The future of Georgia: The European Union or the total opposite?

 

Source: shutterstock

By Leea Hering

Georgia is lost. The country has had an EU-member candidate status since last December, but the ruling party seems to be making contradictory decisions. 81 % of Georgians are willing to join the EU, but the path towards joining the union is cracking. Will Georgia one day be able to join the European Union, or do Georgians have to bury their dream of integrating towards the west?

Controversial bill

On May 1st the Georgian parliament voted for a “Russian-style” bill in its second hearing with a vote of 83-23. The country’s leading party Georgian Dream states that the new law will promote transparency, but in fact it is doing the opposite. The bill suggests that NGOs and media outlets with over 20 % of foreign funding are to be seen as foreign agents. While the government says that the law increases transparency, it actually makes it hard, if not impossible for organisations exposing corruption to work in their field. The second aim of the bill is to prevent “LGBTQ+ propaganda” from spreading from the west. This doesn’t sound like a shift towards a more open and democratic society. Restricting citizens from basic rights isn’t the correct move to make while aiming to be a civil society. No wonder why the streets of Tbilisi, the capital, have been filled with major demonstrations. Georgian authorities have, however, responded to these demonstrations with unnecessary and over-the-top violence, with over 60 people being arrested.

Demonstrations

In Tbilisi, there have been demonstrations both pro and anti-government. However, there is a peculiar particularity concerning the demonstrations: some people have been participating in both. The government has forced some people, such as state university students or people whose salary depends on the state, to participate in the pro-government demonstrations. The people’s minds, however, are somewhere else, and therefore after participating in a pro-government demonstration, some people joined the anti-government demonstration. The youth especially want a more open, liberal, and EU-like Georgia, and in fact, a clear majority of Georgians wants to join the EU. There are many contradictions between the actions of the government. If the government is chosen by the citizens, it should also respond to the expectations of the people.

The ruling party – Georgian Dream

The government party Georgian Dream is still enjoying the position of the biggest and most popular party in the country. How is this possible when the citizens are not appreciating their actions? The answer is that there is no relevant alternative in the opposition. No other party has gained credibility to rule out the Georgian Dream. The founder of the party, Bidzina Ivanishvili, an oligarch, has enough contacts and money to hold tightly to his and his party’s position. The party has a strategic position as well: it wants to stay in the favour of Russia to avoid what happened in Georgia in 2008, but at the same time it wants to become a member of the EU. Basically Georgian Dream wants Georgia to be integrated to the west, just without LGBTQ+ rights and freedom of foreign media to operate in the country. 

Political culture has fallen ill

Overall, the political atmosphere in Georgia is currently sensitive. In mid-April, around the first reading of the foreign agent bill, an opposition leader punched a member of parliament during a debate on the bill. The political culture is not healthy, when issues cannot be talked through, but need actual violence, especially in the context of a parliamentary session. It is problematic if the opposition leader has to turn to a violence outbreak in the situation where the country would need a strong opposition. Strong in this case doesn’t mean strong in hitting people but strong in debate skills. Hitting people isn’t convincing, in fact it is the opposite: a sign of weakness and a lack of control over the situation.

Where does the EU stand?

There will still be one more hearing to the bill, but since the results of the second reading vote were so clear, the bill will most likely pass. Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, has condemned the bill and the current violence outbreaks in Georgia. Still, the EU candidate doesn’t show many second thoughts. The government is seeing the EU in this case just as another foreign intruding force trying to shrink Georgia’s autonomy. Time will tell whether the path of Georgia will turn back to track. If Georgia keeps on making decisions like this, the gates towards the EU as well as becoming a civil society will close inevitably. Still there is hope among the people.

What about Russia

What does the Kremlin think of all of this? They must be thrilled! Georgia’s fear of Russia has for sure increased since the war in Ukraine. However, Russia’s neighbours have had different strategies. For example, Finland, who has historically had close ties to Russia, joined NATO as soon as it was possible after Russia started the war in 2022, integrating even more towards the West. Of course, the setting between Georgia and Finland is very different and therefore they cannot be fully compared, but it highlights the different strategies that the border countries of Russia have in responding to the aggressive appearance of Russia. 

The future

Does Georgia really have the will to integrate towards the west? Is there a chance that at some point Georgia will have a strong opposition and a healthy political culture? Will Georgia slide into authoritarianism and decreased civil rights or will the course change and eventually lead into a full membership of the European Union? The answer can be found somewhere in the future, but for now it is hard to say where the country is on its way. Georgians themselves are left in confusion, and the rest of the world will be waiting carefully to see where the country will find itself in the future.

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