Suspicion of Russia motivates some protesters on Tbilisi streets
TBILISI — Thousands of Georgians took to the streets of the capital Tbilisi on Wednesday for the second consecutive day to protest about a new law on “foreign agents’ that some say smacks of Russian authoritarianism.
The ruling Georgian Dream party, which the protesters say has links with Russia, secured passage of the bill on first reading this week. It would require organizations that receive more than 20% of funding from abroad to register or face fines.
The protesters say the bill mimics Russian legislation which has been used since 2012 to silence dissent.
Georgia was once part of the Russian-dominated former Soviet Union and many Georgians want their country to be part of the European Union. Many Georgians also support Ukraine, which is fighting a more than one year-long invasion by Russian forces.
“When it starts with certain organizations – like (what) happened in Russia – tomorrow it will be about persons,” said journalist Mikheil Gvadzabia, 24, speaking in English. “They (the demonstrators) don’t want Russian laws in Georgia.”
Anti-Russian feeling runs high in Georgia after longstanding Russian support for two separatist regions and a brief Russian invasion of the country in 2008.
Software engineer Vakhtang Berikashvili, 33, said many of his friends had already left Georgia because they did not like what the government was doing.
“This is what happened in Russia, what started in 2012 and what is continuing until now … this draft law, which is even worse than the Russian law in 2012,” he said.
“If they beat us, the only choice we would be left with would be to leave the country or die without saying anything. We don’t want this future. This already happened in Russia and we don’t want this to happen in Georgia.”