April 13, 2023

National Committee Spotlight – Perspectives from EYP Georgia

Shrinking civic spaces remain a threat to civil society in Europe. Following the recent rejection of the bill "On Transparency of Foreign Influence”, representatives from EYP Georgia & our international Board share their perspectives.

The Parliament of Georgia, after initially passing the draft law “On Transparency of Foreign Influence” despite public opposition and international apprehension, ultimately decided to reject the law on March 10th following several days of protests by thousands of citizens in Tbilisi. The proposed bill had been widely criticised for restricting the work of civil society organisations and media outlets.

In a letter addressed at the Georgian Parliament, the Commissioner for Human Rights Mijatović, Council of Europe said: “Such a legislative initiative raises a number of human rights concerns in the light of the Council of Europe standards on freedom of association and of expression. While transparency may be a legitimate concern, it should not be achieved to the detriment of the effective enjoyment of rights and freedoms by non-commercial organisations and media outlets and of the exercise of their legitimate activities.”

See also the statement by the Civil Rights Defenders.

The rejection of the draft bill in Georgia is a strong demonstration of the power of collective action. Nevertheless, shrinking civic spaces, in Georgia, Belarus and beyond remain a threat to civil society organisations in Europe. We asked Ann Tsurtsumia, Co-founder of EYP Georgia, Natia Ninoshvili, International Coordinator of EYP Georgia and Janis Fifka, member of the Governing Body, the EYP’s international Board, to share their perspectives.

Have these trends already affected the EYP network?

Janis Fifka, Member of the Governing Body: „The EYP consists of a network of organisations and their volunteers who day in, and day out dedicate their time and passion to inspire and empower a young generation of informed, open-minded, responsible, and active citizens that shape society and drive impact in their closer or broader environments and communities across Europe. Such work needs certain structures and support mechanisms from the wider society but specifically the state. Unfortunately, as many other platforms active in the field of civic education and youth exchange, we had to realise in recent years a new roll-back on civic space where in some societies and even from state governments not only obstacles are put in place, but an active agenda against youth work, especially when working on more transnational cooperation and fostering European values.“

In its fifteen years of existence, in your view, how has EYP Georgia contributed to the development of young people in the country?

Natia Ninoshvili, International Coordinator of EYP Georgia: “EYP Georgia has welcomed many young people with almost hundred events in its fifteen years of existence. Therefore, we believe that the organisation has and is still significantly contributing to their understanding of European values, active citizenship, cohesion, and acquiring or developing numerous skills.

Ann Tsurtsumia, Co-founder of EYP Georgia: “[…] I look back with huge pride. The EYP has never been just another youth network in Georgia as from the very start we were inspired by the network’s potential of becoming an integral part of Georgia’s European future. If back in the day we queued for visas and struggled to debate on European policy issues, today EYP Georgia is an indivisible part of the network. When I attended my first session, I came back home with great inspiration that EYP would make huge differences for young Georgians. EYP became a foundation of my Europeanness and it is inspiring to see that almost 10 000 young people from Georgia have participated in the network events.”

How would the Foreign Agent Law have impacted your ability to operate and fulfil your mission as a National Committee of the EYP?

Ann: “There is a reason the draft law proposed under the cover of transparency was named the “Russian law”, because we saw the Russian and Belarusian examples to repeat here. Since the proposed legislation mostly targeted the development aid that citizens of Georgia receive from the European Union or the US – from the West, it was obvious European values and Georgia’s European future was attacked. EYP in Georgia fulfils its mandate because more than 85% of Georgians choose European integration and this draft law was declared by the people as incompatible with the European future. To me as an EYP alumni who has closely observed developments in EYP Belarus since 2007 and seen my peer EYPers escaping their homeland, it was too obvious how Georgia would join the list of countries where EYP is no longer a safe place for young people.” Natia further explains that: “[…] It may have led to the inability to hold events and promote democracy in civil society.”

This is not the first time that a national organisation of the EYP is directly impacted by shrinking civic spaces across Europe. In 2021, EYP Belarus was liquidated by the Belarusian government and EYP Belarus’ members were further interrogated by the State Security Committee of the Republic of Belarus.

For more information on EYP Belarus

Why are the recent events in Georgia relevant for the wider EYP network and other young Europeans?

Janis:  „This trend of shrinking civic space requires us to stay alerted, build strong connections with one another – on a personal and on a network level – and advocate for good conditions under which youth organisations can flourish and citizens’ engagement is supported and not hindered. As a network we should learn from the example of EYP Georgia and proudly formulate positions on important issues that are close to our core work and that are vital to the functioning and growth of our organisation. Be it the role and space of civil society in general or more specific topics, such as funding possibilities, volunteering, recognition of non-formal education, youth participation and mobility, dialogue with decision-makers and execution of participation rights. These are relevant in all societies across Europe, be it in France, Sweden, Belarus or Georgia.“

Ann: “The EYP network has expanded in the last two decades, giving unique opportunities to young people from still very fragile democracies. However, even in older democracies, democracy should not be taken as granted. Nowadays, any democracy is vulnerable to shrinking and closing civic spaces. […]”

Natia: “It is perhaps important for the network to be aware of the recent events in Georgia, to stand together if needed or celebrate certain achievements. For instance, the protests showcased the power of young citizens and togetherness across the EYP network, for which our NC is very grateful.”

Janis: ”Young Europeans should care what happens inside and outside of their respective countries on these matters, because it may set precedents and contribute to broader developments that end up happening in front of our own eyes, too. Young people are not taken serious enough, their needs are often underrepresented. This goes hand in hand with the general lack of societal positive peace, hits on democratic approaches and openness to change.“

The rejection of the law in the Georgian parliament is largely attributed to massive protests and collective action, with thousands of people demonstrating in Tbilisi. Did you get active in your local community?

Natia: “Many of our current and former members were active not only in getting the information across but also in demonstrating with thousands of other people, opposing the initiative in the Georgian parliament. […]“

Ann: “When I realised that the “Russian law” would shake the very core of EYP values, the first thing I did was to send a message to the EYP Georgia alumni group. This was the first time ever in fifteen years that I asked fellow EYPers and alumni to comment on a political issue. Also, as EYPers we knew exactly how such laws distance young people from Europe in other places and we could not allow this to repeat in Georgia. […] I was extremely proud to see that almost 300 alumni and members, from different walks of life and parts of the world, signed the EYP Georgia statement, it was a unique feeling of unity. Whenever I would participate in protests, I was sure EYPers were around me.”

How do you think the broader international community, including other EYP National Committees, can support the efforts of civil society organisations in Georgia to oppose similar initiatives in the future?

Ann: “When I think of support, I always recall the August 2008 war in Georgia and the degree of support we felt from the network when cancelling the first-ever regional session of EYP Georgia in Gori. Also, I believe that the power of resistance is with the citizens of Georgia and more importantly with youth, the new generation. For this reason, while democracy is still fragile in this part of Europe, EYPers from Georgia can still get inspired by their peers from other National Committees. To me, the support expressed by EYP Ukraine was tremendously inspiring and empowering. Although in war, EYPers in Ukraine found a way to support Georgia. I feel the same way about the war in Ukraine, where the future of Europe is being shaped by the brave people of Ukraine.”

Natia: “While the protests were taking place against the initiative of the draft law, as EYP Georgia, we received immense support from other National Committees, often asking how they could provide any additional support. These are exactly what our NC believes would be the ways of supporting their friends and staying informed in case any similar initiative arises in Georgia. Such a broader community on an international scale would be able to network speedily and effectively to at least get the message across, spread awareness and stand by the civil society organisations, promoting our rights and democracy. “

For spring 2023 we are planning further EYP Peaceful Talks, which will reflect on the trend of shrinking civic spaces across Europe, with a focus on critical development for (youth) civil society in Georgia, Belarus and other countries.

We understand ourselves as contributors to a democratic, peaceful, sustainable and open society. In the spirit of this vision and the reality of democratic decline across the world, including Europe, the EYP Peaceful Talks were initiated, with the goal to use our reach to inform, discuss, empower young Europeans on their role in creating a peaceful European society at large.

Ever since, two events have taken place began with the topic “Impact of youth as a crucial actor for societal development through the EYP and beyond” during the EYP’s 35th anniversary celebration and shed light on the history of the EYP network and youth as a driver of change as well as during the Educators Summit.

EYP Georgia also continues its activities, with two exciting events on the horizon:

  • Tiflisi International Forum 2023 (TIF’23) – a project scheduled to take place between November 16-21, and will mark the 15th anniversary of the European Youth Parliament Georgia. The forum aims to celebrate the achievements of the past and innovate the future, under the theme of “Remastering Past and Innovating Future”. The forum will explore Georgia’s history and culture while also showcasing its recent advancements in sustainability, entrepreneurship, technology, and innovation. TIF’23 seeks to merge these ideas by acknowledging past experiences and envisioning prosperous goals for the future through the slogan “Rewriting the Future”.
  • The Tskaltubo Regional Selection Conference is an upcoming event taking place in Tskaltubo, Georgia, from June 8th to 11th. The conference will focus on the theme of “Exploring the power of youth”, aiming to empower young people in the region and promote active citizenship. Over the course of three days, the conference will include various activities such as Teambuilding, Committee Work, and a General Assembly on the last day of the event. These activities will provide participants with the opportunity to develop leadership skills, engage in constructive debate, and learn about the decision-making process in a democratic society.

Click here to follow EYP Georgia and its activities.

Contact information

Should you be interested in interviews with members of EYP Georgia or the EYP’s international Board to further comment on this topic, please get in touch with s.bittner@eyp.org.