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Georgian parliament overrules president's veto of foreign agents law

by Nate Ostiller May 28, 2024 6:35 PM 3 min read
Police blocking the back entrance to Georgia's parliament building among ongoing protests on May 28, 2024. (Nate Ostiller/the Kyiv Independent)
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Georgia's parliament voted on May 28 to overrule President Salome Zourabichvili's veto of the controversial foreign agents law, moving the legislation closer to its likely enactment.

The bill requires organizations that receive foreign funding to be labeled as "foreign agents" and mirrors repressive Russian legislation used to crack down on Kremlin regime critics. Zourabichvili vetoed the law on May 18, but Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili announced two days later that the ruling Georgian Dream party planned to overrule her vote.

The legislation will now be sent back to Zourabichvili, who will have five days to sign into law. In the likely situation that she refuses, Papuashvili will be able to sign it into law, after which it will be enacted.

The main provisions of the legislation will not come into force for another 60 days after it is enacted, likely occurring shortly before the parliamentary elections in October that are widely seen as a referendum on the foreign agents law and the direction that Georgian Dream is taking the country.

While the parliament's move to overrule the veto was not unexpected, the vote came days after the U.S. announced it was implementing travel restrictions on lawmakers who are responsible for "undermining democracy" in the country. The restrictions will also apply to their family members.

U.S. Congressman Joe Wilson also introduced legislation on May 23 that would provide Georgia with a package of military, trade, and visa liberalization incentives for Georgia if it reverses the trend of democratic backsliding and abandons the controversial foreign agents law.

Several EU countries are reportedly pushing for sanctions against Georgia over the bill, including suspension of the visa-free travel regime. Some European Parliament members also called to suspend Georgia's EU candidacy in response.

Georgian Dream has nonetheless remained undeterred and proceeded with the legislation, and has increased its accusations and vitriol toward the U.S. and EU.

Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze, who also serves as secretary general of Georgian Dream, said on May 25 that the U.S. and Georgia are "enemies" in response to the introduction of travel restrictions.

"I think that the existing relations (between Georgia and the U.S.) need to be restarted," Kaladze said.

The protesters who have been in the streets for over a month have also remained determined to continue demonstrating against the foreign agents law and Georgian Dream, with thousands showing up almost every day in front of the parliament building and around the city center.

Police blocking the back entrance to Georgia's parliament building among ongoing protests on May 28, 2024. (Nate Ostiller/the Kyiv Independent)

A large group of protesters gathered behind the parliament building throughout the day on May 28 as lawmakers discussed overruling the veto.

Protesters have vowed to continue demonstrating.

Shortly after the vote was announced, the European Commission issued a statement reiterating previous concerns about the legislation and the impact it will have on civil society in Georgia and the country's process of EU accession.

"We urge the Georgian authorities to reverse this trend and to return firmly on the EU path. There is still time to change the dynamics—but a strong commitment by the governing authorities is needed," the statement said.

"The EU and its Member States are considering all options to react to these developments."

Explainer: What’s behind ongoing protests in Georgia?
For the past few weeks, thousands of protesters have gathered every night in front of the Georgian parliament in opposition to the controversial foreign agents law that the ruling Georgian Dream party is attempting to pass. The final vote is set to take place on May 14. The law would
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