Repressive Staffing Policy of the Minister of Culture - საერთაშორისო გამჭვირვალობა - საქართველო

Repressive Staffing Policy of the Minister of Culture

27 June, 2023

Tea Tsulukiani was appointed Minister of Culture, Sports and Monument Protection on March 19, 2021. This was followed by a reorganization and large-scale changes in the institutions subordinated to the Ministry of Culture, which finally took the form of staff cleansing. Only in 2021-2022, about 70 employees were dismissed from the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation and the National Museum of Georgia. Some of them have already proved the illegality of their dismissal in court. The content of the interview given by the Minister on the day of her appointment made it clear that she was planning a policy of repression against the representatives of the cultural sphere. According to the Minister, she would be interested in the origin of the dissenting opinion of some representatives of the cultural sphere.

After the change of government in 2012, Tea Tsulukiani held the position of Minister of Justice until 2020. During that time, she was known for her repressive staffing policy, among other things. Transparency International Georgia defended in court the interests of 18 employees who were dismissed from the Ministry of Justice during Tsulukiani’s term as Minister. As a result, the court ordered the state to pay GEL 332,172 in compensation to the illegally dismissed employees.

  • Repressions in theaters

Theaters were the first where Minister Tsulukiani launched a wave of repressions. The four-year terms of the artistic directors of 21 out of 29 theaters operating under the Ministry expired in December 2021. By Tsulukiani’s decision, some of the theater directors were appointed without competition, including Robert Sturua, who often takes pro-government and pro-Russian positions, while others were appointed through a competition.

Lasha Chkhvimiani had been the head of the Zinaida Kverenchkhiladze State Drama Theater of Dmanisi since 2017 and was the only participant in the competition announced after the expiration of his four-year term. However, the announced competition was thwarted and Giorgi Sikharulidze was appointed as the new head of the theater without competition. Chkhvimiani cited Ibsen’s “Enemy of the People,” a play staged at the Dmanisi Theater that was critical of the current situation in the country, as one of the reasons for his non-appointment. Dato Chkhartishvili, the artistic director of the Gori Giorgi Eristavi State Drama Theater, was also unable to retain his position.

The analysis of the developments showed that mainly people loyal to the government were appointed to various positions.

  • Repressions in museums

The repressions in the museums started with the replacement of the directors and the reorganization based on the conclusion of the internal audit and the sending of the materials to the investigative agency. As a result of the changes, 5 museums and 1 gallery were merged allegedly to ensure more autonomy. To manage them, Tea Tsulukiani created a new system of directorate with the majority of directors appointed by her. Thus, the museum system came completely under the influence of the Minister.

Transparency International Georgia is defending in court the interests of Iulon Gagoshidze, a scientist dismissed from the National Museum. It should be noted that prior to his dismissal, Tsulukiani used insulting language against Iulon Gagoshidze, calling him a “Soviet scientist” and a “bonbonniere.”

  • Repressions in the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation

Throughout 2022, at least 20 employees, including restorers, archaeologists, art experts, historians and other specialists were dismissed from the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation. The Ministry again cited reorganization as the reason.

  • Repressions in the Georgian National Film Center

On March 14, 2022, Minister of Culture Tea Tsulukiani dismissed Gaga Chkheidze as director of the Georgian National Film Center, which was followed by a reduction in the Film Center’s funding, structural reorganization, and dismissal of employees. The dismissal coincided with Gaga Chkheidze’s publication of a pro-Ukrainian statement on the National Film Center’s website, as well as a call for the government to suspend the contract with Russia for the purchase and restoration of films.

As a result of Tea Tsulukiani’s repressive staffing policy, Gaga Chkheidze was replaced by Koba Khubunaia as acting director and financial manager of the National Film Center. Khubunaia previously served as deputy head of the National Agency for Crime Prevention, Non-Custodial Sentences and Probation under Tsulukiani at the Ministry of Justice. Notably, Khubunaia appointed Bacho Odisharia, the TV host of the anti-Western propaganda channel PosTV as the deputy head of the film production department.

The above developments point to the repressive staffing policy of Tea Tsulukiani. We call on the Minister to stop persecuting highly professional cultural workers for their different opinions and to allow people with relevant qualifications to continue their professional activities.