Accessibility links

Breaking News

Georgia’s protesters vow to stay on streets until government falls

Demonstrators with Georgian national and EU flags rally during an opposition protest against a foreign influence bill as they mark their country's Independence Day, in the center of in Tbilisi, Georgia, May 26, 2024.
Demonstrators with Georgian national and EU flags rally during an opposition protest against a foreign influence bill as they mark their country's Independence Day, in the center of in Tbilisi, Georgia, May 26, 2024.

Protesters in Georgia have vowed to continue anti-government demonstrations driven largely by the so-called “foreign agent” law that took effect last week.

Thousands of people have taken to the streets of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, in the past two months to protest the law, which critics have compared to similar measures in Russia. Many of the demonstrators carry European Union and Georgian flags, while others wave the Ukrainian colors in solidarity with Kyiv following its 2022 invasion by Moscow.

Georgia’s protestors vow to stay on streets until government falls
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:03:10 0:00

Protesters beaten

Among the most well-known figures at the demonstrations is David Katsarava, a prominent activist who monitors Russian activities in parts of Georgia occupied by Moscow’s forces since its 2008 invasion of the country.

On May 14, Katsarava was detained by Georgian special forces outside parliament. He says he was severely beaten at least five times in detention, suffering extensive injuries including a broken jaw and eye socket. He was released without charge the following day. The government says it is investigating his treatment.

At his home in the suburbs of Tbilisi, Katsarava told VOA that the protests must go on – and he will rejoin them in the coming days.

“We have now the changed reality and we must continue fighting. Georgia has changed and changed its direction to Russia. We must fight until to the end because otherwise if we stop, if we will be scared and we will stay at home, so that will be a finish for free Georgia. And Georgia then becomes Belarus or some branch of Russia or something like this,” he said.

Foreign agent

The new law requires any organization receiving more than 20 percent of its funding from overseas to register as a “foreign agent.” Critics have compared it to Russian legislation and say it is aimed at stifling scrutiny and criticism of the government by media and non-governmental organizations ahead of elections scheduled in October.

The law’s supporters say it is aimed at ensuring transparency.

“It doesn’t make sense why the state budget should be transparent — but any funding from foreign sources should not be transparent in the same way,” said Fridon Injia, an member of parliament with the European Socialists party, which is closely aligned to the ruling Georgian Dream party.

The European Union has warned that the foreign agent law is incompatible with Georgia’s EU membership aspirations. Last week, the United States imposed sanctions on several Georgian lawmakers who supported the legislation.

October elections

The demonstrators insist they will continue their action until the October elections — with the aim of toppling the government, which is led by the Georgian Dream political party and widely seen as increasingly pro-Russian.

Giga Bokeria, chairman of the “European Georgia” party and a member of the government from 2010 until 2013, compared the coming months to the fall of the Soviet Union, when Georgia regained its independence.

“We have elections in October. These protests will continue until then. And our goal will be just like 30 years ago — to achieve a fundamental change. And this fundamental change is to remove the government, which is a proxy of the enemy of our sovereignty [Russia] and enemy of our liberty inside the country.”

EU support

Polls conducted before the foreign agent law took effect suggest around 80 percent of Georgians support EU membership.

At a recent protest outside parliament, many demonstrators vowed to stay on the streets until the election.

“No matter that the law is already in place, we keep on protesting. Because we want that Europe sees our approach and they support us,” said student Elene Ramishvili.

“There’s a big chance that [the government] will try to fake the results of the elections and we’ll have to be ready for the action, in case this happens,” fellow protester Giorgi Japiashvili told VOA.

Katsarava called on Europe and the U.S. to do more. “I would like to appeal to our Western partners and our friends to please support us,” he said. “We need quick support. And without you, we all will lose Georgia as a free country.”