After years of intimidation, a Georgian pro-democracy NGO faces the ultimate threat

Georgia is being roiled by some of the largest and angriest protests in its modern history after its parliament passed a law that will force NGOs receiving substantial support from abroad to register as “foreign-funded organisations”.

Decried by opponents as the “Russian law” because of its resemblance to legislation imposed by the Kremlin, the Foreign Influence Law marks a major blow against pro-democracy NGOs working against electoral corruption. But their troubles did not begin with the law’s passage.

Nino Dolidze is the director of the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, or ISFED, which monitors the electoral process in Georgia. Because its work is partly funded by both the EU and the US, it will have to officially register as a foreign-funded organisation – a so-called “foreign agent”.

She tells Euronews how the ruling party has been creating an hostile environment against foreign-funded NGOs since well before the approval of the Foreign Influence law, the so-called “Russian Law”, with she and others on the sharp end of threats, disturbing phone calls and smear campaigning

Why is your organisation among the first NGOs that will have to register as Foreign Influence agencies?

Elections are one of the most painful topics for the government. We are a target because of the upcoming parliamentary elections (in October), and they have been trying to discredit us, undermining our national credibility and our international trust.

Since we receive funds from the EU and the US, we will have to register. And we said we will never register in this public record, because this is against our dignity. We are only representing our country’s interests, and we are not willing to register to be labelled as some kind of foreign agents.

Yet according to this law, even if we don’t register, they (the authorities) can unilaterally investigate and monitor us.

The bill will affect many civil society organisations, but they will start with the election monitoring ones, I’m sure.

Nino Doladze, right, with Pawel Herczynski, left, Ambassador of the European Union to Georgia

How do you know?

Because they have mentioned our names several times. The prime minister has been mentioning ISFED and many others. We are already targeted.

As a director, I personally have been targeted many times with smear campaigns. There have been many TV shows directed against me. In recent days I have received threatening phone calls. In front of my apartment, in the entrance, they hung on the wall posters calling me “traitor” and “enemy”.

Is this law really rejected by all the Georgian people? Is there any data?

There is no polling on the law, but the demo that took place was one of the biggest that has ever taken place in Georgia.

We saw demonstrations in 2003 and in 2012, and then the governments changed. But this time there is a continuity, across all the fields of the society. Not only in Tiblisi, but also in other big cities like Batumi and Kutaisi.

Smear campaigning against NGOs in Georgia

Since you have said that you are not going to register, you will have to pay the administrative fine of €8,000. And after that, will you close? Will you leave the country?

Yes, at the end we will have to close the organisation. This is the problem in Georgia. We don’t want to operate in a situation where we are called foreign agents. So we will have to close, and there will be no civil society organisation in Georgia scrutinising the government.

Let me try to be kind of naïve, What is problem for you to operate under this circumstances? The law is not banning the NGOs. It just requires them to register. Why should it be a risk?

The risk is our stigmatisation. We cannot operate if we will be called foreign agents because the beneficiaries of our activities will not be working with us anymore.

We are already feeling some distance. We are used to work with different (state) services. We will have this label of “enemies of the country” because we work for foreign countries.

In Georgia it means being a spy. An enemy, because we have a Soviet past and we know what it means to be called a “foreign agent”. And that’s what happened in Russia: the NGOs registered, and then they closed and left the country or they were detained.

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