Author: Nino Macharashvili


In March 2023, the initiation of the draft law “On transparency of foreign influence” in Georgia caused great agitationamong the population, and its acceptance in the first reading was followed by large-scale protests, violent dispersal of these street actions by the police, and the arrest of numerous protest participants. Against the background of internal dissatisfaction and international criticism, the ruling party was forced to put the draft law in for a second reading and ultimately refuse to enact it.

On April 3, 2024, about a year after these events, Georgia’s ruling party ‘Georgian Dream’ re-initiated the draft law “On Transparency of Foreign Influence”. The content of the new version is almost identical to the former, the difference being only in that the term “agent of foreign influence” was replaced by “organization carrying out the interests of a foreign power”. This decision, both inside the country and outside its borders, merited a strong response. A plethora of European countries, Western political leaders, representatives of international and non-governmental organizations, are now calling on the Georgian authorities to maintain the announced foreign policy course and reject the law outright. European Union Foreign and Security Policy Spokesperson Peter Stano reminded the ruling party that Georgia had received the EU candidate status subject to the recommendations given by the European Commission, according to which, among other things, the state should take steps to ensure the free work of civil society and combat disinformation directed against the European Union and its values, something that will become impossible if the law “On transparency of foreign influence” is adopted. According to US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller, this bill undermines Georgia’s commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration and risks deviating Georgia from the European path. US Senate Helsinki Commission co-chairman Ben Cardin, and Senator Roger Wicker, called the bill “a copy of the Russian law” and named inspiration for it the “self-sabotage of the European candidacy” and “a clear rejection of the [Georgian people’s] hard-earned Euro-Atlantic choice.” The chairmen of the foreign relations committees of the parliaments of the twelve member states of the European Union also evaluated the bill as a “hostile step” taken against the European aspirations of the Georgian people.

Much has been said and written in recent days about the similarities between the Georgian and Russian versions of the “foreign agents” law, but less is being said about the contextual differences between them, which in fact make the dangers emanating from this law even clearer. In this blog, I will share with you my observations about some of the features that distinguish this “Russian law” from Russian law, which will in turn give us a better idea of ​​the similarities between the two.

Prerequisites of the law

The fight against the third sector in Russia began back in 2006, when the authorities were given the right to refuse registration to non-governmental organizations, and local non-governmental and international organizations were obliged to submit annual declarations. The election of Vladimir Putin for the third term as the President of the Russian Federation received criticism from the non-governmental sector. In response, in 2012, the Russian authorities passed the “Foreign Agents” law, the real purpose of which was to limit critical opinion, pressure civil society, and eliminate the opposition wing. This is how the Russian, distorted interpretation of the American FARA was formed, which was soon adopted by a number of post-Soviet countries (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan) into their legislation.

In Georgia, especially in recent years, the ruling party has been actively conducting an information campaign against non-governmental organizations, seeking to discredit their names. The law “on foreign agents” was a logical continuation of this seemingly well-thought-out policy, but, despite this, both last year and this year, the initiation of the “Russian law” came as a surprise to a large part of Georgian society and resulted in mass protest. When the example of Hungary also made it clear that the law “on foreign agents” contradicts the founding treaties of the European Union and carries anti-Western values, the consequences of the implementation of the Russian law for Georgia’s European integration became easily predictable.


Adopting the law

The fight against the civil sector in Russia has been ongoing for decades, with laws against “foreign agents” introduced piece by piece between 2006 and 2020, and then tightened. Over time, legislative changes were initiated, the circle of addressees of the law expanded, punishments became tougher, and the number of those sanctioned increased. The goal of the Kremlin was to divide the non-governmental sector into narrow groups, and gradually expel them from the public life of the country. Indeed, only a few organizations (‘Memorial’ and ‘Medusa’ among them) saw the impending danger, responded to the current events, and “earned” the title of “foreign agent” in the attacks on the first victim of repression, the impartial election monitoring organization Golos. The policy of “divide and conquer” proved to be effective, as the Russian public failed to understand the magnitude of the threat, which contributed to the strengthening of the authoritarian regime.

Unlike Russia, the Georgian government decided to solve the “problem” of “foreign agents” with one hard action, having seen the Russian experience, by directly presenting the full version of the law – first in March 2023, and then again in April 2024.


Addressees of the law

The declared addressees of the Russian legislation “on foreign agents” are non-profit organizations (meaning those funded by a foreign power). Although the initial actions were aimed at restricting the activities of non-governmental organizations, over time, the law was extended to media outlets, unregistered groups, and even private individuals. According to the statistical data of 2022, the media is the absolute leader in Russia’s register of “foreign agents” (150 organizations). Human rights protection organizations (47) and social-educational initiatives (40) are also in the top three.

According to the Georgian draft law, the list of “agents of foreign influence” / “organizations pursuing the interests of a foreign power” is quite broad and, with few exceptions, includes non-entrepreneurial (non-commercial) legal entities financed by a “foreign force”, broadcasters, legal entities (co-)owners of printed media of mass information, (co-)owners of internet domains and/or internet hosting for Internet media disseminating mass information in the state language of Georgia and/or (joint) user legal entities. The goal in both cases is the same – to destroy critical opinion, although in Russia it was done more slowly and “painlessly”.

The field of activity of the addressees of the law

The Georgian draft law does not specify the scope of activities of “agents of foreign influence” / “organizations carrying out the interests of foreign powers”. Accordingly, the above entities, based on their legal status and financing, regardless of the content of their activities, have the obligation to register as an “organization carrying the interests of a foreign power” and submit a special financial report to the state. Otherwise, they should expect sanctions. At first glance, the Russian legislation is different from this, as it limits the circle of “foreign agents,” and the law applies only to non-commercial (non-entrepreneurial) legal entities engaged in political activities. However, such a form of alleged restriction of activity is what earned the criticism of the Venice Commission at the time, because “political activity” is a rather general term, and allows for a wide interpretation, applying equally to thought, word and deed. Practice has clearly proved the validity of the expressed doubts. The ruling party of Georgia solved the issue even more simply – it completely neglected to observe the formality of the record on the restriction of activities.

. . .

In summary, we can say that, although the prerequisites for the adoption of the law “on foreign agents” were somewhat different in Georgia compared to Russia, as were the form of adoption of the law, the circle of addressees and the scope of their activities- the goals and results of the law (which have already been enacted in Russia, while are as yet expected in Georgia) is what unites them. The draft law “On Transparency of Foreign Influence” submitted to the Parliament of Georgia is a combination of the Russian law “On Foreign Agents” and harmful practices developed over time. It is a “Russian law” with Georgian steps.

If this law is adopted, Georgia will no longer be able to fulfill the recommendations issued by the European Union along with the candidate status. In particular, it will not be able to ensure the creation of an appropriate environment for the free activity of civil society (step 9) or fight disinformation directed against the European Union and its values ​​(step 1). Consequently, Georgia will not be able to become a member state of the European Union, which is against the will of the majority of the country’s population. Non-governmental organizations and media outlets that do not register as “carrying the interests of a foreign power” will cease to operate, and the in case of registration, will not be able to function freely orproperly. With the disappearance of non-governmental and media organizations with a high reputation, the population of Georgia will lose access to the benefits that they have received to date through the support of foreign donors (free services, educational programs, small grants, etc.), and will no longer receive information about current political, economic or social issues. All this, in the end, will significantly worsen the quality of human rights protection and the level of democracy in the country. The next step in this process will likely be to extend the law to individuals and declare individuals as “agents,” as happened in Russia.