Witamy na stronie Klubu Jagiellońskiego. Jesteśmy niepartyjnym, chadeckim środowiskiem politycznym, które szuka rozwiązań ustrojowych, gospodarczych i społecznych służących integralnemu rozwojowi człowieka. Portal klubjagiellonski.pl rozwija ideę Nowej Chadecji, której filarami są: republikanizm, konserwatyzm, katolicka nauka społeczna.

Zachęcamy do regularnych odwiedzin naszej strony. Informujemy, że korzystamy z cookies.

Protests, EU accession and the Prime Minister’s Russophile moves. Georgian political situation in a nutshell

przeczytanie zajmie 8 min

The anti-government demonstrations in Georgia triggered by the procedure and adoption of the law on foreign agents are considered to be the largest in the country’s history. According to the opposition, the government of the Georgian Dream party wants to restrict civil liberties on the model of Russia. What are the implications of the current events for the future of Georgia and its political scene? Stanislaw Kopyta talks to Ekaterina Beruashvili-Mlynarska, vice-president of the Georgian Diaspora in Poland.

The Law on Foreign Agents, which is the subject of current protests, imposes, inter alia, the need for special registration for NGOs and media outlets which receive at least 20% of funding from foreign entities. Critics of the law argue that it is directly modelled on a similar law in the Russian Federation, while politicians of the Georgian Dreamclaim that the law is not at all controversial and that similar laws exist in the United States and Hungary. What does the law actually say and how does it resemble its Russian predecessor?

The law may not be literally rewritten from the Russian one, but it has similar wording and purpose, which is its biggest problem. It aims to restrict the foreign influence. If a non-governmental organisation receives even 20% of its funding from any EU country, such as Poland, it must register in a special register.

This law gives the state a tool to audit such an organisation at any time. The Ministry of Justice will be able to audit such organisations under any pretext. According to opponents of the authorities, the law can, as in Russia, be used to destroy the opposition and independent media.

The aim of the so-called ‘Russian law’ is to reduce US and EU influence on NGOs, but above all to disrupt democracy and freedom of expression. If the law is used against private TV stations that operate on a commercial basis and have foreign co-financing, it could also restrict their freedom of expression.

The law directly restricts the activities of NGOs and indirectly also the possibilities of individual citizens. Any organisation included in the register will later be said to be realising the influence of a particular foreign entity.

It is worth emphasising that NGOs make a real difference to the lives of provincial residents. An organisation that comes to organise, for example, extra activities for children is a ‘window onto another world’, a light at the end of the tunnel and a reminder that someone also remembers about them, and that all programmes are not just aimed at cities. The advantage of such organisations is that they operate on the ground, in particular regions.

Thanks to their activity, regions have a chance to develop. There are Polish organisations that are doing well and over the years have built a brand and trust among Georgians. Examples of such organisations include Solidarity Fund PL in Georgia, Polish AID, Caritas Poland or BRIDGE.

Parliamentary elections will be held in October 2024. How is the support for the ‘Georgian Dream’ currently shaping up versus that of the opposition parties? Will the outcome of the elections have a decisive impact on Georgia’s ability to join the European Union in the future?

The law has very much changed public sentiment. The Georgian Dream has had high support over the years, which has declined in recent times. The law was attempted last year, which also aroused strong resistance. At that time, it managed to stall its procedure, and the government temporarily backed down and introduced amendments.

These were insignificant, based largely on word swaps. The purpose of the Act has remained the same. At the beginning of April 2024, the bill returned to parliament. In Georgia, the legislative procedure involves 3 readings, during the first one the law was voted in favour, which triggered protests, everyone took to the streets at the time. It was a bigger wave than last year. I remind you that the protests have been going on for a month now.

It is interesting that the government decided to proceed with the law in an election year. It knew that it would spark opposition. At present, the Georgian people are against this particular law, and for the ruling party this means a shot in the knee. Despite this, there is currently no strong opposition in Georgia. There are currently no specific leaders associated with the protests, and no new opposition party has emerged. I think we can expect this closer to the elections.

It is worth mentioning that many university lecturers have decided to excuse the absence of their students taking part in the protests and to support the protests themselves. At the time of previous protests, some private televisions reported threats of expulsion from the university against students who would take part in the demonstrations. Similar threats were also said to be made against budget sector workers. At the moment, the situation is different.

The opposition and the president strongly support the protests. It is worth highlighting the role of the President, who is unequivocally on the side of the protesters and those defending Georgia’s European future. The president has used her right to veto the bill, but she does not have much leverage in Georgian politics. A parliamentary majority can override a veto.

Georgian Dream is Bidzina Ivanishvili’s party, which won the 2012 parliamentary elections and defeated Michail Saakashvili’s party at the time. He is the richest man in Georgia. It is estimated that his wealth may be equivalent to as much as 1/3 of the country’s GDP. His past dates back to the Russian privatisation of the 1990s. Who is Ivanishvili and how did he enter Georgian politics?

Unfortunately, it is difficult to answer this question fully. Ivanishvili’s life is largely kept secret. Some sources say that Ivanishvili was not rich at all, but at some point he got a great deal. He also has no specific education, does not speak foreign languages well, and as a common man he suddenly became an oligarch. It is hard to believe that this happened without Putin’s support.

At the beginning of his arrival in politics, Ivanishvili was presented as someone who would save Georgia, share his wealth, even give away money. Many people believed this. Previously, Ivanishvili had invested, among other things, in building the largest Orthodox church in Georgia. Sakaashvili was president at the time. At one point he founded a party and promised that Georgia would soon become a country ‘flowing with milk and honey’.

The reality turned out to be different. Ivanishvili’s entry into politics was in stages, he would come and then disappear, but everyone knew that he was behind many policies and directing events, even though he was often out of sight. At the same time, his wealth was getting bigger and bigger. There was a situation when he bought national parks, which he then made available to Georgians. He and his accomplices literally bought up parts of Georgia.

In his speech in the first half of May, Ivanishvili spoke of a ‘global party of war’. He was referring to the countries of the European Union and to the United States, which, in his view, want to wage war on Russia, using Ukraine and Georgia as proxies, exposing them to direct losses. The words came at a time of record support for EU accession among the Georgian public, when the memory of the 2008 war with Russia is still fresh. Where does Ivanishvili’s pro-Russian narrative come from and how much of the population does it appeal to?

Ivanishvili’s loss of wealth is at stake at the moment. If he has made his fortune in Russia and is well connected to Putin, maintaining his wealth will depend on supporting the interests of the Russian president. It is curious why all this is happening at a time when Georgia has become a candidate for the European Union.

The Union openly warns that if Georgia maintains reforms such as those mentioned in the law, the country could lose its status and visa-free travel. So there is a lot to lose, and these are issues that have been worked on for many years.

Georgians do not support pro-Russian policies, Ivanishvili has tried to present some things as the will of the people. Georgia remembers well what it means to be a 'friend of Russia’. Russia knows no friendship; it has murdered Georgians just as it has murdered Poles, among others. It is worth pointing out that a large part of Georgia is currently under Russian occupation.

The government may fear that it has no other option. It is observing what is happening in Ukraine and may be anticipating that Russia will attack Georgia too in a moment. It seems to me that the nation itself is not afraid. While Ukraine has received a great deal of help from Europe and the United States in its war with Russia, perhaps the Georgian government expects to receive no such help.

The war is going on and support for Ukraine is becoming less and less, exhausted, so the government prefers to take a step back rather than enter into conflict with Russia. Here, once again, two camps can be seen – the first is the government, the second is the people and the president.

The president has vetoed a controversial bill. Who is Salome Zurabishvili and how does she positioned herself on the Georgian political scene?

President Zurabishvili is a child of emigration, her parents emigrated to France and she was born there. She is a person who has spent most of her life in this country and her mother tongue is French. Due to speaking with a French accent, she has faced malice from political opponents.

Zurabishvili came to Georgia at the invitation of the Sakaashvili government. She has extensive experience of working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and also stood as its head. When power was seized by the Georgian Dream, she was offered the opportunity to run for president.

Support for her has increased significantly in recent times. During the protests, the president has always stood beside the people, but Georgian Dream currently controls the political scene, with the prime minister being more important than the president. The president has many representative functions, but not many prerogatives, plus she is currently blocked by the government and parliament, which can override her veto.

In recent years, the president has fought hard for EU candidate status for Georgia, while measuring herself against obstacles generated by the government. Zurabishvili wanted to convince European leaders to give Georgia a chance, even though the country did not meet all the requirements for candidate status, but this was actively blocked by the government.

It even came to the point where the government blocked the president from travelling to Brussels on a government plane. Zurabishvili then flew privately on an airline flight.

The former president’s United National Movement party never regained its former support, Saakashvili himself was imprisoned. The Georgian opposition is divided, united above all by opposition to the growing influence of the Georgian Dream and support for EU accession as soon as possible. Which parties and movements make up the Georgian opposition? What unites and what divides them?

The entire opposition unequivocally supports the European direction and supports the current protests. Currently we have about 5 opposition parties in the Georgian parliament with a total of 65 seats. Several attempts have been made to join forces, but these did not last long.

If the several opposition parties that are currently in parliament would unite, it would give the chance for a better outcome, if only at election time. Until now, each party has wanted to gain independent support.

I hope that during the current elections, the opposition will be awakened. A very big problem for the opposition is not allowing fresh blood. There are people in the parties who were fighting alongside Saakashvili, they are politicians who have been visible for many years. I have the impression that people are bored with this. They remember moments when they were disappointed with these politicians.

Sakaashvili’s United National Movement almost collapsed several times. At one point, some leaders left the party and tried to form their own party. There were also attempts to break up the party from within, with some success. The United National Movement has 27 seats, which is not a lot in the scale of the whole country and its possibilities.

The opposition also includes the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia, a party founded by former members of Sakaashvili’s party, and there is also 1 unaffiliated MP who votes with the opposition. Other opposition parties include the Labour Party, which has lost support through the same factors – the same politicians observed consistently over the years.

It seems to me that if a new party were to emerge in Georgia, it would have a better chance than the current opposition groups. Various consultations are under way, and the foreign ministers of Iceland and Estonia, among others, have recently visited Georgia. Perhaps, as a result of these consultations, the opposition parties can be reformed or a new movement created.

Some joke that a new man with Sakaashvili’s charisma is needed to lead the protests. Saakashvili is in prison, supporting the demonstrations. Everyone is now keeping a close eye on President Zurabishvili, who has the possibility of pardoning him.

There has been a mention of this repeatedly, but the president has so far taken no action, which is causing some controversy. Some say that she may take such a decision when the election date approaches.

The protests are led by young people who did not allow themselves to be intimidated, even though many people were arrested. There have also been occasional threatening phone calls to these people, and the police have also used tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets to pacify them. An example of such a person is Beka Korshia – one of the leaders who is helping to organise the protests.

You talked about the Georgian opposition. I would like to ask you about the position of the Georgian diaspora towards events in the country. How much interest is there in current events among Georgians living outside the country and what is their influence on the situation?

So far the diaspora has not interfered in Georgia’s internal affairs, this is now changing. Last year, at the time when the law on foreign agents was first proposed in most countries where the diaspora is present, Georgians took to the streets and stood in solidarity with the protesters in the country. This was also evident in Poland.

It is difficult to assess how much influence they can gain over the situation in the country. For years, the diaspora has been ignored by the government. In recent years it has reminded of itself. What is important is that many Georgians have gone abroad to earn money, in Poland you certainly meet them often in Bolt or Uber.

The economic situation in the country is not good, one working person is usually not able to support a family. Since the European Union allowed visa-free travel, more people have started to leave. On the one hand, they left their families in the country; on the other hand, the money they send is important for the country’s economy.

There is a law in Georgia according to which, if a Georgian citizen obtains foreign citizenship, he or she is automatically deprived of Georgian citizenship. There are formal ways to prevent this from happening, such as by sending in an appropriate application. This law affects the results of elections, because if someone does not manage to apply to keep their citizenship, they do not have the right to vote in elections. I think at this point there will be a mass mobilisation of the diaspora to cast their vote.

The interview after editing and translation is also available in Polish here.