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  • Feminist Peace Collective

In solidarity with Georgian people: Is there a third way to unravel the current dust clouds?
Photo credit: OC Media

Last few days thousands of people in Georgia have been protesting against the reintroduction of the “foreign agents” bill by the ruling Georgian Dream and the forceful approval of its first reading in the parliament. While we stand in solidarity with the Georgian people in their struggle, we also aim to introduce a critical discussion on the predominant narratives that circulate around the current events.

What we witness these days in Tbilisi among all the complex developments can also be approached from a different angle - the fight for freedom and equality. In the fight for freedom and equality, the clash of rivalling ideologies such as nationalism, EU-integration, liberalism create a dust cloud where an ordinary person who simply wants to live dignified life without interference from third parties gets lost. To stay on track amidst this chaos, we call for recalibrating our compass to the coordinates of freedom and equality. By doing so, we can navigate through the dust clouds, storms, fogs, and political turbulence engulfing our region, ensuring that our pursuit remains steadfast despite the challenges.

The re-introduction of the "Foreign Agent Law" spurred thousands to the streets again. However, this time, Georgian government learning from previous mistakes outpours hundreds of police officers to the streets and at the same time creates a narrative of emerging two camps. On one side, the government portrays the law as a bulwark against Western influence and the supposed "Ukrainization" of Georgia. On the other, proponents of liberal politics denounce the law as a "Russian Law," hinting at an impending authoritarian crackdown.   

Revisiting our compass, the critical query emerges: how do we discern the path to freedom and equality in this crossroad? Is our way aligned with Georgian government’s defiance against Western hegemony or should we choose EU to stand against the “Russian style” authoritarian crackdown?

In reality, the Georgian government adheres to the playbook of standard right-wing conservative elites, seeking to solidify their reign and normalize authoritarian tactics. This echoes familiar narratives witnessed in regimes across Azerbaijan, Russia, Turkey, Hungary, Poland and beyond. The playbook's recurring theme portrays an abstract and nebulous force called West attempting to subjugate peripheral nations. However, upon closer inspection, it becomes obvious that these same governments maintain robust economic ties with purported Western powers (i.e. Germany and the US are among the top importers in Georgia in 2022). This contradiction remains conveniently overlooked. Economic exploitation and the resulting reliance on the West evidently do not contradict the dominant neocolonial and neoliberal relationships upheld by Western governments.

Authoritarian leaning manifests when the ruling class perceives threats to their profit-making stability in the current neoliberal economies. In Georgia, the ruling elite, entwined with the global market, including both EU and Russian market, feels pressured to secure their positions amidst geopolitical tensions between the EU and Russia. Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze's invocation of the "Foreign Agent law" as a defence against the "Ukrainization" of Georgia manipulates fear, reminiscent of Ukraine's plight, to maintain control. Despite Georgian citizens' desire for EU integration, the spectre of Russian occupation is exploited by the government.

This authoritarian model appears to draw inspiration specially from a neighbouring country- Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan, adept at balancing its sovereignty while navigating the EU-Russia dichotomy, wields significant influence over Georgian politics through supplying more than 90% of the gas needs and investing billions into the Georgian economy. From alternative energy transportation like Black Sea electricity project to the gas pipelines, Georgia and Azerbaijan cooperate to bargain the EU’s energy needs. Yet these EU-supported energy transportation, alongside its pipes and lines, also carries the authoritarian trends. Eventually, emulating Azerbaijan's authoritarian approach seems to deepen Georgia's economic and political reliance. This scenario might end up burdening its populace with debt and eroding social services provided by civil society if the “foreign agents law” will be adopted.

Ultimately, prioritizing so-called "sovereignty" may come at the expense of citizens' well-being and autonomy, resembling a precarious game of political and economic brinkmanship. Thus when current Georgian government positions itself against the Western influence, particularly relying on the anti-gender narratives, they offer complete control over bodies, decisions, freedom of assembly, and political participation of its population. For grassroots movements attempting to circumvent Western ideological dominance by asserting control over local politics, evading the tightening grip of local authorities, the shrinking civic space, and the gradual erosion of political pluralism becomes nearly insurmountable. An illustrative instance of this political manoeuvring is evident in Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture Thea Tsulukiani's replacement of independent cultural managers in the music, film, and theatre industry with regime loyalists. The scenes unfolding on the streets of Tbilisi today, where protests are quashed through sophisticated methods beyond mere brute force, serve as a continuation of this oppressive political agenda.

Should our stance then simply boil down to being pro-EU in opposition to the so-called "Russian law"? It's crucial to recognize that the concept of laws restricting foreign aid to local actors dates back to the origins of states. Upon closer examination, one realizes that variations of such laws exist in nearly every state. Their underlying logic aims to consolidate the sovereignty of a single actor—whether a political party, president, or monarch—over a given territory, ostensibly to curtail foreign interference or quell local dissent under the guise of combating external influence. Regardless of whether it's labeled as "Russian," the objective of such laws is the erosion of freedom.

It is also important to recognize that the organizational framework provided by the liberal democratic model through NGO-ization has, in practice, led to the pacification, depoliticization, and de-ideologization of political life in many contexts. While certain NGOs have made positive contributions, the inherent limitations of liberal democratic politics are evident. It perpetuates the illusion of freedom while neglecting structural inequalities and violence, which disproportionately harm marginalized communities. Socio-economic issues like hyperinflation, housing and job access, healthcare, and education, which afflict many Georgians today, are sidelined in favor of a singular focus on EU membership as the panacea for all societal ills.

This dilemma prompts consideration of a third path—a path that struggles for freedom and equality without succumbing to the rhetorical traps set by local governments or the hollow promises of liberal democracy. It entails resisting the Georgian government's encroachment on freedom and the implementation of authoritarian policies, while also rejecting the confines of neoliberal politics and fostering independent organizing. The struggle should persist even if the law is not passed; in fact, it should ignite anew. This third path is radical and complex, but it may be the only viable route toward the freedom and equality we aspire to amid this dusty reality. Yet we also recognize that what appears as a single layer of dust cloud is but one among many layers of invisible oppression awaiting our challenge once the first layer dissipates. Incremental victories in this struggle are insufficient, as the layers of visible and invisible oppression persist until our complete liberation is achieved.



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