It is in all the heads of the demonstrators who march these days in front of the Parliament of Tbilisi. For Georgians, there is no doubt: Bidzina Ivanishvili, the oligarch who is officially removed from public affairs, is the man behind the controversial draft law on “foreign agents” similar to a text in force in Russia. And if the government suspended the text facing the street, it would only be postponed. “Only a vote of Parliament can repeal the law. In a few months, it risks coming back on the table”, warns Thorniké Gordadzé, teacher at Sciences Po and former Minister for European Integration of Georgia.
Arriving at the head of the country in 2012, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili slowly but surely brought the country closer to the Russian sphere by using a movement he created from scratch with hundreds of millions of euros: the Georgian Dream. This discreet sexagenarian, who goes to bed early and has banned sweet desserts from his meals, has developed a system called “informal governance”. Although he has no electoral mandate since his resignation from the post of Prime Minister in 2013, he continues to make and unmake ministers or place his employees in key administrative positions, sheltered from the walls of his huge villa perched on the heights of the capital.
As soon as he entered politics, Bidzina Ivanishvili was accused of being an agent of the Kremlin by his political opponents. He made his fortune in Boris Yeltsin’s Russia of the 1990s, a country of which he was a national until the early 2010s. His assets are estimated at nearly 5 billion euros, or a third of the gross domestic income of Georgia. “He clearly functions like a Russian oligarch,” recalls Marie Dumoulin, researcher at the European Council on International Relations. Depending on his own interests, he will spare Russia while trying not to alienate the European Union, whose popularity remains very strong in Georgia. He oscillated for a long time between these two contradictory imperatives. »
Over the past two years, however, the government of Prime Minister Irakli Garibachvili, himself a former employee of the oligarch, has taken steps that bring the country closer to Russian-style authoritarian rule, while distancing it from a candidacy for the European Union. Independent television stations are thus subjected to judicial harassment which culminated in the sentencing to three and a half years in prison of the director of the opposition channel Mtavari Arkhi TV, Nika Gvaramia. “The severity of the verdict, on a dubious basis, suggests a politically motivated case,” reacted the organization Reporters Without Borders.
Another example of a hardening of power is the controversial “foreign agents” bill. A sort of copy-paste of the one adopted by Vladimir Putin in 2012, this text targets both independent media which receive European subsidies and NGOs promoting human rights, the fight against corruption and the defense of democratic ideas. “These are all signs of authoritarianism that do not surprise me,” says analyst Thorniké Gordadzé. Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream has long hidden its game well with its soft attacks against the pro-Western opposition. »
After the outbreak of war in Ukraine, the government multiplied anti-Western declarations and refused to take sanctions against Moscow, becoming on the contrary a transit zone for Western goods which it then exports to its neighbour. “Ivanishvili is more afraid of Russia than of the EU,” concludes Thorniké Gordadze. But the power seems to have been too fast, too far, which woke up Georgians who called themselves apolitical. »