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Georgia’s Controversial ‘Foreign Agents’ Bill Sparks Widespread Alarm and Protests

Georgia’s parliament is on the brink of passing a contentious “foreign agents” bill, stirring significant unrest and protests within the nation. As thousands took to the streets of Tbilisi, the capital of this former Soviet republic nestled in the Caucasus Mountains, the proposed law has caught the eye of Europe and other international observers due to its profound implications for democracy and civil liberties in Georgia.

The bill mandates that any organization receiving over 20% of its funding from foreign sources must register as “agents of foreign influence,” facing severe penalties for non-compliance. This legislation mirrors a similar law in Russia, which has been used to suppress opposition and civil society, raising fears that Georgia might follow suit.

Despite President Salome Zourabichvili’s promise to veto the bill, her limited power in Georgia’s parliamentary system makes this largely symbolic. The real power rests with Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze and Georgian Dream party founder Bidzina Ivanishvili, both of whom have significant influence over the bill’s progression.

This proposal has not only sparked outrage for its potential to stifle free expression and dissent but also for its broader geopolitical implications. It poses a critical question about Georgia’s future orientation—whether it will lean towards European integration or drift closer to Russian influence. Given the historical context of Russia’s 2008 invasion and ongoing occupation of Georgian territories, this legislation strikes a sensitive chord among the populace.

The overwhelming majority of Georgians have shown a clear preference for joining the European Union, with recent polls indicating around 80% support for this path. This sentiment was visibly demonstrated as massive demonstrations unfolded in Tbilisi, with participants decrying the bill as “the Russian law.”

On the international stage, reactions have been stark. The White House and European leaders have expressed deep concerns, with the European Commission warning that the bill’s passage could severely hinder Georgia’s aspirations for EU membership. They argue that the legislation would undermine the vital roles of civil society and media, essential for a healthy democracy.

As Georgia stands at a crossroads, the global community watches closely, hoping that Georgian lawmakers will choose a path that aligns with democratic values and the aspirations of its people.

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