THERE are many countries that aspire to European Union membership – and recent events in Georgia show the value that many place on it from Edinburgh to Tbilisi.

Georgia is an old country in the Caucasus, sandwiched between Turkey, Armenia, Russia and the Black Sea. One of its antecedents, the Kingdom of Colchis, even features in the Greek myth of Jason and the Argonauts in his search for the Golden Fleece, whilst some historians speculate that wine first originated there nearly 8000 years ago.

The medieval period saw the Georgian Kingdom emerge, while it was also a source of contention amongst the Ottomans, the Persian Safavids and Tsarist Russia, where it became part of that empire in the 19th century.

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Bar a brief period of independence in the aftermath of the Russian Civil War, it remained part of the USSR until regaining its independence in 1991. A bloody civil war followed shortly thereafter in Abkhazia and South Ossetia from 1991-93, with Eduard Shevardnadze (the final Soviet minister of foreign affairs) becoming leader in 1992 and then president from 1995 until 2003.

He was deposed during the 2003 Rose Revolution after international monitors and the Georgian opposition found that the parliamentary elections had been tarnished by fraud.

In 2008, Putin gave a taste of what was to come in Ukraine by forcibly invading Georgian territory and occupying Abkhazia and South Ossetia – lands which remain occupied to this day.

Given the instability it has experienced to varying degrees both within and outwith its borders in recent years, it is no surprise that many Georgians look for friends and allies to help secure their fledgling state.

Independence as a member state of the European Union is the logical conclusion for many Georgians, even if the ruling parliamentary party of Georgian Dream is bankrolled by a pro-Russian billionaire.

With parliamentary elections this year, tensions have escalated after the Georgian government proposed a Putinesque law against freedom of speech, leading to tens of thousands protesting against it over recent weeks.

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Georgia has recently acquired EU candidate status with 80% of the population supporting EU membership – even more than in Scotland. It is large chunks of this population who have been protesting in recent weeks against the ruling party’s proposed “foreign agent” law, which would require media or civil society groups in Georgia that receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register themselves as “organisations serving the interests of a foreign power” or face crippling fines.

As reported by The Guardian, the US State Department has described the law as a “‘Kremlin-inspired’ tool to hound independent media and opposition voices”.

Whilst there is a legitimacy in ensuring transparency of funding (an issue I have long since campaigned on in regards to dodgy think-tanks) the effects of the proposed law are far more nefarious. When the law that inspired it was implemented in Putin’s Russia, it was used as an excuse to crack down on anyone perceived as an enemy of the regime.

There are fears that a similar situation could occur in Georgia, which has led the EU to warn that such legislation would be an obstacle to potential accession as a member state.

There is talk of sanctions against prominent members of the Georgian government, including the honorary chair of Georgian Dream, the billionaire oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili.

It is perhaps this fear which has led the government to attempt to push through the law, with politicians in the Georgian parliament’s legal committee taking only 67 seconds to review and approve the bill on Monday, thereby allowing it to move on to the full assembly.

What the outcome of this episode in Georgia’s long history will be is still to be decided at the time of writing.

Why it should be of interest to us in Scotland though, is that whilst Georgia may be on the other side of Europe, many of its citizens believe in the same EU values as we do. Georgia faces the ongoing threat of a revanchist Russia on its borders; meanwhile our society faces ongoing cyber attacks and hostile disinformation campaigns from the Russian state.

Liberal democracy is a fragile thing, and we must support those who campaign for their liberal democratic rights against those who would have them silenced.