THU, 06 FEB 1997 22:38:51 GMT
Symbolic Game of Endurance and Resistance
Due to known events in Serbia and beating up of citizens in Belgrade, theatre artists are refusing to play, director Goran Paskaljevic has cancelled a retrospective of his films at the Belgrade film festival. At the same time, the latest films are rolling in the cinemas, most of the galleries are working normally, publishers are promiting new editions, writers are receiving awards, all of them constructing a fine tissue of the illusion of normal life. The Association of Writers in Francuska street number 7 has remained true to itself: at protest evenings everybody is telling why he has become a participant at the protest. These evening gatherings have become superfluous from the very beginning, since they offered the oppotunity to wash their hands even to those who have been hiding them in their pockets ever since the festivities in wartime Visegrad when in manifestations held in honour of Ivo Andric, they appealled to "Serb women to bear children"
AIM Belgrade, 30 January, 1997
Unambiguous, but most frequently just verbal support of artists to protest gatherings in Belgrade, continued after the students' action "Cordon Against the Cordon" which turned a randomly chosen place in Kolarceva street into a symbol of resistance with a foretaste of more radical steps. The Union of Dramatic Artists of Serbia formed a crisis staff of the protest and called theatres to stop working altogether, and the well known drama writer Dusan Kovacevic demanded that this Union renounce director Ljubisa Ristic (a high party official of the Yugoslav United Left) for having called Belgraders a mob. On the eve of the jubilean 25th film festival, Goran Paskaljevic suddenly cancelled a reprospective of his films. "I am convinced that in circumstances in which we live, such celebrations have no purpose whatsover", the director wrote to the organizers, questioning in a later statement even the festival itself in present circumstances.
Even before such strained tones which are a premonition of total blockade of cultural life, the grey and nondescript end of Kolarceva street where before these developments the only pedestrians were those who ran across the street in order to avoid going through the underground passage, turned overnight into an open-air theatre, an artists' studio, a music stage, a dance podium, a performance stage... Between the students and the cordon, on the moist concrete of "nobody's ground", in a surreal atmosphere, Shakespeare's Macbeth was performed. On one of the days which followed, painters with quick moves of their frozen fingers sketched portraits of policemen "on guard" of Kolarceva street who cast down their eyes looking at their boots; a group performed a happening with mirrors directing them towards the cordon in blue uniforms, and the week ended with a furious brass crescendo performed by musicians and students of the Arts University.
In the meantime, the initial reason for stationing the cordon (unhindered flow of traffic) was almost forgotten because for days one of the busiest streets downtown Belgrade was blocked, and it all turned into a symbolic game of endurance in which numerous artists took part. The police cordon was foredoomed to give in in this game, because in the rules of their job, the concept of "spite" has not been registered as a relevant category, and there is no such thing as an order which would prevent elevation of one in a series of police actions on to the symbolic level and turning it into a happening. This development into a happening was more than by anyone else supported by the people from the theatre who gathered every evening in front of their theatres and walked together to where the students were - in Kolarceva street. The Union of Dramatic Artists of Serbia had difficulties in articulating the actors' and the directors' rebeliion into a joint action reminding them that the theatre was a collective act, because some actors had already started cancelling some theatre performances because of "illness" of the actors.
"The Union of Dramatic Artists of Serbia has used various forms of protest, but in the present situation it is aware that developments in the streets, violence and threatening with force are exceeding our capabilities to respond in any other way but by complete interruption of work of the theatres. Among other misfortunes, Serbia would be left without theatre performances", the protest crisis staff of the Union of Dramatic Artists said in its statement.
Just a day or two prior to this decision, President of the Union, Svetislav Goncic told us that appearance of the actors at the students' protest after performances was the most constructive, but that the future steps of the Union would depend on the situation in the streets. The President of the Union of Dramatic Artists also reminded that they had appealed to colleagues to restrain themselves from individual decisions not to act in their plays, because that would be counter-productive. "Of course, nobody can ban anybody not to react individually to evyrthing that is happening around us, but we have appealed to restrain themselves in favour of organized actions of the Union", said Goncic. To a question whether a possibility has been left for a complete interruption of work of Belgrade theatres, Goncic answered briefly: "I don't know, believe me. I don't know what might happen". Such a stance of the Union was too mild for many members, so that some actors decided to after all interrupt acting in theatre performances. The first to do it was Dragan Nikolic. The well-known actor says that he has decided not to appear on the stage as long as the protests last. Nikolic explicitly stresses that this is his personal stance and a step he has decided to take despite the awareness that "theatres have a special mission in a crisis".
After the decision of the doyen of Yugoslav film and theatre, other actors made the same decision, Zoran Cvijanovic among them. Cvijanovic confirms his decision, but "I rather would not talk more about it", explaining this as follows: "The entire publicity which this might deserve, should have ceased on that same evening when I declared my decision to the students, because they are the heroes of these developments. I don't wish to explain anything additionally, because I told them why I will not play. I think that the students are the main heroes of these developments and we are here just on the side". Cvijanovic says that he can do nothing but follow in the steps of Dragan Nikolic. "When I was nine years old back in '68, I watched shooting of the film called 'Young as a Rose' in which one of the roles was interpreted by Gaga (Dragan) Nikolic, one of my first idols. Nowadays, we are colleagues, good colleagues, and I could do nothing but repeat his step."
At the same time, the latest films are rolling in cinemas, most of the galleries are working quite normally, publishers are promoting new editions, writers are receiving awards, all of them constructing the fine tissue of the illusion of normal life.
Only the writers are organizing protest evenings on the topic: "Why I am a Participant of the Protest". One evening they even invited Dragos Kalajic who seemed to have understood that the topic was "Why I am NOT a Participant of the Protest", because why should the organizers invite him when according to his own choice he is a - fascist. Having realized what it was all about in the course of the evening, Kalajic of course said what he thought about the protests, and the organizers then quickly and cleverly wrapped his words into the wrapper about the right to a different opinion. After all, these evening have already become superfluous, since at the very beginning they enabled washing hands even to those who have been hiding them in their pockets ever since the festivities when in wartime Visegrad, at manifestations held to honour Ivo Andric, they appealed to "Serb women to bear children".