The ruling “Georgian Dream” once again cast doubt on the credibility of Georgia’s established CSO regulators. The radical fringes of the parliamentary majority are driving the conspiracy narrative about CSOs serving as destructive “foreign agents”.
Driving the news:
On September 13, the head of the ruling Georgian Dream, Irakli Kobakhidze, personally addressed the growing criticism of CSOs, claiming:
- The watchdogs are incompetent but Richand “the only thing that separates these CSOs [Transparency International – Georgia (TI-Georgia) and ISFED] is the wealth, they are richer than the others and are funded from different sources.”
- They are act against the state: “You get millions, tens of millions […] anti-state, anti-government, planning campaigns for ‘technical government’”
- These organizations “come out with me […] political demands and they show their political ambition, they have a special moral obligation to show a high level of transparency to the public.”
He went on to say that “their budgets are completely opaque and the public has no information about them.” MP Kobakhidze argued that this alleged lack of transparency poses risks for Georgia as a “small state, [which is] vulnerable to different types of risk.”
A coordinated campaign:
Chairman Kobakhidze’s statement capped the campaign, which appears to be built around the same keywords as ‘rich’, ‘non-transparent’, ‘political ambitions’:
- On September 11, ruling mouthpiece Imedi TV aired a report entitled “Clan of Rich CSOs,” which, apparently based on investigation of CSO websites, argued that several key organizations are not transparent about their funding.
- On September 12, the spokesman for the ruling party, MP Mamuka Mdinaradze, picked up Imedi TV’s report, used the phrase “rich NGOs” again and said that these organizations “have a lot more money than most [political] Parties” which he claimed had been used in an “anti-state, anti-government” campaign.
- On the same day, the chair of the Legal Affairs Committee, MP Anri Okhanashvili, argued that there were “question marks” over the financial transparency of CSOs and criticized some of them for being “directly involved in political agenda setting”.
Are there any practical limitations?
Yes. The ruling party has restricted the ability of targeted CSOs to participate in working groups set up to draw up proposals to meet the 12 European Union requirements for granting Georgia’s candidacy.
- 18th of August: The ruling party rejected the participation of the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), the leading monitoring organization, in the working group on electoral law.
- 13.september: Chairman Kobakhidze said: “There would be no space [for TI-Georgia and ISFED] in every consultation process.”
Context for the ruling party’s dissatisfaction
The ruling party’s recent confrontation with CSOs is inscribed in the context of Georgia receive failed offer EU candidate status. When the European Commission examined Georgia’s application, the leader of the ruling party called one of the CSO experts: “an extension of the war party” for a relatively critical report on the government’s efforts to meet EU criteria.
Before and after the decision of the Council of the European Union to recognize Georgia’s accession ambitions but to delay granting candidate status up to twelve specific recommendations were met, CSOs have played the key role in the organization big rallies in support of the European future in the capital Tbilisi, who were very critical of the government.
During the rallies, the proposal was made to create a government of national unity with a technocratic membership to facilitate the implementation of EU recommendations on a highly participatory basis. The ruling party saw this as a direct challenge, and leader Kobachidze said the proposal was an attempt to create “a junta”.
Pretexts for excluding CSOs
The ruling party argues that taking part in organizing pro-European rallies disqualifies the CSOs from the political process as they have taken on a “partisan role” and “violated neutrality”.
- Since the National Unity Government’s proposal was put forward by civil society activists, Georgian Dream argues that the watchdogs like ISFED have engaged in “government delegitimization” and therefore cannot pretend to work in expert capacities.
- The ruling party is also painting this Error in ISFED parallel voting table in 2020as a conscious attempt to trigger “the revolutionary processes” in the country.
- References to being parts of the “war party” directed by the ruling party against TI-Georgia and others indicate this the long-term position of the “Georgian Dream” that many stronger CSOs are working on behalf of the opposition – namely the United National Movement – to discredit the government and undermine Georgia’s EU ambitions.
Link to conspiracy narrative
The new wave of efforts to limit the space of civic participation is tied to the conspiracy narrative that Georgia’s internal and external enemies are conspiring to draw the country into a military confrontation with Russia. This narrative has been gaining traction in The Georgian Dream since the new wave of Russian aggression against Ukraine began on February 24.
The narrative received its institutional face after four MPs formally seceded from the ruling party, although they remained in parliament in the ruling coalition. Their claim to “speak freely” amounts to articulating more radical messages than GD, which are nonetheless regularly reinforced by the ruling party-influenced media and subsequently selectively endorsed by the Georgian Dream leader and Prime Minister.
In this conspiracy narrative, CSOs are portrayed as one of the forces orchestrated by the US and “behind the radicalization agenda and the artificial polarization,” as the four MPs wrote in their August 26 address, published on Parliament’s website . Incidentally, the four deputies mentioned sometimes reinforce the messages of the even more radical fringes of Georgian politics. On September 8, her new address on Parliament’s website explicitly supported reports on fringe websites that the US has implanted its “agents” through political parties and CSOs. MPs claimed that “in the 2000s, US agents became a serious threat alongside the Russian agent network [Georgia’s] Sovereignty.”