Denmark condemns draconian Georgian government

Denmark has issued a joint statement with the Nordic-Baltic countries expressing deep concern over Georgia’s draft law on Transparency of Foreign Influence and calling it “incompatible with European norms and values”.

Screenshot from a video of a recent anti-government protest in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. Source: Ritzau

Denmark, along with the seven other countries in the Nordic-Baltic Cooperation (NB8), has issued a joint statement expressing deep concern over Georgia’s draft law on Transparency of Foreign Influence and calling it “incompatible with European norms and values”.

Proposed in early April by the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party, the bill would require NGOs and media outlets whose proportion of international funding exceeds 20 percent to list themselves on a public registry as “foreign agents”.

Georgians are calling it ‘the Russian law’ due to its similarities to measures in Russia, which has used the “foreign agent” label to silence critical voices. 

Since the proposal went before Georgian parliament some three weeks ago, civil protests, tens of thousands strong, have raged in the country’s capital of Tbilisi. 

The EU is watching worriedly. Georgia was granted EU candidacy status in December last year, but recent democratic backslides as the right-wing government reveals its hand of Russian-influence, have seen the accession procedure stall.

“Georgia was given a clear path to start accession negotiations and later on join the European Union. However, recently the Georgian authorities have chosen a concerning trajectory disrupting Georgia’s European future,” writes the NB8, which comprises Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

That concerning trajectory is spearheaded by GD; on 29 April, a statement issued by 57 Georgian diplomats asserted that GD has “shifted the country’s foreign policy course by 180 degrees” – from the West towards Russia.

GD, founded in 2012 by the billionaire businessman and oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, has kept its hold on power largely through fear mongering and by pillorying the divided opposition.

Georgia is in a precarious geopolitical position. To the north, it shares an 894-kilometre border with Russia.

In 2022, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine destabilised the fragile balance that the Georgian government had built between appeasing Russia and the West.

This is not the first time that GD has tried to pass the Transparency of Foreign Influence law, since then.

An earlier attempt in 2023 faced savage civil uprisings and international backlash that resulted in its withdrawal.

Then, as now, the law was accused of being a proxy for silencing media and civil society organisations. 

But while pivoting to an increasingly oppressive Russian-style governance, the Georgian authorities are throwing up a smokescreen, with GD claiming that the Transparency of Foreign Influence law resembles EU draft legislation. 

The NB8 calls that “unfounded and misleading” and warns that “the anti-Western rhetoric of Georgian authorities seriously risks undermining Georgia’s European choice.”

But as the fresh wave of protests illustrate, the majority of Georgia’s civil society is pro-European and anti-Russian.

Indeed, according to Foreign Policy, at every turn in Tbilisi, “Fuck Putin,” “Russia is an occupier,” and “Georgia stands with Ukraine” are painted on the walls. 

Almost every establishment, from banks to bars, displays Ukrainian flags – and 87 percent of Georgians consider the war in Ukraine a shared cause, according to the Georgian media Tabula.

Georgia will hold general elections in October. The Transparency of Foreign Influence law therefore has significant potential, if ratified, to corrupt voting – with GD likely to use it to muzzle opposition.

Some observers have likened events to Ukraine’s 2013-14 Euromaidan Revolution, which saw the pro-Kremlin Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych unseated and flee to Russia.

With Georgia’s future in the EU hanging in the balance, and Russia’s grip on its ruling elite growing stronger, the outcome of the October election will be a curtain-up on Georgia’s likely geopolitical direction.