Georgian National Museum employee wins case as court begins to judge mass dismissals by Culture Minister

Professionals of the domestic culture sector held a number of protests this year as well as in 2021 against dismissals from their organisations since the appointment of Thea Tsulukiani as the Culture Minister. Photo via Union of Science, Education and Culture Workers of Georgia, 10 Aug 2022 - 14:40, Tbilisi,Georgia

A former Georgian National Museum employee has won a court case against her dismissal from the national network in one of the first rulings in a series of lawsuits filed by a group of professionals recently laid off from the body and alleging political motivations by Culture Minister Thea Tsulukiani in the move.

Dinara Vachnadze, who worked on a leading position for the GNM network's management of collections of Tbilisi history exhibits and other vaults, will receive a compensation for the dismissal as well as the due salary between her layoff and the date of the court decision, which was announced by Tbilisi City Court on Monday.

The Court ruled she could not be reinstated to her former place of employment as no vacant positions for the role existed at the network at the time of the ruling, but rejected arguments of the defendant that placed Vachnadze's competence in question, said Social Justice Centre, which represented her at the proceedings.

The Centre also said the defendant side had failed to present evidence for "objective and fair selection and evaluation" of employees during the period of reorganisation at the GNM that resulted in around 70 professionals being dismissed from the body over the past year.

In its remarks, the non-governmental organisation also noted the court decision was the "first precedent that will bear particular importance for lawsuits by other employees dismissed from the culture sector organisations" during the period.

The Centre is representing other former employees of the GNM and the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation in court as part of the series of lawsuits that have followed dismissals since the appointment of Tsulukiani as the Culture Minister in early 2021.

In July, 130 former and current GNM employees, who are part of the recently formed Union of Science, Education and Culture Workers of Georgia, penned an open letter to Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, asking him to "take an interest" in the dismissals. The address followed a number of public protests held over the developments in June that involved museum professionals and the public.

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

The letter followed the latest round of dismissals of GNM professionals in May, 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.

Calling the sackings "unlawful", the Union has vowed to fight the decisions, with the dismissed employees telling local media outlets the layoffs 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.

Along with GNM and Cultural Heritage Agency professionals, employees dismissed from the Georgian National Film Centre also launched a legal dispute against their sackings in May, alleging 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.