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Georgia’s foreign agents’ law – a surprise that wasn’t: A call for solidarity

22 May 2024

This statement originally appeared on the website of the Dalan Fund. It was co-authored by the Dalan Fund, Taso Foundation and Women’s Fund in Georgia

 

On 14 May 2024, Georgian Dream, the ruling party passed the Law on Transparency of Foreign Influence amid the largest mass demonstrations in the country’s latest history. Similar to the Russian “foreign agents” legislation, the law obligates non-governmental organizations and independent media outlets to register as “agents of foreign influence” if they receive funding from sources abroad, or from what the bill frames as a “foreign power.”

In addition to this, the ruling party is proposing a constitutional amendment to anti-LGBT propaganda, has already canceled gender quotas in the parliament in April 2024, announced intended restrictions on abortion, and amended the tax law allowing so-called offshore money to be laundered in Georgia. This authoritarian turn of the government compromises Georgia´s democratic course, sovereignty, and freedom.

 

The Foreign Agent´s Law and its consequences

In February 2023, the same bill was withdrawn due to public outrage for what it meant to Georgian sovereignty, democracy and freedom. As outlined in our statement last year, any Georgian-language media, broadcaster, and any non-governmental organization (NGO) registered in Georgia will be directly affected by the law if over 20% of their annual income comes from overseas. Such media and NGOs will be forced to register on a “Foreign Influence Agents Registry” and disclose foreign funding. If they fail or resist doing so, they will risk being fined up to 25,000 Georgian Lari (US $9,400), which is not a one-time measure but will be followed by a series of fines until the organization registers or goes bankrupt.

Considering that local funding sources are limited, state funding to civil societies is practically non-existent, and foreign funding is the major source of income, the law cuts off an important lifeline from grassroots and service providers and collapses achievements made, and will further deepen existing social inequalities.

It is critical to note that the impact of the law is wider than a single country issue as it would directly affect not only Georgian civil society and media but also the activists and organizations from Eastern Europe, Caucasus, and Central and North Asia that had sought what seemed like a safe refuge in Georgia. Due to the regressive regimes (e.g. Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan) and the ongoing war in Ukraine, activists in exile and fiscally relocated organizations will be directly affected as well.

 

People’s resistance against the law

Since 2023, Georgian civil society´s campaign exposed striking similarities between the draft law with the foreign agents’ law in Russia adopted in 2012 and the recently adopted law in Kyrgyzstan (April 2024). Having raised public awareness and having built a shared political analysis, hundreds of thousands have been demonstrating to oppose Georgia’s pro-Russian political course.

Since the law readings were reintroduced this year, demonstrations have been organized consistently, with the largest march of 300,000 people on 12 May. Nearly daily, the government of Georgia is orchestrating riot police attacks with tear gas and rubber bullets, beating and detaining peaceful protesters. Before the final hearing, the police had already started raiding activists’ homes, spreading posters targeting and insulting activists, and intimidating demonstrators – including teenagers – via personal phone calls.

 

Timeline and urgency: what next

As the law passed its last hearing on 14 May, there is approximately a one-month window of opportunity before the law is in legal power. This is the most critical time for organizing, resistance and international pressure to withdraw the law. Even though the President of Georgia, Salome Zourabichvili, vetoed the law, the governing party overruled the veto on 16 May, and the law will come into full force on 14 June.

 

What is needed and how to support

To counter and resist the law, organizers use various tactics to address emergency and longer-term needs. As funders, now is the time to show solidarity with local movements. This list outlines the need for emergency funding, holistic security, and collective care of Georgian and regional activists at the current moment in time, and it will shift based on various scenarios of how the ongoing situation will unfold:

  • Direct action: Food and safety gear, such as tear gas masks and first aid kits, are needed to sustain the ongoing resistance.
  • Physical and digital security: Civil society and media representatives face attacks, home raids, and intimidation. Raids of offices are expected too, for which secure hardware and software are needed.
  • Legal support: For those detained, as well as those who are considering relocating, and those exploring legal alternatives and avenues for response and survival.
  • Psycho-social support: For protesters and activists as they are under tremendous pressure physically and emotionally.
  • Administrative costs: The “Law on Transparency of Foreign Influence” will obligate civil society and media groups who refuse to register as “foreign agents” to pay administrative fines.

Given that mid- and long-term strategies will be developed based on how various scenarios unfold, we strongly believe that sustainable core and flexible funding will play a foundational role in strengthening people’s power and the win for Georgia and for the entire CEECCNA (Central and Eastern Europe, Caucasus, Central and North Asia) regions.

Taking into consideration the experience of other countries such as Belarus, Azerbaijan, Hungary, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan as well as the Russian Federation – where similar legislation has already been adopted – the law on foreign agents has rapidly transformed into an instrument to shrink space for civil society and increase state control, alongside persecution and harassment of social justice activists. Furthermore, it has been used as a mechanism to systemically silence and enable mass shut-downs of independent media outlets that openly critique the state and make public coverage about corruption, unlawful prosecutions, and human rights violations.

Given this context, we call for attention and solidarity from the international funding community. We call on funders to trust the expertise of local and regional funds and organizations in Georgia and the CEECCNA region, and to step up your support by providing rapid, large, and highly flexible funds to these actors for their short-, medium- and long-term strategies co-created with local activists and communities.

 

About the authors of the statement

  • Established in 2023, the Dalan Fund is a multi-regional fund resourcing intersectional social justice movements in Central and Eastern Europe, Caucasus, and Central and North Asia (CEECCNA). The Fund transforms how CEECCNA regions are resourced, fostering resilience and the collective power of intersectional social justice organizers and movements in and for the regions.
  • Taso Foundation is a national women’s fund in Georgia, that has been operating since 2007. From 1998-2006, it functioned as the Women’s Program of the Open Society Georgia Foundation. Its main mission, as part of the feminist movement, is dedicated to supporting the feminist movement in Georgia for social justice and peace. Through social mobilization, grant-giving, supporting grassroots initiatives, sharing feminist knowledge between academia and grassroots and vice versa, advocacy, and collaboration efforts, we aim to break barriers and foster opportunities for inclusive community engagement, believing in solidarity, intersectionality, and collective action to drive positive change. This involves dismantling inequality and nurturing a society where social justice and peace prevail to all.
  • Women’s Fund in Georgia (WFG – founded in 2005) is a local grantmaking organization supporting women’s rights groups/organizations and individual activists for social changes with financial resources, capacity building, and promoting the culture of feminist philanthropy. Over 18 years, WFG has awarded around 1,000 grants nationwide and organized over 200 local and international fundraising events. WFG’s target groups are mostly groups of underprivileged women, who live in rural areas, women with disabilities, LBTQ+ persons, young women and girls, etc. WFG is an activist fund and not only supports the women’s movement but is also a part of it.
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