Law on foreign agents: Georgia proposes to limit funding for NGOs
Georgia proposes law on foreign agents
Deputies who broke away from the ruling Georgian Dream and founded the People’s Power movement are going to prepare a new bill on the financing of NGOs. As one of the leaders of the movement and former ombudsman Sozar Subari says, this will be a Western analogue of financial transparency and not at all a copy of Russian legislation, which Subari himself, in his words, is “not familiar with in the least.”
According to analyst David Kartvelishvili, another member of People’s Power, lawmakers plan to build on the US Foreign Agents Registration Act:
“People’s Power has a sincere desire to return this anti-government sector to a non-governmental sector and subordinate it to constitutional, democratic rules. To do this, we sometimes turn to international precedent.”
According to him, the movement took an interest in the American system in order to “prevent the non-governmental sector from going beyond the law.” In 1938 American legislators created the “Law on the Registration of Foreign Agents”, slightly amended in 1966.
“But the spirit of the law remains the same. This is the registration of organizations, individuals, political forces that are funded from abroad, which must report on this, must be included on a list (in the United States, this is the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General’s Office), must submit a report every six months on this funding — where these funds were spent, for which projects they were used, etc.”, Kartvelishvili says.
MPs who broke away from Georgian Dream reacted to a November 18 meeting of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations by saying that most of the US funding in Georgia goes to NGOs. “You should not expect gratitude from us for funding their own agents,” the deputies said.
They also rejected the notion of a democratic rollback in Georgia, answering that according to the “pseudo-liberal vocabulary”, democracy means agentocracy. According to the deputies, with their “unfair resolutions”, “representatives of the European bureaucracy” are trying to weaken the “democratic government”.
A democratic country, Subari says, must be based on principles that exist in the West.
“For an independent state, it is completely unacceptable and insulting when they want to control us through Western agents.”
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What does the Russian law on “foreign agents” mean?
What has been proposed in Georgia is similar to Russia’s law on foreign agents, to which Putin signed another amendment on February 25, 2021.
The law on “foreign agents” stipulates fines of up to 2,500 rubles for individuals and up to 500,000 rubles for organizations. Known as the “foreign agents” law, it does not discriminate and applies equally to the media and individuals.
The law was first adopted in 2012 during Putin’s third presidential term, and has since undergone several changes. Putin decided to pass the law in response to February 2012 protests, during which the Russian president accused foreign governments of encouraging and financing protests.
The law requires NGOs receiving foreign aid, which the Russian government considers political activity, to identify themselves as “foreign agents” and register with the tax service.
Recent amendments to the law target foreign-funded media outlets. Among them is Russian-language Radio Liberty, as well as six other Russian-language news services and Current Time, a joint media project between Voice of America and Radio Liberty. After the invasion of Ukraine, the publications Meduza and Novaya Gazeta also joined the ranks of “foreign agents”.
At the end of 2020, changes to the law allow the Russian government to classify individual journalists as “foreign agents” and impose restrictions on them.
The deputies who initiated the adoption of a similar law in Georgia were members of the ruling Georgian Dream party for a long time. Sozar Subari, Mikheil Kavelashvili and Dmitry Khundadze left their party and parliamentary posts abruptly in June of this year and later founded the People’s Power movement.
One of these breakaway deputies, Mikheil Kavelashvili, addressed an open letter to the US ambassador to Georgia and urged him to publicly dissociate himself from the National Movement’s provocations in order to protect America’s image.
On July 22, three deputies appealed to US State Department spokesman Ned Price. According to them, they do not want “countries” to rudely interfere in “internal affairs”. This statement by the deputies followed the support expressed by US State Department spokesman Ned Price to US Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan.
One of the latest statements by this political group was on August 26, when the deputies said that the US embassy in Georgia is trying to overthrow the Georgian government.
Georgia proposes law on foreign agents