Introductory lecture by the director Nebojša Bradić at the round table discussion “Theatre of the Balkans – Cooperation at the Crossroads”, was held this weekend in Niš
Outside the mainstream of European culture
“If it swings as a whole, will the Balkans ever open the sleepy eyes and see their enormous cultural capacity?” Isadora Sekulić asked herself in the wake of World War II when the embarked ship of the Balkans was broken again.
Unfortunately, the experience of this newly broken ship did not help prevent the disappearance of another country in the 1990s, affected by the bloodiest conflict in Europe after World War II.
“Balkanize” in Oxford Dictionary of English is a verb that means “to split the region into a number of smaller and often mutually hostile units, as was done with the Balkan Peninsula at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.” Different historical experiences resulting from “Balkanization” and the repeated disintegration that continues to exist to date, has produced fears and concerns specific to this region by its extremes. “How is it possible for this country to calm down and get on, and to receive at least as much of civilization as its nearest neighbors have when the people in it are ambivalent as is the case nowhere in Europe? Four religions live in this narrow, hilly and scarce piece of land”…” Each of them believes that its goodness and benefit are conditioned by the damage and the backwardness of each of the three other religions and that their progress can only be at their expense. Each one of them has made the greatest virtue out of intolerance and everyone expects salvation from the outside, and each from the opposite direction, “Andrić wrote as French consul in Bosnian Chronicle.
So it became inevitable fate for the Balkan ship to sink without international intervention because it has been sabotaged by the main players in the Balkans, stricken by the local struggle for power, and deaf and blind for the needs of the whole, which they sarcastically call “our people”. And all this has repeated continuously, both in the past and in the present time.
Perhaps this is the reason why the world outside the Balkans fearfully thinks, speaks, and writes about it as if it is “a bogy touring Europe” (Maria Todorova), and the headlines in the newspapers follow the disturbing canonical pattern: “The threat of the spread of the Balkan hell to the West “, “Insecurity rules in the Balkan pot”, “Cracks are spreading because of the crisis in the Balkans “. The Balkans is described as a dangerous place where life is exposed to manipulation and the intrigue of the few, the omnipotence of the blinded leaders, whose influence is constantly expanding until they are forced to face the inevitable defeat.
The Balkan is geographically considered to be European territory, but as a cradle of division, it is excluded from the mainstream of European culture. Small languages and small cultures are always in the periphery of interest and depend on the view of foreigners who usually do not have any, or have poor knowledge and experience of the Balkans. Prior to the 1990s, little or almost negligible attention was paid to the literature and other aspects of the cultural life of Yugoslavia. Paradoxically, the interest of foreigners in the artistic creation of the Balkans has increased in the years of wars and crises. When, after the end of the war, successor countries, including Serbia, reached modus vivendi, things returned to a degree of low visibility.
And here we are today in the foggy present, in the wake of another menacing decay, finding ourselves once again at the crossroads, marked by grim Balkan experience giving birth to the Theatre of the Balkans as the “surprise of the soul”, as Schoeller calls inspiration. The associations are many and our crossroads is promising.
“The devil left all good music at the crossroads”, is a narrative of the film “Crossroads” by director Walter Hill about the musician Robert Johnson. In her version of the crossroads, Svetlana Velmar Janković interprets the Turkish term Dort – jol, after which one of the areas of Belgrade was named. Dort – jol was not only a crossroads of the four main roads but also a place where death penalties were executed at the end of the 18th century. A prisoner would step into the very center of the crossroads, to the place of death marked with a stone and stop, head immediately protruding, and the very next moment it would, that head, fly through the air and roll on the ground. Since people are glad to attend the performances of this kind, there would always be many people on Dort – jol, who later testified about the executions. But that was not all. As a warning to those who come to the crossroads, the body was left “The devil left all good music at the crossroads”, is a narrative of the film “Crossroads” by director Walter Hill about the musician Robert Johnson. In her version of the crossroads, Svetlana Velmar Janković interprets the Turkish term Dort – jol, after which one of the areas of Belgrade was named. Dort – jol was not only a crossroads of the four main roads but also a place where death penalties were executed at the end of the 18th century. A prisoner would step into the very centre of the crossroads, to the place of death marked with a stone and stopped, head immediately protruding, and the very next moment it would, that head, fly through the air and roll on the ground. Since people are glad to attend the performances of this kind, there would always be many people on Dort – jol, who later testified about the executions. But that was not all. As a warning to those who come up to the crossroads, the body was left, turned to the stomach, for two days and two nights in the very centre, alongside the stone of death with a severed head between the legs.
Crossroads – a scaffold, it is not that cruel theatre that we invoke at our panel discussion “Theatre of the Balkans – Cooperation at the Crossroads”. Contrary to such vision, which might fit the stereotype of the brutal Balkans and against the current political reality that has stepped off from the Balkans and split the whole of Europe, we believe that the complementary concepts of the cultures in the Balkans, at the same time opposite and close, can co-exist together and neutralize and then eradicate intolerance and disagreement using play and creativity.
Identities always form in a dialogue, and sometimes in the struggle with things that the “significant others” want to see in ourselves.
I will finish my introduction again with the words of Isadora Sekulić: “The Balkan people world should be reminded of the Balkans and the wonderful traditions of the Balkans. For Balkan countries, which cannot leave the Balkans and go anywhere and to anyone, the Balkans is the whole and the purpose. The Balkans is, therefore, a problem and an ideal. “I would like to invite you to take part in the Public Discussion to help the Festival lay out the way for yet another, constructive Balkan experience this time, challenge worthy posed by the powerful Balkans.
“The first Balkan theatre festival
The round table discussion “Theatre of the Balkans – Cooperation at the Crossroads” will be held this weekend, Saturday and Sunday in Niš, as a part of the first Balkan theatre festival “Theatre at the Crossroads”. More than twenty theoreticians and practitioners from the countries of the region will take part in the round table discussion. Stage director Nebojša Bradić is a member of the Council of the Festival “Theatre at the Crossroads held in Niš from March 11th – March 19th.”