Eurasia note #73 - Georgia's Colourful Riot Not Yet Revolution
Violent protest over registering 'foreign agents' timed for president's visit to U.S.
Two tier protests — lambs and lions — speaks of Color Revolution tactics.
Coincides with visit of Georgian president to Washington DC.
Georgia’s long history sparks an independent streak — once fooled, twice the wiser.
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Tbilisi, Mar 8, 2023
A little mood music in Georgia late last night. Protesters gathered outside parliament after a law registering “foreign agents” passed its first reading.
The bill, backed by the ruling Georgian Dream party, would affect organizations that rely for more than 20 per cent of their income on foreign sources.
The protests featured techniques that are classic Color Revolution: a two-tier approach of laid back protesters getting in the face of police and pepper sprayed while their colleagues film the not-so-innocent lambs. Meanwhile the Antifa types, complete with black hoodies, up the ante with makeshift barricades. This was no spontaneous outburst of anger but the more violent of a series of long-running protests.
In what may be no coincidence, the protests timed with a visit by Georgia’s president, Salome Zourabichvili, to Washington DC. She declared that she opposed the foreign agent bill and would veto it — although parliament can override that.
Headlines in Western media were hyperbolic. Portuguese-owned Euronews declared: “Fall of democracy: Georgia's foreign agent law widely condemned.” European Union high representative Josep Borrell said the law was not compatible with EU standards. 
The Council of Europe’s constitutional advisers, the Venice Commission — formally the European Commission for Democracy through Law — said burdensome tax reporting and enhanced public disclosure of detailed financial information would have a chilling effect on civil society. It was joined in condemnation by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Protests outside parliament have become a regular feature since the opposition United National Movement claimed that the Oct 2020 election was rigged, giving the Georgian Dream party its third-consecutive term. International observers said the outcome was fair. The following year Georgian Dream won 46.7 per cent in the municipal elections.
The European Union has been critical of all Georgia’s main parties, accusing them of political appointment of judges, hounding opposition candidates and the suppression of media. In Sep 2021 the government opted not to accept EU financial assistance which it suspected would be refused or come with strings.
Laws that require organizations to register as foreign agents are controversial. There is nothing unique to Georgia’s laws, nor to to the objection of NGOs and international charities with ties to foreign governments and non-state actors such as Bill Gates and George Soros. They think the idea that people have a right to know who funds institutions limits their freedom of action.
Such laws can be politicised, of course. In the case of Georgia, the proposed “foreign agent law” is being compared with Russia which demanded NGOs register in 2012 and subsequently expelled some of them. In Apr 2022 Russia’s ministry of justice revoked the registrations of 15 offices run by foreign NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Yet even Carnegie Europe, in an article by senior fellow Thomas de Waal, in 2021 published:
“Some commentators still frame Georgian politics in geopolitical terms, seeing the hand of Moscow in these events. That does not fit the facts. The Georgian Dream government has not changed its declared orientation towards the EU and NATO, which still commands strong public support.
“Russia has had no diplomatic relations with Georgia since the 2008 war and that is unlikely to change so long as the perpetual stand-off over Abkhazia and South Ossetia continues.” 
Big-power presumption often smothers facts on the ground. Georgia is a country of barely four million people, between the much larger economies of Turkey to the south and Russia to the north, with ties to oil rich Central Asia to the east. Russian is commonly spoken as a second language and despite centuries of Ottoman domination, Turkish is not, beyond the small Azerbaijani community.
A cynic would note that the proportion of Russian speakers was far higher in Ukraine and that did not stop attempts to suppress its use — but that is not an issue in Georgia: tens of thousands of Russians as well as Ukrainians have found a refuge from war, in Georgia, and their lingua franca? Russian.
It is not a matter of being pro-Russian or pro-Turkish: they are the regional powers and they are there. Georgia is not neutral towards Russia — the government openly sides with Ukraine in the war as does much of the population — however it left it up to companies to decide whether or not to trade with Russia.
Language is rather like currency. It is a means of transaction and exchange. It is not political until someone makes it so — as we are discovering with plans to replace cash with Central Bank Digital Currencies.
Being required to register as a foreign agent is, of course, open to monitoring and abuse, but no more so than having to hand over your biometric ID before buying food or posting on the Internet — which is proposed by former UK prime minister Tony Blair and the Rockefeller-backed CommonPass among others.
Registration as a foreign agent is at base a matter of freedom of speech and association.
Western European and Anglosphere countries are using a dual approach to control the flow of information. Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada are legislating against hate speech and leaving it up to the courts to define. France demanded that all social media platforms cease to carry RT, the state news service Rossiya Segodnya, and in protest the YouTube rival Rumble withdrew its service from France.
In Ukraine Anti-Corruption Action, or AntAC, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy and George Soros, led the resistance to a law in 2018 that would have forced them to disclose financial accounts. Western diplomats and NGOs defeated that legislation. The irony of anti-corruption activists fighting against financial disclosure was presumably lost on these agents of Western influence. 
The United States itself has a Foreign Agents Registration Act enacted in 1938 to counter German propaganda. It was rarely used — in fact few people were aware of it — until 2017 when it was invoked for political purposes against individuals connected to president Donald Trump’s administration.
Lest one think that only politicians and their consultants would be caught in a political dragnet, the U.S. Department of Justice in 2020 accused one of the largest American environmental NGOs, the National Wildlife Federation, of operating as a foreign agent because it advertised Norway’s climate policies in the U.S..
Stirring the pot
U.S. and EU still rue the loss of their ally, the former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili who is in prison and in poor health. His political decline began with an ill-advised skirmish with Russia over South Ossetia in 2008 which led to a predictable response. The European Union’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia found that it was Georgia’s shelling of Tskhinvali, where Russian troops were stationed, that started hostilities.
Saakashvili was an unfinished project and Georgians paid the price. A fading portrait on the road to the airport of president George W Bush is testimony to vows unfulfilled.
Promises of European and NATO membership were dangled before Georgia just as Ukraine. Last year U.S. forces ended their training of Georgian military, shortly before the Biden administration withdrew from Afghanistan. A wily people notice.
When he was defeated at the polls Saakashvili stood aside and was replaced by the Georgian Dream party of Bidzina Ivanishvili, a financier that some U.S. analysts believe is more pro-Russian which, as Carnegie noted did not make sense even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The U.S. also takes the view that Russia values a stable Caucasus and Central Asia. President Vladimir Putin regards the pacification of Chechnya, just north of Georgia, as one of his achievements. After the unrest in Kazakhstan in Jan 2022, it was not unreasonable to at least consider that external powers were stirring the pot.
The U.S. is conflicted between its wish to see China deal a blow to Russia’s regional influence in Central Asia, and the U.S. view of China as a strategic rival. Russia and Kazakhstan share the world’s longest national border. Yet Kazakh president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev last November surprised Russia by saying it did not recognize its territorial gains in Ukraine.
See Moneycircus, Jan 9, 2022 — Eurasia Note #15 - Kazakh Riches And Rivals
The cultural divide is that countries that sit in the midst of continents with multiple neighbours and land borders approach diplomacy differently to those who are islands, like the British, or large and remote like the United States.
Americans would like to see Kazakhstan reduce its gas exports via the CPC pipeline to Novorossiysk, and instead expand its use of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. This begins in Azerbaijan across the Caspian sea from Kazakhstan. It would, however, require more tankers or another trans-Caspian pipeline. From Baku, oil can also travel by the Western Early Oil pipeline to the Georgian, Black Sea port of Supsa.
See Moneycircus, Mar 3, 2023 — Eurasia note #72 - Tourist Batumi's Lessons For Today
Kazakhstan is unlikely to sever ties with Russia since Kazakh pipelines ship its oil to China.
Zooming out, some U.S. and Israeli interests are mulling a plan to replace the east-west energy axis in Central Europe with a south-north axis that would change not just the energy mix but the political balance.
See Moneycircus, Sep 30, 2022 — Insight: Europe, Gas And The Endgame
Oct 29, 2022 — Eurasia note #63: Europe Reels From Germany’s Impending Decline
Thus oil, pipelines and politics, along with the temptation to cause trouble on border lands, never goes away.
UPDATE Mar 9, 2023
I went to the second day of protests in Tbilisi outside parliament. Due to a heavy cold I was unable to stay beyond 7pm.
What I saw was not just peaceful but social. The thrust of the demonstration was Georgia-EU, with the sequential playing of both anthems. There was no particular focus on Russia although, to be fair, in Georgian poliitics the co-mingling of the national and EU flags also symbolises closer ties with NATO.
It is a cliché to say families and children but yes, there were toddlers in strollers and boys and girls aged eight or a little older wrapped in Georgian flags. Grandmothers were making the most of the opportunity to sell little Georgian flags. Police had blocked off the usually busy Rustaveli Avenue to traffic so it was a rare chance for people to stroll along a much broader boulevard - how it must have seemed when first constructed at the start of the 18th century.
As well as the parliament, and behind it the seat of government, the street includes the national museum which was former the palace of the Russian viceroy, where Stalin's mother lived out her years.
Yet again the media says that at some point in the night the nature of the protests totally changed to violence; the police again using pepper spray and water cannon.
This means one of two things: either a completely different group of demonstrators appeared after dark; or the violence is exaggerated by the media. I did see Antifa types present earlier in the day — Soros operatives or fashion victims, who knows.
Contrary to the wishful thinking of president Volodymyr Zelenskiy there were not a lot of Ukrainian flags during the afternoon and early evening: there were some. Georgians do overwhelmingly support Ukraine in the war with Russia however this protest, so far, has not not been about Ukraine.
There is clearly an attempt to manage the narrative and to direct the protests.
The following day, Georgia’s government withdrew the proposed foreign agent legislation.
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 RFE-RL, Mar 7, 2023 — Thousands Clash With Police In Georgia After Parliament OKs First Reading Of ‘Foreign Agent’ Law
 Thomas de Waal, Carnegie Europe, 2021 — Georgian Democracy Is Dying By a Thousand Cuts
 AntAC, 2017 — Threats and risks сaused by newly introduced obligation for anti-corruption activists to file asset declarations of public officials