Over the past few days, the world’s attention was on Georgia. We saw massive protests fueled by anger, concerns and fear, and eventually, we witnessed a rare victory of democracy against what can best be described as a Kremlin project.
On March 7, the Parliament of Georgia tried to pass the very controversial “Transparency of Foreign Influence Act”, an Orwellian-named bill that would have curtailed free speech and would have given the authorities major leverage to persecute non-governmental organizations, free associations, and independent media agencies.
Let’s be clear once more, this bill was not about foreign influence.
If foreign influence was the purpose, the authorities would be going against Russia-affiliated propaganda voices like the far-right Alt-Info and its political arm, the Conservative Movement. If it was about foreign influence, the authorities would have sought to go after the dozens of Kremlin-financed organizations that have popped up in Tbilisi since 2012, or would have raised concerns about the Confucius Institute, which promotes and teaches Chinese culture and language around the world, instead of electing its local leader to Parliament.
This bill was meant to curtail free speech and create an irreparable rift between Georgia and its European family. The entire democratic world condemned it, from the U.S. State Department to the United Nations, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the European Union, and dozens of our global partners who have worked tirelessly over the last 30 years to help Georgia’s democratic development. And who supported the bill? Besides the Georgian Dream, almost all Kremlin mouthpieces.
The people witnessed a direct attempt by one political party to steal an entire nation’s dreams of European and Euro-Atlantic integration. Of course, we all saw it happen progressively and at a rapidly increasing speed over the last year and since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but this was the last straw.
Tens of thousands of people took to the street. They were from every generation because Georgia’s European aspirations are of a historical and ancient nature, but the youth were particularly well-represented. Some are calling it the “Gen Z revolution”, a leaderless movement of youth groups who never knew the Soviet Union, grew up in a free Georgia, and cherish freedom more than anything else.
Young people with no political ambitions, with only their country at heart, managed to bring down what was clearly an operation by the Kremlin. This carries a huge historical weight that will make every enemy of freedom think twice before trampling on independence and democracy. For them, this wasn’t a political fight, it was a struggle for survival for themselves and their future, which made the violent dispersals against peaceful protesters even more shocking.
This entire saga is not over. Far from it. As we saw, protesters were not satisfied by simple pledges to withdraw the legislation and remained in the streets until parliament actually voted it down. This makes sense considering the fast and loose history of the ruling party with the truth.
These young people have been lied to too many times.
In 2018, talks over a drug policy reform fell apart within days after the government traded negotiations for an end to protests by the White Noise Movement, protests that started after law enforcement violently raided nightclubs, a symbol of Georgia’s youth social revolution.
Just a year later, in 2019, pro-European protests were once agin met with a promise for electoral reform, a promise that the ruling party walked back months later. The pre-pandemic 2020 protests led to the March 8th Agreement which was broken when political prisoners remained in jail. Finally, we saw the infamous April 19th Agreement that was negotiated by Charles Michel in 2021 to put an end to the nationwide deadlock after the controversial legislative elections and the Georgian Dream ‘annulled’ within a few months.
Now people are celebrating cautiously. There is too much risk for a repeat of the past. Nothing has changed in the state’s rhetoric towards non-governmental organizations, there is no new approach from the authorities towards European integration, and all we can really hope for right now is that the situation does not worsen in the coming months.
Thanks to the thousands of young people who took to the street, we are celebrating today. But a long road ahead continues