Georgian Students Protest Government’s Attempt To Abolish Economic Liberty Act
This report was written by Gaga Tutarashvili, Lisa Katsiashvili and Mariam Gogolishvili.
In 2011, Georgia passed the “Georgian law of economic freedom” – then called “Economic Liberty Act”, which became the world’s first precedent of a parliament passing self-restraint law about taxation and economic issues. The Economic Liberty Act states that the government is only allowed to raise taxes through a referendum, so the Georgian government can not raise taxes without asking the population.
The Rose Revolution of 2003 put an end to the corrupt heritage of Eduard Shevardnadze’s government. The new ruling party, the United National Movement, made economic reforms critical for the country, especially cutting off the bureaucracy by means of abolishing agencies and many structural offices, which were sources of corruption and “black money”.
The government also started to reform the tax system. Taxes had been cut, but the unstable system was a big issue for the business environment. This is when the Economic Liberty Act was born as a guarantee for a stable and sustainable economic environment in the country. If before the Rose Revolution the Georgian economic system was seen as corrupt, unstable and weak, the introduction of the Economic Liberty Act made Georgia more attractive for foreign investments and created room for faster economic growth.
Defend Your Wallet Georgia Campaign
In December 2016, the Constitutional Commission of Georgia started working on a revision of Constitution. During the revision, the Economic Liberty Act was mentioned several times by government officials as in need of changes. There was fear that the Liberty Act might undergo changes allowing the government to introduce new social taxes without a referendum.
As a response to this initiative, Georgian Students for Liberty started a 6 month campaign called “Defend Your Wallet Georgia”. In December 2016, when inflation, government spending and monetary problems were coming up “at the top of the river”, this was the right time to start an educational campaign to raise awareness about economic issues in the country. It was very important to remind the Georgian people that the money the government spends is the money the society earns and that people have the right to control whether their own money is spent effectively.
Our aim was to make clear how free trade economics works and why it is important to have minimal government, which does not interfere in the economy. We decided that this campaign should be a reaction to the problems the Georgian economy faces because of the socialist government. The inspiration for this idea came from a Serbian analogue to this campaign with the same name: ”Defend Your Wallet!”, organized by the Serbian Libertarian Group Libek. The experience of our Serbian counterpart inspired us to take action and fight for economic liberty in our country.
During the campaign, with the support of the Friedrich Neumann Foundation South Caucasus, GSFL organized several panel discussions which covered topics of high importance, such as: inflation, government spending and other issues. We invited speakers from various spheres: politicians, economists, journalists, experts etc. Their explanations and opinions turned out to be very appealing to the attendees and hundreds of pro-liberty students who participated in the discussions.
The latest discussion was called “Economic Liberty Act”. It’s worth mentioning, that the speakers, Vato Lejava and Lado Gurgenidze, were the creators of this act, together with Kakha Bendukidze – the best-known libertarian statesman in Georgia and Ukraine. This part of the campaign was very productive in terms of informing young pro-liberty students about the current economic issues and gaining their support.
Defend Liberty Act Demonstration
Several weeks ago, when it became clear that the Constitutional Commission members were likely to change or abolish the 94th article of the Constitution, the so called “Economic Liberty Act”, GSFL started preparing a demonstration in order to protest against the government’s fierce initiative. We realized that after hours spent in the classrooms debating and discussing the ideas, it was time to finally take an action.
Due to hard work and dedication of the whole Georgian Students For Liberty team, hundreds of students gathered in “Vilnius” Park in the city centre of Tbilisi on April 8th. Several NGO’s, youth groups, journalists, and activists joined the protest that day. The demonstration was also joined by the Georgian Culinary Academy, which showed enormous support to the cause and prepared delicious hot-dogs for the attendees. Overall, the demonstration was attended by up to 350 local activists.
It’s worth noticing that although the protest was organized by a student NGO, it was joined by high profile politicians and party representatives. Georgian Students For Liberty was able to unite opposing political parties around one cause: Defending the economic liberty of Georgia. It caused a burst of emotions to see three different party leaders standing together at the demonstration, along with Georgian students. European Georgia, Movement for Liberty, New Political Center, Girchi and the Republican Party of Georgia joined the demonstration and expressed their support to the media.
Being seen as the defender of the “Economic Liberty Act” and hence defending the economic freedom of Georgian citizens and business sector, was a huge step forward for our group. It was the first time after the End The Drug War Rally that Georgian Students For Liberty organized a protest action and raised their voice. Hopefully, from now on the battle for economic freedom will bring value to our society and we will see the Georgian pro-liberty movement growing stronger and bigger every day!