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Georgian culture minister accused of purging critics from National Museum

26 May 2022
Fired employees and activists held a protest outside the Georgian National Museum on 25 May 2022. Photo: Mtavari TV.

The Ministry of Culture has fired around 40 employees from the Georgian National Museum in what the ministry called a ‘reorganisation’, according to trade union officials.

On Tuesday, the Georgian Trade Union of Science, Education, and Culture Workers issued a statement calling the dismissals illegal and ‘opaque’. They said the ministry was conducting the reorganisation ‘in bad faith’.

Since being appointed Minister of Culture last year, Tsulukiani has been embroiled in several scandals, including over previous dismissals of personnel.

Those fired from the National Museum include art critics, archaeologists, public relations staff, and senior scientists employed as experts, reports RFE/RL.

Several of those to be fired have accused the ministry of trying to destroy the National Museum.

Among them was Nikoloz Tsikaridze, a senior researcher and archaeologist, who linked his and his colleagues' dismissal to the creation of unions by the museum staff on 19 May, saying that Tea Tsulukiani had 'punished' them for doing so.

The fired employees plan to challenge their dismissals together with the trade union, which is also making several other demands.

‘The trade union demands that the museum management stop the process and reconsider their decisions. As well as the active involvement of the trade union in the process’, their statement said.

‘Tsulukiani’s dictatorship'

Tsulukiani who also serves as one of Georgia’s Vice-Prime Ministers, was appointed Minister of Culture, Sports, and Youth Affairs last year. She previously held the post of Justice Minister for 8 years, overseeing controversial judicial reforms.

The first major scandal under her tenure came last July over the demolition of an art museum. On 4 July 2021, Tsulukiani said that strengthening the Art Museum building would not be ‘cost-effective’. Despite protests and petitions, exhibits were removed from the museum, and dozens of employees were fired.

Those dismissed from both the Art Museum and the Georgian National Museum have said that the Ministry was attempting to impose censorship by dismissing those who criticise or express dissatisfaction with the government, including the Ministry of Culture.

The minister also faced criticism in August 2021 when the Litera literature competition was cancelled after  Tsulukiani appointed a ministry official to the jury.

Since the Ministry of Culture was reorganised and Tsulukiani appointed in the spring of 2021, the ministry has become one of the most closed agencies to public scrutiny.

According to the Institute for the Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI), the Ministry of Culture did not respond to any of their public information requests in 2021. 

During Tsulukiani's tenure at the Justice Ministry, IDFI repeatedly named that agency the most closed agency.

The Ministry of Culture under Tsulukiani also rarely answers calls and letters from journalists, or gives general answers to questions about specific questions.

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