Annual Literary Prize in Georgia Canceled After Government Functionary Appointed as Juror
Nominees and judges largely withdrew following allegations of interference in the prestigious Litera Prize
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(New York, NY) — Officials in the country of Georgia have canceled the awarding of a prestigious literary award this year. It comes a week after jury members, authors, and publishing houses dropped out of the decision-making process or consideration for the Litera Prize. The nominees and judges who withdrew all cited the government’s appointment of Ministry of Culture official Ioseb Chumburidze to the judges’ panel as the reason for their departure.
“The Ministry of Culture’s attempt to unilaterally appoint a government official as juror of the Litera Prize this year raises serious questions about political interference in literature and the arts and authors’ rights to freely practice their freedom of expression and opinion,” said Polina Sadovskaya, PEN America’s Eurasia program director. “Literary awards should be free from governmental interference and authors should feel comfortable representing their work without risking unfair judgement from politically-motivated jurors or selection committees. The outcome of this year’s prize should serve as a reminder to the Georgian government that they must cease impeding on the Georgian literary sphere’s independence and freedoms.”
While launched in 2015 by the Ministry of Culture, the award has previously been free from politically-motivated meddling—since its founding, the award’s jury had only featured independently-selected judges who were writers, literary critics, translators, and others involved in the literary process. This changed last week when the Ministry of Culture appointed Chumburidze to serve as a member of this year’s jury.
When Chumburidze’s appointment was announced, many authors refused to participate in the Litera Prize, classifying the move as an infringement on the prize’s independence from governmental oversight. On Tuesday, the award organizers cited that 93 out of 110 nominated works had been withdrawn and all the independent jury members refused to participate, leaving the government appointee as the only remaining juror.
The cancellation comes one month after many criticized the government for failing to protect journalists and Georgians’ right to exercise freedom of expression during violence in Tbilisi earlier this summer, when right-wing protesters attacked journalists who were planning to cover the Tbilisi Pride march. The violent attacks resulted in the death of camera operator Lekso Lashkarava.