Active, dismissed National Museum employees ask PM to stop Culture Minister's "destructive policy" in open letter

A group of Georgian National Museum employees protested their dismissals in Tbilisi last month, following the latest round of sackings from the network since the appointment of Thea Tsulukiani as Culture Minister last year. Photo via Union of Science, Education and Culture Workers of Georgia, 08 Jun 2022 - 13:15, Tbilisi,Georgia

A group of current and recently dismissed employees of the Georgian National Museum network has asked Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili to interfere in controversial developments at their museum venues to ensure the "destructive policy" of Culture Minister Thea Tsulukiani, who is accused of politically motivated dismissals of professionals at culture institutions, is "stopped".

In an open letter submitted by the recently formed Union of Science, Education and Culture Workers of Georgia, 130 professionals from the major museum network ask the PM to "take an interest" in the events that have resulted in lawsuits and public protests organised against dismissals of about 50 employees from various museums of the group since Tsulukiani's appointment in the spring of 2021.

The letter alleges the process of the dismissals - organised based on political views and "civic positions" of the employees - has been aimed at "a dismantling of scientific institutions and a complete disintegration of the museum field," and says the policy is "causing irreparable harm" to the country's cultural heritage, as well as museum and science fields.

In the address, the Union also expresses readiness to meet the head of the Government to discuss details of their complaints over the "unfounded dismissals" and a "complete lack of transparency" in the process.

The letter follows the latest round of dismissals of GNM professionals last month, when up to 20 employees were told on short notice they had lost their positions after brief interviews with a commission set up at the network by authorities appointed by the Culture Ministry.

Union Chair Nikoloz Tsikaridze told local media its founding with the aim of protecting culture professionals from unfair dismissals had contributed to the politically motivated sackings. Photo via Union of Science, Education and Culture Workers of Georgia

Calling the sackings "unlawful", the Union has vowed to fight the decisions, with the dismissed employees telling local media outlets the sackings had followed the interviews where the newly appointed authorities confronted the professionals about their critical social media posts on the Culture Minister's policies since her appointment.

The dismissals follow an earlier development from the GNM in November, when 10 professionals were sacked from the network or demoted to lower positions. The Social Justice Centre and the Georgian Young Lawyers Association, two Georgian non-governmental organisations, said they would represent the group in in court against the decision.

The developments around the network also come in the heels of other cases of controversy between a part of the culture field professionals and the Ministry under Tsulukiani over the past two years.

In May, a group of Expert Commission members of the Georgian National Film Centre launched a legal dispute against their dismissals and alleged the Culture Minister’s bias in their replacement on the positions in the midst of work to select winners of the body’s current competition for feature films. They will be represented by the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy non-governmental organisation in the dispute, with the ISFED saying the termination of their contracts with the GNFC did not meet required standards.

In March, Gaga Chkheidze, the former Director of the GNFC who was relieved of his position by Ministry with allegations of "misuse of funds" and "potential cases of nepotism", said he would sue the national body if not reinstated to the position. Chkheidze claimed a political motive in his dismissal.

In January, a Tbilisi protest demanded resignation of Tsulukiani and an end to "Bolshevik purges" at culture institutions since her appointment.