Das Leben unterm Tisch
Im Angesicht der ungewissen Zukunft spielt eine belarussische Schriftstellerin mit der Vergangenheit20 December 2023
Literary organizations in Georgia are one of the successful examples of post-Soviet transformation. Thanks to the support of private and public organizations, Georgian literature is better known today than it ever has been and the number of fiction and non-fiction translations into Georgian has increased. Literature manager and editor Nuka Gambashidze [∗] describes the history and structure of literary organizations in post-Soviet Georgia in her essay. Until 2017, cooperation between the state and literary organizations was balanced. The state has funded the literary process without interfering in its content. Since 2017, this changed. The ruling party Georgian Dream and its government try to exercise political control over the literary process. In her essay, Nuka Gambashidze also documents the development of the struggle for independence from political influence.
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Despite Georgia having a great literary heritage and history, the inception of publishing as a business only goes back as far as the 1990s. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the regaining of state independence, privately owned publishers, booksellers, arts and culture magazines appeared.
Unlike some other post-Soviet states, Georgian writers and publishers experienced the privilege of language sovereignty. Despite constant oppression, Georgian colloquial and literary language survived Russification, first under the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union.
In the 1990s Georgian publishers had little understanding of the free market economy, so their knowledge came solely through practice. They needed to upgrade their expertise in terms of international exchange, as they were about to start buying and selling book rights. In the USSR translated literature was mostly published without any regard for the intellectual property of the original. Thus, in 1995 Georgia passed the Intellectual Property law and joined The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (1886). The ISBN agency in Georgia was founded in 1997.
The publishing sector in Georgia advanced quickly but had to acknowledge its limitations soon enough. The Georgian language and alphabet, while being unique and valuable cultural elements, are a limiting factor. This uniqueness means only up to three million potential readers, small profits and commercial instability for the publishers. Even the most popular and bestselling authors in Georgia struggle to earn a living with their profession.
As publishers from Georgia started expanding to international platforms by the end of the 1990s / beginning of the 2000s, it became apparent that the names of authors who are well known and popular in Georgia meant nothing to the rest of the world. Thus, the mission to popularize Georgian literature internationally seemed hard, even impossible.
An essential part of business development and literature promotion was participation in the Frankfurt Book Fair – the largest and most important professional platform in the world. The first stand of Georgian publishers in Frankfurt was organized in 1997 and during the first years funding came from non-governmental sources.
In 2003, after the Rose Revolution, a new government was formed in Georgia. The economic situation gradually improved and the government soon started supporting culture. The promotion of arts and literature became an integral part of the strategic development plan of the state. Thus were formed the cultural institutions which have successfully and sustainably managed the advancement of literary processes.
The first one of these institutions, the Georgian Publishers and Booksellers Association (GPBA) was established back in 1998. Tbilisi International Book Festival, organized by the association annually since its establishment, has received funding from the Ministry of Culture of Georgia since 2004. In 2007 the Ministry also started funding the Georgian National Stand at the Frankfurt Book Fair. GPBA became the organizer of the Georgian Stand.
The Georgian Publishers and Booksellers Association currently has 45 members, 33 of which are publishers. Apart from organizing literary and educational projects, the association as a professional entity represents and protects the interests and rights of its members.
Apart from fiction, nonfiction, adult and children’s literature, the publishers’ portfolios in Georgia also include schoolbooks. The largest share of income for Georgian publishers comes from schoolbook production. This section also allows them to diversify their business.
GPBA has commissioned the Georgian book market study several times over the years, first in cooperation with the Georgian National Book Center and then the Writers’ House of Georgia. The research was conducted in:
To compare neighboring markets, based on the
The National Publishers Association of Armenia is a member of the IPA (International Publishers’ Association). The Georgian Publishers and Booksellers Association has been an IPA member since 2008. At the moment, the former president of GPBA, Georgian publisher Gvantsa Jobava, is Vice President of the IPA.
Intellectual Property Rights in Azerbaijan are regulated by the Azerbaijan Authors Society (AzAuthor). The Baku Book Fair, unlike the Tbilisi International Book Festival, is organized by a private company … Caspian Event Organisers. The situation in Azerbaijan is complicated because of the violation of freedom of speech. Writers and journalists are often oppressed and controlled by the state. The government can easily limit their right to leave the country.
According to the
Based on the results of the 2016–2020 market study, the two leading publishers with the most significant quantity of titles in terms of total print runs per year are Palitra L Publishing and Sulakauri Publishing.
Based on the number of titles per year in the most popular
80–90% of the interviewed publishers participate in the Tbilisi International Book festival annually.
In 2016 the number of translated titles surpassed the number of original Georgian titles. This data changed in 2020 – original Georgian titles amount to 52% of all publications, whereas the share of translated literature is 45%.
Literary contests and awards are a very important component in the promotion of literature and creative processes. These are the three most important and respectable literary awards in Georgia:
The Saba Literary Prize, which is considered to be the most highly regarded of literary awards and was established in 2002. The brand expanded later and Saba introduced the first electronic book platform in Georgia. The award is given to several genre nominations and also for the most distinguished contribution to Georgian literature.
Throughout 2010–2018, Ilia State University (the country’s leading university in the Humanities) gave a literary prize with the largest award for the best novel of the year.
Another important multi-nomination award was created in 2015 by the Writers’ House of Georgia in association with the Georgian Ministry of Culture. Litera was a state award, unlike Saba. Similar to Saba, the winners were chosen by an independent jury consisting of five members who were assembled by the organizing team of the Writers’ House of Georgia. Different from Saba, Litera had ‘The Best Book Design’ nomination but not ‘The Best Translation.’ In 2021 The Writers’ House initiated another award, Litera for Translators, with awards specifically allocated to book translations from different genres in several nominations. The award was only held once. After 2021 the ministry stopped funding both Litera awards.
As an alternative to Litera , the Ministry of Culture introduced new awards. In most cases, they award titles after an impossibly short period of time from the moment that the award call to publishers and authors is first announced. Consequently, their legitimacy is questionable. A large number of writers and publishers are not taking part in these award competitions.
The Georgian National Book Center (GNBC) was established in 2014 to support and promote Georgian literature internationally. The Book Center was in charge of and is responsible for the unprecedented success of the project:
Georgia is the first country in the region that has presented the Guest of Honour program in Frankfurt. Georgian publishers started initiating and preparing for this project
The Writers’ House of Georgia is a cultural and educational institution founded in 2011 (opened to the public in 2013). The organization manages presentation space in a historical building in Tbilisi, Machabeli Street #13, which was built by the philanthropist Davit Sarajishvili at the beginning of the 20th century. The building was handed over to the Writers’ Union after the Soviet Occupation of Georgia in 1921 and witnessed a series of tragic events during the Soviet terror.
Apart from restoration and management of the social space, the Writers’ House organized a number of educational and cultural projects, held literary contests and awards and also funded and supported periodicals.
After the government’s interference in 2019 (see below), as a result of the reorganization, GNBC was merged with the Writers’ House of Georgia. After the merger, the Writers’ House also started organizing the Georgian National Stand in Frankfurt together with GPBA; managing translation subsidy programs, publishers' forum-dialogue and translation workshops.
According to the 2023 report, during 2013–2022 GNBC and the Writers’ House subsidized the translation of 550 Georgian titles into 44 different languages.
The majority of titles from these 550 books were translated into German. Since 2019, the French and (since 2021) the Spanish publishing markets have become the new priority of international exchange for the Georgian publishing and literary sector. The number of titles translated to French with the support of the Writers’ House of Georgia is the second largest in the language statistics since 2019.
In 2021 Georgia hosted another important literary project as Tbilisi became the UNESCO World Book Capital for a year. The project team organized numerous educational and cultural projects throughout 2021. Delegations from the Writers’ House, Georgian Publishers and Booksellers Association and the ‘Book Capital’ project organized the Georgian national stand at Guadalajara International Book
The Georgian government has been supporting literary projects since 2004. By the end of the 2000s, the state was (at least) partially funding most of the national and international literary projects. The funding model also altered in this period with the establishment of the Legal Entities of Public Law (LEPL), consisting of decentralized organizations which were run by the Ministry of Culture and which had independent managements without there being much interference from the state. To ensure transparency and objectivity, these organizations had boards of advisors consisting of culture sector representatives. The board would usually change every two years. The Georgian National Book Center and the Writers’ House of Georgia (and additionally the Georgian National Film Center) were relatively independent cultural institutions of the country.
In 2012 the Georgian Dream Party gained governmental power. In the beginning, the LEPLs continued working as before and had no issues with state interference. However, after winning the next elections, the ruling party progressively changed its approach and policies.
In 2017 the Ministry of Culture attempted to interfere with the work process of the Georgian National Book Center and control the contents and creative management of the ‘Guest of Honour at Frankfurt Book Fair’ project. With great support from Georgian writers and publishers, GNBC managed to maintain creative independence and successfully organized the project. Nevertheless, this altercation acted as a catalyst for the events that developed after 2018.
In 2019 the Ministry of Culture dissolved the Georgian National Book Center and the Writers’ House and merged their profiles and projects under a newly established Georgian Literary Fund. The resolution resulted in loud and extended protests from literary society and the publishing sector but the ministry still executed this decision in June 2019. The directors of the Writers' House and GNBC – Natasha Lomouri and Medea
The Literary Fund only lasted a couple of months. About one month after these events, the Minister of Culture was replaced. The new Minister restarted negotiations with the representatives of the sector. As a result of boycotts from publishers and writers and these negotiations, the Fund was abolished and LEPL Writers’ House of Georgia was reestablished. Natasha Lomouri was reinstated as director with
In 2021, Tea Tsulukiani was appointed as the Minister of Culture. Until 2019 she had held the position of Minister of Justice after Georgian Dream came to power. At this point, Tsulukiani already had a reputation for the kind of political conduct that was unacceptable to most of the culture professionals. A large part of the arts & culture community was very skeptical and negative about her suitability since the beginning, prior to her ministerial roles.
Over the course of two years, the politics of Tea Tsulukiani steadily stormed every branch of culture: museums, film, and literary institutions. In 2021 the ministry attempted to interfere with the management of the Litera award and issued a resolution that obliged LEPLs to include a representative from the ministry as a jury member for every award. The resolution was answered with a boycott as writers and publishers rejected participation in the competition. Litera was canceled. In the same year, PEN Georgia supported the prize and organized the symbolic alternative award ‘Free Litera’. In 2022 the Ministry of Culture cut the funds previously assigned to the Litera award and literature festivals.
Political and social tension harshly escalated in the country after the beginning of the Russian war in Ukraine in 2023. This was caused by the vague and ambivalent stance from the Georgian government on the subject of the war. Their statements did not seem to strongly condemn Russia’s actions. The protest peaked in 2023 when citizens protested against the Russian-inspired ‘Foreign Agents Bill of Law’ initiated by the Parliament of Georgia. The police tried to suppress the protest waves with water cannons and teargas. After several days of continuous crowded demonstrations, the parliament dismissed the bill that had passed the first hearing with 76 votes on the first day of the protests.
In August 2023 Ketevan Dumbadze was made the new director of the Writers’ House of Georgia. Prior to that, Dumbadze was an MP from the Georgian Dream party and one of the deputies who supported the above mentioned Russian-inspired bill of law.
The majority of writers, translators and publishers were against this change in management. Soon after the news, they shared a collective petition with a plea to cancel the appointment, asking to assign the new director electively. After the 4th of September, when Ketevan Dumbadze effectively became the new managing director, more than 100 representatives of the literary sector signed and shared the announcement where they declared a boycott against the Ministry of Culture. They denounced the ministry and rejected any opportunity of support or funding from the state.
Since the unfolding of these events, the Georgian National Stand (organized by the Writers’ House and GPBA) is not exhibited at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year. Nevertheless, the boycotting publishers have been able to join forces and organize a collective stand. Georgian writers whose books were published in German in 2023 are also visiting FBF with the support of the publishers. The concept of the stand speaks about Georgian society’s aspiration towards European integration and refers to important milestones from Georgian history up to the present day, employing the slogan: Georgian Characters In Resistance. The quote is a reference to the official slogan of Georgia, the Guest of Honor at Frankfurter Buchmesse 2018 – Georgia Made by Characters – and speaks about the resistance of publishers and writers against the current politics of culture in Georgia. The fact that Georgian publishers and authors, despite everything, are present in Frankfurt this year is admirable and reassuring. However, without sustainable support from the government, the promotion of literature and an international presence will be extremely hard to maintain in the long term. At the same time, the possibility of dialogue and cooperation with the Ministry of Culture has reached a dead end as a result of Tsulukiani’s politics of control.
[∗] Nuka Gambashidze, culture manager, graduated from Caucasus University with a BA in marketing and business administration. She has an MA degree in Comparative Literary Studies from Ilia State University. In 2016–2023 Nuka Gambashidze worked at the Writers’ House of Georgia as a curator of international literary projects and as a festival manager. In 2018 she was Publishing Program Coordinator for the project: ‘Georgia – Guest of Honour at Frankfurter Buchmesse.’ Nuka Gambashidze has managed international projects at PEN Georgia in 2020–2021 and currently works at Sulakauri Publishing as a rights manager for Georgian titles.
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