Several days ago I received this email from Jeton Neziraj, playwright, director of the National Theatre of Kosovo, and fellow member of The Fence, an international network of playwrights and their allies, to whom this email was addressed:
Dear theatre friends,
The National Theatre of Kosovo is being seriously threatened by politics. Even before, this theatre had been the target of manipulations and political control; nonetheless, the latest developments are disturbing and make this theatre’s perspective dim. The National Theatre of Kosovo is an independent public institution, financed by public funds through The Ministry of Culture.
Recently, the newly appointed Minister of Culture has committed a series of violations of law and power abuses, intimidating the independence of this theatre by making some politically arbitrary decisions. He has dismissed The Board of The National Theatre of Kosovo, even though that board has a legitimate mandate. This decision was made after the board had positively evaluated my three years’ work as the Artistic Director in this Theatre. The Minister has also manipulated with the new board that he himself appointed. As a result, a totally unprofessional person – until recently, he was working in The Kosovo Prime Minister’s Office – has been appointed for the position of Artistic Director of The National Theatre of Kosovo.
This political interference weights down my efforts and those of the previous Board to aesthetically and conceptually reform this theatre, to open paths for cooperation with artists and international theatre companies, to liberate this theatre from schematic national plays, to alleviate it from primitive nationalistic mentality which continues to use the theatre as a medium for promotion of racism and induction of nationalism. Our concept, during the past three years, has brought more audience, about 150% more in comparison to previous years.
I would like to take the opportunity to invite You to react in order to exert pressure on those scandalous political actions, which have arrogated the creative and functional independence of The National Theatre of Kosovo.
I would kindly ask You to send Your reactions to those e-mails:
memli.Krasniqi@ks-gov.net / Minister of Culture
firstname.lastname@example.org / Minister of Foreign Affairs
email@example.com / Deputy Prime Minister of Kosovo
firstname.lastname@example.org / The Kosovo Prime Minister’s Office
email@example.com / Koha Ditore Newspaper
firstname.lastname@example.org / Zeri Newspaper
email@example.com / Newspaper Express
firstname.lastname@example.org / Jeton Neziraj
Jonathan Meth, founder and director of the Fence, asked Peter Arnott, a fellow founder-member, to draft a response on behalf of the individuals in our organisation. We received a draft last night (19th August 2011). Here follows what The Fence have sent out to the ministers, Prime minister and press of Kosovo:
To whom it may concern
The Fence is an International Network of Playwrights and Theatre Makers dedicated both to respect for cultural identity and for communication and collaboration across borders of all kinds. Our membership of 130 comes from more than 40 countries, and includes leading practitioners who are themselves of international reputation as well as within their own theatre cultures.
What damages or restricts the free movement of artists and ideas in one country or between countries damages and impoverishes us all. What enhances the value we put on each other as human beings of every ethnicity, religion and background enhances us all. But what diminishes any one of us diminishes everybody.
We therefore note with concern and some alarm recent developments at the National Theatre of Kosovo. For European Theatre Culture, the National Theatre of Kosovo, among others, represents hope for a more open and inclusive future, where, especially in newly emerging or re-emerging national cultures, mutual respect and imaginative engagement can enhance our common European home.
While decisions as to the governance and management of theatres are of course the province of their key stakeholders, including funders and relevant political overseers, the Culture Ministry of Kosovo should be aware that their decisions do not go unnoticed or uncommented on in the wider theatre and cultural sphere. Irregularities and arbitrary decisions are political in this cultural context, and will provoke a political as well as cultural response.
The reputation of every nation can be enhanced by its cultural production.
It can also be damaged.
And if it is felt that the theatre culture of a given country is being utilised for retrograde policies and attitudes, that damage can be lasting and severe. We respect both individual talent and cultural openness. We expect no less of our valued neighbours.
We urge the cultural authorities in Kosovo to consider the respect that should be afforded to all new and old nations and peoples, and further, urge them not to risk their own.
For and on behalf of The Fence Network
Since posting this, I have received an update. Ariel Dorfman has made this public statement:
“For many artists and citizens around the world, the tragedy and cause of Kosovo was of great concern and, for my part, I welcomed the possibility of the people of that land to express themselves and their identity freely. Now I hear of intimidation and bullying and the promotion of racial and narrow ethnic and nationalistic policies at the National Theatre of Kosovo through the intervention of recently appointed Minister of Culture. This threat to the independence of such an important theatrical institution should not be taken lightly. For a country like Kosovo, the theatre is undoubtedly one of the arts that most needs to be able to tell stories – just like the people of Kosovo – without fear – also like the people of Kosovo. Indeed, the freedom that should be represented on the stage of the National Theatre is symbolic of the freedom that all those who live and create in Kosovo deserve. I beg the authorities to allow this freedom to flourish without applying petty politics. As someone who has had his work staged in Kosovo, I feel that I am part of your culture as well, and hope that this crisis can be resolved with generosity and without damaging the good name of Kosovo.”