The messenger logo

Xenophobia in Georgia?

By Messenger Staff
Friday, September 2
On August 31, a public rally was held in front of Rustaveli Drama theatre. There were so many people that traffic was blocked on Rustaveli Avenue. Protest activists were demanding the return of the Art Director of the Theatre, world famous Georgian theatre director, Robert Sturua, who was fired by order of the Minister of Culture, Nicolaz Rurua on August 9. To justify this move, the Minister accused Sturua of making xenophobic statements.

Sturua--as well as his supporters--deny these allegations by Georgian officials and that no illegal statements were made by Sturua. Opponents of the official version claim that some statements made by President Saakashvili could also be considered xenophobic if the same assessment criteria are used. Indeed , just a few days after firing Sturua from his position, President Saakashvili openly called Russians "Mongoloid Barbarians". According to the protesters, this is an insult not only to Russians, but for many other nations as well. The ruling authorities tried to justify the President's words explaining that he meant only the occupiers and their military forces...However the statement made by the President can be interpreted in many ways, as could those by Sturua.

Robert Sturua is a great figure in Georgian culture and theatre and became world famous in the 1970s. Current Georgian authorities point out that he became well-known during the Soviet period, and one of his opponents found out that one of Sturua's ancestors was a Bolshevik who entered Georgia with the Red Army troops. If we look closely we may also find that one of our own ancestors was a pirate during Francis Drake's operations. So what then? Obviously Sturua's removal could become a trigger for further protests in Georgia. Sturua has been invited by theatres in Russia in particular, and in Britain. Many Georgian theatres regret what has happened and have asked officials to reinstate the former Director. This is not likely to happen. Eventually, if Rustaveli actors continue their protests, however, the situation may become complicated indeed.

Most of the population thinks that Sturua was discharged for his critical attitude towards the current leadership, so from a purely professional view the issue can become a political one. Obviously, the authorities would not like this issue to receive broad resonance, as it will turn against them .

Meanwhile, Sturua has left for Ukraine, where one of the plays staged by him was performed by a Russian troupe. "I will be back on the fifth of September," Sturua stated as he departed from Tbilisi's International Airport. Maybe he will have received a final decision, yet the scandal is not yet over.