03/09/2023, 00.00
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Tbilisi on the brink of civil war

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Street protests against the passing of the law on 'foreign agents'. Proceedings suspended for the time being. Opponents condemn the pro-Russian line of the incumbent Georgian Dream government. The measure moves the country away from EU membership. The burden of the Russian war on Ukraine. The crisis could worsen.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - There is no sign of an end to the street clashes in Georgia following the approval in first reading of the law on the "transparency of foreign influence", accused by the opposition of representing a choice of alignment with Russia and rejection of Europe, while the battles in Ukraine continue. In the centre of the capital, in front of the Parliament, security forces use tear gas, water jets and other means to suppress the protests, which have already led to the arrest of 66 people.

Faced with the demonstrations, the majority parties have decided to suspend further voting for the time being. However, the Georgian Minister of the Interior is issuing threats of very serious consequences for the protesters, on whom accusations of all kinds are being levelled, from hooliganism to resisting a public official, to terrorism and subversion, assuring that 'the actions of those who fomented the peaceful protest to the point of turning it into a mass violent action will be given the appropriate legal assessment'. Dozens of policemen were injured, as were several demonstrators.

The US embassy in Tbilisi spoke of 'black days for Georgian democracy', denying that the law passed is similar to 'Fara', the rule on foreign agents in the US, and comparing it directly to the Russian law that has become increasingly repressive over the past year.

The statement from the diplomatic headquarters reads that "the parliament's approval of laws inspired by the Kremlin is incompatible with the aspirations of the people of Georgia for European integration and its democratic development, as well as damaging relations with strategic partners and destroying the important work of so many Georgian organisations working to assist their citizens".

Despite the criticism also coming from Europe and all Western countries, the protests of the opposition and humanitarian activists throughout society, the ruling Georgian Dream party decided to proceed with the approval of the controversial law at an accelerated pace, bringing it forward by two days.

Many opposition MPs left parliament to join the demonstrators, and the vote was held behind tight security measures, not allowing journalists and activists, and even a section of the opposition, to attend, which further heightened tensions.

The parliamentary session itself had begun in a heated atmosphere, with unrestrained shouting and insults from one side to the other, in particular from the ultra-nationalist deputies of the 'People's Force' group, David Khundadze and Guram Mačarašvili, while the government's former footballer Mikhail Kavelašvili physically threw himself at his opponent Georgij Vašadze, after the latter advised him to 'go back to playing football'. The Georgian Dream members themselves contributed to increasing tensions by taking over the bill that had been presented by the nationalists.

The People's Force is a group recently created, to express strongly anti-Western tendencies, by some deputies who had left the Georgian Dream, and according to many, were teleguided by it, to keep their hands clean from too extreme positions.

The Foreign Agents Law actually puts the issue of supporting Ukraine against Russia at the centre of Georgian politics, which according to the pro-Russians is an attempt to 'drag Georgia into the war' inspired by Western countries, which use Ukraine as a weapon against Moscow.

The patriotic rhetoric has thus been reabsorbed by the ruling party, after using the extremists, who did not like being sidelined, as a picklock. Expressions of hostility against 'men without a homeland', 'quasi-patriots', 'pages of foreign countries', which seemed exclusive to the People's Force, are now on everyone's lips with various nuances, and the clash is thus further complicated. In addition to the two parties that have always been in conflict, new divisions are being created within them.

The head of the Georgian Dream parliamentary group, Mamuki Mdinaradze, argued that 'true patriots cannot go against this bill', accusing his opponents of wanting to involve even the Georgian Orthodox Church: 'You insult our patriarch and want to bring our country into chaos according to a revolutionary scenario, putting foreign money into war projects... we just want financial transparency'.

Many other authoritative speeches reiterate these extremely alarmed positions, while President Salome Zurabišvili has already announced that she does not intend to sign this law after its final approval, before which the Georgian political crisis could degenerate in unpredictable ways.

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