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Pursuit of Georgia’s ‘foreign influence transparency’ law: What for and how timely? 

Pursuit of Georgia’s 'foreign influence transparency' law: What for and how timely? 
By Victor Kipiani 
May 18, 2024 5:14 PM

Amidst the tumult of protests and debates, Georgia’s proposed ‘foreign influence transparency’ law has sparked intense scrutiny over its implications for national unity and international relations. Victor Kipiani, an expert in international relations and governance, sheds light on the complexities surrounding this contentious legislation.

Echoes of the past: Soviet-Era stigma

The law that has been sent for the Presidential reaction to it, is already been voted by now. It is important to note that President Zourabichvili stated before that her veto would primarily be based on political rather than legal considerations and we assume that should be the case. It has also to be added that in the current setup, Georgian Dream has enough parliamentary seats to overcome that veto.

The ‘foreign influence transparency’ law has ignited tense debates within the society and has triggered continued protests in Tbilisi and various other cities across the country. Not surprisingly, a contentious issue is the reference to “foreign influence” reminding people of the Soviet era when many Georgians were labeled as agents and were harshly prosecuted. 

The potential for divisiveness: Impact on national unity

Hence, is the ominous ring of the bell when, in completely different circumstances though, the very same stigma at the level of public perceptions when servicing a foreign influence could be equal to engaging in activities of anti-national and anti-Georgian nature.

This would have a destructive effect on national unity and cohesiveness. 

Being quite short and straightforward in its wording, the law pursues an oddly simplistic approach in defining who shall be termed as servicing a foreign influence. The very sole and only qualifying requirement is the bar of having funding by a “foreign power” of more than 20% per annum. 

In other words, stepping beyond the said threshold places any non-governmental entity, broadcaster, printed, and internet media under respective obligations of applying to be registered with a specifically designated registry – that entails an obligation of filing an itemized financial declaration annually. 

Simplicity vs. complexity: Oddities in the law’s approach

It is critical to note that the law puts the state under no obligation or efforts to enquire on the type of activities and nature of projects carried out by respective target groups other than identifying that a mere 20% threshold in funding is being crossed. 

Transparency or division? The thin line in labeling

On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with the authorities’ stated objective of pursuing more transparency. However, labeling people could divide and polarize Georgian society instead of uniting the country. It is noteworthy that before this law was enacted, some campaigns of obstructing and intimidating the regulation had already been unleashed and were being sponsored too. 

Weaknesses in oversight: Concerns over abuse of power

The problem of addressing violence or abuse of power is worsened by the weakness of the institutions meant to control the extreme application of the law. Other clauses in the law cause serious concerns if it becomes effective. Those, are primarily, related to a scope of monitoring by the Ministry of Justice while such scope in some instances requires some better and more precise delimitation. 

Besides, certain requirements of the law may be abusive of inviolability of preserving the confidentiality of information kept by respective target groups as well as threatening the very sanctuary of any individual within the remits of his or her data. 

EU criticism and its implications for Georgia

Another point of concern is the harsh criticism the law has met by Georgia’s European partners and various EU officials. This unabated criticism is even more troublesome as the nation is heading toward an overwhelmingly meaningful decision by the EU on opening accession talks with Georgia. 

As the process demonstrates, in the context of the law and associated rhetoric, prospects for a positive say on opening such discussions by the end of this year are diminishing gradually and steadfastly. 

U.S. reactions: A new wave of international repercussions

Albeit a separate wave of international repercussions may crystalize by the United States where various statements have already been made on the admissibility of revisiting existing relations with Georgia.

Georgian Dream’s risky agenda

Needless to mention, Georgian Dream, the ruling party, is considerably risking turning the country if not into a pariah state by pressing their agenda, augmenting existing and potential national threats manifold. 

This could happen if Georgia’s partners decide to withdraw or significantly reduce their support, which has been crucial for over three decades in maintaining the country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and development.

The law has now been sent for Presidential approval However, there is no vagueness in expectation since President Salome Zourabichvili has already stated that she would veto the law. It is important to note that the Presidential veto, although considering an opinion by the Venice Commission, would primarily be based on political rather than legal considerations.

Protests and international pressure: Raising the stakes

It has also to be added that in the current setup, Georgian Dream has enough parliamentary seats to overcome that veto. 

As the protests continue ramping up the international pressure, the ruling party’s uncontrolled push for the “transparency mission” adds to the uncertainty and instability, keeping the situation in a precarious and disruptive state. 

Pursuit of Georgia’s 'foreign influence transparency' law: What for and how timely? 

Victor Kipiani is the Chair of the Georgian think tank Geocase and co-founder of MKD law firm based in Tbilisi, Georgia. Also, he is a member of the Georgian Bar Association, a member of the International Advisory Board for the Association of International Politics and Security Studies, a board member of the Independent Directors’ Association, and an advisory council member at the Service for Accounting, Reporting and Auditing Supervision Service. His interests include international relations, security, governance, and implications of the global order for Georgia and its neighborhood and macroeconomy. 

Last Updated:  Jul 22, 2024 6:10 PM