State-funded literary contest “Litera” faces uncertain future after dozens of writers and jury members are massively dropping out of the contest over “attempted censorship” by hardline Minister of Culture of Georgia, Tea Tsulukiani.
They are protesting the appointment of the Minister’s representative, publicist Ioseb Chumburidze to the contest jury. At least seventeen of some hundred authors nominated in six categories have announced they will withdraw, as well as four of the five jurors, Lela Kodalashvili, Rezo Tabukashvili, Bela Tsipuria and Oktai Kazumovi.
PEN Georgia, uniting more than 70 writers, urged Culture Minister Tea Tsulukiani to call off the appointed juror. The writers said this is the first time the Ministry has inserted itself in the selection of jurors of the contest, since its 2015 inception.
PEN Georgia dubbed Minister Tsulukiani’s move “an insulting, brazen interference” and an “attempt at censorship,” and pledged they will not allow “party control over Georgian literature.”
“Tsulukiani decided to bring in the cultural gendarmerie and wishes to restore the darkest totalitarian traditions of controlling the [field of] culture,” the group stressed.
The supervisory board of the Writer’s House, state-run agency holding the literary contest, also stated that “a member of the jury must not be accountable to the Ministry of Culture and Sports.” Noting they have no legal levers to pull for blocking the pick, they expressed their wish that each of the jurors is “selected independently again so that they can work freely, without pressure.”
One of the jurors that quit, Lela Kodalashvili accused Minister Tsulukiani of “using KGB methods and planting a man” in the jury to exercise oversight on the contest. “By staying [in the jury] I would inadvertently disavow the radical group of writers whose position I share the most.”
Writer Toresa Mossy was the first to quit after the list of nominees was made public on July 26. Mossy said he refuses to participate in any project funded by the Culture Ministry as long as Tea Tsulukiani remains at its helm. Following suit, debuting young writer Matthew Saralishvili said on July 27 he “cannot betray” his book by participating in the contest.
Ioseb Chumburidze, a frequent pro-government commentator, shot back at those criticizing his appointment, and accused them of “being the people who took out of the Writer’s House” the portraits of Ilia Chavchavadze and Akaki Tsereteli, acclaimed 19th-century Georgian writers and public figures.
The Ministry of Culture denied “any interference” in the contest, stressing the Writer’s House is fully responsible in organizing and holding the competition. The Ministry told Civil.ge it only named its representative to the jury and provided GEL 50,000 (USD 16,000) in funding for the contest.
This article was updated at 18:56, July 30. A comment delivered by the Ministry of Culture was added.
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