ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

A Letter From Georgia

On 7 March, lawmakers in Georgia cast a majority vote to pass the Law on Transparency of Foreign Influence. While advocates argued its purpose was to meet the need for enhanced national security against foreign actors, those who opposed it — including a strong proportion of young adults — argued the law aimed to cripple, marginalize and eventually eliminate two essential actors in the democratic process — independent media and civil society — both viewed as threats by the political elite.

Collective outrage grew across the capital, Tbilisi, after the law was passed. People rushed from their homes and workplaces to the Parliament building and held a public protest. The demonstrators were effective, and the law was repealed on 10 March.

In the former Soviet country, many civil society groups — armed with social activism and shadow reports — play the crucial role of government watchdog. The media in turn reports on the activities of these groups, as well as on the government.

The law, which according to protestors would have aligned Georgia with Russian Neo-Imperialism, was intended to monitor media and civil society groups that receive funding for philanthropic and advocacy work from foreign grant-making organizations, private foundations and international development agencies — mostly based in Europe and the United States. The underlying assumption, according to this interpretation, is that these groups promote foreign interests that favor the West and a future that includes Georgia as a member of the European Union. 

The parliamentary vote on 7 March was met by the unprecedented unity of Georgian civil society. In addition to citizen protests, more than 436 civil society organizations, among them Caritas Georgia, signed a petition opposing the law and staunchly supporting a vision for Georgia’s future within the E.U.

Situated in South Caucasus, Georgia has been exposed to the influences of both Western and Eastern civilizations, which have played a significant role in shaping Georgia’s history and have led to a rich tapestry of traditions, beliefs and customs over the centuries.

Among the oldest nations in the world, Georgia derives its heritage and identity from the Colchis, among the ancient indigenous Kartvelian tribes, who lived in present-day western Georgia from the Middle Bronze Age and formed part of the first European civilization. In the early fourth century, Georgia adopted Christianity through the evangelization of St. Nino. Over the centuries, as the Christian faith developed in Georgia, it became an important outpost of Christianity, together with Armenia, even as Islam enveloped parts of the region after the middle of the seventh century. Georgian monastics were agents of cultural encounters and contributed to the spread of Byzantine ideas to the Georgian-speaking lands.

Georgia’s proximity to the Persian and Ottoman Empires, as well as its historical interactions with the Silk Road, also infused it with elements of Eastern culture. Even today, Georgia continues to navigate the complexities of its dual cultural heritage.

Still, many Georgians aspire to align the country with the Western values of democracy, human rights and economic development by seeking closer ties with the E.U. and NATO. In its first decades of post-Soviet independence, Georgian society was trending toward a greater realignment with Europe represented, as well, in government policy. These aspirations led to various reforms aimed at modernizing institutions, improving governance and promoting European integration. The younger generation, in particular, is keen on embracing Western ideals and lifestyles.

However, this government has faced criticism on the path to European integration, including of the proposed Law on Transparency of Foreign Influence. The E.U. has underlined that creating and maintaining a supportive environment for civil society organizations and ensuring media freedom are at the core of democracy; the law’s adoption was inconsistent with these aspirations and with E.U. norms and values.

Last year, at a crucial summit of the E.U. in Brussels, Ukraine and Moldova were granted the status of “candidate countries” to join the E.U., while Georgia received only the prospect of candidacy. The European Commission set out compulsory requirements for Georgia to receive candidate status, clearly outlining the flaws of the current government: political polarization, lack of independence and effective accountability of state institutions, shortcomings in the electoral framework, lack of a fully independent, accountable and impartial judiciary, threats to free and independent media, and lack of protection for the human rights of vulnerable groups. The European Parliament also required Georgia to follow through on “de-oligarchizing” its government by eliminating the excessive influence of vested interests in economic, political and public life.

Georgia’s integration into the E.U. is crucial for a myriad of reasons, including to eradicate poverty — currently, 17.5 percent of the population lives below the national poverty line — to improve education and quality of life, reduce income inequality, offer stronger social welfare services to the underserved and decrease political polarization.

Although the law was targeted at nonprofit organizations practicing advocacy, social activism, the promotion of the democratization of government institutions and the eradication of corruption, it would have had a damaging effect on charitable nonprofits as well, that is, those offering social welfare services, such as Caritas Georgia, as 20 percent of their total budget often comprises foreign donations.

International and local social welfare organizations work in close partnership and cooperation with the government, significantly extending the limited capacity and resources of the latter to fill in the gaps of social welfare programs offered country-wide. Social service organizations, such as Caritas Georgia, funded mostly by foreign donors, give opportunities to vulnerable children, shelter victims of violence, secure lonely seniors a dignified life, promote the integration of persons with disabilities in the labor market, nourish hundreds of underserved people daily in a soup kitchen, provide emergency relief and promote economic and social development.

Had lawmakers not revoked the law on 10 March, social welfare organizations would have been hindered from developing relationships with foreign donors, and donor acquisition would have worsened substantially due to the hostile climate. In sum, impeding the work of social welfare organizations would have left thousands of beneficiaries without assistance in the alleviation of their suffering and without access to lifegiving opportunities. 

In addition to extending the capacity and resources of various social welfare programs country-wide, nonprofit organizations sometimes will have greater knowledge and expertise in a particular area of need, which should be harnessed for the benefit of underserved populations.

Nonprofit organizations in Georgia are essential and diverse in their roles. They make significant contributions to meet societal needs, promote citizen engagement, establish accountability and advocate for positive change. These organizations play a crucial part in constructing a society that is inclusive, resilient and equitable. Marginalizing their contribution by labeling them as “agents of foreign influence” significantly deteriorates the health of the nonprofit sector in Georgia at the expense of tens of thousands of beneficiaries.

Read this article in our digital print format here.

Luka Kimeridze, based in Tblisi, is the communications and development director for Caritas Georgia.

Get to know us and stay informed about the impact your support makes.

Nous constatons que votre préférence linguistique est le français.
Voudriez-vous être redirigé sur notre site de langue française?

Oui! Je veux y accéder.

Hemos notado que su idioma preferido es español. ¿Le gustaría ver la página de Asociación Católica para el Bienestar del Cercano Oriente en español?

Vee página en español