Moscow’s orbit.

The protesters, who have been demonstrating since the beginning of April, have nicknamed this text the “Russian law”, because it imitates legislation used by the Kremlin to repress dissenting voices. Despite this opposition, the ruling Georgian Dream party is determined to push the text through a parliamentary vote on Tuesday, after MPs approved it in the legal committee on Monday.

If passed, the law will require any NGO or media organization receiving more than 20 percent of its funding from abroad to register as an “organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power.” The government assures that this measure aims to force organizations to demonstrate more “transparency” about their funding. The law has already been approved during two readings, and requires a third vote.

On Monday, protesters expressed their anger against the project, saying it sabotages their country’s European dreams and endangers democracy. “This law means that we will not join Europe,” worried Mariam Kalandadzé, 22 years old. “We plan to stay here as long as it takes,” she told Agence France-Presse (AFP). Students in the capital, Tbilisi, went on strike on Monday.

Intimidation and repression

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated on Sunday, some staying all night to prevent MPs from entering Parliament. At dawn, AFP saw police officers arrest and assault a group of demonstrators.

The rallies are taking place in a climate of tension, with the authorities having warned that they will arrest people blocking Parliament. “If this law passes, we will gradually become Russia,” said Artchil Svanidze, another 26-year-old demonstrator, seeing it as the opposite of the future he hopes for his country.

The European Union, which granted Georgia official candidate status in December 2023, praised Georgians’ “impressive commitment” to European integration and urged Tbilisi to investigate acts of violence in regard to the demonstrators who have been reported. “We strongly condemn acts of intimidation, threats and physical attacks,” Peter Stano, chief spokesperson for the EU diplomatic service, said on Monday.

The Georgian president, Salomé Zourabichvili, a pro-European in open conflict with the government, should use her veto, but Georgian Dream assures that it has enough votes to override it. The ruling party had already tried to pass this law in 2023, but had to abandon it due to the massive gatherings it had already provoked. His return to the deputies at the beginning of April created a surprise and provoked demonstrations, some of which were violently repressed.

Bidzina Ivanishvili, a wealthy businessman perceived as the shadow leader of Georgia, sees NGOs as an enemy from within serving foreign powers. This man, prime minister from 2012 to 2013 and today honorary president of the Georgian Dream, is accused of affinities with Russia, the country where he made his fortune.