Protesters in Georgia refuse a populist law with Russian overtones

It was the last straw that broke the streets in Georgia. The opposition to power calls once again to demonstrate Thursday, after two days of clashes. However, the authorities have withdrawn the repressive text of law, which provides that NGOs and media are obliged to register as “foreign agents”, at the origin of the tensions in the country. Legislation inspired in particular by the Russian model, even if it also exists in other countries.

The protest has its roots in deeper issues, an “extremely polarized” political context, between the opposition and the ruling party, and which “was exacerbated” in the light of the war in Ukraine, explains to 20 minutes Marie Dumoulin, Director of the Wider Europe Program at the European Council on External Relations (ECFR). Ukrainian flags were seen flying alongside European and Georgian colors in the rallies, as well as “stop Russia” signs. Is Ukrainian resistance against the Russian aggressor trickling down to other former Soviet states?

A polarized political ground in Georgia

The anger of part of the Georgian people is part of a very tense political ground. Society is divided between supporters of the ruling party, the Georgian Dream, and an opposition “galvanized by the war in Ukraine and the imprisonment of former President Mikheil Saakashvili”, explains Marie Dumoulin.

The controversial text “is an attempt to take control of civil society in a populist, sovereignist trajectory. The issue is more internal than external and the distorting prism which simply opposes pro-Russia to pro-Europe does not take into account the real divisions,” she warns.

The Georgian Dream party, in power since 2012, has implemented various ambiguous policies. Founded by Bidzina Ivanichvili, an oligarch who made his fortune in Russia, the party “shows more and more a pro-Russian tendency while keeping a foothold in the Euro-Atlantic community”, explains in turn Samantha de Bendern, associate researcher at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, specialist in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. The Georgian opposition will not give up the fight “until there is a guarantee that Georgia is firmly committed to a pro-Western path”, several parties have affirmed.

Fear of Russian influence

However, the government project appears as a further setback by the government in Georgia’s aspirations to join the European Union. Assimilated to a Russian-inspired law, this bill has aroused all the more the discontent of the opposition. “In this law, the Georgian opposition sees a brake on the will to integrate the European Union, a step towards censorship and above all the hand of Moscow”, develops Samantha de Bendern.

“We are Europeans, Georgia’s place is in the EU. This government, which brings us back into Russia’s orbit, must resign,” testifies a Georgian Miranda Djanachia interviewed by AFP. These demonstrations express “a fear of an influence of Moscow on the country, that Russia gets its hands on Georgia as it did in Ukraine”, she adds. The Kremlin also shared in the morning its concerns about the protest movement, while claiming to have “absolutely nothing to do with it. »

The context of Russian aggression in Ukraine does not help to calm internal conflicts. Economic impact, relatively weak reaction against Moscow and flow of Russian migrants who fled the war further accentuate the tensions. The war has also “exacerbated the influence of Moscow on Tbilisi”, according to Samantha de Bendern. According to a report published by the ECFR in December, the ruling coalition in Georgia seems to be “gradually entering into Russia’s sphere of influence”. “With the violence of the war, the pro-European Georgians said to themselves ‘we are the next'”, abounds Samantha de Bendern.

Georgia and Ukraine, same fight?

Could Georgia then suffer the same fate as Ukraine? Samantha de Bendern believes that Tbilisi “is part of the same Moscow imperialist project” as Ukraine. However, “there is a real difference in the discourse held”, nuance Marie Dumoulin. Unlike Ukraine, Russia “has never denied the very existence of a Georgian nation and even admitting that Moscow has the project to reconquer Georgia, the Russians would continue to recognize this identity”, he argues. -She.

Georgia and Ukraine also share common points, in particular a European aspiration and the wish to integrate NATO. “These two nations tend to identify with each other, they have very strong ties and besides, many Georgians are fighting in Ukraine”, underlines Marie Dumoulin.

The Rose Revolution that stirred up the Georgian people in 2003 was followed by the Ukrainian Orange Revolution the following year. Like Crimea, Georgia also has part of its territory under Russian occupation, such as South Ossetia, which it tried to reconquer in 2008, pushing Moscow to intervene on Georgian territory to come to the aid of the separatists. “For many years, we have faced the same challenge: the occupation. In these difficult times, the government and the people of Georgia stand in solidarity with Ukraine and its people,” said the Georgian Foreign Minister, quoted by euro news in January 2022. That is why today, Ukrainian yellow and blue float above the crowd of Georgian opponents, who want to retain their independence from the bear of the Kremlin.

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