The annual literary contest ‘Litera,’ organized by Writers’ House, faced an unexpected challenge this year after the Minister of Culture Tea Tsulukiani nominated her representative, advisor Ioseb Chumburidze, to the jury of the competition.
Publicist Ioseb Chumburidze is known for his anti-Western views and especially loyal attitude towards the founder and former chairman of the ruling party, Bidzina Ivanishvili.
Following this move, on July 29, the authors began to withdraw their works from the competition as a form of protest at the intervention of the Ministry in literary activities.
The representatives of Writers’ House noted that such a case had never occurred in the history of the award.
The annual competition was initially boycotted by Toresa Mossy and Mate Saralishvili over Minister Tsulukiani’s tough policies and strict approach towards the arts sector and the opposition-minded media. They were soon followed by 15 authors withdrawing their works from the competition: Nino Samkurashvili, Rati Mujiri, Eka Kevanishvili, Toresa Mossy, Jaba Zarkua, Mate Saralishvili, Irakli Kakabadze, Davit Kashiashvili, Bela Chekurishvili, Elene Kvirkvelia, Zviad Kvaratskhelia, Natia Giorgadze, Irina Tabagua, Andro Dadiani, Giorgi Shonia, designer Natalia Avaliani and Teona Chanishvili.
The decision of the Ministry was also protested by the members of the Writers’ House Supervisory Board.
“The members of the Supervisory Board of the Writers’ House consider this year’s change unacceptable because we believe that no member of the jury should be accountable to the Ministry of Culture and Sports of Georgia.
“The Writers’ House Supervisory Board does not have any legal leverage to change this, but we protest and hope that each member of the jury will continue to be selected independently so that they can continue to work freely and without any pressure,” read the statement signed by the members of the Supervisory Board of the Writers’ House.
Writers protesting the move assessed the decision of the Ministry as interference in creative activities. A large number of writers and publishers ended up refusing to participate in the competition and withdrew their applications. Four members of the jury selected by the Writers’ House also refused to work. Out of 110 books submitted to the competition, 92 books were removed from the competition by publishers and authors.
“In the current situation, it has become impossible to hold this year’s literary competition Litera,” Writers’ House announced August 2. “We hope to re-examine the situation with the Ministry and representatives of the literary field and find the best solution for next year.”
Pencenter, which unites Georgian writers, also responded to the recent developments regarding Litera, saying that “such an arrogant interference of the Minister in the literary processes is offensive.”
“We call on Tea Tsulukiani to immediately summon back the member of the ‘Litera’ jury appointed by her, to stop trying to impose censorship in a field completely unknown to her, and stop dreaming of turning writers into party members. We, Georgian writers, translators, literary critics, critics, and publishers, regardless of our different political views, are united and will remain united on this issue. We will not allow party control over Georgian literature!” reads the statement released by Pencenter.
The Minister of Culture did not comment on the issue herself, yet the Ministry noted it considers the criticism unfounded and says that they were not interfering in the competition. They also emphasized that GEL 50,000 had been transferred to the Writer’ ‘House for the competition, to be managed by them independently.