What’s going on with Georgia – opinion

The renewed protests in Georgia amid the parliament’s consideration of the “foreign agents” bill resemble a classic post-Soviet problem.

If the government is afraid of civil society and independent media, it sees this very “foreign influence” as its main enemy. Because the government wants to keep all the tools of real influence on society and the government, primarily financial ones, under its control.

And in fact, as Russia’s experience clearly shows, [the government] is trying to limit not so much the influence of foreigners, but the influence of its own citizens, Ukrainian journalist Vitaliy Portnikov wrote for RFE/RL.

“It’s not just indignation about the government’s irresponsibility, about the fact that it endangers the country’s now real European future for the sake of preserving absolute power, but the feeling that I was personally offended. They spat in my face with the words: ‘Who are you, why should we care about your opinion? You’re a nobody without a name,” said Georgian journalist Tengiz Ablotia, commenting on the Georgian government’s actions.

And such a comment accurately reflects the mood of people who gather these days in Tbilisi on Rustaveli Avenue.

Read also: Georgia risks sliding into Russia’s orbit — opposition MP

It’s worth noting the fight against “foreign agents” is always an indicator of growing Russian influence. Even before the Georgian parliament began to consider the bill, a similar decision had already been made by the parliament of Kyrgyzstan, another former Soviet republic.

Just a few years ago, this country was virtually the only platform for a free society and media in Central Asia. Through constant uprisings, the government changed in Kyrgyzstan, representatives of various political forces fought for seats in the parliament, while strong public organizations worked. But the new president, Sadyr Japarov, decided to focus on Moscow and things began to change rapidly.

The law on “foreign agents” became perhaps the best evidence of these changes. And although the Kyrgyz president himself vowed that no persecution of public organizations would take place, few believed him. We can already see the first consequences of signing the law. Just a few weeks after Zhaparov enacted it, the Soros Foundation-Kyrgyzstan (SFK) announced the termination of its activities.

“The right to freedom of speech, the right to organize a peaceful assembly, or the right to participate in the state governance is defined as political activity. This is wrong both legally and otherwise. There will be no opportunity to fully enjoy human rights. Of course, all this creates risks and uncertainty both for the foundation’s employees and for our partners and people involved in our work,” said SFK CEO Nuriana Kartanbaeva.

Read also: ‘Will never be tolerated’ – Georgians will not allow a pro-Russian government – Georgian President

And despite the fact that the Kyrgyz presidential administration urges not to associate the SFK’s closure with the law on “foreign agents,” everyone in the country understands this is not the last such decision, as the times have clearly changed. And, as paradoxical as it sounds, what is being experienced now in Kyrgyzstan will be experienced in Georgia as well — if the bill on “foreign influence” is passed.

These two stories are also an important lesson for us. Authoritarianism always speculates on the protection of citizens’ rights from foreign influences and tries to convince them that it’s the government that should decide what people watch and listen to. Ukraine is definitely far from the Georgian or Kyrgyz examples. But the well-known [United News] telethon has been running in the country for more than two years, whose participants were selected through arbitrary bureaucratic decisions, and no one even remembered that Suspilne public broadcaster, whose resources for some reason became only part of the telethon, had been established exactly for a serious dialogue with citizens in difficult times.

While the Office of the President of Ukraine continues to defend the right to monopolize the information space, using the existential war to achieve this goal is met with growing public distrust. After all, pluralistic broadcasting remains one of Ukraine’s achievements, and its allies in the democratic world understand and appreciate this.

The example of Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, like that of Russia before that, once again reminds us that an attempt to ban, limit, and regulate media is always evidence of distrust of your own citizens. No matter what this attempt is called and no matter how it’s justified.

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine