Georgia politicians brawl in parliament over contentious 'foreign agents' bill

Georgia politicians brawl in parliament over contentious 'foreign agents' bill

Georgian lawmakers came to blows in parliament on Monday as ruling party legislators looked set to advance a controversial bill on "foreign agents" that has been criticized by Western countries and sparked protests at home.

Footage broadcast on Georgian television showed Mamuka Mdinaradze, leader of the ruling Georgian Dream party's parliamentary faction and a driving force behind the bill, being punched in the face by opposition legislator Aleko Elisashvili while speaking to the legislative chamber.

The incident prompted a wider brawl between several lawmakers, an occasional occurrence in Georgia's often raucous parliament. Footage showed Elisashvili being greeted with cheers by protesters outside the parliament building.

Georgian Dream said earlier this month it would reintroduce legislation requiring organizations that accept funds from abroad to register as foreign agents or face fines, 13 months after protests forced it to shelve the plan.

Strained relations

The bill has strained relations with European countries and the United States, who have said they oppose its passage. The European Union, which gave Georgia candidate status in December, has said the move is incompatible with the bloc's values.

Georgian Dream says it wants the country to join the EU and NATO, even as it has deepened ties with Russia and faced accusations of authoritarianism at home. It says the bill is necessary to combat what it calls "pseudo-liberal values" imposed by foreigners, and to promote transparency.

Georgia's government said Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze held a meeting on Monday with the EU, British and U.S. ambassadors at which they had discussed the bill.

In a statement, Kobakhidze defended the draft law as promoting accountability, and said it was "not clear" why Western countries opposed it.

'The Russian law'

Georgian critics have labelled the bill "the Russian law," comparing it to similar legislation used by the Kremlin to crack down on dissent in Russia.

Russia is widely unpopular in Georgia, due to Moscow's support for the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia defeated Georgia in a short war in 2008.

A man holds a sign that says
A man stands in front of protesters with a giant EU flag outside the parliament building in Tbilisi, Georgia, on Monday to protest 'the Russian law.' Georgia's governing party has submitted to parliament a draft law calling for media and non-commercial organizations to register as being under foreign influence if they receive more than 20 per cent of their budget from abroad. (Shakh Aivazov/The Associated Press)

Several hundred demonstrators gathered outside the parliament building ahead of a mass protest that civil society organizations have called for Monday evening.

Once approved by members of the legislature's legal affairs committee, which is controlled by Georgian Dream and its allies, the foreign agent bill can proceed to a first reading in parliament.

Georgia is due to hold elections by October. Opinion polls show that Georgian Dream remains the most popular party, but that it has lost ground since 2020, when it won a narrow majority.