State-Run Museums in Georgia Abruptly Fired 40 Employees, Allegedly in Retribution for Forming a Union

Critics blame the country’s populist culture minister. 

Georgian National Museum workers protesting in Tbilisi in May, 2022. Courtesy of the Georgian Trade Union of Science, Education, and Culture Workers via Facebook.
Georgian National Museum workers protesting in Tbilisi in May, 2022. Courtesy of the Georgian Trade Union of Science, Education, and Culture Workers via Facebook.

Dozens of workers were abruptly fired from state-run museums in Georgia last month—an act critics say is the latest in a string of worrying moves by the country’s controversial culture minister. 

Up to 40 employees, including archaeologists, art historians, public relations officers, and scientists, were let go in May, according to the newly formed Georgian Trade Union of Science, Education, and Culture Workers. They were fired as a part of an investigation into the “competence” of staff members. 

The union said in a statement that the firings were illegal, carried out in an “opaque and unscrupulous manner,” and that the organization will “definitely fight to the end to protect the rights of employees.”

The laid-off specialists—some of whom have been with their respective museums for decades—were employed at the 20 institutions in the Georgian National Museum network, which is overseen by the populist culture minister Thea Tsulukian.

They staged a protest in the capital city of Tbilisi on May 25, brandishing signs with slogans like, “To work is a human right!” and “Save Georgian cultural heritage.”

Georgian National Museum workers protesting in Tbilisi in May, 2022. Courtesy of the Georgian Trade Union of Science, Education, and Culture Workers via Facebook.

Georgian National Museum workers protesting in Tbilisi in May, 2022. Courtesy of the Georgian Trade Union of Science, Education, and Culture Workers via Facebook.

“This is a persecution of differing opinions,” said the union’s chair Nikoloz Tsirakidze—who was among those sacked last month—in an interview with Publika. “Before Thea Tsulukiani arrived at the Ministry, there was no political pressure on us… there was no conflict in the museum.”

Tsirakidze argued that the firings were a form of “retribution” for employees establishing a union in May. He said that about 80 percent of employees who were let go belonged to the 100-person union. 

“Whatever a person’s political views may be, you should not terminate their project because they do not agree with you. You should not punish them,” the labor leader added. “If that happens then it means you need an obedient majority around you.”

Maia Pataridze, a senior curator who was let go, told a local news outlet that she was not given a reason for her dismissal, but said the “commission for establishing competence” spoke to her about previous social media posts she had made criticizing Tsulukian.

Georgian National Museum workers protesting in Tbilisi in May, 2022. Courtesy of the Georgian Trade Union of Science, Education, and Culture Workers via Facebook.

Georgian National Museum workers protesting in Tbilisi in May 2022. Courtesy of the Georgian Trade Union of Science, Education, and Culture Workers via Facebook.

The mass layoffs follow a similar incident in November of last year in which 10 other National Museum employees were fired or demoted. One of those workers, a former manager at the Museum of Fine Arts named Ekaterine Kiknadze, said that she was demoted after asking for more information about how the institution would transport its collections as part of an upcoming renovation plan, according to Agenda.

After that first round of layoffs, two NGOs announced that they would fight on behalf of the 10 fired employees in court. 

A prominent member of the Georgia Dream party, Tsulukiani was appointed as head of the ministry of culture in March 2021. (She also serves as deputy prime minister of Georgia.) After assuming the role, she established a directorate to oversee the National Museums system.


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