Blesok no. 53, March-April, 2007
Essays


New Old Times in the Balkans: The Search for a Cultural Identity

Naum Panovski


I stood on a hill and I saw the Old approaching, but it came as the New. “Parade of the old new,” Bertolt Brecht, Poems 1913–1956

Sarajevo by Goran Stefanovski, produced by Undermain Theatre, Dallas, 1995. Directed by Naum Panovski. Photo: Courtesy Paolo Racagni.

     In the spring of 1992, Yugoslavia as I knew it, a truly multiethnic and multicultural country at the heart of the Balkans, ceased to exist and disappeared from the European map. In a very short period of time Yugoslavia was ravaged by wars. As a consequence the unique Yugoslav multicultural entity and identity was annihilated and the braided intercultural space was divided into many small national cultures. Idealism, humanism, and ethical values disappeared, while pragmatism and scrupulousness, a world greedy for money and fast profit, appeared on the war-torn map. The civil and the urban were forced into exile, while everything rural, primitive, and brutal became the standard. Religious and political dogmatism took over people’s minds, knowledge was disregarded, ignorance was celebrated. The open borders were closed, the rich and vigorous artistic and intellectual life was wiped out, the dissident voices were silenced, and towns changed their names. The world was divided in two camps: traitors and heroes. The “turbo folk”[1] won in the “Balkan bar.”[2] The man again became wolf to a man.
    In that process of transition to new democratic values, what was truth was proclaimed to be a lie, what was right became wrong, the villains and criminals proclaimed themselves victims, what was once history—ah, history is palimpsest anyway—was obliterated and became part of people’s individual memory and personal mythology. As Bosnian playwright Dzevad Karahasan wrote in his book Sarajevo Exodus of a City “our life was removed from the real into the ideal,” and became a fixed image from the time gone forever.[3]



Hotel Europe by Goran Stefanovski, produced by Interkult, Sweden, 2000. Photo: Courtesy Bernd Uhlig.

TIME BEHIND THE WALL

    For all those lined up along the ethnic and nationalistic lines, the process of disintegration of Yugoslavia—a common home to many Slavic and non-Slavic nations—was seen as a liberation. For them Yugoslavia was considered “a dungeon for the nations.” In that way the fascinating words “liberation” and “freedom” in the small new countries—Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovenia—that appeared after the death of Yugoslavia received a very special place. They became the most used and abused expressions.
    During the last decade of the twentieth century, when the removal of the Berlin Wall was bringing new life and real freedom to many Eastern European countries, unfortunately many did not see the new invisible walls that were being put up on European soil. They were raised for the ordinary people of an already vanished Yugoslavia. On the one hand there were the walls on the south side of Europe built by the nationalistic and repressive elites of the newly-formed countries who shaped the new reality and separated the people of the former Yugoslavia from each other. On the other hand there was, and still is, a wall built all over that part of Europe by the European Union and the Western democracies, one that separates the people of the former Yugoslavia from the rest of Europe and the rest of the world.

Maps of Forbidden Remembrance, collaborative work by DAH Theatre, Belgrade, 2001. Directed by Dijana Miloshevic. Photo: Courtesy DAH Theatre.

    This new wall, invisible to many, is in fact so visible and so high for the ordinary people who come from the former Yugoslavia and who attempt to travel to any of the Western European countries. From the very moment these people apply for a visa at the foreign embassies and consulates, to the moment their planes land in Vienna or Amsterdam, in Frankfurt or Paris, in Prague or London, or to the moment when they are treated as if they have a deadly disease, or to the moment when they are subjected to the humiliation of customs and immigration officers, the tall and well guarded wall of the “New Old Europe” is there. United Europe without boundaries, where there are no walls and no visas, is closed for these people who come on tightly-watched trains. The long lines of “hope and dreams” in front of the foreign embassies and countless accounts of rude and unacceptable behavior by the consular personnel can easily attest to this.
    What was written behind the walls? What was performed within that closed environment? What did the theatre do and what can it do in a time measured by war? What did intellectuals, authors, and theatre practitioners do in their ruined and culturally vandalized cities? How did they respond to the new moral challenges? How did the playwrights address the new freedom? What does the dramatic expression in the newly emerged democracies mean today? How does it speak to its own new audiences?
    The “new life” behind the walls during the first decade of the “new democracies,” especially after the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement on November 20, 1995, was basically marked by a few distinctive socio-political, economic, cultural, and aesthetic processes; most importantly that “new life” was strongly and enthusiastically supported by many prominent theatre practitioners and playwrights who lined up along nationalistic lines. In their public activism, in writings and productions they returned to national values, and ethnic roots, fought for their land, burned down bridges, literary and figuratively,
[4] and chose to affirm the archaic idea of “blood and soil.” In so doing they became national advocates who reaffirmed the romantic idea of nation—ethnos. Consequently, in the new milieu, which affirmed and glorified the nation, the preservation of the old National Theatre model of management and the creation of nationally relevant theatre was a highly supported idea. In many ways, in fact, the National Theatre seasons served the political elites. During the mid- and late-nineties many theatres in Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, and Macedonia were performing shows that glorified the national heroic past. National-romantic plays like Osman by Ivan Gundulic at the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb, or Maksim Cernojevic by Laza Kostic at the Serbian National Theatre in Belgrade, that glorify the past and wars against all sorts of enemies from the Ottoman to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, were commonplace for many theatres in the new countries.
    In that same period, behind billboards advertising the “new time,” real life was marked by political oppression, crime and corruption, huge unemployment and economic hardship, and by discontent, bitterness, disillusion, and isolation. As a response to that desolate atmosphere many of the prominent national figures promoted light genres, entertainment, and popular forms. It is interesting that while there was a revival of old Serbian comedies in Serbia, in Croatia one can could have seen more operettas and American musicals, while in the other regions national domestic plays were frequently produced. Encouraging in that way a theatrical form of escapism from reality, these theatre artists at the same time unscrupulously started to serve the world of entertainment and fast success. “Now we have a new god—it is entertainment,” someone could have echoed the Czech writer Ivan Klima’s lucid comment on the intellectual travesty in Eastern Europe at that time.
    In those dark times, many of the theatre authorities became artistic hypocrites who contributed to the polluted setting that was eating the intellectual fabric of post-Yugoslavian countries from the inside. Instead of standing up against the war madness, state and political terror, they advertised the “new times” and stood along the same line with the political elite in their already ethically and morally contaminated small countries. It is shocking that in their subordination to the political elite, many well-educated and well-informed theatre writers and critics denied the horrors of the war in their journalistic writings. Some of them went even further and denied the massacre in Srebrenica or the war crimes committed by “their boys.” The denial of the war, the promotion of escapism, and the advocacy of the “the ideology of fracture” (Ihab Hassan’s term) in their writings, productions, and public activities, enabled them to continue their dominance on the new cultural stage, blending at the same time their communist’s and nationalist’s sentiments into a new breed: war profiteer.
    An interesting question comes to mind: Why there is no International Tribunal for those who have planted the seeds of hatred and committed intellectual crimes against humanity?



THEATRE IN EXILE

Many theatre artists, playwrights, and intellectuals of all ages who actually fought for decades to broaden the horizons of democracy and individual freedoms in the former Yugoslavia, marginalized by the new bogus and quasi- elites, were urged by these new and very repressive nationalistic regimes to leave their “new” countries and to continue their work in exile. There is a long list of those who have been urged to leave. Some of them, like Dzevad Karahasan, Kaca Celan, Zijah Sokovic, and Hasija Boric, from Bosnia, or Goran Stefanovski, Rahim Burhan, and myself included, from Macedonia, or Predrag Matvejevic, Dubravka Ugresic, Rajko Grlic, Slobodan Snajder, and Mira Furlan, from Croatia, or Dragan Klaic and Vidosav Stefanovic, from Serbia, went into actual exile, while others such as Filip David, Borka Pavicevic, and Mirjana Miocinovic, from Serbia stayed behind in an internal exile. One may say they chose a self-imposed exile and became strong dissident voices within their own newly emerged “democracies.”
    However, no matter where they were, many of these authors continued to raise their creative voices in an outcry against the walls between them and their friends from other parts of their once common country. They tried to view the poignant reality critically and to express their deep discontent with the violent transfiguration of their former country. In that context the creative and humanitarian work done by the people at the Center for Decontamination, lead by the inestimable Borka Pavicevic in Belgrade, made a significant difference to the community.

Snake Skin by Slobodan Snajder, produced by Theater am der Rhur, Germany, 1996. Directed by Roberto Ciulli. Photo: Courtesy Meinholf Kösmeier.

    Plays such, as Eastern Diwan or Withdrawn Angel by Dzevad Karahasan or Snake Skin and Innes and Denise by Slobodan Snajder, for example, or Sarajevo and Hotel Europe by Goran Stefanovski, or Boat of Fools by Filip David, reflect a sharp image of their ruined world, created not only by intellectuals, authors, and artists who ended up in exile, real or metaphorical, but also by people who have dared to raise their ethical voice and express deep discontent with the violent transfiguration of the Yugoslav landscape and its aftermath. Hardly any of these plays were ever produced and performed in their native countries.
    In Eastern Diwan for example, based on a novel of the same title by Karahasan, at the core of the play is the relationship between the individual and the state, the intellectual and the tyrant, freedom and oppression, totalitarian blindness, and the horizon of imagination; death is seen as a continuous companion in human life and silence inhabits the fractured and fragmented world. Written and performed in the twilight of Yugoslavia, it anticipated in many ways the violent disintegration of former Yugoslavia and the exodus from Bosnia.
    The Bosnian part of hell, with its extreme nationalism and bigotry and religious and ideological dogmatism are at center stage in Slobodan Snajder’s Snake Skin as well. As already extensively discussed in PAJ [PAJ 60, 1998], Snajder creates in Snake Skin a setting in which warlords, criminals, and war profiteers decide the fate of the Bosnian people. Violence, rape, and ethnic cleansing have placed the “gods,” “the kings,” and the owners of life and death in opposition to each other in their old new war for dominance over the other landscape. Furthermore, in his small masterpiece Innes and Denise, produced bilingually and directed by Milos Lazin in France, Snajder paints a distressing world of two bereaved mothers looking on the battlefield for their murdered children. This personal tribute to the unknown and unnamed soldiers who have fought on the opposite sides of the trenches and who can be reconciled only in their death suggests a new perspective on our broader community.
    After his poignant Sarajevo of 1993 [PAJ 47, 1994], which was an immediate response to devastation of the interculturally rich city of Sarajevo, Goran Stefanovski introduces us to other equally poignant stories. In his Hotel Europe, performed in an old cable factory on the outskirts of Vienna in 2001, the spectator discovers a new category of people. The characters in Stefanovski’s metaphorical discourse come at the wall of Europe from the ashes, from under the rubble of the cities. It is a diverse group of emigrants from all over Eastern Europe, and one can see there in Stefanovski’s world smugglers, prostitutes, losers, lost souls, and people from the lower depths left alone in the dark and evil times. They are people waiting in Vienna at the closed doors of Europe to enter the new world. Each scene in this production was directed by a young director from a different Eastern European country.
    “O God, look at this land, look at these people!” pleads Filip David, a Belgrade native, at the very beginning of his unpublished and maybe still to many unknown play The Boat of Fools. That opening line may be read as a prayer in reference to the women from Snajder’s plays, the refugees from Karahasan’s plays, or to those struggling at the doors of Europe in Stefanovski’s plays as well. Brechtian in nature, prayerful in its tone, and similar to a fresco in its imagery, Filip David imagines a world suffocated by a thick fog. His floating towboat is filled with all sorts of scams, villains and victims, kids without a future, hunger and death visible on their skins. That is a boat of fools and drunkards, a floating raft of the mad and afflicted, of bastards and war profiteers, a towboat that comes from the fog and darkness. Forgotten by all in the night, it goes nowhere. It is a bitter image not only of Serbia in the late nineties under Milosevic’s boot, but of the Balkans isolated by the huge wall of Europe and left alone with its own demons.
    No matter how dark the worlds in these plays are, and no matter that their authors live in all corners of the world, the playwrights and other theatre artists living in exile are in fact in the same continuous pursuit of a new hopeful environment through their works. These can be seen also as the creative attempt to trace new maps and to envision a humane landscape for the years to come. Their vision of theatre is rooted in the idea of human resistance to any form of militant extremism, and to nationalism’s distortion of culture and history, and the belief in the integrative power of multiculturalism. They also try to suggest to their audiences to look beyond their differences to a New World based on other social structures and social justice. They envision an environment that crosses traditional borders and attempts tries to remove the newly raised walls. In that context, after the failure of traditional social structures based on a patriarchal concept of society, as evident not only in the “macho” contribution to the murder of Yugoslavia, some of these artists, such as Slobodan Snajder in Snake Skin, encourage and advocate journeys lead by women.



NEW VOICES

    At the end of the last century in the midst of the fragments of former Yugoslavia, a new, younger generation of playwrights, directors, actors, and other theatre artists appeared on the chaotic and confused “Yugoslav” scene. These young people were born in the former Yugoslavia but grew up and appeared mostly after its death in several newly formed countries, on isolated islands.
    In that cold environment, where the old ways of life were destroyed by war and the new cultural or moral principles that replaced them were still not yet in place, these new young theatre people started to look for their own creative place in their “new” countries. For them what it was now important was their own life and theatre work at home in Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro. Now these young people started, each one in his or her own way, to look not to Yugoslavia as a model, but to Europe. Dejan Dukovski, Zanina Mircevska, Almir Imshirevic, Ljubomir Djurkovic, Lada Kastelan, Ivana Sajko, Lydia Scheuerman Hodak [her play Maria’s Pictures appears in PAJ 77, 2004], Filip Shovagovic, Biljana Srbljanovic, Ana Lasic, and Milena Markovic are just a few of the young artists who may be considered paradigmatic representatives of this new generation of playwrights and theatre artists.
    What brings this group together is the fact that in their works they addressed more directly the issue of disintegration and their search for identity, rather than the consequences of war. This is the case with
Balkan Powderkeg by Dejan Dukovski, which was later made into an internationally successful film. This young generation is close to its contaminated ground and in their works there is less optimism, fewer utopian images and more postmodern nihilism and cynicism. Their plays and productions are self-oriented and self-confined products that correspond with their own reality.
    In their responses to the bestial “tradition” of ethnic intolerance and the war, to the confrontations in the name of “blood and soil,” they create their own, closed, dark, and bitter worlds. There one discovers poignant and lost figures and destroyed families on the outskirts of the war. Life is compared to existence in a garbage can or a dump. In his most revered play Dump Ljubomir Djurkovic from Montenegro explicitly suggests that the war desensitized people, made them feel as if they were garbage; the world according to him is a dump. For this young generation the war and those responsible for it almost do not exist. It seems that war is somewhere there behind the horizon. It is not their war, it is someone else’s war. They ignore it or try to get away from it, as the characters do in the most acclaimed and most-produced play from the late nineties, Belgrade Trilogy, by Biljana Srbljanovic do. Here the characters are immature teenagers and young adults, someone’s victims who refuse to grow up and take responsibility. They live in a world in disarray, a world without direction and compass, a world that has lost its sense. There is no love, hope, or any other form of empathy, kindness, or expression of humane feelings. Everything human is gone. In another play, Family Stories, Srbljanovic suggests that the past is destroyed, the present is unbearable, the future does not exist. Complementing that view, in Balkan’s Devil Shame and How to Make a Performance, Almir Imshirevic from Sarajevo contends that life makes no sense any more, nor is creating theatre or nurturing culture and human values of any relevance in that part of the world. Everything is broken and cannot be fixed. Pessimism, loss, and doom dominate their theatrical landscape. In their broken world, which excludes idealism and hope, there is only brutal sex, violence, drugs, despair, and death. Who the Fuck Started All This Mess curses Macedonian playwright Dejan Dukovski from behind the title of one of his most popular plays, performed equally successfully in Skopje, Belgrade, Zagreb, and Bonn. That is how out of the ashes and despair the “Yugoslav” version of “the aesthetics of blood and sperm” (a common phrase of Balkan critics) was born in late nineties.
    Many of the works of these new playwrights and directors, this lost generation, as some of them call themselves, have been created under the influence of Sarah Kane and Quentin Tarantino. As a matter of fact, after the unquestioned success and popularity of Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and later on of Pulp Fiction, and following the explosion of productions all over Europe by Sarah Kane, many of the young theatre artists from the former Yugoslavia embraced and adopted Kane’s and Tarantino’s views in their own work, resulting in a blend of gruesome fragmentary dramaturgy mixed with “pulp” images of the brutal Yugoslav reality. However, on the other hand, here is evidence, as some recent research of her work and particularly her play Blasted suggests, that Sarah Kane was equally influenced by the brutality and the violence of the wars in former Yugoslav countries.
    Instead of intellectually and imaginatively distancing themselves from their pulp world to create responsible and engaged theatre, many of these young theatre artists unfortunately remained trapped in that same caustic setting. Consequently, this extremely talented theatre generation missed the opportunity to create a theatre scene that expressed their discontent with the crime and prostitution, the smuggling of arms and people, and the corruption of their newly-formed countries. They lost the opportunity to build a theatre that heals wounds and brings reconciliation to their own “new” world. In many cases, some of them in their naïve and uncritical desire for overnight celebrity status, became easy alibis for the “existence of democracy” in their oppressive systems. No matter that some of them have individually expressed and publicly voiced critical stands and personal opposition to the despotic and corrupt regimes of the nineties; in actualization many of them did not have the courage to resist the temptation of the new times. They adjusted well in the current cultural milieu, adapted to the dominant cultural ideology, and became a part of the ferocious circle of whining and self-pity.
    One more element is peculiarly visible and characteristic in the work of this generation. In their plays everything happens behind their own walls and within their own ethnic tradition, mythology, and national heritage. The focus is relocated from the whole to the fragment. The “other,” including other cultures, is mostly seen as an enemy, appearing as destroyers and conquerors. They are responsible for the disaster, for suffering, for life without light at the end of the tunnel. It is a bitter and shocking picture of a claustrophobic, desperate, and devastated environment offering no exit for the next new generation, and one that seems willfully ignorant about the others.
    It is also significant that in the plays of this young generation Yugoslavia either does not exist or the young generation doesn’t know what it means. The new countries are still not truly theirs. America and Europe although cruel and frightening in their eyes, are somewhere out there like hidden desire, behind the walls, and they are wandering in dark. Their space is filled with loneliness, desperation, corruption, and suffering of all kinds, while oppression is their everyday reality—a reality they never chose. As Milena Markovic from Belgrade makes clear in her play Pavilions, written in the late nineties as a graduation piece, this is a generation of young people who came center stage in their countries’ life from nowhere. There is nothing for them in their nationalistically driven environment and there is no place for them where to go from there either. These young people are in a continuous search for identity, for the meaning of life. Who are we? Where do we come from? What shall we do? Where shall we go? These are the questions they ask themselves. Accepting the prestigious Ernst Toller Award on December 1, 1999, in Noeburg on the Danube, Biljana Srbljanovic, the strongest public voice among them, voiced her generation’s concern about its lost identity in this way: “Ladies and Gentlemen, it is difficult for me to thank you for awarding me this prestigious award. For, who am I? My identity is stolen by world politics, national politics. It is definitely lost somewhere during the last war. I can’t find it, no matter how hard I try. I can’t find it at any ‘lost and found’ office at the airports I have been to. I can’t find it in any language, in any culture.”[5]



OLD NEW FESTIVALS

Belgrade Trilogy by B. Srbljanovic, produced by Jugoslovensko Dramsko Pozoriste, Belgrade, 1997. Directed by G. Markovic. Photo: Courtesy JDP.

    The coming of the old new time has had its effect on the major theatre festivals as well. Once events that played a crucial role in the future developments of the theatre and political life of former Yugoslavia, the major festivals under the new circumstances had lost their political power and competitiveness. Taking a shift in their direction, some of them turned to their own local constituencies, like the most prominent Sterijino Pozorje of the Yugoslav Drama Festival. Others took advantage of the new setting that opened possibilities for them, as MESS—International Theatre Festival in Sarajevo—did, and transforming itself became challenging meeting places of theatre artists from all of the world. However, some of the festivals tried under the most difficult circumstances to maintain their high artistic standards and international reputation. In that struggle with the unfavorable conditions set by international isolation, the world-renowned Dubrovnik Theatre Festival in Dubrovnik, Croatia, or BITEF Festival in Belgrade, Serbia, or Young Open Theatre MOT Festival in Skopje, Macedonia managed to provide not only a dissenting view of what is going on the other side of the wall, but in spite of all odds to survive as respected artistic institutions in that part of the world. It is interesting that, as in many countries in Europe, the cultural landscape in the countries of the former Yugoslavia experienced, in the same period between 1994 and 2004, a remarkable mushrooming of theatre festivals. Almost every town founded its own local or international theatre festival of various types and prominence. And while some of them were of modest and local significance, the World Theatre Festival in Zagreb, Croatia, in its third year now, has introduced the most innovative theatre created recently, becoming a place of real prestige.


THE SIGNATURE OF WOMEN

Paradoxically enough, as everything else is so paradoxical and unpredictable in this dismembered part of the world, along with the process of the coming of age of the generation of young theatre artists, discussed earlier, a group of talented women playwrights and directors secured a distinctive place on that barren landscape. For an entire decade many impressive cultural, humanitarian, and artistic initiatives were headed and made possible by engaged women. There were vigils and protests against the war organized by groups like “Zene u Crnom” [Women in Black] in Belgrade in the mid-nineties, or anti-war actions led by “Bedem Ljubavi” [A Wall of Love] movement in Zagreb, or many other events organized by brave women all over former Yugoslavia. All these events and actions protested their regime’s policies of nationalist aggression, rape as a tool of war, ethnic cleansing, or human rights abuses. These humanitarian activities came very often from female writers, directors, and critics of various generations actually fostered the appearance of a mode of creating called “Zensko pismo” or “women’s signature.” This movement may be considered one of the most remarkable offerings that appeared in the countries of the former Yugoslavia during the last decade.
    The work of DAH Theatre (dah means breath or breathing), founded in Belgrade at the beginning of the war, in 1991, and led artistically by Dijana Milosevic and Jadranka Andjelic, seems to be a paradigmatic example of the women’s wave that so profoundly entered the theatre and cultural space. At the same time it can also be seen as a practical example of the new creative landscape based on the female principle that Snajder dreamt of in his Snake Skin. From its very beginning DAH Theatre tried in myriad ways—organizing street and bus performances, anti-war performance events, workshops—to address what they believe are the fundamental or essential questions of theatre. “What is the role and sense of theatre?” “What is the responsibility and duty of the artist in ‘dark times’?” These questions became the creative sparks and raison d’être behind their work. The answers were their performances, such as This Babylonian Confusion, based on the anti-war songs of Bertolt Brecht. The play was performed outdoors in downtown Belgrade at a time when talking about involvement in the war was a topic forbidden by the Serbian government. A few other performances that expressed their beliefs were The Legend about the End of the World, which addressed possibilities of building new life on the ruins, and Travelers or Maps of Forbidden Remembrance, which dealt with extensive emigration and brain drain from that part of the world. For an entire decade and more, DAH Theatre offered an imaginative and engaged theatre. As the members of DAH Theatre declare in their mission statement, it is of paramount importance for them that “today, in the contemporary world, we can and we have to confront the destruction, violence, and evil by creating meaningful theatre and a meaningful world.”
http://www.cyberrex.org/dah/.">[6] In that way their strong voice became one of the most clearly articulated expressions of discontent that war and disintegration brought to the countries of the former Yugoslavia.



THE ELUSIVE FUTURE

Hotel Evropa in Sarajevo ruined by shelling during the war in 1992–93. Photo: Courtesy Naum Panovski.

    What is to be done now? What can theatre do in that passionate part of the world? What can we expect to see and experience on that ever-changing map in the next decade or so? If Brecht were alive today he might say that we can’t have new meals with old forks. Maybe he would plead for reasonable acts, as he does in his poem “To My Countryman,”[7] written after the World War II:

    You who survive in cities that have died
    Now show some mercy to yourselves at last.
    Don’t march, poor things, to war as in the past
    As if past wars left you unsatisfied. I beg you—
    mercy for yourselves at last.

    You men, reach for the spade and not the knife.
    You’d sit in safety under roofs today
    Have you not used the knife to make your way
    And under roofs one leads a better life. I beg you,
    take the spade and not the knife.

National and University Library in Sarajevo after the destruction, 1993

Or, maybe he would suggest a new theatre for this new time. A theatre of truth that would open a real intellectual discussion on the shameful history of dishonesty and immorality in the lands of the former Yugoslavia. It could have been as well a form of new Shakespearian theatre where the “play is a thing,” and in which we should catch and expose “the kings”—the villains, criminals and their ugly faces. But, no matter what the new theatre model should be, it is paramount that it is a theatre where intellectuals and theatre artists from these newly formed countries will apologize to the victims and ask forgiveness for the crimes committed by their nationalist compatriots in their names. It is apparent today that the countries of former Yugoslavia need a theatre that will heal the wounds and reconcile; that theatre should be led and created by the young generation which is yet to come. Brecht,[8] again:

    You children, to be spared another war
    You must speak out and tell your parents plain.
    You will not live in ruins once again
    Nor undergo what they’ve had to endure.
    You children, to be spared another war.

This essay was published as “New Old Times in the Balkans: The Search for a Cultural Identity” in PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art - PAJ 83 (Volume 28, Number 2), May 2006


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1. The expression is adopted from the popular folk music and refers to the rural primitivism that had conquered the entertainment scene in the mid-eighties.
2. This is a well-known phrase used very often by the prominent Croatian novelist Miroslav Krleza when he referred in his writings to the former Yugoslavia.
3. Dzevad Karahasan. Sarajevo, Exodus of a City. Kodansha International: New York 1994. Dzevad Karahasan is one of the most prominent Bosnian intellectuals, a playwright and novelist, living in exile in Austria today.

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4. Slobodan Praljak, the Croatian general who ordered the bombing and destruction of the Old Bridge in Mostar on November 9, 1993, holds a degree in film directing.

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5. Quoted according to Darinka Nikolic’s essay “Children of Autism or Small Stories about Small People,” which appears in Dramatic Text Today in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro. Sterijno Pozorje: Novi Sad, 2004.

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6. DAH Theatre http://www.cyberrex.org/dah/.

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7. Bertolt Brecht, “To My Countrymen,” Poems 1913–1956. Methuen: New York, 1976.
8. Ibid.



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