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Georgians are flooding the street night after night to protest Russian power over its politics as hopes of a European future begin to fade.

Ukrainian and Georgian flag wave outside Georgian parliament in Tbilisi : Kober, wikimedia commons CC BY-SA 4.0 Ukrainian and Georgian flag wave outside Georgian parliament in Tbilisi : Kober, wikimedia commons CC BY-SA 4.0

Georgians are flooding the street night after night to protest Russian power over its politics as hopes of a European future begin to fade.

Protests against the Georgian government are occurring nightly in the capital Tbilisi.

The protests are in response to the government attempting to railroad the “Transparency of Foreign Influence” bill through parliament directed at increasing transparency within NGOs.

The law would see Georgia increasingly move away from a path towards European Union membership and instead towards an allegiance with Russia. In protest, the bill is often referred to as “the Russian Law”.

The bill, also known as ‘The Foreign Agents Law’, was first tabled in 2023, but was meet with large protests that suspended law-makers’ efforts.

On its surface the ambitions of the bill may sound positive, but there are significant fears about what it signals for Georgia as a society and nation moving forward.

The bill mirrors a similar law change in Russia in July 2022 which allowed the Kremlin to further crack down on civil society and NGOs critical of the government.

In Georgia this would be especially significant given the amount of funding that NGOs receive from abroad.

The prospect of the government adopting this law has sparked controversy because

the law signals that the country’s ruling party “Georgian Dream” and the billionaire oligarch who founded it and is widely considered to still control it, Bidzina Ivanishvili, is changing the course of Georgia.

However, it is important to understand that the protests against the bill are not occurring in a vacuum. They are part of an ongoing struggle between the government and what can broadly be described as the urban population ,specifically in the capital Tbilisi. There is also a clear youth element to the protests, youth that predominately resides in urban areas.

Protests are common and have a potent history in Georgian society. Protest is not uncommon and success is not infrequent.

Georgia’s history of protest dates back to the heyday of the Soviet Union.

In 1978 there were mass protests against attempts by the USSR to drop Georgian as the national language. The government backed down.

In the late 1980s nationalist mobilisation became increasingly prominent in Georgia. In 2003 protests started that would ultimately bring about the Rose Revolution and the emergence of Mikheil Saakashvili as the country’s new liberal president.

In 2009 Saakashvili faced large protests that took the form of tent encampments along Tblisi’s main street Rustaveli Avenue due to accusations from TV personalities that he was becoming increasingly authoritarian.

These current protests have their roots in events in 2019. People took to the streets after a Russian Member of parliament ,Sergi Gavrilov, addressed a gathering of Orthodox priests in Parliament from the Parliamentary Speakers chair.

People were outraged with a Russian MP speaking from such a symbolic position of power. Reports of Gavrilov’s involvement in the Abkhazian conflict in the 1990s compounded anger, although Gavrilove denies involvement .

The Abkhazia conflict led to a de-facto state that exists within, but separated from, Georgia that is supported and protected by Russia.

Gavrilov’s actions saw thousands take to the streets and events eventually turning violent with police firing rubber bullets, tear gas, and beating protesters. protests, similar to now, became nightly.

While Russian presence in the Georgian government sparked these protests, efforts eventually turned towards ensuring democratic reform within Georgia. Some protester demands were met.

The most prominent was a promise to switch to a fully proportional electoral system. Months after this the government backtracked on the timeline for implementation of the reforms. This restarted protests of a similar scale. Again, protests saw confrontation with police and violence.

In October this year, the first election that will be held under this electoral system takes place. However, between the promise of reforms and this election many other protests have emerged in the country challenging the legitimacy and vision of the government.

In 2021 the anti-Namakhvani hydropower plant movement captured national attention and saw massive protests in Tbilisi and Kutaisi challenging the economic and environmental vision of the current government.

These protests soon gave way to a planned LGBTQ+ march that resulted in the conservative nation seeing counter protests emerge that resulted in the storming of Pride HQ and the beating of a cameraman. This in turn gave rise to solidarity rallies emerging in front of the government once more.

The first attempt to get the foreign agents law passed in 2023 resulted in backtracking from the government and suspension of attempts to get the bill passed. However, now the government appears primed to push the bill through no matter the level of protest.

The question becomes what will this anti-government sentiment do to

impact the upcoming elections, or before

While this current movement may yet render a unified front of opposition to the Georgian Dream party, it is yet to do so. Georgian opposition is fragmented as is its society. While there is widespread dissatisfaction with the government there is lack of unity in agreement as to what the future should look like.

It is important to also note that the goal of the current protests are aimed at getting the bill implementation process stopped, not to change the government.

The events around the LGBTQ+ march in July 2021 are indicative of this split. Prior to this significant solidarity had been displayed by the LGBTQ+ community and the anti-Namakhvani HPP movement. However, when focus flipped some members of the anti-Namakhvani HPP movement were instrumental in organising the anti-pride march that resulted in the storming and destruction of Pride HQ.

Most in each movement are dissatisfied with the government, yet the visions of the future remain splintered. This is an extreme example but speaks to a more widespread distance that exists amongst the population across the country, not just within the urban circles of Tbilisi.

As it stands there are myriad political parties that draw low levels of support across the nation, splintering opposition and paving the way for Georgian Dream success.

Reports of election tampering over the years have been minimal and Georgian elections have been deemed to be free and fair. Whether or not this continues is yet to be seen but as it stands today less interference might be necessary than on lookers may assume.

Nick Baigent is a PhD candidate in the Global Political Studies Department of Malmo University, his work is focused on how local populations resist international development.

Originally published under Creative Commons by 360info™.

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