In the midst of the “Our Voice to Europe” signature campaign, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, who regularly holds meetings with various public figures, was denied permission by several Georgian state universities to give a lecture on EU integration and to use the space inside the universities to collect signatures for the campaign.
The “Our Voice to Europe” petition campaign appeals to the European leaders to grant Georgia candidate status in December. The campaign was launched by the President of Georgia, Salome Zurabishvili, on November 8, following the European Commission’s positive recommendation to grant the EU candidate status for Georgia.
Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University
On October 27, the President’s Administration addressed the Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University (TSU) with the letter, asking to provide venue for President Salome Zurabishvili’s public lecture on November 3, “on the vital importance of Georgia’s European choice and the enormous future opportunities that the success of the country’s EU integration process will bring,” – reads the letter that Civil.ge was provided with by the President’s Administration.
The President’s Office also told Civil.ge that the TSU had not sent the official response to the President’s Office. However, the President’s Office was informally told that the venue for the lecture could not be found due to a malfunctioning air conditioning system. The university did not offer an alternative date for the lecture.
On November 30 the President expressed her concern over the fact that “there is some kind of indifference towards this matter of overwhelming national consensus.”
The President also said that the rector of the Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University (TSU) refused to allow students to use the university premises for the signature campaign. President Zurabishvili expressed her frustration, saying, “If you read this letter, [you see] there is nothing more simple and non-political, and the rector refuses, [saying] that it is not allowed to hold such a supposedly political event inside [the university building].”
Following the rector’s refusal, a desk was set up at the entrance to the university for people to sign the letter. Asked if her campaign was being obstructed by the Government, Zurabishvili, told the journalists that “no one will be able to obstruct the people’s campaign…no one will be able to stop the will of the people.”
Jaba Samushia, the rector of the Tbilisi State University, commented to Interpressnews that the university had not received any official letter from the President’s Administration requesting the provision of space for the signature campaign. “I want to say that if this was the continuation of that initiative that she [the President] is leading at the Orbeliani Palace, then it is the rule that the President’s Administration must send at least a sheet of paper to the autonomous university,” – said Samushia.
Akaki Tsereteli Kutaisi State University
Akaki Tsereteli Kutaisi State University also reportedly rejected President Zurabishvili’s request to give a lecture on EU integration.
Speaking to journalists, Shalva Kirtadze, the rector of Kutaisi State University, cited the ongoing exam period. According to Kirtadze, during this time, “there are no lectures, students do not attend and children come only for exams and then they go back home to study”. He emphasized that “this is not a desirable period to hold such an event.” Kirtadze further clarified that the university would have taken the same position with any other official, including the Prime Minister, if they had requested to organize an event during the exam period.
Shota Meskhia Zugdidi State University
In addition to the two above-mentioned universities, it was also reported by the local media, that Zurabishvili was also rejected to give a public lecture regarding the EU integration by the Shota Meskhia Zugdidi State University. Niko Managadze, the founder of the student movement “Tavisuflebistvis” [For Freedom], made a statement regarding this matter on the Mtavari TV program “Dghis Stumari” [Guest of the Day]. According to him, together with the Tbilisi State University and the Kutaisi State University, it was also the Zugdidi State University, which refused to allow Zurabishvili to hold the lecture and provide her with space for the signature campaign.