The “Unknown” prisoner
By Etuna Tsotniashvili
Friday, February 27
For more than a month Cell No 5 has aired daily on Maestro TV and become one of the main themes of Tbiliselebi discussion. This unprecedented project has made a folk hero of Gia Gachechiladze, known to his fans as Utsnobi [unknown]. Gachechiladze has imprisoned himself in an improvised cell in the TV studio, claiming that the whole country is a prison cell nowadays, promising to stay there until Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili quits.
Gachechiladze’s daily life is similar to that of an ordinary prisoner. Like any other prisoner he has visiting rights and therefore receives guests, whose meetings with him form the core of the TV show. People can also volunteer to live in the cell with Gachechiladze for up to 72 hours. Once a week Gachechiladze is given the SMS messages sent to him that week by viewers and once a week he can talk to viewers by telephone live. Four cameras capture his every move and every visitor. As most of the guests visit him late at night he usually sleeps in the morning.
Utsnobi, a 42-year-old poet, singer and political satirist, is the brother of Levan Gachechiladze, who was the main rival to President Saakashvili in the Presidential elections last year, receiving 25.69% of the vote according to the Central Election Commission figures as the candidate of the United Opposition. He says that he misses his freedom and being able to spend time with his family but is ready to put up with these inconveniences, as he hopes he will not be in his cell for long.
The Messenger visited Utsnobi in his cell and interviewed him.
Q: How did this project start - whose idea was it?
A: The project was my idea, it occurred to me after January 5, when the Presidential elections were held in Georgia. I could not do anything about it then because Maestro did not have a license, but as soon as it obtained one we started working on this issue and began broadcasting. I had been thinking what kind of protest I could make which people would watch. I have known Mamuka Glonti [head of Maestro Television] for a long time and I knew he was good at doing reality shows, so we joined forces to realize this project.
Q: Does the programme have any effect?
A: It is one of the most watched shows and its effect is therefore significant. The response from foreign media has been huge, and all this proves that this project is doing its job perfectly.
Q: How long will you stay in the cell? If Saakashvili does not resign, will you stay until 2013?
A: I will stay here as long as my country is a prison, until this regime leaves. I will stay here until 2013 if necessary but I seriously doubt that it will be necessary. This regime will end very soon and I am pretty sure of this. If this regime stays until 2013 we will lose our country, our homes, our children.
Q: In previous years so many people came out into the streets to support the opposition, standing day and night with you. They shared your demands. What happened? Why did you fail, why did you step back?
A: We took a step back to avoid worse conflict, civil confrontation and bloodshed, because you know Saakashvili and his regime were supported by Bush administration and he could do anything he wanted. Now the situation has radically changed. Saakashvili does not have any supporters either inside the country or outside it, there is no chance for Saakashvili to indulge in any wrong step. The new US administration does not support Saakashvili, I know it for sure.
Q: Clearly you don’t like the Georgian President as you are demanding that he and his team resign. So who do you think should be President?
A: We should have an executive team which will share responsibilities, the power of the President should be reduced, there should be a balance between the President, PM and Parliament. Then there will not be a situation in which all power is in one person’s hands. I am sure that whatever team takes power will not depend on one person. I support Parliamentary rule in the country, that will be good.
Q: Do you support restoring the monarchy?
A: Yes, I support this but society needs to prepare for it well. The Catholicos-Patriarch’s suggestion is the main argument for me. As you know we did not abolish the monarchy by our own will, Russia did this, and we have an absolute right to restore it.
Q: Nowadays the most credible candidates to replace Saakashvili are considered to be Nino Burjanadze and Irakli Alasania. Do you know them? What do you think about them?
A: I know both of them very well. Irakli is a good person and brave, and he is a very adequate individual for the task, but I cannot say concretely who I would support, because debates should be held and people should understand who is who. It is very silly to talk about a referendum when the authorities are still there, and a plebiscite is also senseless. I liked Salome Zourabichvili’s ultimatum that Saakashvili must resign by April 9 and I am sure he will.
Q: If there are disturbances and mass rallies, what do you think will happen under those circumstances?
A: There will not be any repeat of previous events. I want to tell people not to be scared. If there is shooting this will backfire to the ruling administration.
Q: What do you have to say about the media and freedom of speech in Georgia?
A: It is in a very bad condition. Kavkasia and Maestro people report events fairly, the other stations are all biased. Those stations serve not the people but particular well-connected people.
Q: What has Saakashvili done for Georgia?
A: Saakashvili’s biggest accomplishment was to show us who is who, he exemplified his own comments and we have understood who is who over these 5 years. I personally saw some people in different ways, some I had previously respected, but I have now changed my mind and begun to praise other people.
Q: How has your family reacted to your decision to participate in this programme?
A: They did not understand what type of programme this was, they were nervous. When you have contact with your mother only through letters it is not easy. Then as time passed they understood. My brother also agrees with my actions and supports me. He will soon come here.
Q: What do you think about the song which will represent Georgia at the Eurovision Song Contest? Should Georgia go to Moscow?
A: It is not only a song, it is a provocation, and I think Georgia should not go there at all. Now the Russians are our enemies and we should not go to our enemies and sing to them.
Q: What are you missing most?
A: Freedom! Generally a person is free inside but I miss being able to travel with my family, being in Saguramo, in my house with my dog Shavi, who is very devoted, more than some people. I miss the time I spend with my family.
Q: What do you regret most of all that has happened recently?
A: What made me crazy was the attitude of the authorities towards our Patriarch, who was kept waiting for Saakashvili for two hours at his reception, although waited very patiently. This was before his departure for Germany. The authorities make life difficult for the Patriarch and the Georgian Church.
Q: What is your message to the Georgian people?
A: Treat people as you would wish to be treated.