Thursday, September 8, 2011

ARTS CRISIS: Georgian National Theatre

Georgian Director
Robert Sturua
Georgian theatre critic Irina Gogoberidze reports from Tbilisi that internationally renowned director Robert Sturua was dismissed from his position as artistic director of the country’s most important theatre, Shota Rustaveli National Theatre on August 9. In a letter to members of the International Association of Theatre Critics (AICT-IATC), Gogoberidze wrote that Sturua was fired for “xenophobic” statements that he has made in the past.

Gogoberidze notes in her letter, however, that the government’s “real reason behind this decision was political.” According to the Tbilisi University professor, “Georgia’s government was very displeased by Robert Sturua’s critical public statements, interviews and his performances.” Among the links below, readers will find a May 2011 news article from the Georgia Times in which Sturua refers to government officials as “half-morons.”

International artists have clamored for Sturua to be returned to his position with Vanessa Redgrave, Alan Rickman, and Thelma Holt writing in a letter published online August 28 by The Guardian (UK), “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.” Georgia’s minister of culture and monument protection, Nikoloz Rurua, responded in a letter published September 6 by The Guardian:

I agree with the authors that Mr. Sturua has made a significant contribution to the arts in Georgia and beyond, but they may not be aware of his recent remarks. In various interviews, he made derogatory remarks about minorities and suggested it was unacceptable to have a member of an ethnic minority (specifically, Armenian) as president of our country. It is correct that nothing in Mr. Sturua’s work suggests xenophobia, but he has not retracted his comments.
In a commentary published online August 23 by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Ghia Nodia, a Georgian former minister of education and science—now a professor of politics at Ilia State University in Tbilisi—acknowledged that Sturua’s firing might “inevitably” appear as if “political scores were being settled” and that Sturua’s “xenophobic comments merely served as the pretext” for action because the director is “widely known to openly oppose the government.” Nodia also draws parallels to Western democracies where public figures who receive their salaries courtesy of the taxpayer “would not remain in office very long” after making similar comments.

Gogoberidze calls for international “friends and colleagues” who have seen Sturua’s work, which includes 19 plays from the Shakespearean canon and a well-regarded production of Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle, to offer “support . . . in the fight against political persecution of artists.”

The Executive Committee of the International Association of Theatre Critics is scheduled to have its fall meeting in Tbilisi during the Tbilisi International Festival of Theatre at the end of September and beginning of October. ATCA International will provide additional reports from the festival.

International Protests at Director Sturua’s Dismissal Leave Georgian Authorities Unmoved (Report by Salome Modebadze on Georgian goverment reaction to international protests of Sturua’s dismissal, The Messenger [Georgia], 8 September 2011)

Rally in Support of Robert Sturua Takes Place in Tbilisi (Report on protest by Rustaveli Theatre company members of Georgian government’s actions against Sturua, Trend News Agency [Azerbaijan], 31 August 2011)

The Fall Of Robert Sturua Sets A New Standard In Georgian Public Life (Commentary by Ghia Nodia on the website for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 23 August 2011)

Director Robert Sturua: Georgia Is Ruled by Half-Morons (News article in Georgia Times, 25 May 2011)