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Echoes of the Kremlin: Georgia’s Troubling Revival of ‘Foreign Agents Law’

Echoes of the Kremlin: Georgia’s Troubling Revival of ‘Foreign Agents Law’
Illustration by jozefmicic via Adobe Stock
Echoes of the Kremlin: Georgia’s Troubling Revival of ‘Foreign Agents Law’
Illustration by jozefmicic via Adobe Stock

On Wednesday 3 April, Georgia’s ruling party, Georgian Dream, announced its intention to reintroduce its so-called ‘Foreign Agents Law’ before Parliament, the bill having originally been dropped in March of last year in the face of massive protests. International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) is concerned about this development and believes it will have a serious detrimental effect on Georgia’s already embattled democracy and further undermine the Georgian people’s European aspirations.

Mamuka Mdinaradze, the leader of Georgian Dream’s parliamentary grouping, stated that the bill remained largely unchanged since last year. As previously, the proposed legislation seeks to create a registry of all non-commercial legal entities and media outlets that receive foreign funding. Should it become law, organisations receiving funding from foreign sources would be required to proclaim that they are ‘carrying out the interests of a foreign power’. Entities that avoid registration will be subject to administrative fines. Georgian Dream argues that, for the sake of transparency and accountability, it is necessary that organisations seeking to influence government decisionmaking and public opinion make clear whether or not they receive foreign funding.

Regrettably, the ‘foreign agents’ initiative is not an isolated incident and must be viewed in the context of wider legislative changes recently proposed by the Georgian government. On 29 February, Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze announced legislation aimed at combating ‘pseudo-liberal ideology’ and ‘LGBT propaganda’. Then, on 4 April, the Georgian Parliament fast-tracked the abolition of mandatory gender quotas for electoral lists. These targeted attacks on core elements underpinning Georgian democracy and the rule of law have been widely perceived as distractions from issues of more everyday concern to the public and a desperate attempt to ‘win over right-wing, far-right, and conservative’ voters in the run-up to autumn’s parliamentary and presidential elections. 

These latest announcements form part of a longer-running and troubling trend, which has seen Georgian Dream increasingly seek to replicate Russian legislation and other Kremlin-imposed measures aimed at squeezing government-critical civil society out of public life, mimicking the authoritarian path which has allowed Russian President Vladimir Putin to cling to power since 1999 on the other side the Caucasus mountains. 

The reintroduction of the Foreign Agents Law, popularly referred to as the ‘Russian Law’ by its opponents in Georgia, risks seriously undermining fundamental freedoms such as those to association, expression, and participation in public affairs. In so doing, Georgian Dream moreover makes a mockery of the country’s recently acquired EU candidate status, which was granted on the understanding that the government would arrest its recent democratic backsliding and take a variety of concrete steps to strengthen democracy and the rule of law in the country. Now, the fear among the Georgian public is that Georgian Dream’s unambiguously anti-EU actions risk scuppering Georgia’s historic opportunity to integrate with the rest of Europe and leave the country isolated at a time when an increasingly assertive Russia is becoming more aggressive in the use of tools of malign influence and disinformation in Georgia.

Similar concerns have been echoed in international reactions to the bill’s reintroduction. The Secretary-General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, lamented that the revival of the bill ‘will actually contradict the whole effort of strengthening the democratic institutions in Georgia’. Meanwhile, Andrius Kubilius MEP wrote that the ‘statement of Georgian Dream is full of Kremlin-style narratives. This is the language of hatred against non-governmental organisations and opposition, as well as against Western institutions […]  This is actually the language of the Kremlin.’ The only foreign politician who openly defended the reintroduction of the Foreign Agents Law was Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, who asserted that ‘no sovereign state wants interference from other countries in domestic politics. This is normal practice.’ The statement has once again highlighted the deepening collusion between the Georgian and Russian governments, which has grown progressively stronger despite the firm opposition of the Georgian public.

‘Not hopelessness, depression, pessimism, or unrest, but preparation,’ such was the rallying cry of President Salome Zourabichvili to the Georgian people. President Zourabichvili has professed her belief that no such destructive policy can prevent a determined nation from achieving its goal – in this case, EU integration. Nonetheless, the impact of the proposed law threatens to be severe and wide-ranging, demanding a firm and unified response from the Georgian people’s international allies. We therefore urge international civil society to:

  • Strengthen advocacy in opposition to the adoption of the Foreign Agents Law; and
  • Ensure continued support to Georgian people, media outlets, and CSOs that have been providing essential services to the most vulnerable when the government has failed to do so.

We also remind Georgian Dream that the Georgian people have demonstrated their unwavering dedication to Georgia’s European integration and the concrete steps that that entails.1

We, therefore, urge all Georgian MPs to vote against the adoption of the bill, which is in clear opposition to both the fundamental freedoms and the aspirations of the Georgian people.


  1. A survey conducted ahead of the European Commission’s 8 November recommendation reaffirms the dedication of the Georgian people to European integration, with an overwhelming 79 per cent expressing support for EU membership. Over the last year, public opinion trends have shown a significant increase in favour of political and economic cooperation with the EU. See more here.
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