Georgia: »This Law Targets Anyone Mobilizing for Democratic Change«


Just under six months ago, Georgia became a formal candidate for EU membership. The Law on Transparency of Foreign Influence, adopted in mid-May 2024, however, hinders Georgian accession to the EU and has drawn massive protests by Georgian society. The bill, which has great similarities to a Russian law, requires non-governmental organisations and media outlets that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad to register as bodies 'pursuing the interests of a foreign power.' In this context we asked three questions to Dr. Sonja Schiffers, Director of our South Caucasus office in Tbilisi, on how she views the latest developments.

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Sonja Schiffers
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Dr. Sonja Schiffers, Director of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung South Caucasus office in Tbilisi

What impact will the bill have on media freedom and civil society in Georgia?

Once the law is enacted, the Georgian Dream government will use it to stifle civil society, free media, and democratic activism. The law will be used arbitrarily against those who criticise the Georgian government’s increasingly authoritarian rule. Election observation and anti-corruption watchdogs are particularly high on the hit list, but essentially, anyone mobilizing for democratic change can be a target. The “foreign agents” bill needs to be viewed in its political context, where the Georgian Dream, and especially its founder and current Honorary Chairman, oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, have embarked on a fiercely anti-Western, anti-gender, post-truth course. The organised goon squads attacking activists and their parents (!) and hundreds, if not thousands of threatening phone calls provide a foretaste of what is to come. Russia, by now in partnership with Hungary, is the authoritarian norm-setter in the region, even if the Georgian Dream’s domestic motivations might preponderate.

In a statement by EU High Representative Josep Borrell with the European Commission, they "urge the Georgian authorities to withdraw the law, uphold their commitment to the EU path and advance the necessary reforms". Which measures could the EU take to positively impact the country's progress towards EU accession?

The EU and its Member States have made it very clear that by adopting the law, the Georgian government is blocking the country’s EU integration process. The European Parliament has brought potential EU funding cuts, personal sanctions, and a temporary revocation of visa-free travel into play. However, the EU’s response has been weak due to Hungary and Slovakia waging their veto powers. A statement by European Council President Charles Michael referring to “legitimate concerns of all sides” was perceived as bothsidesist. While revoking visa-free travel wouldn’t require unanimity, it would negatively affect the wider population and could be particularly problematic for activists seeking to quickly escape repressions. Given the limitations facing the EU, the capitals should also consider bilateral measures imposed by a coalition of Member States. However, I expect the United States to go first; the State Department has already threatened to impose financial and travel restrictions.

What are the next steps for this law and what can we expect for the Georgian parliamentary elections in October 2024?

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili, who strongly opposes the law, now has two weeks to suggest changes and deletions to the law. However, the Georgian Dream government could then simply override her. The Georgian democratic and pro-European public will continue to resist the authoritarian and pro-Russian trajectory and we will definitely see more protests. US and resulting financial markets pressure, combined with diplomatic pressure from European institutions and the EU Member States, might also have an impact. Hence, the situation remains dynamic, and both a worst-case scenario and a positive turn remain possible.

The upcoming parliamentary elections – scheduled 26 October 2024 – will be a tipping point for the country. President Zourabichvili intends to serve as the guarantor of the pro-European opposition, which could enhance their chances. Especially if the law is enacted, the Georgian citizens and their international partners will need to double their efforts to ensure a democratic election.


Interview: Zora Siebert and Helena Borst. 

This interview was published first at