Georgians march in Tbilisi to support EU candidacy amid President Zourabichvili’s call for closer ties, as the nation grapples with opposition accusations of pro-Russia policies and navigates complex relations with Moscow.
In a resounding display of unity, hundreds of Georgians flooded the streets of Tbilisi on Saturday, marching from First Republic Square to Europe Square in a fervent plea for their country’s European Union candidacy.
The rally, aptly named “Your Voice to EU,” marked a critical juncture as the EU is poised to announce its decision on December 15, determining whether Georgia will be granted the coveted candidate status.
Last month, the government received a directive specifying the need to address key deficiencies, notably in the fight against corruption and election irregularities, to secure the candidacy.
The march, initiated by President Salome Zourabichvili and orchestrated by civil society groups, sought to emphasize the collective aspiration of the Georgian people for EU membership.
‘We want Europe’
Symbolically, a colossal EU flag was unveiled at Europe Square, with each star representing a different region of Georgia—a powerful emblem of national unity in the pursuit of European integration.
President Zourabichvili, a key figure in the pro-EU movement, affirmed the peaceful nature of the march, describing it as, ‘a peaceful march, a demonstration of the people’s will and choice that has been reflected in many initiatives,” Zourabichvili said at Saturday’s event. “This latest initiative, which we are all joining, loudly voices our main wish to the European Union – that we want Europe.”
Her participation in such rallies, coupled with previous opposition to a proposed foreign agent law, signals a growing schism between her and the ruling Georgian Dream party.
Despite not aligning with any political party, Zourabichvili, who received backing from Georgian Dream in the 2018 presidential election, has increasingly clashed with the ruling party on foreign affairs and policy decisions.
Opposition parties have accused Georgian Dream of pursuing pro-Russia policies, challenging its proclaimed Western orientation. Allegations of influence from billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, the party’s founder, who amassed wealth in Russia, further intensify the political divide.
Pulled between Russia and the EU
Earlier this year, widespread protests compelled Georgian Dream to withdraw legislation that would have compelled media and NGOs receiving over 20% of their funding from foreign sources to register as “agents of foreign influence.”
Critics argued that such a law mirrored Russia’s tactics to suppress dissent, warning of potential hindrances to Georgia’s EU and NATO aspirations.
The complex backdrop of Russia-Georgia relations, strained since the Soviet Union’s collapse and marked by a brief war in 2008, continues to influence Georgia’s geopolitical landscape.
As the nation strives for EU candidacy, political tensions and external pressures add layers to the intricate narrative of its European aspirations.