In a dramatic turn of events in early March 2023, Georgians flooded the streets to express their vehement opposition to a Russia-inspired draft law named “On Transparency of Foreign Influence.” The controversial bill caused a significant domestic political crisis and jeopardized the nation’s aspirations for stronger bonds with Europe. Fearing a repeat of the Euromaidan protests that shook Ukraine, the ruling party eventually yielded to the protesters’ demands and abandoned the proposed legislation.
Under the proposed bill, any entity that earned 20% or more of its yearly revenue from “foreign sources” would be required to register as a “foreign agent.” The striking resemblance between this bill and a Russian law passed in 2012, which the Kremlin has leveraged to stifle independent media and civil society, did not go unnoticed – Georgian Students For Liberty (SFL) volunteers decided to engage in protests against a severe infringement on freedom of the press and civil liberties.
Prior to the hearing, civil society had voiced its strong opposition to the proposed law, setting the stage for passionate protests outside the parliament during the plenary session. However, what transpired next was beyond anyone’s prediction. As the law was passed in the first reading, tensions between the demonstrators and the police rapidly spiraled out of control, and the confrontations turned violent.
Our students, alongside other peaceful protesters, bravely confronted the brutal police force in their struggle for justice. As the protest intensified, the government sent in special forces to intimidate the demonstrators and suppress the dissent. However, the determined Georgians refused to yield, despite the police using tear gas, water cannons, and excessive amounts of pepper spray.
Following the violent confrontation, our Liberty Opportunity Task Force (LOTF) sprang into action to assist our volunteers around the world in their fight against injustices. Students For Liberty provided the necessary support to our activists, including financial assistance to procure materials that could help protect them against the pepper spray and tear gas used by the authorities. Our team’s swift response and unwavering commitment to the cause were instrumental in empowering our activists and enabling them to continue their fight for freedom and justice.
In addition to joining protests, SFL volunteers around the globe started to actively spread awareness about the issue. The European branch of SFL made impressive strides in their campaign to raise awareness about the Georgian government’s recent move to adopt the draft law. The team put together a series of press releases that were distributed to foreign media outlets, while their talented graphic design crew created eye-catching posters that were widely shared across social media platforms worldwide.
Georgia-based student volunteers, armed with their profound understanding of the issue at hand, took up the mantle of creating compelling articles to educate others about the situation. “I wrote an article about the Georgian civil movement and its importance, as I wanted the whole world to find out about the Georgian struggle,” said Mariam Berdzenishvili, a student at Free University of Tbilisi and SFL activist. “I myself gave several interviews on live broadcasts to raise awareness about the ongoing situation,” she continued.
One of our valiant SFL volunteers, who prefers to stay incognito, has stepped up to the plate by penning a series of gripping articles. This remarkable individual has skillfully unraveled the dark origins of the Russia-backed draft law, while also outlining the chilling effects it could have on the future of Georgia.
In the end, the determination and resilience of the Georgians paid off. The overwhelming protests against the controversial bill forced the parliament to reconsider, and the bill was ultimately voted down.
To celebrate the enormous win for civil society in Georgia, SFL Europe is hosting an exhibition at LibertyCon Europe dedicated to the brave Georgians who fought to protect their rights. “This victory represents the true power of the people over their elected government,” said SFL volunteer Anano Khorbaladze. “As members of the Georgian Students of Liberty, we take pride in standing on the right side of history by supporting the pro-European choice of Georgian citizens,” she continued.
Regardless of any future attempts by the Georgian government to suppress the rights of their citizens, SFL activists are determined to continue the fight for freedom. Their resolute commitment to defending the fundamental rights of Georgian citizens serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of standing up for justice and liberty.
As we mark this historic moment for civil society in Georgia, we must remain vigilant and continue to support those who are working tirelessly to protect these values. SFL activists’ bravery and persistence demonstrate that even in the face of adversity, progression toward a freer and more just society is possible.
This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.