Georgia's internationally renowned theatre director Robert Sturua has come under criticism after comparing alleged revelations of domestic abuse involving an actor at Tbilisi's Rustaveli Theatre to "women starting the 1937 [Soviet] repressions" on social media.
Sturua, celebrated for his work including the staging of Hamlet at the Riverside Studio in London in 1986, became the subject of public ire after posting his Facebook response to a discussion started by comments made by actor Ninutsa Makashvili on Rustavi 2 channel this week, where she alleged domestic violence from her ex-husband Beso Zanguri, an actor of the Rustaveli Theatre company where Sturua works.
Makashvili's revelations of alleged cases of physical abuse from Zanguri, dating back 11 years, caused a response from Tamta Inashvili, another actor of the Tbilisi-based troupe, who said she would refuse to go on stage with Zanguri in solidarity with Makashvili following the #metoo moment. The two actors feature in a production Somewhere Beyond the Rainbow, staged at the theatre by Sturua.
The director himself made his social media response on Tuesday after the allegations became the subject of public debate and Rustaveli Theatre said the company condemned violence but would not fire Zanguri from its roster.
Sturua's brief post on Facebook said he had "felt these [people] were Bolsheviks, neocommunists" and that "women have begun the 1937 repressions", liking the allegations to the notorious Stalinist purges and persecution of officials, public figures and ordinary citizens in the late 1930s.
The post seemed to backfire on the director however, with social media users condemning the comparison in strong terms and making their displeasure with the theatre professional known in comments. While a minority of users offered support to Sturua, most of the reactions were negative in rebuking his reaction.
The theatre director made another comment on the subject on his Facebook account on Wednesday, adding to his earlier statements by telling his followers "killing a man without being 100% confident about his guilt makes you fit for everything! For brutal punishment!".
In his own reaction to the debate, Zanguri said in social media posts the allegations were part of a concerted campaign against Sturua and Rustaveli Theatre and denied charges of domestic abuse. The actor said he would welcome the opportunity to "provide answers to an investigation".
Later on Wednesday the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia revealed they had invited Makashvili to an interview with investigators for establishing whether a formal process could be launched, however the actor told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Georgian service she was not willing to discuss the matter with police and had not intended to pursue charges against her former spouse.
Sturua's comments represent the latest in a series of controversial statements on public matters made over the years. In 2011 he was fired from his directorial job at Rustaveli Theatre by the then-culture minister Nika Rurua for xenophobia after calling the then-president Mikheil Saakashvili an ethnic Armenian and adding he did not want to see a person from the country lead Georgia. Sturua was later reinstated in his position.
In 2019 Sturua called protesters in streets of Tbilisi "Nazis" after clashes erupted between law enforcement and citizens demanding repercussions for the government for allowing an MP of the Russian Duma to appear at the Georgian parliament, on the backdrop of Russia's ongoing occupation of two of Georgia's regions.
Last year the acclaimed theatre director told a Radio Utsnobi programme he would "remove all Georgian women from politics" for using "obscenities" and representing a "loss of manners in Georgia".