TBILISI — Georgia's culture minister controversially sacked its best known theatre director Robert Sturua as head of the national theatre for "xenophobic" comments he made earlier this year, officials said Wednesday.
Culture Minister Nika Rurua ordered that "Robert Sturua be relieved from his post as artistic director of the Shota Rustaveli National Theatre" according to a ministerial decree that Sturua posted on his Facebook page.
Sturua is known as an outspoken critic of Georgia's pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili and his dismissal prompted many to claim that the director was being punished for his anti-government views.
But Rurua said he was forced to fire the director after he made "xenophobic" statements.
"We are not going to finance xenophobia. Georgia is a multicultural country," Rurua said in a televised comment.
Provoking public outrage, Sturua said in a May 20 interview with local Sakinformi news agency that "Saakashvili doesn't know what Georgian people need because he is Armenian."
"I do not want Georgia to be governed by a representative of a different ethnicity," he said.
Both Saakashvili's parents are Georgians.
Strura was not available for further comment on Wednesday to explain the circumstances of his departure.
"I am having a feast, sleeping, eating fruits. I am freed, I am free," Sturua wrote on his Facebook wall, as fans and friends posted expressions of sympathy.
Sturua, 73, won international acclaim for his original interpretation of plays by Brecht, Shakespeare and Chekhov, as well as Georgian classics.
He is one of the best known of all theatre directors from the ex-Soviet Union in the West, where his stunningly visual productions have astonished audiences.
His 1992 version of "Hamlet" at London's Riverside Studios starring Alan Rickman has long been part of theatrical legend.
The construction of the Rustaveli Theatre's Baroque and Renaissance building was funded by Armenian philanthropist Alexander Mantashev in 1901. It is the largest and most famous stage in the country with rich theatrical traditions.
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