The New Observer Uncategorized Democracy in Georgia

Democracy in Georgia

The elected government of Georgia is in the process of passing a law which will require organizations* which receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad to declare this. The idea is so that there is visibility on who is trying to influence Georgian society and politics.

The party which has proposed this law has a strong majority. Opinion polls show that they are are still the most popular party and could win the next election. [1] They won the last elections in 2020. The OSCE said of these elections that: “Fundamental freedoms respected in competitive Georgian elections, but allegations of pressure and blurring of line between party and state reduced confidence”. [2] Notice; that is it “allegations” of pressure; not an actual finding of pressure by the observers. So, considering the overall bias of the OSCE, this looks like quite a positive assessment of the elections.

The EU is, of course, within their rights to say that this law will not help Georgia’s accession to the EU. But, that appears to be the choice of Georgia. If it is true, as I have seen reported in the Guardian that a majority of Georgians want an EU future, that does not invalidate the bill of their government. Politics is complicated and there are many cases when popular opinion on any given issue diverges from the policy of a popularly elected government.

So, the EU and the State Department are praising this exercise in democracy? Apparently not. It seems that democracy is acceptable when it returns the right result, something called, according to the Guardian, ‘democratic norms’. Yes, I know that Hitler was elected and democracy does not validate absolutely everything. But a law requiring transparency about funding is hardly a war crime. According to the Guardian the British Embassy in Tbilisi has issued a statement about the “right of peaceful protest”. According to the Interior Ministry of Georgia protestors have been attacking policemen and trying to force their way into parliament. This all has echoes which should be all too obvious of how the Maidan protestors were described as peaceful and even “hymn-singing” by the democratic internationalists who, it seems, are all too happy to see violent demonstrations in support of their mission to topple any government which is not part of the world democratic system.

I’m struck by the way the Guardian is reporting this story in this and other articles. They are absolutely following the official State Department line (with its rather ominous line about how the US “remains committed to our enduring relationship and wants only peace, stability, and prosperity for the Georgian people”). Well, that could be the kiss of death. It didn’t end too well for Ukraine. There doesn’t seem to be any critical dimension to the Guardian’s reporting.

Update 5 May

This is a piece in the Washington Post authored by two think-tank figures, one from the ominously named, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. The authors call for sanctions on Georgia in support of the opposition to the proposed ‘foreign agent’ law.

The characterisation of Georgian politics is the familiar cartoonist over-simplification. An evil, Russia aligned Prime Minister, trying to stifle free speech and bring the country into Russia’s orbit, being opposed by a noble and valiant popular movement for democracy.

Even with Ukraine now a smoldering heap of ruins with tens of thousands of dead they are ready to make the same push in Georgia. In the name of ‘Defending Democracy’.

No matter that the new law is proposed by a duly elected majority government. No matter than in a democracy such as the UK there is also a live political discussion about just this question; of foreign funding influencing domestic politics. It is easy to argue that such a law is indeed about transparency. Funding of civil organisations and journalists in foreign countries is often carried out by Western organizations such as, for example, the US National Endowment Fund for Democracy, with the explicit aim of promoting Western liberal ‘democratic’ values. What is anti-democratic about wanting to know which foreign governments are backing political actors and trying to influence politics in your country? Any observer of current EU and UK politics will see that there is an intense sensitivity about foreign (Russian or Chinese) interference in public opinion.

The theoretical context for this is provided by John Mearsheimer in The Great Delusion Liberal Dreams and International Realities [3]. There is a section of liberals in the West who seek to export liberal democracy around the world. They do this for various reasons, including a mistaken belief that democracies do not fight wars with each other, so if all countries could be forced into becoming liberal democracies that would end wars. In reality the presumption is wrong; according to Mearsheimer, there is evidence that democracies do fight with each other. And, the process of imposing democracy often meets strong nationalist resistance which leads to wars. The irony is how people who perhaps do genuinely believe in liberalism end up behaving in rather unliberal ways as they try to impose their vision on others.

The only explanation I can see for this kind of agitation is that its promulgators are motivated by religious fundamentalism. In seeking to fulfill their religious mission to spread their system and values they are ready for any kind of bloodbath.

*- all the reports I have seen say that the legislation would apply to organisations. I don’t know if it would apply to individuals as well.

Also; another article in the Guardian, this time by a protestor from Georgia. The protestor writes: “But while it continues pursuing controversial laws, we will continue to put on gas masks and goggles and stand with family and friends for freedom and democracy.” Shouldn’t someone tell them that democracy means the ballot box? But no; there is this strange readiness to support people who want to change politics by demonstrations and, according to the Georgian government, by violence. Meanwhile; when people in the US try to change their government’s policy by demonstrations (I am thinking of students protesting against the war on Gaza), they are met with a firm police response, which is endorsed by their government.

The same circumstances exist in Georgia which precipitated the current war in Ukraine. There are regions of the country contested between Georgia and Russia. The population is divided between those who do want a ‘Euro-Atlantic’ future and those who don’t. NATO has invited Georgia to join despite this being an obvious provocation to Russia (albeit less so than Ukraine). The US and EU are coming out in support of the Euro-Atlantic party and speaking as if this is the only valid voice in Georgia, just as they did in Ukraine. What is it about these people (Western political leaders), which prevents them from learning from their mistakes? One mistake they could correct would be the linking of NATO and EU membership. In relation to Ukraine Putin made it clear that he could contemplate EU membership for Ukraine, but not NATO. They could at least learn from this and move forwards on the EU track while finding a way to push back, or cancel altogether, the NATO track. Had they done that in Ukraine in all likelihood Ukraine would now be looking forwards to a prosperous future in the EU, not years of carnage and devastation.


  3. The Great Delusion Liberal Dreams and International Realities. John Mearsheimer. Yale University Press. 2018.