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Abkhazian opposition figures express support for Georgia’s foreign agent law protesters

9 May 2024
From left to right: Inal Khashig, Akhra Bzhania, and Lasha Zukhba. Photos via Facebook and RFE/RL.

Georgia’s foreign agent law has stirred anxiety in Abkhazia, where opposition figures fear that the draft law signals a pro-Russian policy shift that could lead to Russia abandoning Abkhazia.

Since protests against the reintroduction of the draft foreign agent law began in Georgia in April, several opposition figures in Abkhazia have expressed support for protesters in Georgia, saying that the adoption of the law in Georgia could directly affect Abkhazia.

On Monday, in a Facebook post criticising the Georgian foreign agent law as repressive, Akhra Bzhania, a former opposition MP and head of the Akhyatsa public movement, argued that the draft legislation signified a pro-Russian foreign policy shift in Tbilisi that could result in Abkhazia being offered to Georgia as a ‘compromise’.

‘The foreign agent law, if adopted by the parliament in Tbilisi, could serve as a powerful factor in the construction of a new reality in the South Caucasus. A reality in which the economic and regional partnership of the Russian Federation and Georgia will push the idea of our neighbour’s European integration to the background’, he wrote on Facebook. ‘And then… who knows what compromises will be made and who will become the subject of these compromises. Abkhazia?’

‘How paradoxical; if everything was more or less stable with the “anti-Russian” leadership of Georgia led by [former president Mikheil] Saakashvili, then now under the “pro-Russian” government of [Georgian Dream founder Bidzina] Ivanishvili, and especially in the case of the aforementioned law, things will become much more complicated!’

Inal Khashig, a journalist and political observer, also argued on Monday that the draft legislation could serve as the ‘beginning of a mutually beneficial cooperation between Moscow and Tbilisi’.

‘Few people understand, but the law on foreign agents has a certain sacred meaning for the Kremlin. This is a kind of pledge of allegiance. Something like Kipling’s “we be of one blood, ye and I” ’, Khashig wrote on Telegram.

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‘The pledge means guaranteed readiness for the subject’s turn towards Moscow, which will only increase.’

Lasha Zukhba, a veteran of the war in Abkhazia, also published a post on Facebook in support of Georgians protesting the foreign agent law.

‘On behalf of myself and like-minded people, I express solidarity with the protesters of Tbilisi, the Georgian opposition and the entire civil society of Georgia in their protest against the adoption of the law on foreign influence’, he said.

‘We remember your support for our protest against the Pitsunda agreement, and our protest against the law on foreign agents is still ahead of us. I hope your efforts will not be in vain and the law will not be adopted’.

‘The determination of any people, and specifically the Georgian people too, is invincible. I wish you strength of spirit and success in achieving your goal’, he wrote.

Zukhba’s post was met with a mixed reception; of those commenting on the post, Tengiz Agrba, a political activist, said that while he wished courage to Georgians, it was ‘impossible to sympathise with Georgians until Abkhazia’s independence is recognised’.

Others agreed with Zukhba, with journalist Elena Zavodskaya commenting ‘what is happening today in Tbilisi will come to us tomorrow’, in a reference to Abkhazia’s own foreign agent law submitted by the Presidential Administration to parliament in February.

[Read more: Abkhazia proposes ‘foreign agent’ law]

Zavodskaya added that Abkhazia’s opposition was ‘unlikely to have the strength to resist’ the foreign agent law. 

‘In my opinion, this will mean that all those who disagree with the actions of the authorities will be declared enemies and deprived of civil rights, because the Abkhazian version of the law is much tougher than the Georgian one, as far as one can judge’, she wrote.

‘That is why these events are important for us today. Any people who fight for their rights deserve sympathy, at a minimum. Tomorrow we could all end up in the same pen.’

The Abkhazian opposition figures’ show of support for Georgian protesters came as Abkhazia braces for its own foreign agent law, submitted to parliament by the Presidential Administration in February.

Critics of the bill in Abkhazia have warned that the legislation would be used to stifle criticism of the authorities.

Georgia’s foreign agent law would label any civil society or media organisation that receives at least 20% of its funding from outside Georgia ‘organisations carrying out the interests of a foreign power’. Such organisations would be subject to ‘monitoring’ by the Ministry of Justice every six months, which lawyers have warned could include forcing them to hand over internal communications and confidential sources. Organisations that do not comply would be subject to large fines.

 For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.

Read in Armenian on CivilNet.
Read in Georgian on On.ge.