MYPLACE team members David Sichinava and Tsisana Khundadze, CRRC, Georgia on recent, largely online, student activity at Tbilisi State University.
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Series of incidents at Tbilisi State University may lead to increased student activity
As required by the Georgian Law on Higher Education, Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University (TSU), attracting the biggest number of Georgian students, has student self-government elected by the students (although a number of questions may be raised about the quality and transparency of the elections). One third of TSU’s Council of Representatives, which is one of the main decision-making bodies of the university, consists of the members of TSU student self-government, who are there to voice students’ demands. The student self-government (SSG) also organizes various events including concerts, students’ conferences, essay contests, for which it receives funding from the TSU budget.
SSG has both supporters and opponets at Tbilisi State University. There are frequent claims that SSG in fact promotes interests of the ruling party, the United National Movement; it is also well known that student self-government serves as a good basis for future career, as its representatives have taken influential jobs in the government and the ruling party. For instance, the Deputy Minister of youth and sports affairs of Georgia is an ex-head of TSU student self-government; the leader of the ruling United National Movement’s youth faction is also a former SSG member.
Some TSU students consider SSG as an unproductive body and complain about unfair and non-transparent distribution of resources between concerts and parties, on the one hand, and the essential activities or materials which students need in order to obtain quality education. Recently, the SSG opponents started speaking up more and more sharply. The self-government, however, seems not to be ready yet to constructively answer the critique. Over the last months, there were several reports in the social media claiming that TSU students who were criticizing the self-government were beaten by SSG members.
Several student bloggers created a series of posts which strongly criticized self-government, its policies, and activities, including, for example, the selection of TSU students for the meeting with the President of Georgia on March 2, 2012. The administrator of TSU self-government’s official Facebook fan-page claimed that the students with highest academic scores were selected for this meeting, however, the commenters indicated unfair decisions privileging the members of self-government over other students.
A blog called http://studentebi.com (established by several undergraduate students of Tbilisi State University) is among the ones which are the most critical about TSU educational system and, especially, about the current TSU student self-government. On March 14, 2012, after a series of critical blog posts, some of the authors were forcibly taken inside one of the TSU buildings and beaten, as they say, by the representatives of the student self-government. They were freed only after the arrival of the police – which was called by one of the bloggers who managed to escape from the attackers. Some of the victims received serious injuries and were taken to the hospital by the emergency vehicle. Later that day, the bloggers identified the oppressors as the members of TSU students’ self-government and immediately posted details about the incident on their blog and, afterwards, on their Facebook page. On March 15, TSU students organized a protest rally in front of one of the main TSU buildings, and demanded reorganization of the students’ self-government. They also insisted on a meeting with the rector, Alexandre Kvitashvili. Mr. Kvitashvili joined the students and had a speech in front of the protesters. He condemned the fight and said that TSU will cover the cost of medical treatment of the injured bloggers. The rector promised that the university administration will react to this incident after the police investigation is over, and take every possible measure to protect the rights of students.
Later the Ministry of Internal affairs spread a press-release stating that the offenders were only warned, considering their “young” age – although all of them were legally adults. The press-release says that if something similar repeats in the future, the police will take stricter measures foreseen by the law. This decision was also considered as unfair, and highly criticized by the bloggers and their supporters, both in the blog posts and on Facebook.
Importantly, the – mostly online – discussion around the issue becomes more and more active. Despite the denial from TSU administration, there is a clear evidence that the student self-government of Tbilisi State University refers to the physical oppressions as the tool to halt the alternative opinion and activism. However, the students are willing to defend their rights in a peaceful way. Although the Georgian students were not particularly active in the recent past, this situation may change. During the rallies, the students were citing passages from George Orwell’s famous “Animal Farm” and some of them wearing Guy Fawkes’ masks, thus indicating to the awakening of the will and readiness to protect their rights.
We shall follow how the situation will develop.