fbpx

Georgian president accuses government of ‘sabotaging’ EU bid in scathing public address

Salome Zourabichvili at a rally in support of Georgia’s European integration on 16 June 2022. Photo: Shota Kincha/OC Media.

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili has accused the government of deliberately sabotaging the country’s EU membership bid, after the ruling Georgian Dream party reintroduced its aborted ‘foreign agent law’.

In her most scathing attack on the party that backed her election in 2018 to date, Zourabichvili called on the public to vote against Georgian Dream in parliamentary elections scheduled for October.

Georgian Dream announced they would reintroduce the foreign agent law earlier on Wednesday. In March 2023, the party backtracked on their previous attempt to pass the law, following two nights of mass street protests. At the time, party leaders promised the law would not be brought back while they remained in government.

During her address on Wednesday evening, Zourabichvili said Georgian Dream had shown its ‘true face’. 

She said the party had introduced the legislation on the week that was ‘most loaded with the national spirit’, as it coincided with the 9 April 1989 massacre of protesters in Tbilisi by Soviet troops. ‘But you don’t have this: neither Europeanness nor national spirit’, she said.

She went on to link the proposed law to similar legislation that has been used in Russia to crush civil society and independent media there. ‘Russia will never return here’, she said.  

She referred to the law as the ‘Russian law’, a term used by critics in 2023 when opposing the law.

Advertisements

‘I am sorry to Mr Papuashvili for using this term, but I am going to use it’, she said. Her remark referred to the Speaker of Parliament, Shalva Papuashvili’s decision earlier on Wednesday to turn of the microphones of any MP who referred to the law as the ‘Russian law’.

Georgia’s decision came as several Russian allies have pushed through their own foreign agent laws. Wednesday’s announcement came just a day after the Kyrgyz President signed their own foreign agent law. Kazakhstan has also pursued a similar strategy. Abkhazia’s president also introduced a draft foreign agent law in February, despite longstanding local opposition to the initiative.

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

‘No to Europe’

The president went into detail about what she described as the government’s attempts to torpedo Georgia’s path towards EU membership. While the government officially supports Georgia’s EU candidacy, since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, they have become increasingly hostile towards the West

‘Everything is clear now: Georgian Dream have declared quite clearly, they have said no to Europe in every direction’, Zouribichvili said.

‘Every possible way which preconditions our future, in all these directions they told [Europe] no’. 

The president said that Georgia had received candidate status from Europe as a ‘sort of advance’ and that Georgian Dream had already begun sabotaging this. ‘Sabotage is the only thing that came to my mind’, she said. 

She went on to list a number of recent government policies, stating that the ruling party had ‘decided to say no to the justice reform, to protect Murusidze and Chinchaladze [judges sanctioned by the US], not to sacrifice them even if the price is Georgia’s European future; they said no to join the sanctions and to align to the EU’s foreign policy.’

She added that the government issuing an ultimatum to the US over the sanctioning of Georgian judges was ‘funny’.

Wednesday also saw Georgian Dream pass an amendment in its first hearing to repeal gender quotas in parliament.

‘No to women’s rights and to practically the only fulfilled recommendation that we had about gender equality, “let’s go backwards”, they said.’

During her speech, the president also sarcastically ‘congratulated’ Georgian Dream on the fact that women would no longer be counted among their members, ‘or if they are, they refer to those women in a way that it is better not to mention at all’, she said. 

‘You have lost elementary Georgian politeness, which is very sad for you’.

She was referring to a remark made by Georgian Dream MP Beka Odisharia earlier on Wednesday. ‘Fuck you, you herd of unfucked females, this is a syndrome of unfucked women, unfucked…’, Odisharia said in reference to a group of opposition MPs.

‘No to anticorruption measures’, Zouribichvili continued, ‘on the contrary, we should not know how our judges become rich, or former prime ministers; no to depolarisation.’

‘No to fair elections, no to the diaspora voting in the election’, she said, in reference to discussions regarding obstacles to Georgians voting abroad. 

In a lengthy statement on Wednesday following the president’s address, Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze spoke of what he said was the ‘Europeanness’ of the proposed law. 

He wrote that the Government had already established a ‘European standard of transparency’ and that it was now time for non-governmental organisations and their donors to ‘Europeanise’, adding that the draft law would ‘undoubtedly provide them with significant help’.

‘For me, transparency means Europeanness, and non-transparency means non-Europeanness. It is extremely un-European when you avoid the minimum standard of transparency’, he said.

When the law was first introduced in 2023, EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borell said it was ‘incompatible with EU values and standards’.

‘It goes against Georgia’s stated objective of joining the European Union, as supported by a large majority of Georgian citizens. Its final adoption may have serious repercussions on our relations’, he warned. 

Similarly, the US State Department spokesperson Ned Price claimed the law ‘would strike at some of the very rights that are central to the aspirations of the people of Georgia for a consolidated democracy, for Euro-Atlantic integration’. 

Price added that the adoption of the law ‘would be a setback to the ability of the United States to continue to be a partner for the people of Georgia’.

Pushback

The law was widely condemned by both local and international rights groups, as well as Western countries when it was first tabled in 2023.

A protest organised by three local civil society organisations against the legislation is set to take place outside parliament on Thursday at 20:00.

On Wednesday evening, representatives of online independent media outlets including OC Media issued a joint statement saying that reintroducing the draft foreign agent law was an attack on freedom of the press. 

The statement said the law would ‘destroy independent civil society and media organisations, kill free speech, establish total control over public opinion, and erase the media.’

They said the media would resist the adoption of the law. 

The International Press Institute also released a statement on Wednesday urging the government to ‘refrain from adopting this draconian legislation threatening #pressfreedom.’

Read in Armenian on CivilNet.