The former Soviet state of Georgia is caught between its historical ties to the East and a future that may be closer to the West. His government, seen by critics as too friendly to the Kremlin, has been rocked by mass protests in the capital.
Parliament voted on Friday to drop a bill that fueled fears of Russian influence and comparisons with Ukraine, after tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Tbilisi to demonstrate against legislation they viewed as a threat to country’s democratic freedoms and a barrier to any future hope of joining NATO and the European Union.
NBC News takes a look at what we know so far.
What sparked the protests?
Massive and energetic protests in Tbilisi last week began after the ruling Georgian Dream party introduced a bill on foreign influence that passed the first of two readings in parliament.
The bill would have forced the media, non-governmental organizations and even individuals to register with the state as foreign agents if they receive more than 20% of their annual income from foreign entities.
The ruling party claimed it was necessary for national security and the bill’s authors said it was inspired by the 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act, which the United States enacted to expose Nazi propaganda and requires people to disclose when they make lobbying in the United States on behalf of foreign governments or political entities.
Critics called the proposal a «Russian law» and warned it could be used to restrict media freedoms and stifle dissent.
Opposition lawmaker Salome Samadashvili told NBC News on Thursday it was similar to one signed into law by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2012, a law that has been used to shut down or discredit organizations that criticize the government.
There, he said, it was used «to suppress the democratic opposition: NGOs, journalists and basically everyone who had any financial or political independence… That’s why we call it the ‘Russian law.'»
After the Georgian Dream, which has a sizable majority in Parliament, introduced and quickly voted on it, tens of thousands of protesters invaded the capital, demonstrating in front of the parliament building for several days, undeterred even after they met. with tear gas and water cannons. .
What did the government do?
With the protests showing little sign of abating, lawmakers in the Black Sea nation of 3.7 million began backing down on the bill on Wednesday night and a discussion on the proposal was canceled on Thursday.
However, the demonstrations continued until Friday morning, with protesters calling for the bill to be dropped entirely.
And in a sitting that lasted minutes, parliament compromised when MPs voted to drop the bill on Friday after Georgian Dream said it would withdraw the legislation.
Where does Ukraine come in?
In the years leading up to Putin’s fateful decision to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine last February, the Kremlin used its foreign agents law liberally to suppress what was left of the political opposition and independent media in Russia.
“The war in Ukraine has made this even clearer,” Ana Tsitlidze, a Georgian opposition lawmaker, said in an interview. «With this law, the government is trying to do the same thing that Putin did in Russia: kill off free speech and non-governmental organizations.»