Georgian Parliament
Georgian Parliament overrides veto of 'Foreign Agent' law
Georgia's divisive "foreign agent" piece of legislation has become law despite weeks of mass protests and warnings from the United States and the European Union that the move jeopardizes the Caucasus country's path toward North-Atlantic integration.

The law was published in Georgia's Legislative Gazette on June 3 shortly after being signed by parliament speaker Shalva Papuashvil.

Prior to that, Georgia's pro-Western President President Salome Zurabishvili had refused to endorse the measure after it was returned to her. On May 28, a parliamentary vote overrode her veto of the bill from May 18.

According to Georgia's constitution, if the president doesn't endorse the law after an override by lawmakers, the parliament speaker then has the right to promulgate it.

The law, which has been widely criticized as being modeled on a similar Russian law used by the Kremlin to repress dissent and stifle democratic opposition, requires civil-society and media organizations that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from foreign sources to submit to oversight that could encompass sanctions for as-yet-undefined criminal offenses.

"Emotions have subsided and many of the citizens who joined the protest of the radical opposition have already seen that, in fact, the law of transparency will increase the responsibility and accountability of nongovernmental organizations and their financiers, will improve the political system, weaken disinformation, reduce radicalism and polarization," Papuashvili said on June 3 as he announced the move at a briefing in parliament.

The law came into force partially after its publication. It will come into force in full within 60 days, after government agencies have carried out the necessary preparatory work.

In a first sign that Georgian Dream intends to use the law as a coercive tool, party General Secretary Kakha Kaladze, who is also the mayor of the capital, Tbilisi, said after the law was published that the organizations that receive funding from abroad and do not register in a database that the law provides for will be fined and their assets will be seized.

"If they don't comply, there are financial penalties and then confiscation," Kaladze said. "They will not be able to function and receive funds."

Critics say the legislation was introduced by the dominant Georgian Dream party, founded by Russian-friendly Georgian tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, in order to cement the party's grip on power ahead of elections in October seen as crucial for Georgia's Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

Zurabishvili, whose veto was overridden 84-4 in parliament, has urged Georgians to mobilize to win the upcoming elections in October.

Georgia's civil society has for years sought to move the country away from the influence of Russia, which still maintains thousands of troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two breakaway Georgian regions that Moscow recognized as independent states following a five-day war with Tbilisi in 2008.

Georgia obtained the coveted EU candidate status in December, but it has yet to start actual accession talks, which could last for years. There had been hope such talks could start later this year, but Brussels has warned that the "foreign agent" law could endanger the path toward Europe.

Georgian Dream has insisted it remains committed to joining Western institutions and the law was only meant to increase transparency on NGO funding.

Western governments and organizations have issued stark statements, warning the Georgian Dream government that the Tbilisi's EU path will be blocked if the law comes into force.

Prime Minister and Georgian Dream Chairman Irakli Kobakhidze, who along with Ivanishvili and other allies has blamed opposition to the bill in part on a vague "global party of war," said on May 31 he had called for a review of relations with the United States, Tbilisi's main Western backer.

Hundreds of people have been arrested during weeks of protests against the piece of legislation. Some of the protesters detained during demonstrations countered by tear gas, water cannons, and allegedly rubber bullets that injured opponents and journalists could face years in prison on criminal charges.

Late on June 2, thousands gathered in Tbilisi for a concert designed to air their grievances and raise funds for those detained in earlier protests.

Demonstrators at the Georgian Musicians for a European Future event, which began at 10 p.m. local time in Meidani Square, called for unity and "ultimate victory" as they denounced the widely criticized legislation, which threatens to stall Georgia's EU drive and dampen relations with the United States.

"Our undefeated unity was born in the battle for a common goal," a video shown at the concert in central Tbilisi stated.

The money raised at the event is designed to "help our comrades" who were "punished for their love of Georgia," the video statement said.

The previous day, Georgia's opposition United National Movement said its offices in Tbilisi were attacked overnight by dozens of masked men, with glass broken and equipment damaged.

It alleged that the damage was inflicted by 30-40 "titushky," a term for the frequently masked thugs who have beaten and harassed protesters since Georgian Dream announced in March that it was reintroducing the bill.