On Sunday, thousands of protestors rallied outside the Georgian parliament amid increasing opposition to the country’s government.
The government of Georgia, with the Georgian Dream Party as the ruling party, has been accused of being under the influence of Russia due to the jailing of political opponents and the silencing of independent media. Of the jailed political opponents, one is the former president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili. The rally was organised in support of the jailed former president by the opposition party.
Mr. Saakashvili served two terms as president between 2004 and 2013. He is currently serving a six-year term in jail for power abuse. Despite this reason being given for his conviction, international rights groups have deemed this conviction to be politically motivated.
There were mass protests in the previous month regarding a bill proposed by the government that would require any non-governmental organization receiving money from abroad to be registered as an “agent of foreign influence.” This bill was abandoned after widespread protests. According to the opposition, the bill was modelled on the Russian bill introduced in 2012. They called this “a step towards authoritarianism.”
Sunday saw thousands of demonstrators waving Georgian, Ukrainian, and European Union flags along with a huge banner for a European future outside the parliament building in the capital Tbilisi. The pro-EU opinion is strong with the public, and statements from the government affirm that the country remains committed to joining the EU bloc, but their actions are harming the chances of gaining membership.
The EU membership
Along with Ukraine and Moldova, Georgia had also applied for membership in the EU after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. In June, the membership applications of Ukraine and Moldova were accepted, and they were declared to be candidate member states; for Georgia to be accepted as the same, a number of political and judicial reforms must be implemented in the country.
The chair of the United Nationals party, Levan Khabeishvili, which was founded by former President Saakashvili, addressed the rally. He called for the liberation of the political prisoners and for the reforms demanded by Brussels to be introduced in the country.
The Presidents speak
Another former president, Giorgi Margvelashvili, who succeeded Mr. Saakashvili, also spoke to the crowd, saying that the Georgian government was under the control of Russia and it was the duty of the citizens to save their homeland from the Russians. He also spoke of rejecting Russian slavery and being a freedom-loving person, part of the European family. A 27-year-old painter, Luka Kavsadze, who was part of the demonstrators, spoke to a news agency, stating that this struggle will be peaceful and uncompromising and will lead the country to where it belongs, which is in the European Union.
The condition of Mr. Saakashvili has taken a downward turn as he has staged a number of hunger strikes. Denial of proper healthcare access is also being claimed by his supporters. Despite statements from government authorities that he is only feigning illness to secure an early release, there have been allegations of Mr. Saakashvili being poisoned while in prison. Speaking to a media outlet for an article, he claimed to be dying from a shocking array of about twenty serious illnesses.