Georgia actually wants to join the EU and NATO. Now the parliament of the Caucasus republic approves a draft law that points to a stronger orientation towards Russia. Thousands are taking to the streets in Tbilisi, fearing that their country is slipping into authoritarianism.
Tensions are growing in Georgia over the country's foreign policy direction. The parliament in Tbilisi approved a law for so-called foreign proxies in the first reading. Thousands of people gathered in front of the parliament in Tbilisi to demonstrate against the project. They fear that the South Caucasus republic will move away from the European Union and move closer to Russia. Police used tear gas and water cannons against the crowd. According to the independent television station Pireli TV, the protests had previously been largely peaceful. At least one participant threw a Molotov cocktail at police officers.
Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili supported the demonstrators in Tbilisi. "Today you represent a free Georgia that sees its future in Europe and will not let anyone rob that future," she said during a state visit to New York. The President called for the bill to be abandoned and announced her veto against the text. But it can be overruled by parliament, where the ruling Georgian Dream party, which supports the bill, has an absolute majority.
The project envisages registering organizations that receive at least 20 percent of their financial resources from abroad as foreign proxies. They must also submit to the supervision of the Ministry of Justice. Violators are subject to draconian fines. The bill is reminiscent of a law passed in Russia in 2012. The Kremlin has used this extensively to repress media and organizations critical of the government or other critics. Critics see the draft legislation as a harbinger of Georgia's slide into authoritarianism. They also fear that the law will reduce their chances of joining the European Union and NATO.
The small former Soviet republic of Georgia actually aspires to join the two Western alliances. Recently, however, several government measures have fueled fears that the country could turn to Russia. The US Embassy in Georgia, following the passage of the first reading of the "foreign agents" law, said it was "a gloomy day for Georgian democracy". If the government in Tbilisi sticks to the plan, it will damage relations "with its strategic partners".