Serbian film director and musician Emir Kusturica’s upcoming concert in Tbilisi has been postponed after an outcry due to the filmmaker’s 2009 visit to South Ossetia, shortly after Georgia lost a war with Russia over the territory.
According to Georgia's Law on Occupied Territories, it is illegal to visit South Ossetia without Tbilisi's permission. After the tickets went on sale on September 26, Georgian Interior Minister Giorgi Mgebrishvili said police would “act in accordance with the law,” without specifying what that meant.
The Art Media Group, who organized the event, said by way of explanation that they learned about Kusturica’s visit to South Ossetia only after arranging the concert.
“The concert has been postponed and it may even be cancelled” said Lela Aslanikashvilli, the organization's founder, in a September 30 press conference.
Kusturica had planned to perform alongside his rock band, No Smoking Orchestra.
Aslanikashvilli also noted that the director is a war refugee from the former Yugoslavia and regularly visits conflict zones as part of his work.
“Kusturica says none of his performances were against the Georgian people. He criticized the government of Georgia, not the country and nation” she said. “According to the director, he is aware of our history and culture and he is very interested in coming to Georgia, but only if his visit is accepted by the Georgian government and people.”
The project was reportedly commissioned by the Russian government in response to Hollywood film 5 Days of War starring Andy Garcia, a film recounting the August War from the perspective of then Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvilli. Kusturica says he eventually rejected the offer due to other work commitments.
The war resulted in 850 deaths with more than 100,000 people fleeing their homes as the Russian military carried out air strikes and sent tanks deep into Georgia. It remains a major source of disagreement between the two states.
The director has become a vocal supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent years. He was recently banned from performing in Ukraine after praising the Russian president’s policies toward Kyiv. And the resulting controversy appears to have had little effect on his views. The filmmaker played a show in Paris with his band soon after, opening with the Russian national anthem.
The director says his comments have harmed his career. Last year he claimed his 2016 film Milky Road had been turned down by the Cannes film festival due to his support for Putin.
“I have suspicions that someone gave an order that my film shouldn’t be accepted” he told Russian media.
Festival organizers say the director submitted his film late.
Kusturica visited Armenia in 2015 for a concert, and also laid flowers at the country's Armenian Genocide memorial in Yerevan. Goran Bregovic, Kusturica's frequent film collaborator, gave a concert this summer in Batumi, on Georgia's Black Sea coast.
Kusturica has been recognized for several internationally acclaimed feature films. He has competed at the Cannes Film Festival on five occasions and won the Palme d’Or twice as well as the Best Director Prize for Time of the Gypsies.
Bradley Jardine is a freelance journalist who covers the Caucasus.
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