Events that have unfolded around the bills on the “transparency of foreign influence agents,” statements of the ruling political party and a campaign waged by the government to discredit civil society and media have made it clear that the government manipulatively exploits the Orthodox Church and public respect to it to its own advantage. With its openly anti-Western politics, the government opposes the goals declared in the constitution of Georgia, tramples on human rights and hampers democratic development of the country.
The aim to adopt a Russian-style “foreign agent law” can be assessed as an attempt to hamper Georgia’s integration into Euro-Atlantic structures through oppressing and obliterating critical media and civil society organizations, to isolate the country and establish a Russian regime once and for all.
“Russian law” was discussed in the parliament amid mass protests. On 7 – 9 March, the government tried to disperse protest demonstrations with the use of force and special means. Demonstrators and journalists were physically offended. As a result of large-scale demonstrations and scathing criticism from the international community, the parliamentary majority was forced to withdraw the draft law in three days after it had passed its first reading.
Against this backdrop, the antiliberal and anti-Western rhetoric of the government and related pro-Kremlin groups has been increasing. The government declares the civil sector and media as spies, belittles their role in the development of democratic institutions and accuses them of performing activity against the state and nation. These statements echo propaganda messages from the Kremlin and are reminiscent of years-long persecution of civil society and media in Russia, that ended in their total disappearance.
On 12 March, speaking on Imedi TV, a pro-government broadcaster, Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili said: “These people [civil sector] directly serve the aim of stirring up confrontation, are involved in numerous provocations. Our aim is to keep people informed about their activity and what that activity serves. This was the key motivation [of the Russian law].”
In the situation of crisis, created in the country, government representatives, top officials exploit the Georgian Orthodox Church in a manipulative way, using public respect towards it to discredit nongovernmental organizations, human rights watchdogs, media and political opposition and to encourage violence against them. A proof of it is the 5 July 2021 events when the government did not defend the right to freedom of assembly and expression, human life and health, private property, thereby encouraging extremist, pro-Russian groups to commit violence.
“Detractors of the Church,” “several generations of unbelievers and nationless people,” “organizations acting against national interests,” “extremists” – these are but a few of the epithets used in government’s public statements against nongovernmental organizations, civic activists and critical media.
For example, on 3 March, speaking on Imedi TV, the chairperson of the ruling party, Irakli Kobakhidze, said: “These people do not serve their country but are busy waging anti-Church propaganda and do that on purpose to undermine national identity.”
Kobakhidze went on to say that a number of “concrete organizations openly act against national interests” and “sects could be used towards this end.”
On 10 March Kobakhidze said, “It is important for us, in principle, to prevent propaganda against the Church as well as all those steps that oppose state interests.”
According to Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, “the Church, army and police – the three key institutions are the pillar of the country.”
The Patriarchate of the Georgian Orthodox Church does not distance itself from the Russian propaganda applied by the government and exploitation of the Church. Itas not until 9 March that the Orthodox Church released a statement about the developments. In that statement, the Patriarchate did not mention the draft law that had sparked mass protests outside the parliament building for several days. The Patriarchate criticized only those people, particularly, clergymen who contribute to “incitement of polarization.”
In the given context, the government’s manipulative use of Georgian Orthodox Church to its own advantage and the Patriarchate’s silence about that manipulative propaganda purposefully encourage hate and violence against representatives of civil society, harm the principle of separation between the state and the church, the European integration and democratic values.
 The draft law on the Transparency of Foreign Influence Agents was initiated on 4 February, while another draft law on the Registration of Foreign Agents was initiated on 22 February.