We, the organizations comprising the “No to Phobia!” platform, are responding to the statements made by Tamar Sanikidze, Minister of Education and Science, on February 10, 2016. The statements were made in the 20/30 TV program with regard to the processes under way in the educational system which contradict the principle of secularism recognized by the Constitution of Georgia and the aims of the Law on General Education. We believe that the use of discriminatory language by the Minister of Education gives rise to harsher homophobic attitudes in the country.
The Minister’s statements confirm that the Ministry of Education and Science consults the Patriarchate of Georgia with regard to educational programs. According to her, the Ministry “holds final consultations with the Patriarchate on issues that concern religion.” However, as shown by public discussions on this issue, it is not only religious issues but also essentially political and social concepts and terminology contained in the school subject “I and society” that has become the issue of disagreement between the Patriarchate of Georgia and political and social groups associated with it. At this point, significant issues related to gender identity, liberalism, democratic values, and healthy living have been modified or removed from the standard of the subject “I and society” on the Patriarchate’s initiative. It is worth noting that the Ministry failed to ensure active participation of representatives of civil society in the development of the standard of the subject with regard to this topic and, under the Patriarchate’s active pressure, conceded civic values of crucial importance. The Ministry’s organizing the process in such a manner and the decisions taken contradict the constitutional principle of secularism and the Law on General Education according to which one of the basic goals of the state policy in the field of general education is to “form civil awareness based on liberal and democratic values”.
At the same time, it is unacceptable of the Minister to use a discriminatory and insulting term “queers”. Although she later explained that she had only used the term contained in the petition, she used the homophobic term again without any explanation in the same statement.
It is also noteworthy that in the Minister’s statements one can feel that she personally supports the spirit of the petition which demands that “subjects insulting the national identity must not be allowed” and regards the program containing information about gender identity and sexual orientation as such: “As I read the petition, I became concerned as a parent and a mother; moreover, I was ready to sign the petition myself.” Whereas proper integration of the said topics with the school curriculum would help young people develop civic values based on critical thinking and the ideas of freedom and equality, such approach of the Minister indicates her fundamentally incorrect views about the development of the educational system, and she may cause substantial damage to the building of free, pluralism, and solidarity-based society.
While the practices of indoctrination, proselytism, and discrimination in Georgia’s institutions of general education and the Ministry’s ineffective response to such cases have been criticized by both international and local organizations on numerous occasions, the Ministry’s open loyalty to the dominant religious institution and its ideology makes it even more evident that the Patriarchate and social and political groups associated with it exert an influence on the educational system. Whereas the influence of the Orthodox Church was local thus far and was manifested in ideological and indoctrination work of various agents, including teachers and clergymen, the processes currently underway show that the Patriarchate’s influence on the educational system has become more institutionalized and that the Ministry does not have the political will and determination to protect the freedom of the educational space and to ensure a secular, free, and equal environment which should become the basis of society’s emancipation. The causes of increasing xenophobia, homophobia, racism and intolerance in the society point to fundamental problems in the educational system. It is important that the Ministry have the political will to shield educational spaces from religious, political, and ideological influences.
Considering all the aforementioned, the “No to Phobia!” civil platform calls upon:
- the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia to ensure the discussion of the standard of the subject “I and society” through an open and inclusive process and to be guided only by the Constitution of Georgia and the principles and procedures established by the legislation in the process of its development;
- the Minister of Education of Georgia, as a high-ranking political official, to refrain from using discriminatory and homophobic language in her public appearances.
We, the undersigned organizations, express our readiness to meet with the leadership of the Ministry of Education and Science and discuss the aforementioned issues.
Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI)
Media Development Foundation (MDF)
Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI)
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED)
Georgia’s Reforms Associates (GRASS)
Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC)
Article 42 of the Constitution