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LESSONS LEARNED FROM GEORGIAN CIVIL SOCIETY’S RESPONSE TO A REPRESSIVE “FOREIGN AGENTS” LAW: A CONVERSATION WITH TINATIN KHIDASHELI

On March 29, 2024, Tinatin Khidasheli, chairperson of the Tbilisi-based NGO Civic Initiative for Democratic and Euro-Atlantic Choice (Civic IDEA), joined Christopher Walker, vice president for studies and analysis at the National Endowment for Democracy, to discuss laws and narratives that ostensibly combat “foreign influence” but, in practice, have the effect of restricting fundamental freedoms and civic space. They unpack how Georgian society mobilized in 2023 to resist the adoption of the restrictive law and what lessons this holds for those who want to push back against weaponized narratives and restrictive foreign influence laws elsewhere. 

Link 👇

Lessons Learned from Georgian Civil Society’s Response to a Repressive “Foreign Agents” Law: A Conversation with Tinatin Khidasheli

LESSONS LEARNED FROM GEORGIAN CIVIL SOCIETY’S RESPONSE TO A REPRESSIVE “FOREIGN AGENTS” LAW: A CONVERSATION WITH TINATIN KHIDASHELI Read More »

The government is just prolonging the inevitable. We might have serious problems, but at the end of the day, the people will go home with victory,” Khidasheli told Reuters.

Tina Khidasheli, who served as Georgian defence minister in a Georgian Dream-led government in 2015-2016, attended Tuesday’s protest against her former government colleagues and said she expected the demonstrators to win eventually.

“The government is just prolonging the inevitable. We might have serious problems, but at the end of the day, the people will go home with victory,” she told Reuters.

Link 👉 https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/georgian-parliament-vote-foreign-agent-bill-second-reading-2024-04-30

The government is just prolonging the inevitable. We might have serious problems, but at the end of the day, the people will go home with victory,” Khidasheli told Reuters. Read More »

International conference of the Institute for the Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) – Good Governance Forum 2024

On February 8, 2024, the chairperson of “Civic IDEA” – Tinatin Khidasheli participated in the annual international conference of the Institute for the Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) – Good Governance Forum 2024.

Within the framework of the forum, discussions were held on the following issues: fight against corruption: institutional reforms, comprehensive approaches and political will; Prevention of organized crime and combating money laundering; public administration reform; gender mainstreaming of good governance reforms; Innovative mechanisms for fighting corruption and improving competition: innovations in public procurement and transparency standards for beneficial owners; Open Government Partnership (OGP) initiative, etc.
Tinatin Khidasheli moderated the following panel – Fighting Corruption: Institutional Reforms, Holistic Measures and Political Will.

Panelists:

  • Ms. Rusudan Mikheladze – Head of the Monitoring Programme, Anti-corruption Network at OECD
  • Ms. Sarah Rupert –  Director, International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), U.S. Embassy, Tbilisi, Georgia
  • Mr. Nicholas Aiossa –  Director, Transparency International EU
  • Mr. Gizo Uglava – First Deputy Director of the National Anti-corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU)
  • Ms. Tatiana Khutor –  Chairwoman, Institute of Legislative Ideas, Ukraine
  • Ms. Eka Gigauri – Executive Director, Transparency International Georgia/TI Global Secretariat/OGP Steering Committee Member

Moderator – Ms. Tinatin Khidasheli, Chairperson, Civic IDEA

The panel discussion is available at: 👇

International conference of the Institute for the Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) – Good Governance Forum 2024 Read More »

Unveiling China’s Corporate Power Play: Guizhou Provincial Highway Engineering Group Co and CNTIC in Georgia and Abroad

Civic IDEA is pleased to share another China Watch report, “Unveiling China’s Corporate Power Play: Guizhou Provincial Highway Engineering Group Co and CNTIC in Georgia and Abroad,” overviewing the misconduct related to the two Chinese state-owned companies operating under the joint venture within the frames of Rikoti Bypass Project. We provide insights into the activities of these companies in Georgia, along with reports concerning the China National Technical Import and Export Corporation (CNTIC), which have garnered significant international media attention and are readily accessible through open sources.

See the full report below 👇

Unveiling China’s Corporate Power Play: Guizhou Provincial Highway Engineering Group Co and CNTIC in Georgia and Abroad Read More »

Civic IDEA’s Statement Regarding Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze’s Foreign Policy Messages Aired on February 23rd

The dangerous illusion of the Georgian Dream’s “multi-vectoral” foreign policy

Facts Only:

  • The US-Georgian strategic partnership is strengthened by the Strategic Partnership Charter.
  • We have only a joint statement regarding the Sino-Georgia strategic partnership, which represents neither agreement nor binds the PRC in any way toward Georgia.
  • The preservation of Georgia’s territorial integrity and its non-recognition policy heavily relies on foreign policy backing from the US and the EU.
  • In contrast, the PRC has consistently withheld support for the crucial UN resolutions concerning the occupation of Georgian territories.
  • Georgia’s Defense and Security Sector and its national system for deterring Russian aggression predominantly and almost entirely depend on the United States’ political, financial, and professional support.
  • Despite the ongoing aggression in Ukraine, China remains a strategic partner of Russia, thereby effectively endorsing the aggressor’s occupation policies.
  • Following Russia’s aggression in 2008, the United States played a pivotal role as the primary advocate, donor, and lobbyist in rallying support. This support helped rescue the country from the humanitarian, economic, and financial crises resulting from the war, thereby ensuring its stability.
  • Following the Russian aggression in 2008, when the resolution on the Status of IDPs and refugees from Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia was adopted in 2009, the PRC abstained from voting. Disappointingly, in 2022, after Russia invaded Ukraine, the country voted against the resolution along with Russia.
  • Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, when small economies faced particular peril, American assistance programs remained steadfast without interruption, while China’s already modest investment package declined, falling below zero.

We believe the Prime Minister’s statement overlooks Georgia’s security and foreign policy priorities in favor of internal political party interests, driven by foreign policy populism and a failure to acknowledge the evident disparity in support for Georgia’s national interests between the United States and China.

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, on the backdrop of the erosion of European security architecture, the Georgian government chose a policy of strategic ambiguity. On one side, it expresses a desire to join Western institutions under pressure exerted by citizens, while on the other, it enhances trade and economic ties with Russia while pursuing a strategic partnership with China.

Abstract clichés of international relations cannot be used as a legitimizer of the mentioned foreign policy behavior. Mr. Kobakhidze’s statement that he seeks “to [equally] deepen the strategic partnership both with the United States of America and China.”, in the best case, is a naive wish to paint the desired as reality and in the worst case, evil populism sold to the Georgian population. In the Great Power Competition era, the possibility of equally deepening relations with the US and China is decreasing for any actor, specifically for a relatively smaller country.

The possibility of balancing Russia’s interests in Georgia through China’s influence is even more absurd. Even before the war in Ukraine, China-Russia interaction was based on a cooperation-competition-reciprocity formula, and since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, these two countries have been acting in coordination towards a final revision of the global order, potentially resulting in the disappearance of countries akin to Georgia from the map.

In reality, the country’s sovereignty and security issues serve the Georgian Dream’s party agenda of maintaining power. Unlike Western democracies (which, while cooperating with various countries, are often limited in knowledge of the content of political system), the People’s Republic of China engages with any regime, particularly in countries of the Global South.

Hence, there is no mere chance that as domestic authoritarianism in Georgia has intensified, the Georgian Dream has seen closer ties with China as a vital foreign policy lifeline. This specific example once again proves that the government, left behind an unbalanced institutional control and accountability, represents a tremendous threat to the future of Georgia. In the presence of the Georgian Dream’s uncontrolled majority, there is a high probability that we are left with authoritarianism “legitimized” by the communist party, thereby solidifying both poverty and political elites.

Civic IDEA’s Statement Regarding Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze’s Foreign Policy Messages Aired on February 23rd Read More »

Workers’ Rights Watch

We are pleased to share with you our latest research “Workers’ Rights Watch” prepared with the support of NED and Caps Unlock. It delves into the details of labour relations within eight companies affiliated with the People’s Republic of China. The analysis is based on the conclusions made by the Labor Inspection Service of Georgia in the reporting period of 2022, the media monitoring conducted by us and the violations revealed as a result of multiple interviews with the victims. The findings underscore the critical need for implementing robust measures that compel companies to adhere to labor-legal norms, so that the socio-economic or civil-political rights aren’t violated.

For further details, please find the complete report attached below. 👇

Workers’ Rights Watch Read More »

“Civic IDEA’s work cited by Civil.ge” 

The Civil.ge article “Chinese Companies in Georgia: Sanctions, Delays, and Concerns” references Civic IDEA and its China Watch reports showcasing the misconduct of notorious Chinese companies operating in Georgia’s infrastructure sector, shady dealings with the Georgian business and political elites and threats to national security. 

Below, we offer a brief excerpt from the article mentioning that.

“Civic Idea found several red flags:
China Road and Bridge Corporation – The World Bank has sanctioned the China Road and Bridge Corporation for fraudulent practices in connection with the Philippines’ National Road Improvement and Management Program (NRIMP 1). China State Construction Engineering Corporation – The World Bank blacklisted China State Construction Engineering Corporation Ltd. in the Philippines for its involvement in collusive practices and a corruption scandal involving the Philippine NRIMP 1 Program. In 2020, the Trump administration accused CSCEC of cyber espionage and banned U.S.-registered companies from becoming shareholders in CSCEC. HUNAN ROAD AND BRIDGE CONSTRUCTION GROUP CO LTD – Due to their poor construction, the 328-meter Tuojiang Bridge in China collapsed in 2009. As a result, 64 people died, 22 were injured, and the economic loss reached 39.747 million yuan (about 6 million U.S. dollars). 20 local government officials and HNRB board members were sentenced to 19 years in prison in China for bribery, malfeasance, negligence, and racketeering. In Georgia, the workers complained about poor working conditions and went on strike several times. There were deadly incidents, too, notably in June and August 2023. 
Other concerning companies

The Civic Idea also points to other companies that are not part of the large projects, but whose active involvement in Georgia, they say, should be the cause of concern:

Nuctech Company Limited (serves the borders of Georgia with a scanning system) – In 2009, the European Union accused Nuctech Company Ltd. of dumping and imposed anti-dumping duties on imports of Nuctech scanning systems. In the United States, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) initially banned Nuctech’s equipment in 2014 and, based on its international experience, presented a detailed review of the company’s misdeeds in a secret document, which led to restrictions on its services by various countries. One of the last was Lithuania, whose authorities officially decided in 2021 to ban the supply of Nuctech equipment to three international airports in Lithuania.

CEFC China Energy Co – Ye Jianming, former head of CEFC China Energy Co, was charged in the US in 2017 with several crimes, including bribery. In 2018, the Chinese state investment company took control of CEFC’s foreign assets after Jianming’s disappearance. Despite CEFC officially declaring bankruptcy in 2020, Georgia’s government and courts, allegedly influenced by individuals tied to the businessman Ivane Chkhartishvili and Bidzina Ivanishvili, have not acknowledged the bankruptcy documents. The Poti Free Industrial Zone, owned 75% by CEFC, remains in the company’s possession.”

For more information, please visit 

Chinese Companies in Georgia: Sanctions, Delays and Concerns

“Civic IDEA’s work cited by Civil.ge”  Read More »

NGO supporting statement: The authorities try to create an “enemy image” by attacking civil society organizations

In recent days, the Chairman of the Parliament of Georgia once again attacked representatives of civil society organizations. This time, Civic Idea, Soviet Past Research Laboratory (Sovlab) and Tolerance Center of the Public Defender became the targets of the attack.

Attempts to discredit civil society organizations are taking place amidst the heavy social background, poverty and inflation, which remain the most painful and unsolvable problems for the population under the conditions of the long-term rule of Georgian Dream. Instead of offering a positive agenda to the public ahead of the 2024 parliamentary elections, the authorities are trying to run a negative anti-Western election campaign and mobilize its voters with the false rhetoric of fighting the country’s “enemies”.

It is obvious that another wave of attacks on civil society organizations by the authorities is part of the pre-election political propaganda, repeats one of the main narratives of Russian disinformation and serves the purpose of portraying civil society organizations as enemies. Unfortunately, this is not the first attempt by the ruling party to discredit civil society organizations. The authorities used similar information attack before the 2020 parliamentary elections as well. In the spring of 2023, Georgian Dream unsuccessfully tried to label all civil society organizations receiving international funding as foreign agents by passing a Russian law.

Provoking controversy in the society, using political persecution against specific people or organizations, conducting a hate campaign against them and trying to mobilize their own voters creates the impression that Georgian Dream is trying to achieve its narrow partisan goals at the expense of state interests. Hostile rhetoric towards civil society organizations contradicts both the constitutional values of a democratic state and the demand of the European Union towards taking steps against polarization.

Civil society organizations call on the authorities to stop the targeted hate campaign, to take steps for establishing partnership and business communication with them, and to refuse to instrumentalize polarization in the pre-election campaign. 

Signatory organizations:

NGO supporting statement: The authorities try to create an “enemy image” by attacking civil society organizations Read More »

DTL statement in response to Georgian Dream Party MP statement regarding funding for Civic IDEA

Doublethink Lab

The article is one of many in Georgia-focused media suggesting that in receiving funding from Taiwanese organizations, including DTL, Civic IDEA undermined its impartiality and ability to conduct objective research into the People’s Republic of China (PRC)’s relationship with Georgia.

In response, DTL would like to clarify our position and the nature of the relationship, which is limited to engagement around our flagship China Index project quantifying and visualizing PRC influence globally, and a one-off grant for related research.

DTL is devoted to strengthening democratic resilience and resisting digital authoritarianism globally, and as such we independently set and control the nature and direction of our research.

One aspect of DTL’s mission is to conduct research into PRC foreign influence and interference. For example, we are currently running a project to investigate Foreign Information Manipulation and Interference (FIMI) in the Indo-Pacific region. The project’s goal is to gather evidence on tactics, techniques, and procedures of FIMI, so that governments and civil society platforms can make informed decisions about the best way to handle the threats and challenges these pose.

Similarly, the China Index aims to provide data-driven insights on vectors of PRC influence, so that policymakers and CSOs can make evidence-based decisions about how to more sustainably manage their relationships with the PRC. The Index also enables stakeholders to compare the scale, nature and impact of PRC influence across regions and between countries, and provides a basis for more in-depth research.

Like many CSOs, we are an independent non-profit organization that sources funding from a diverse range of donors and sectors while taking vigorous steps to maintain the integrity and quality of our methodologies and research processes. This includes ensuring that our funders do not influence our choice of research partners, and choosing not to affiliate with governments or political parties.

Through the China Index, we have worked with more than 200 such individuals and institutions — RPs and their local experts involved in gathering data on PRC influence in their regions.

DTL initially selected Civic IDEA to be a China Index RP because of the outstanding quality of their work, and their expertise in studying foreign influence operations, principally those of Russia and the PRC, in the South Caucasus and Central Asia. For the forthcoming (second) iteration of the China Index, Civic IDEA again responded to the open call for RPs and was selected for similar reasons.

Civic IDEA’s anti-corruption research related to PRC companies’ activities in Georgia, particularly following the signing of a strategic partnership between the two countries in July 2023, is of critical importance to understanding the nature of PRC influence, and specifically funding allocation decisions made by Georgia’s current government and ruling party.

While DTL plays no part in funding this endeavor, we wish Civic IDEA and its partners every success in conducting their research, and continuing to advocate for stricter scrutiny and due diligence around the Georgian government’s dealings with PRC entities.

About Doublethink Lab

Established in 2019, Doublethink Lab (Doublethink) is a civil society organization devoted to strengthening democratic resilience and resisting digital authoritarianism. Doublethink’s strengths lie in the ability to combine a diverse set of research approaches in the social, behavioral, and computational sciences to study state-funded propaganda campaigns, psychological warfare, and related information operations. As coordinator of the China in the World (CITW) network, Doublethink seeks to foster cross-regional collaboration between academics, democracy movements, digital communities, like-minded CSOs, and experts on the People’s Republic of China. Its flagship project is the China Index.

About China In The World (CITW)

In 2019, Doublethink Lab and partners established the China In The World (CITW) network to support and unite stakeholders researching the People’s Republic of China (PRC)’s global influence, improve cross-regional awareness of related challenges, and strengthen democratic resilience worldwide. The network coordinates publication of the China Index, the first global initiative to measure and compare the PRC’s influence in various countries.

Link 👇

https://medium.com/doublethinklab/dtl-statement-in-response-to-georgian-dream-party-mp-statement-regarding-funding-for-civic-idea-44a92b9beddb

DTL statement in response to Georgian Dream Party MP statement regarding funding for Civic IDEA Read More »

Civic IDEA statement – Regarding the absurd uproar by the Georgian Dream about the “unveiling of the Taiwan agents” operation

We have chosen the name Civic IDEA – Civic Initiative for Democratic, Euro- Atlantic Choice, for a reason. All our projects and activities align with the objectives outlined in this title and the democratic, Euro-Atlantic aspirations of the Georgian people. Therefore, we scrutinize and assess the government’s actions that appear to distance the country from the West and align it more closely with Russia.

What we say and how the government responds:

Over the past seven years, we have consistently brought to light the government’s shady undertakings, substantiating claims of corruption with concrete facts and documents while unveiling the falsehoods and misinformation propagated by them.

1. All Chinese companies, to which the government of Georgia is granting multi- million dollar contracts, have a damaged reputation worldwide and can be found on the blacklists of various IFIs and our partner countries.The government alleges our reports are anti-state, yet it offers no response regarding engaging in contracts with sanctioned companies—just an attempt to deflect by merely sewing labels.

4. Additionally, over the course of five years, we have consistently raised concerns regarding the contractors selected for the construction of the Rikoti Bypass. We have published several reports where we have described and substantiated the “business fraud” by these companies in different countries. We sought clarification on the rationale behind the authorities’ confidence that these contractors would conduct their work in Georgia with integrity and professionalism despite facing lawsuits and disputes on nearly every continent. Unfortunately, our warnings went unheard; instead, we were labeled as “enemies” and deemed “anti-state elements who do not have a motherland.”

Why did the speaker of the parliament and the parliamentary majority get angry? Why now, in January 2024, when Civic IDEA has been exposing the alleged corrupt ties between the government and Chinese companies, along with the Prime Minister’s political corruption, for seven years?

There is a simple answer to this question – Anaklia Deep Sea Port.

It appears that the government is currently working on the decision to grant the Anaklia port tender to the Chinese company. Consequently, they are well aware of the anticipated public discontent stemming from such a choice and, in their view, are taking preemptive measures. The Georgian Dream acknowledges that Civic IDEA stands as the sole organization in the country dedicated to combating strategic corruption and safeguarding the nation’s strategic interests for the past seven years. Consequently, they anticipate the most informed and justified criticism from us. Our perspectives are not only heard and read domestically but also resonate with our Western partners. Hence, the GD members are laying the groundwork to dismiss our criticism by labeling us “Taiwan lobbyists or agents” rather than providing substantive arguments in response.

Here we must state unequivocally:

– Surprisingly enough, we are not the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, therefore we do not express a position on the recognition or non-recognition of any state;

– Thus neither Civic IDEA nor Tinatin Khidasheli has ever made a statement about the recognition of Taiwan’s independence;

– Surprisingly enough, we no longer at the Ministry of Defense either, so any insinuation that Tinatin Khidasheli had access to secret documents eight years ago (incidentally unrelated to Taiwan or the PRC, as they were not among the ministry’s partners at that time) is completely irrelevant to our current activities. Bringing up this topic out of context is a standard propaganda tactic.

– We are also engaged in educational activities and can educate interested MPs on the difference between “one China policy” and “one China principle”, positions and recognitions aired by Georgia’s western partners;

– Yes, Civic IDEA has partnership relations with organizations in Taiwan. Neither Imedi TV nor Rustavi 2 discovered this information. It is completely open and available on our website. Also, on our webpage, you will read that the partners of the international conference, which we hosted in Tbilisi in October 2023 and was attended by leading experts from more than 30 countries, were the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, together with the NATO Contact-Point Embassies in Georgia, the Embassy of Great Britain, the Embassy of Poland, the Visegrad Fund, FNF and NED.

– Furthermore, our webpage contains details about our visits to Taiwan and the panel discussions we conducted there. A more attentive read of our page would reveal that December 2023 was not our only or first visit to Taiwan.

– Finally, also on our page, you would have seen that we are participating in a very large international project run by our Taiwanese partner DTL, where Civic IDEA, leveraging the reputation and professionalism of its experts, was tasked to conduct research and analysis of the PRC activities in 13 countries across the globe.

– Finally, the statement “Taiwan is financing you” is incorrect. Unlike countries such as the Netherlands, Norway, the UK, and the USA, where Civic IDEA has received direct funding from their respective governments, we have never received financial support from the Taiwanese state. Our collaborations have been with private, independent organizations in Taiwan, and we genuinely anticipate that this partnership will endure in the future. If our proposed initiatives receive support and approval again, these organizations will allocate funding accordingly.

Civic IDEA statement – Regarding the absurd uproar by the Georgian Dream about the “unveiling of the Taiwan agents” operation Read More »

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