Why Are Georgians Protesting?

thousands demonstrated in capital last week

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Streets in the nation of Georgia are filled with protestors. Riot police recently broke up a demonstration in Tbilisi of thousands of people. What are Georgians protesting against?

Georgian patch flag on soldiers arm. Georgia army uniform. Georgia troops
Photo by Bumble Dee / Shutterstock

The country of Georgia sits at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. Georgia is a former Soviet republic, gaining independence in 1990, and its population is just 3.7 million people. Last week, protestors repeatedly took to the streets in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi in demonstrations against a proposed bill that would require an organization to register as a “foreign agent” if it receives in excess of 20% of its funding from overseas.

Protestors believed this bill—which, due to the protests, has since been dropped—would hurt Georgia’s chances of joining the European Union. They also compared the bill to a similar one passed in Russia that has been used against rights groups and independent organizations.

It’s no surprise that Georgians would bristle at any laws likening their government to Russia’s. In his video series War in the Modern World, Dr. David R. Stone, the William E. Odom Professor of Russian Studies at the U.S. Naval War College, divulges the recent history between the two countries.

What Is Georgia’s Relationship with Russia Like?

In the early 2000s, both Georgia and Ukraine were headed for a greater integration with various Western institutions. Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to thwart those, especially when NATO announced in 2008 that Georgia and Ukraine would both eventually become NATO members. However, many NATO members didn’t want to welcome members currently involved in territorial disputes with their neighbors, and Georgia had two: one frozen conflict in Abkhazia and another in South Ossetia.

“Abkhazia and South Ossetia had broken away from Georgian control with some level of Russian assistance,” Dr. Stone said. “Meanwhile, a young and ambitious political leader named Mikheil Saakashvili had become Georgia’s president with an anti-Russian foreign policy, and a goal of bringing those two regions back under Georgian control.”

Saakashvili sent Georgian troops into South Ossetia on August 8, 2008. To this day, it’s uncertain whether or not Putin and South Ossetia intentionally provoked Georgia into action so they could justify retaliation. However, whether that was their goal or not, it’s precisely what happened. Russian troops fought off the Georgian soldiers in less than a week.

What Happened after the Georgia-Russia Conflict?

Russia had moved its troops through the Roki Tunnel, under the Caucasus Mountains, and attacked Georgia’s military. Russian aircraft had also attacked.

“Russian troops moved up to—and past—the old South Ossetian border to occupy the Georgian town of Gori (Joseph Stalin’s birthplace, incidentally),” Dr. Stone said. “The Russians also sank the small Georgian navy. The Russians were looking to teach the Georgians and, in particular, Georgian President Saakashvili a lesson in what happens if you cross them.”

This wasn’t the only consequence of the altercation. Until the incident between Russian and Georgian troops, Abkhazia and South Ossetia had undertaken a kind of de facto self-government without being recognized by any other nation as independent. When the dust settled, Russia officially recognized both territories as independent, even though virtually no other nations do.

“The two regions have a combined population of only about 300,000 people, and are entirely dependent on Russian support,” Dr. Stone said. “Still, Georgia is further from exercising full control over its territory today than it was in 2008.”

War in the Modern World is now available to stream on Wondrium.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily