Violence erupts in Georgian parliament over controversial ‘foreign agent’ legislation

Georgia’s parliament descended into chaos on Monday after the leader of the ruling parliamentary faction was punched in the face while discussing a controversial law on “foreign agents.” Video obtained by Digital shows Mamuka Mdinaradze, 45, punched in the face by opposition MP Aleko Elisashvili, 46, while addressing the chamber. Mdinaradze, who is a driving force behind the legislation, can be seen toppling over as several other MPs join the melee. Footage shows lawmakers on opposing sides leaping up from their desks and trading punches. Protesters later greeted Elisashvili with cheers outside the parliament building. The “foreign agents” bill is controversial within Georgia and has been criticized by countries as a “Putin-style” import. A draft submitted last week calls for media and non-commercial organizations to register as being under foreign influence if they receive more than 20% of their budget from abroad.The measure is nearly identical to a proposal that the governing Georgian Dream party was pressured to withdraw a year ago after large street protests.The Georgian Dream party has insisted the law is necessary to combat what it derides as “pseudo-liberal values” imposed by foreigners, and to promote transparency. Georgian critics have labeled the bill as the “Russian law,” likening it to the Kremlin’s efforts to crack down on dissidents. Opponents have also argued that the law would complicate Georgia’s aim of joining the , which issued the country long-desired candidate status last year.The Georgian Dream party, has said it wants Georgia to join the EU and NATO, yet it is seen as deepening ties with Russia. The EU, meanwhile, has said that the “foreign agent” law is incompatible with the block’s values. “Creating and maintaining an enabling environment for civil society organizations and ensuring media freedom is at the core of democracy. It is also crucial for the EU accession process,” Peter Stano, spokesman for the EU’s foreign-policy arm, said last week.Monday’s brawl came as Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze held a meeting with ambassadors from the EU, the U.K., and the U.S., to discuss the legislation. President Salome Zourabichvili would veto the law if it is passed by parliament, said her parliamentary representative Girogi Mskhiladze. But that veto might not be long-lasting. Zourabichvili’s term ends this year and under constitution changes the next president will be named by an electoral college that includes all members of parliament.