A man waves a Georgian flag. A vehicle burns in front of him. Thousands waved Georgian flags on Tuesday and Wednesday. Ukrainian and EU blue star flags also flew in the streets and around the parliament building in the capital, Tbilisi. Georgians also sang the Ukrainian anthem in solidarity with Ukraine attacked by Russia. But why all this? The most important questions and answers about the situation in Georgia:
The Georgian capital Tbilisi became the scene of sometimes violent protests this week. Thousands of people had already protested against a planned government law on Tuesday. The opposition party and civil society groups had called for this. According to media reports, parliament speaker Schalva Papuashvili called on the demonstrators to remain peaceful. According to observers, between 10,000 and 15,000 people gathered in front of the parliament building on Wednesday. The police used water cannons and tear gas against the demonstrators and asked them to evacuate the area in front of Parliament. Individual participants had previously tried to enter the parliament building, the police pushed them back, and standby units were moved to the side entrances of the parliament.
Clashes also erupted between officials and protesters on both days. In addition, several people were arrested, according to the authorities, there were 66 on Wednesday alone. The demonstrators are said to have thrown stones and other objects at police officers and later attacked the parliament with Molotov cocktails and firecrackers. Almost 50 police officers were injured. "Civilians" were also injured, but the authorities did not give any figures.
The protests were directed against a draft law approved by the Georgian parliament. The planned law, entitled "On the Transparency of Foreign Influence," stipulates that organizations that receive more than 20 percent of their financial resources from abroad must register as so-called foreign agents. Otherwise they face penalties. The bill was reminiscent of a law passed in Russia in 2012. The Kremlin has since used this law extensively to crack down on the media, anti-government organizations and other critics.
The head of the ruling party, the Georgian Dream, Irakli Kobachidze, spoke of "radical forces" and drew a parallel with the pro-European protests on Maidan Square in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev in 2014. As a result, Ukraine lost "20 percent of its territory," said Kobachidze, referring to Moscow's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and Russia's war of aggression from February 2022.
Meanwhile, President Saolime Zurabishvili stood behind the protesters. "Today you represent a free Georgia that sees its future in Europe and that will not let anyone rob this future," she said during a visit to New York - and announced her veto against the text.
After the protests, however, the government has now announced that it will abandon the project. "As the ruling party responsible for every member of society, we have decided to unconditionally withdraw this law that we support," the ruling party said on its website on Thursday. She complained that the law had been presented "in a bad light and in a misleading way". The intention behind the project should be "better explained" in public talks.
The former Soviet Union is aiming to join the EU and NATO. The goal is enshrined in the country's constitution and, according to surveys, is supported by at least 80 percent of the population. A few days after the start of the Russian war of aggression, Georgia, along with Ukraine and Moldova, applied for membership of the European Union. In June, EU leaders granted Kiev and Chisinau official candidate status, while demanding a number of reforms from Tbilisi as a condition of that status.
Recently, however, several government measures have fueled fears that the country could turn to Russia under Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili. This speaks of a "balanced" policy that should ensure "peace and stability". The current leadership of the Georgian Dream party is pursuing a more pro-Russian course.
According to US State Department spokesman Ned Price, the "Kremlin-inspired" bill "is inconsistent with the clear desire of the Georgian people for European integration and democratic development." Implementing the plans would damage Georgia's relationship with its strategic partners and jeopardize the country's "Euro-Atlantic future," Price said in Washington on Wednesday.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also warned that the planned law was "incompatible with the values and norms of the EU. It "contradicts Georgia's declared goal of joining the European Union." If it is actually passed, it could have "serious effects on our relationships".
The EU delegation in Georgia welcomed the decision to scrap the proposed legislation. "We encourage all political decision-makers in Georgia to continue the pro-European reforms," the delegation wrote on Twitter. The Minister of State in the Foreign Office, Tobias Lindner (Greens), described the decision on Twitter as a "good and hopeful signal".