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15 May, 2009 05:41

Celebrities join protests in Georgia

Georgian protests pressing for president Saakashvili's resignation have gone into their second month. As opposition leaders stand firm, artists and celebrities join in, feeling obliged to put out a political message.

This is the closest Georgian musician Zurab Hachidze comes these days to his life’s passion. The singer has vowed not to sing again until Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili resigns.

Once the lead singer of one of Georgia’s most popular boy bands, today Hachidze uses his voice only in protest:

“All the concerts, all the TV performances, everything is controlled by the government, and if you’re against them, they won’t let you perform. So for as long as this government is in power, there’s no way our band can exist. We have to stop singing, we have to be with our people on the street,” Hachidze says.

Every evening at 17:30 Hachidze meets his fans – not in a concert hall, but along the city’s famous Rustaveli Boulevard.

As each side tries to wear the other down, observers predict the standoff could deteriorate into a game of wits. Whoever has the greatest stamina is likely to come out tops. It is a skill Nona Gaprindashvili has spent a lifetime perfecting.

The greatest female chess player of her generation, Gaprindashvili was world champion for sixteen years straight. She has been carefully watching Saakashvili’s every move, and is convinced that if he continues with his strategy, he’ll soon find himself checkmated by the opposition.

“As a chess player you learn patience, and right now one needs patience in Georgia. I was always so proud to represent my country. I’m still proud of it, but now I’m afraid we’re losing our culture. We survive only because rich people give money to sport, but now all these private businesses have been taken away from their owners. We are being ruined from within,” Gaprindashvili says.

It is something Ramaz Ioseliani understands all too well. The popular Georgian director says he would put on an anti-government play tomorrow, but can’t risk it.

“What you see today on stage and TV is what Saakashvili likes. Of course arts and politics are supposed to be separate, but he’s forced us to join them together. Because I have access to people’s ears I’m obliged to be a political messenger. So I try where I can to warn people what’s happening – but most times it’s away from the theatre because I still want to have a job tomorrow,” Ioseliani says.

The fact that what is happening inside Georgia is real life and not make-believe means the stakes are that much higher for the audience. When the final curtain falls, it seems most Georgians won’t be calling Saakashvili back for an encore.