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Georgian actors protest artistic direct dismissal

20 October 2011

Actors at the Rustaveli Theatre in the capital of Georgia, Tiblisi, are protesting at the dismissal of artistic director Robert Sturua (left) after a radio interview in which he referred to the ethnic origin of the Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. In a special declaration they stated that the resignation of Sturua was greeted "with bewilderment". "It's impossible to abandon the values of performances by Robert Sturua - light, kindness, humanity, spirituality, talents and love to country," the adress continued.

Writing in the Guardian today (20 October 2011) Sturua says: "I live in Georgia, where the president has now concentrated complete power over the arts, education and media in his hands. There are increasingly uncomfortable echoes of the methods of another son of Georgia, Joseph Stalin, while a similarly misleading veneer of justice and democracy is presented to the outside world."

Sturua has attracted support in the UK also. Vanessa Redgrave, Alan Rickman and Thelma Holt wrote soon after his dismissal in August of their shock at his dismissal by the Georgian minister of culture. "Our relationship with this internationally revered theatre director – both as a friend and professional colleague – spans more than 30 years, since he brought his iconic production of Richard III to London in 1979, during a period of great international tension," they wrote. "We have never seen any evidence of xenophobia on his part whatever. We cannot believe that this is the real basis of the decision, or that such a charge should be used as a pretext to remove from the Georgian theatre one of its universally acknowledged living treasures."

According to the Georgia Times, Rustaveli Theatre actor Zaza Papuashvili has put the Georgian regime on notice that theatre figures are going to tell the world about the true reasons for dismissal of Sturua. "Theatre will not give up freedom, the whole world will know that the president did not like words of artist, and he dismissed him for that. This is political persecution. We are starting to fight not for the post to Robert Sturua, but due to have a real state."

The accusation of exonophobia came after Sturua used a radio interview to talk about the possible Armenian origin of President Saakashvili. Sturua commented afterwards: "Our theatre's conductor is Armenian, many actors came from Armenia. And I said that Saakashvili hides this issue. When Americans are choosing Obama they know all about him, and it's perfectly normal - because there are laws. But our laws do not work. This is my main gripe to these authorities."

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