Litera Prize cancelled by organisers following participant, jury team protest

The Writers' House venue in Tbilisi organises the Litera Prize and has appointed jury members independently from the culture ministry since its founding in 2015. Photo via Writers' House of Georgia., 02 Aug 2021 - 19:02, Tbilisi,Georgia

The 2021 edition of Litera Prize, one of two major literary competitions in Georgia, will not go ahead following mass protest by nominees in this year's longlist as well as all but one member of the jury team, organisers have announced.

In a social media post on Monday, Writers' House of Georgia said it would be "impossible" to hold the contest after 93 out of 110 works in the nominee longlist had been withdrawn by their authors and publishers since last week, in addition to an absolute majority of the jury panel resigning to join the participants in protest.

The development follows announcements by authors, designers, translators and publishers selected for the longlist to remove themselves from this year's running for the prize, in protest of changes made in regulations in June by the culture ministry that saw a jury member from the ministry appointed to the contest.

The participants of the prize, as well as Litera organisers and some representatives of the wider culture field in the country see the appointment as an unwelcome departure from the competition's independence from the state ministry. Juries in all editions of the prize since its founding in 2015 have been selected by organisers.

Following the exit of longlist nominees from the protest last week, all but one member of the judge panel later also left the contest in protest, with only the member appointed from the ministry remaining.

The public has viewed the ministry's decision as interference in creative activity. This has led to a large part of writers and publishers refusing to take part in the contest and removing their works [in addition to protest by] four members of the jury, selected by the Writers' House

- Writers' House of Georgia

The announcement from the Writers' House of Georgia said the organising venue had "attempted a dialogue and communication with the ministry for reconsidering the decision [on jury member appointment], with no reaction [in response]." The organising team then decided to make the names of the jury panel public, leading to the protest against the appointment from the majority of participants and the rest of the judges.

In addition, some of the participants also named their displeasure with culture minister Thea Tsulukiani - appointed in March - and her policies in the field as part of their motivation to refuse participation.

Designer Natalia Avaliani, who left the contest on Thursday, said she would refuse to take part in any competition organised by the ministry while "a completely uncultured person and one of the principal figures of a government encouraging violence" was at its helm. Avaliani had been in the longlist for Book Design of the Year Award.

The designer's comment followed an incident that involved Tsulukiani and a reporter from the opposition-minded Mtavari Arkhi channel in Senaki earlier last month, with the government member snatching a microphone away from the journalist while being challenged with questions ahead of the opening show of a newly renovated theatre in the town.

The incident and wider policies of Tsulukiani were also the subject of a public protest against the minister involving a group of authors, artists and publicists who gathered outside the ministry in Tbilisi on Tuesday.

In its announcement on cancelling this year's prize, the Writers' House said it hoped to "review the situation with the ministry and representatives of the literary field once again and find the best outcome for the next year."