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Sacked Employees to File Lawsuit Against Culture Ministry

Employees dismissed from bodies run by the Culture Ministry will be launching a lawsuit over “ungrounded and discriminatory sacking,” with assistance from key local watchdogs – Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) and Social Justice Center.

The three CSOs will represent part of the 70 staffers fired from the Georgian National Museum system and National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation amid reorganization following Tea Tsulukiani’s appointment as Culture Minister in March 2021, the watchdogs said in a joint statement today.

The sacked people argued that Culture Minister Tea Tsulukiani’s policy as an employer is based on loyalty, rather than the qualifications of the staffers. They also asserted that the reorganization process at the Culture Ministry-run bodies was unfair and untransparent.

The claimants recalled that almost all the employees that had protested the new Minister’s policy on the Museum of Fine Arts by signing a petition were subsequently fired from the Museum and the Agency.

The dismissed employees said the “cleanse” was preceded by people with “inadequate qualifications” taking leadership of several museums and the Agency.

Specifically, they point at the appointment of Nika Akhalbedashvili – who previously served at the Justice Ministry during Tsulukiani’s tenure – as the Director of Museum of Fine Arts, National Gallery and Signagi Museum of History and Ethnography. 

The dismissed staffers also highlighted the appointment of lawyer Levan Khizanishvili as the acting Head of Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation, and the subsequent selection of former chief of General Inspection at the Culture Ministry, Nikoloz Aznaurashvili for the position.

According to the former employees, the interviews at the Agency were not attended by experts in the field and the commission tasked with reorganization was staffed Aznaurashvili and Vladimer Gabodze, neither of whom have formal education in the field of culture.

In the joint statement, the watchdogs also recalled that Minister Tsulukiani has issued threats of criminal prosecution live on Georgian Public Broadcaster against the dismissed employees if they chose to contest the sackings in Court.

Street Protest Against Culture Ministry’s Policies

The news comes after activists from a group “For Museum of Arts” gathered outside the Culture Ministry building on January 21 to protest what they call “purges” and “censorship” by Minister Tsulukiani. 

The rally was a follow-up to a series of smaller protests by artists, publishers, writers and museum staffers, all of whom claim the Minister uses Soviet-era methods to establish the ruling Georgian Dream party’s control over the field of culture and arts.

The Culture Ministry argued the reorganization at the Museum of Fine Arts was aimed at reducing the nine levels of positions to four, and increasing salaries.

Tsulukiani, known for her hardline positions, took office as the Culture Minister on March 22, after the Parliament endorsed splitting the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture, and Sport into two separate bodies on March 16.

Prior to that, she served as a Georgian Dream MP following the 2020 parliamentary elections. Ahead of the polls, she stepped down as the Justice Minister, a post she held for eight years following the GD’s victory in the general vote of 2012.

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