Georgian theater forced out for political reasons

A Georgian theater director claims he is being pressured to resign because of his politics. Dimitry Dzhayani and his team say the authorities don't like their message, forcing them to seek asylum abroad.

In one of the Sukhum Georgian Theater’s plays – called “The Faraway Sea” – a Georgian and an Abkhazian meet after spending decades apart. Their reunion turns into a large argument, a bitter battle of words and views. In this play there’s only one subtext: there can be no winners in the war that pushed these two individuals apart.

And all the other plays send the same message – which the government dislikes very much, according to Dimitry Dzhayani.

Until the early 1990s, the theater was based in Abkhazia. After the Georgian-Abkhazian war back then, the Georgian members of the troupe moved to Tbilisi.

However, they now may be forced to relocate again. The future of the theater lies in the hands of the Georgian government.

“We have a purpose – to return to Abkhazia not with weapons, but with a play. To return with dignity. And only now I realize that the government doesn’t like this play, because it doesn’t talk of war,” says the director.

Dzhayani says the Georgian government sent a veiled threat that suggested it is in his best interest to resign from the post of theater director. For now he is determined to fight, but if the pressure increases he may have no other alternative but to flee.

The last 17 years for the theater has been spent on the road. They don’t have a permanent stage, and have been forced to rely on the kindness of colleagues. Now that politics threaten to interfere with art, the actors fear they may have to pack their bags and head out of Georgia.

All troupe members agree: either they stand united, or they all leave the country where freedom of expression is not allowed.

“Our director has been with us for seventeen years. If he won’t be here, I don’t know what kind of future we’ll be facing. So we’ll stand by him until the end,” said actor Merab Kolbaya.

Dzhayani openly supports the Georgian opposition and has gone to many rallies, calling for President Saakashvili’s resignation. He believes that is the reason for his persecution. However, Georgian officials either refuse to speak on the matter, or deny any involvement in it.

As Georgian parliament member Shota Malashkhiya said, “This is not a political case, and there’s no need for the mass media to get excited about it.”

The actors, however, believe their situation shows exactly what’s wrong with the Georgian government.

“I wish to God Georgia had the kind of full democracy we have in our theater,” says Dzhayani.

Until his wish comes true, everyone in the theater troupe is going to apply for political asylum in another country – any country, where art will not fall victim to politics.