Zourabichvili: Georgia to Make a Vital Choice in October

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At the parliamentary elections, Georgians will have to decide whether Georgia should be with Russia or with Europe, Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili told DW. Georgian voters will have to make an existential choice at the upcoming parliamentary elections in October, Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili claimed. They will face a clear question whether Georgia should be “with Europe or with Russia, or at least not with Europe,” she said on Thursday, 18 April. Zourabichvili confirmed that she intends to veto the draft law on “foreign agents”, which is expected to be cancelled by the parliament. Only citizens’ protests and their opinion, which they will express in the October elections, can hinder the parliamentarians’ plans, she emphasized. “And this will be the main test for the population, for Georgia and for its admission to the EU,” the Georgian president added. Zourabichvili about Russia’s pressure According to Zourabichvili, the draft law on “foreign agents” is rather similar to the law adopted several years ago in Russia and is aimed at limiting the freedom of media and the activities of international organizations present in Georgia since the beginning of its history as an independent state. In addition, this bill limits Georgia’s progress towards democracy and the country’s overall pursuit of European and Euro-Atlantic integration, she outlined. At the same time, Zourabichvili recalled that Tbilisi expects to be able to start EU accession talks by the end of this year. “This is a very crucial step and it is not a surprise that Russia is putting pressure and obstacles on this path. That is why we are talking about Russian influence,” she said. Georgia’s law on “foreign agents” In early April, the ruling Georgian Dream party announced its intention to bring back to a vote an amended version of the bill, which was withdrawn a year ago after mass protests in Tbilisi involving tens of thousands of people. The draft law “On Transparency of Foreign Influence” is an analogue of the Russian law on “foreign agents” and was passed in the first session on 17 April. It stipulates that organizations that receive at least 20% of their funding from abroad must register with the authorities. While the original version of the law required such organizations to be classified as “foreign agents”, the current draft refers to “organizations representing the interests of a foreign power”. Avoidance from registration entails a fine of 25,000 GEL (about 9,000 euros), and repeated penalties are possible. The Georgian opposition has sharply criticized the bill, accusing the ruling party of working for Russia. Mass protests by opponents of the new regulation began in Tbilisi. Special forces used tear gas to disperse a mass protest on 16 April near the parliament building, and there were also reports of law enforcers beating citizens. 11 people were detained. Protests continued even after the demonstrators were dispersed. The controversial bill has also been sharply criticized by EU countries and the USA. The adoption of the law on “foreign agents” will distance Georgia from joining the European Union, the chairman of the European Council, Charles Michel, emphasized.