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Georgia Parliament Erupts in Brawl Over “Foreign Influence” Bill

Clashes broke out in Georgia’s parliament on Monday over the government’s reintroduction of a controversial bill. The law on “foreign influence”, which critics say reflects repressive Russian legislation used to silence and intimidate dissidents. The ruling party Georgian Dream announced the proposal earlier this month, reviving a similar bill that was abandoned a year ago after mass protests. A video of a parliamentary hearing showed an opposition parliamentarian hitting a ruling party legislator on the head who co-sponsored the bill, leading to fights and disruption of the live broadcast.

The fight occurred as dozens of Georgians demonstrated outside parliament against the proposed law, which they say undermines the candidacy of Georgia to be a member of the European Union (EU). Before a demonstration planned for Monday night, protesters could be seen unfurling a large EU flag and shouting: “No to Russian law!” “Georgia’s society is strong enough not to allow the country to slide into Russian-style authoritarianism,” said Saba Gotua, an architect.

“We will not allow Georgian Dream to squander Georgia’s historic opportunity to become a member of the EU.” Georgia has sought for years to deepen its relations with the West, but The current ruling party is accused of trying to reconnect the former Soviet republic with Russia.

According to the bill, Any independent organization that receives more than 20 percent of funding from abroad will be required to register as an “organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power.” This is a change from last year’s proposal, which used the term “agent of foreign influence.” Georgian Dream said it changed the wording after accepting that the initial had negative connotations. The term “foreign agent” has its roots in the Soviet past and suggests that such people are traitors and enemies of the state.

Last week, around 8,000 people organized a demonstration in the center of Tbilisi following the ruling party’s surprise announcement that it planned to pass the bill in May. Analysts said the ruling party, widely suspected of covert cooperation with the Kremlin sees Western funding for Georgia’s pro-democracy NGOs and independent media as a challenge to its hold on power.

“Georgian Dream does not hide that the law aims to neutralize Western influence,” political analyst Ghia Nodia told AFP. “The party keeps saying it is steering Georgia towards the EU, but in reality it is sabotaging Georgia’s European prospects,” which opinion polls show are supported by around 80 percent of the population. The Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Kobakhidze known for his anti-Western rhetoric, has insisted that his cabinet is committed to the country’s European aspirations.

In an effort to champion the ruling party’s cause, he invited ambassadors from EU countries that have criticized the bill to live televised debates. The European Comission have asked Tbilisi not to approve the legislation, saying that contradicts the democratic reform agenda that Georgia must follow to advance its path towards EU membership.

In December, the EU granted Georgia official candidate status, but said Tbilisi would have to reform its judicial and electoral systems, reduce political polarization, improve press freedom and restrict the power of oligarchs before they were formally launched. conversations about your membership. The United States said last week that passing the law would “divert Georgia from its European path.”

“We are deeply concerned that, if enacted, this bill would harm civil society organizations (and)… impede independent media organizations,” the US State Department spokesperson told reporters. .USA, Matthew Miller. “Stay tuned,” he said when asked about the prospect of the United States imposing sanctions on Georgia. The adoption of the controversial legislation is likely to further deepen divisions in Georgia, whose staunchly pro-Western president Salomé Zurabishvili has condemned the bill as detrimental to democracy. Traditionally seen as a leader in democratic transformation among former Soviet republics, Georgia has been criticized in recent years for taking steps back in that regard.

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