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Over the last week, the world witnessed two powerful images from Georgia.
One filled many with hope and showed the true strength of believing in freedom.
The other was an image of hatred, one that may be cause for concern and fear in all those that see the dangers of authoritarianism.
Both of these images involved the European flag.
Love of a European Georgia vs anti-European hate
Last week, as tens of thousands of protesters poured into the streets of Tbilisi to fight against what was a clear attempt by one party to dig a ditch between Georgia and the European Union, one woman stood her ground while holding the flag proudly, fighting against water cannons that were being used against peaceful protesters.
She was one of many who was moved with the love of a European Georgia and felt no fear in defence of her principles.
The other image happened on Tuesday.
A much smaller crowd made sure its anti-Europeanness would be heard, took down the flag of Europe flying in front of Parliament, and burned it.
They were part of the radical Conservative Movement, a pro-Russian group that was already responsible for the anti-LGBT pogroms in Tbilisi in July 2021 and with clear ties to the authorities.
The lack of any police reaction against people who were actually violating the law — burning the European flag is illegal in Georgia — showed the sharp contrast in how authorities responded to both events.
Foreign Agents Bill threatened to put an end to Georgia’s EU path
Therein lies what we feared the most in the Foreign Agents Bill, that Parliament sought to rush through with procedural tricks and against overwhelming opposition from everyone that cared about Georgian democracy.
We all knew it had nothing to do with “preventing foreign influence.” If that had been the case, we wouldn’t be dealing today with openly pro-Russian groups attempting to move us away from the West.
The bill was nothing more than a leverage by one party to control non-governmental organisations and independent media and, by doing so, to put an end to Georgia’s European path.
There was no logic, no need behind the bill and the international community widely condemned it before it was even voted on.
Of course, the protests won a huge victory when the ruling Georgian Dream coalition was forced to stand down and let the opposition repeal the Foreign Agents Bill.
But those of us who have gone through years of broken promises — the failed 2019 electoral reform, the failed 8 March 2020 agreement, the annulled Charles Michel Agreement of 2021 — know that this victory will only be temporary if we let our guards down.
PM’s anti-European words emboldened pro-Russian sentiments
On Sunday, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili took to the television sets and fueled the fire of the anti-European rhetoric.
He called the protesters “satanists,” he claimed the European Parliament was seeking to start a war in Georgia, and he accused our partners of corruption.
Let’s be clear here: Georgia has never met a friend so reliable, a partner so stable as the EU and our national identity means that every generation has a responsibility to fight for our future in the European family.
His words were not those of the Georgian people.
Celebration with caution was all we could hope for when the bill collapsed. Now, we see the threat of a government-emboldened pro-Russian group that may seek to destabilise and instil hatred.
The only hope we have is that their rhetoric falls on deaf ears.
Georgia used to be at the forefront of European integration. Now, it was left behind Ukraine and Moldova when it was refused EU candidacy.
We had another chance at the end of 2022, but none of the reforms that the European Commission asked for were fulfilled.
Politicians owe the next generation a firmly European future
A true pro-European government would not reject the calls by every Western partner to care for the health of its former president, Mikheil Saakashvili, by letting him receive treatment abroad.
A true pro-European government would not keep journalists like Nika Gvaramia in prison.
It would not increase the country’s economic dependence on Russia.
It would not receive warnings from the United States about helping Russia evade sanctions.
A true pro-European government would not demonise civil society organisations, media and youth groups and would stand with Ukraine, just like Ukraine stood with Georgia in 2008.
In Georgia, the future of the nation was defended by the next generation, a generation for which the Soviet Union is nothing more than a dark chapter in history books.
For that generation, every Georgian politician has the responsibility to leave our home more solidly anchored with Europe.
Levan Khabeishvili is a member of the Parliament of Georgia and the chairman of the United National Movement.
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