"We will fight this war until the end, Georgia will not become Russia"

Georgians are furious as the new foreign agents law drives a wedge between the nation and the EU. US warnings echo concerns, urging Georgia to steer clear of alignment with Russia

by Sededin Dedovic
"We will fight this war until the end, Georgia will not become Russia"
© Daro Sulakauri / Getty Images

Gia Japaridze, a 50-year-old former diplomat now a professor at the School of International Relations and Political Science at the University of Georgia, fell into an ambush near his home in Tbilisi on the evening of May 8th.

He said that several people awaited him, holding, he believes, baseball bats. "I was born in the Soviet Union. I wasn't afraid of communists. Neither can these scare me. I have no doubt - I know the government is behind this," said Japaridze, who, hospitalized, suffered a concussion and deep bruises on his back, as reported by Politico.

Critics of the new foreign agents law fear the government will use it to crack down on the media, opposition, and civil society in this Caucasian country of 3.7 million people. Tens of thousands of demonstrators flooded the streets, angry that their government is determined to destroy the country's prospects for EU membership.

Violence and intimidation against the opposition were already strong before the law came into force. Speaking to Politico at a protest on Tuesday, Japaridze's brother, opposition politician Zurab Japaridze, said he wouldn't give in to violence because it concerns the country's democratic future.

"We can either be on the path to Europe or on the path to Belarus," he said. Zurab Japaridze also said a group of men had tried to attack him three times since resistance to the Foreign Agents Law intensified. During one attempt, he fired a gun into the air to deter his attackers.

In Someone's Crosshairs

Nino Zuriashvili also faced a growing political threat. She is the founder of the research house Studio Monitor, one of the houses facing stigma as a foreign agent. She says she received a call last week from an unknown number.

The voice on the other end insulted her for opposing the proposed law. Dozens of other demonstrators and prominent activists say they faced similar threats. Several days later, when Zurishvili arrived at her office, she found dozens of flyers with her face plastered over the walls outside, accusing her of being a "money-grubbing agent" and calling Studio Monitor an "anti-Georgian agency." "It was a very unpleasant feeling.

It meant I was in someone's crosshairs," she told Politico.

A person is detained as two Americans and one Russian citizen are among 20 detained during a protest against the foreign agents © Daro Sulakauri / Getty Images

She found similar posters near her home.

Her car was also vandalized, covered in penises and graffiti calling her a "money-grubbing agent." "It only made me realize I was right all along," she said. "The government is organizing groups to oppress us. We're waking up in Russia.

We'll fight this war to the end. Georgia will not become Russia." Dimitri Chikovani, a member of the opposition party United National Movement, was attacked by a group of unidentified men near his home on May 8th - the same night Gia Japaridze was attacked.

CCTV footage shows him being mercilessly beaten by five men as he exits his car. He ended up in the hospital with multiple facial and bodily injuries. Chikovani blamed the ruling Georgian Dream and the enigmatic oligarch who founded the party, now its honorary chairman, Bidzina Ivanishvili.

"The attackers and the Ministry of Internal Affairs serve the same master," he said, adding that despite the launch of an official investigation, he's confident the police won't take his case seriously.

Georgian Dream Database

The ruling party Georgian Dream shows no signs of trying to ease tensions.

Playing to conservative supporters and dismissing criticism from the EU and the US, the party says the new law is necessary to prevent foreign influence from undermining traditional values. "If we succumb to these Soviet-style foreign directives, in the future they will just as successfully demand that we abandon laws on family values and the protection of minors, adopt same-sex marriages, legalize drugs," said Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze on Monday.

As for the beatings, Justice Minister Rati Bregadze claims pro-EU demonstrators are responsible for attacks on their supporters. "If anyone benefits from such disorder, it's the people behind these demonstrators," he said.

Meanwhile, Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili threatened a crackdown on demonstrators, announcing plans to create a database of those he says are "involved in violence, illegal activities, intimidation and extortion, or approve of such behavior." The database would be published online to name and shame those accused of offenses.

Critics see this as another move to discredit government opponents. US and EU partners warned Georgian Dream that adopting the law would harm Georgia's Euro-Atlantic aspirations. US Assistant Secretary of State Jim O'Brien warned of potential sanctions after Tuesday's vote.

"If the law proceeds, in defiance of EU norms, and there is undermining of democracy, and violence against peaceful demonstrators, then we will see restrictions coming from the US. These are usually financial restrictions and travel restrictions for individuals responsible for these actions and their families."