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Once a leader in the post-Soviet space, the Georgian government has slowly started to revert on its Western aspirations. Over the past few years, the leading Georgian Dream party has made several questionable decisions. This has led to democratic backsliding in the country, much to the dislike of the Georgian people.
For example, the party attempted to pass a bill earlier this year that would force non-governmental organisations and media outlets to declare themselves as “foreign agents” if they receive 20% of their funding from international donors. The proposal did not pass.
In addition, Georgian Dream proposed legislation that would allow authorities to “increase the duration of covert surveillance.” The bill was immediately criticised by Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili, who said its implementation would “further restrict human rights.” Finally, Georgian Dream officials were accused of “unlawfully obtain[ing] and purposefully edit[ing] audio recordings from an opposition media newsroom.”
These examples are part of a series of alarming events where Georgian Dream is making decisions that do not align with the majority of Georgia. For example, Georgian President Zourabichvili, the Georgian opposition, and Georgian citizens overwhelmingly support a path toward Western integration. They want their country to join Western institutions such as NATO and the European Union, and they are working to do everything they can to ensure that Georgia moves forward on these goals.
But as the majority of the country pushes for Western integration, the ruling Georgian Dream party has decided to make inroads with Russia. For example, throughout the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the international community has worked hard to implement stiff penalties on Russia. In addition, former Soviet countries such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan have provided defence, financial, medical, and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Georgia, however, has not provided assistance to Ukraine. Nor has it implemented sanctions on Russia.
Instead, the ruling Georgian Dream party has continued to turn heads. This summer, a ban on direct flights from Russia to Georgia was lifted, and Russian visa restrictions for Georgian nationals were also abolished.
Finally, Georgian authorities have “echoed Kremlin propaganda accusing the West of attempting to pressure Georgia into attacking Russia.” These developments suggest that Russia is tightening its grip on Georgian Dream, much to the chagrin of the Georgians.
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Aside from these practices, Georgian Dream has most recently made a series of baseless accusations and statements about the West and Ukraine.
For example, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili stated that one of the main reasons why Russia invaded Ukraine was because of the “desire of Ukraine to become a member of NATO.” This statement has been long disproven. The initial Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014 occurred because the Ukrainian people wanted their government to sign an association agreement with the European Union, not because of NATO aspirations. In addition, since the second Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Finland and Sweden applied to become members of NATO. Finland and Sweden were not subsequently invaded by Russia.
Georgian Dream has also made wild accusations against Ukraine. Last month, the governing party falsely claimed that Ukraine’s former deputy interior minister was plotting to overthrow the Georgian government. Georgian Dream argued that Giorgi Lortkipanidze would lead members of Georgian foreign legions from Ukraine and gather in Tbilisi. These baseless claims were quickly dismissed by the Ukrainian government, where Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko stated that Ukraine does “not interfere and does not plan to interfere in the internal affairs of Georgia.”
Finally, and most recently, Georgian Dream claimed that pro-European individuals in Georgia were planning to “overthrow the state.” The Georgian State Security Service alleged several opposition members were behind the plot. No evidence was provided to support these claims, however. Georgian Dream even accused the US Agency for International Development (USAID), a well-respected and well-regarded American international development agency that seeks to promote global stability, of attempting to start a revolution in Georgia.
Like the claims against Ukraine and pro-European individuals in Georgia, these accusations were also without evidence.
These developments show that Georgian Dream is losing its credibility in Georgia, and that it is attempting to do everything it can to stay in power. The ruling Georgian party is attempting to harass and imprison political opponents that threaten the current state of affairs, and it is looking to instil fear within Georgians. These antics, however, are fooling no one, and the Georgian president, the opposition groups, and Georgian citizens are continuing to put pressure on the ruling party to hold it accountable for its actions.
Much has changed within the Georgian government over the past two years, but time is on Georgia’s side. Next year, Georgia will hold its parliamentary election. This will allow the Georgian opposition and Georgian citizens to vote out Georgian Dream party members, and elect officials who want true, democratic change in their country.
It will not be easy, but the current course in Georgian politics can still be altered. Georgian citizens must work hard next year to ensure opposition candidates win the parliamentary election. Otherwise, should Georgian Dream retain its majority, then the current democratic backsliding and strengthening of ties with Russia will continue.