Protecting Civil Rights

Renewed Hope for a Free Future

Georgia protests Flag

The transcontinental country of Georgia, once a promising democracy, now stands at the brink of authoritarianism. In early March 2023, the nation was plunged into crisis as a controversial Russia-inspired draft law threatened to restrict freedom of expression and hinder its citizens’ ambitions for closer ties with Europe.

The bill would have required nongovernmental organizations receiving more than 20% of their funding from foreign sources to register as “foreign agents.” Atlas Network partners in Georgia, who would be among the groups impacted, took part in raising fierce opposition to the move, which they say is an attempt to silence voices for liberal democracy and intimidate critics of the government.

Mari Kapanadze serves as Program Director for Civil and Political Rights at Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI), an Atlas Network partner focused on mapping authoritarianism in Georgia. Mari and her team at GDI analyzed the bill proposed by the country’s ruling party and identified the similarities between the policy and a 2012 Russian law that the Kremlin has used to suppress independent media and civil society.

GDI and other organizations began to raise awareness about the stark similarity between the proposed bill and authoritarian measures in Russia. This widespread recognition helped to galvanize people across the country to stand up for their rights and defend civil liberties.

“Thanks to the efforts of our collective, a growing number of people recognized the bill as a Russian-inspired law, and this significantly aided our ability to mobilize the public against it,” Mari said.

Mari Kapanadze, Program Director for Civil and Political Rights at Georgian Democracy Initiative

Public outcry against the “foreign agents” bill led to passionate mass protests outside the country’s parliament. Eventually, the ruling party yielded to the protesters' demands and voted the law down.

Young Georgians were at the center of the protests, and this recent victory has sparked a renewed sense of hope among young leaders.

Alexander Zibzibadze, Co-Founder and Development Director of Franklin Club, an association of classical liberals, said that Atlas Network training prepared their team to make a timely and effective response to changing events in the country.

“We collaborated with numerous young individuals who acted as ambassadors by spreading the message among their peers in schools and universities.”

Alexander Zibzibadze speaks at Atlas Network's Europe Liberty Forum 2022.

In the past, Alexander said young Georgians doubted that protesting could make a positive impact on the country. Many thought people seeking more freedom may be better off emigrating. Now, after this most recent achievement, more of their peers aspire to remain and fight for a free Georgia.

However, both Mari and Alexander contend that the struggle against the authoritarian government is still far from over.

The ruling party in Georgia was taken aback by the large numbers of young people protesting and subsequently launched a crackdown on organizations actively engaging with youth. Many of the peaceful protestors have faced police violence and have been arrested by authorities. Franklin Club, specifically, became one of the government’s targets.

“Franklin Club faced a budget cut of over 70%,” said Alexander, “and now we are actively seeking funds from other sources. Thanks to Atlas Network Academy, we know how to raise money.”

Mari anticipates that the Georgian government will continue to seek ways to suppress the voice of the people and limit their freedoms, even if they are unable to enact the “foreign agents” bill. Despite this, the freedom movement’s latest stand against authoritarianism has rekindled their faith in their ability to make a difference. With renewed passion and a clear-eyed view of the struggle ahead, Atlas Network partners in Georgia are ready to face whatever challenges come their way and continue the fight for a free future.