Georgia’s Foreign Agents Law and Resulting Protests


Georgia’s Foreign Agents Law and Resulting Protests

22 May 2024

For weeks, tens of thousands of Georgians have taken to the streets of Tbilisi and other cities to protest their government’s attempt to pass a so-called “foreign agents law,” which they claim is intended to neutralize civil society and destroy independent media. Below we offer you FPRI expert commentary on the current situation in Georgia. Robert E. Hamilton What is happening in Georgia is an existential struggle between a robust, pro-Western civil society and an increasingly anti-Western, authoritarian government. The Russian-style “foreign agents law” that Georgia’s parliament recently passed has drawn hundreds of thousands of Georgians to the streets of Tbilisi and other large cities. The protestors claim the law, which requires all organizations receiving 20% or more of their funding from overseas to register as “foreign agents,” will allow the government to shut down independent media and civil society organizations. Indeed, this is exactly what happened in Russia after it passed its own foreign agents law in 2012. The Georgian government claims the law is needed to bring “transparency” into the NGO sector, argues that the Georgian public supports the law, and asserts that it is modeled after the US Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). None of these claims are true. The Georgian government already has full visibility of NGO and media outlet funding: all grant agreements are uploaded onto a government website and the Ministry of Finance has access to their financial records for audit purposes. Far from supporting the law, 68% of the Georgian public calls it unnecessary, and 73% believe the law will hurt Georgia’s chances of joining the EU, something that 90% of the population aspires to. Finally, Georgia’s law has much more in common with its Russian counterpart than the US FARA. The FARA applies explicitly to organizations engaged in political activity and acting at the behest of a foreign government. The Georgian law applies to all organizations that receive 20% or more of their funding from abroad, regardless of whether they engage in political activity. In this way, the Georgian law can be used to target civil society, religious, environmental, media, and other organizations – in essence, any organization the government chooses to target. As one analyst puts it , “ The US law makes no assumption that an organization or a person receiving funds from a foreign power is a foreign agent. The Georgian law assumes that only receiving foreign funds makes an organization a foreign agent.” Georgia’s foreign agent law will give its government a powerful tool to rein in – and eventually destroy – the vibrant civil society and sometimes raucous independent media that have developed in the country’s three-plus decades of independence. This is standard practice for authoritarian regimes, which resent any centers of power and influence that stand between the state and its citizens, and which provide a check against a repressive state. For Georgia’s government, removing that check on its power is a critical step in the consolidation of its authoritarian control. This is the real reason its parliament, which is dominated by the ruling Georgian Dream party, passed the foreign agents law over the expressed wishes of the country’s people. Georgian President Salome Zourabishvili, an increasingly lonely pro-Western voice in Georgia’s government, vetoed the bill on May 18, saying it contradicts Georgia's constitution and “all European standards”. She added that the law is so misguided that it cannot be amended and “must be abolished”. Echoing the language of Georgian protestors and Western governments, Zourabichvili said, “Today I vetoed a Russian law. This law is Russian in its essence and spirit.” Georgia’s parliament can override her veto with a simple majority vote, something its speaker has promised to do, and which the ruling Georgian Dream party has the votes to do. But Georgia’s parliament is increasingly out of step with the people it claims to represent. If it enacts and enforces this law, the Georgian government will overrule the will of Georgia’s president and the majority of its people, and perhaps fatally undermine the European future the to which vast majority of Georgians aspire. For further comments contact: Dato Sikharulidze The re-introduction of the Russian-style “foreign agent” bill can be perceived as a logical continuation of the policy line pursued by the Russian-made oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili since 2013. It represents another bold step toward establishing Russian-style, Russian-influenced kleptocratic authoritarianism in Georgia. This development is consistent with Ivanishvili’s long-term efforts to divert Georgia from democratic development and EU/NATO integration, against the clearly expressed will of the overwhelming majority of Georgians. These efforts include political manipulation, violence, intimidation, propaganda, disinformation, and corruption. Given the drastic drop in public support for the Georgian Dream (GD) party, and its slim chances of victory in the upcoming general elections in October if they are conducted freely and fairly, Ivanishvili appears to be tightening his grip on power through harsh authoritarian measures and openly driving the country into the Russian sphere of influence.   Over the past twelve years, while in power, Ivanishvili has appropriated all state institutions, exercising control or significant influence over much of the private sector. He also funds and controls large media outlets, government-organized non-governmental organizations (GONGOs), and online troll factories, while opposition media outlets are defunded through the use of business pressure. Ivanishvili will use the so-called “foreign agents” bill to undermine independent civil society, cultural and educational organizations, and independent media that receive funding from various EU and US sources, mirroring Putin’s actions in Russia.


Robert E. Hamilton, Miro Popkhadze, Luis Navarro, Batu Kutelia, Vasil Sikharulidze

Published in
United States of America