Int’l Researchers Address Foundation Head Over Research Grants Controversy

A group of scientists and researchers from universities in Europe and America, who were involved in the process of selecting research projects for the Rustaveli National Foundation, have addressed a letter (see full text in .pdf) to the foundation’s Director, Jaba Samushia, criticizing the selection process and warning that they will closely monitor the extent to which researchers will be allowed to implement winning projects going forward.

The letter is the result of a controversy that emerged in February 2022, after the Directorate of Georgian National Museum system refused to accept all 13 research project grants from the Shota Rustaveli National Science Foundation, allegedly because the projects include controversially dismissed outspoken employees.

At a press conference soon after the news emerged, Eka Kiknadze, one of the project authors who was herself demoted and then dismissed from the Museum of Fine Arts, accused Culture Minister Tea Tsulukiani of discriminating against people “she simply does not like.”

Kiknadze asserted at the time that the Directorate of the National Museum system failed to present “rational arguments” to justify declining the grants.

Meanwhile, Nika Akhalbedashvili, a member of the Directorate and the Director of the Museum of Fine Arts appointed by Minister Tsulukiani, claimed at the time that the decision was made because the projects were submitted in “gross violation” of procedures.

The signatories of the letter highlighted that the thirteen projects in question were denied funding on “purely procedural grounds” by a newly formed directorate comprised of the General Director of the Georgian National Museum, Professor David Lortkipanidze, who supported the funding, and four newly-appointed members – of which only one is a professional historical or social scientist – who voted against him.

The signatories denoted that “although most of the grants were eventually allowed access to funding, in the face of protests by Georgian and foreign researchers, one remains blocked.”

The letter also noted with concern the dismissals and demotions of dozens of staff members of the Janashia Museum of Georgia and the Amiranashvili Museum of Fine Arts, as well as the obstruction of permits for archaeological expeditions.

They emphasized that the majority of researchers dismissed from the GNM were awarded grants from the Rustaveli Foundation but have been unable to carry out their research due to “denial of access to Museum collections.”

“Even though the dismissed scientists wrote an official letter to the GNM directorate requesting the right to enter the collections to continue their research, they still have not received a response,” they said and underscored that since the GNM is a public entity, any Georgia citizen has the right to enter its collections to conduct scholarly research.

The group concluded by stressing that the proposal-review process must be based on the same standards as in Europe, the Americas, and elsewhere and that decisions made on funding projects should rely on the merits of projects and individuals concerned, “rather than their political loyalties or opinions on government policies.”

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)


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