Victory for Georgia Protesters as 'Foreign Agents' Law Is Dropped

After days of violent clashes between police and protesters in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, the country's ruling party said it will drop a draft law targeting "foreign agents."

"We saw how the legislation caused some turmoil," the Georgian Dream party said in a statement on Thursday, announcing that it will withdraw the draft legislation that critics say was modeled on similar laws passed in Russia and other post-Soviet states, and which opposition groups feared would undermine the country's efforts to join the European Union and NATO.

A protester holds a placard in Georgia
A protester holds a placard during a rally against the Georgian government and the adoption of the Russian law on foreign agents, near the European Parliament headquarters in Brussels on March 8, 2023. The proposed law was withdrawn. VALERIA MONGELLI/AFP/Getty Images

"We have decided to withdraw the law unconditionally," the party said.

The Georgian Dream party's statement came hours after protesters were hit by a water cannon and tear gas by police outside the country's parliament. Demonstrators took to the streets after the draft law was passed by lawmakers at the first reading on Monday.

The legislation, if passed, would have classified non-governmental media outlets and organizations as "foreign agents" if they received 20 percent or more of their funding from overseas.

The statement said the draft law was given "a false label of 'Russian law'" and that its adoption in the first reading was presented "as a departure from the European course in the eyes of a part of the public."

The ruling party has said the draft legalisation was modeled on U.S. foreign agents laws, which have been used since the 1930s. Its statement also claimed that "radical forces" were able to involve some of Georgia's youth in "illegal activities."

"We should be most careful about peace, tranquility and economic development in our country, as well as Georgia's progress on the path of European integration. Therefore, it is necessary to spend the energy of each of our fellow citizens not on confrontation, but on the development of the country in the right direction," the statement continued.

Critics of the draft law have expressed fears it could undermine Georgia's decades-long efforts to join the EU, given that it has been condemned by several senior EU officials. The EU is reviewing the country's application for candidate status.

Russia currently occupies some 20 percent of Georgian territory following its invasion of the country in 2008.

"Adoption of this 'foreign influence' law is not compatible with the EU path, which the majority in Georgia wants," Charles Michel, the European Council president, tweeted on Wednesday.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters the U.S. was "deeply troubled" by the recently introduced draft foreign agent laws, "which – if actually made law – would stigmatize and silence independent voices and citizens of Georgia who are dedicated to building a better future within their own communities."

"Parliament's advancing of these Kremlin-inspired draft laws is incompatible with the people of Georgia's clear desire for European integration and its democratic development. Pursuing these laws, we believe, will damage Georgia's relations with its strategic partners and jeopardizes Georgia's Euro-Atlantic future," he said.

Rihards Kols, a member of the Saeima (Parliament) of the Republic of Latvia, welcomed the decision to abandon the law.

He told Newsweek he encourages the political leadership of Georgia to "continue their reform process constructively and inclusively, and in line with the 12 priorities for Georgia to achieve candidate status to the EU, and, in terms of developing legislation regarding foreign lobbying and influences, not hesitate to use the resources and support of OECD and Georgia's partners to gather the best practices regarding such legislations."

"This announcement, coming after days of massive protests and public outcry internationally, shows that the voices of the people and Georgia's strategic partners and friends are being heard and taken into account," Kols said.

On Wednesday, protesters gathered outside the parliament building in Tbilisi carrying Georgian, EU and Ukrainian flags and shouted: "No to the Russian law."

Georgia's Interior Ministry has said a total of 133 people were detained as a result of this week's protests. One protester was detained on criminal charges of assaulting a police officer, and could face a prison sentence of up to seven years.

Eto Buzishvili, a research associate at the U.S. think tank the Atlantic Council, who also participated in demonstrations in Georgia, said the ruling party's withdrawal on Thursday "is the result of massive and stubborn protest."

"Reality though remains the same - the ruling party wants to bring Georgia closer to Russia and farther from the West," she tweeted.

Newsweek has contacted the Russian foreign ministry by email.

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Update 3/9/23 9:54 a.m. ET: This article was updated with comment from Rihards Kols.