October 9 / 8 pm / Princely Serbian Theatre
YUGOSLAVIA, MY HOMELAND
Production: Prijedor Theatre, Theatre Koper (Teatro Capodistria), and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Foundation / Republic of Srpska – Bosnia and Herzegovina / Slovenia
Duration: 120 min
The novel Yugoslavia, my Fatherland
by Goran Vojnović deals with the topic of internalized trauma of a son, who after 16 years discovers that his father is still alive, but also that an ICC warrant has been issued for his arrest, and herein lies this well-known, and today almost archetypal, dramatic plot. In the dramatization of the novel, this archetype was our starting point, but we processed it in a fragmentary dramaturgy in which children's memories smashed into pieces are slowly being assembled into a tragic mosaic. The main character Vladan Borojević, who we see as both an adult and an 11-year-old, after a traumatic nightmare with which the play opens, leaves his girlfriend Nadja, who discovers that he lied to her about his past, and from Ljubljana he embarks on a search of his father, General Nedeljko, between Bosnia, Slovenia, Serbia and Croatia – haunted by the desire to face him and the truth about the war crimes in Slavonia in 1991.
The relationships between fathers and sons, and the attitude of the present towards the past are universal themes and world literature has covered them in multiple ways. I naturally find the milieu in which this story takes place particularly attractive, understandable, painful and emotional and that in this story we recognize some of the peculiarities of the Balkan mentality. Even though we still obviously can't fully explain to ourselves what exactly happened and how a country that, from today’s point of view, seems like a fairy tale, could have fallen apart in such a bloody manner, I think it's good and important that we go back to stories that raise new questions for us, and give new perspectives on the war conflicts in the Balkans. Folklore of Yugoslavia is certainly present in the play, there are numerous characters and situations that illustrate the time period in a humorous and harrowing way, but the focus is on the relationship between the son who is trying to reestablish his own identity and his father, accused of committing war crimes, whom the son meets again, putting together a kind of puzzle made of memories, nightmares, stories and anecdotes about him.
Written by Svetislav Jovanov: Yugoslavia, my Fatherland
To what extent do children from these areas still pay the price for the sins of their parents, is an individual's identity built on the basis of or despite the collective (nation, family), will old, inherited or forced upon stories continue to poison us, or will we still be able to conceive new ones? He talks about this set of explosive yet (already often) forgotten questions with an authentic voice and the play Yugoslavia, my Fatherland, based on a novel by Slovenian prosaist and director Goran Vojnović (1980), as adapted by Ivan Velisavljević and Aleksandar Novaković, was directed by Marko Misirača, and premiered in Prijedor, in a co-production between a local theatre and the Koper Theatre (Teatro Capodistria).
The aforementioned novel is already a cult achievement, written by one of the most provocative authors of the current prosaic "ex-Yu" scene, who had already gained fame with the already controversial work Southern Scum Go Home
, 2008). The backbone of the novel Yugoslavia, my Fatherland
is the emotional, identical and geographical adventure of the 30-year-old Ljubljana student Vladan Borojević, son of the officer Nedeljko (Serb) and Duša (Slovenian), more accurately, his search for his father ("went AWOL" during the wartime 1990s) on the Ljubljana-Pula-Brčko-Goražde-Novi Sad route.
But at the hidden core of the search is the village of Višnjići near Vukovar – the site of war crimes against civilians in 1991 for which – as it gradually and inevitably transpires - colonel Nedeljko Borojević, a longtime fugitive (from his family, but also from the persecution of the Hague tribunal) is responsible. Vojnović's melodious proceedings, intertwining the "checkpoints" of Vladan's ongoing search (which includes former Army colleagues, relatives and witnesses) with scenes from the protagonist's traumatic upbringing (from an idyllic childhood in Pula through refugee wanderings at the "officers hotel" Bristol in Belgrade and finding shelter with far-right leaning relatives in Novi Sad, to finally settling in Ljubljana), he presents a multi-layered and traumatic but accurate, and with incorruptible irony outlined "double exposure" of a period we have survived/are surviving and a period we (with honorable exceptions!) are yet to make sense of.
The adaptation of Ivan Velisavljević and Aleksandar Novaković basically faithfully reshapes the main thematic lines and points of conflict that Vojnović's hero goes through during this double quest: from the effective image of Vladan's boyish escape from the loneliness of the refugee hotel by means of a crusade of the fictitious Pula club Patinađo to the top of the already fictional "Yu" football championship, to compelling depictions of a devastated and apathetic present - equally embodied in Mediha, a kind-hearted witness to Nedeljko's hiding in Brčko, but also in the solitude of cousin Danilo from Novi Sad, who lost everything but his nationalist daydreaming. Although the dramatists have, to some extent, reduced the polyphony of the novel, depriving themselves of some effective episodes of Vladan's upbringing/"becoming a Slovenian", in order to more convincingly portray the sights and players of the protagonist's present, it is more important that, as one of the important potential staging supports, they have illuminated, with dramatic functionality and sufficient proportionality, the motive of the "accursed stories" – that is, the stories of mutual, eternally "unsettled" scores. "All these stories are cursed... they should be banned from being told, and those who tell them should be shot, because they poison and butcher their own children and grandchildren," Emir Muzirović, father's former Army colleague from the Pula garrison, tells the adult Vladan.
It is this motif of illusory, toxic and eternally renewed stories that director Marko Misirača uses not only as a problem-developing surface of an effective action, shaped with a combination of stylized documents (TV news! Sloba!) and ironic-metaphorical images, but also as a formal basis of the basic idea. Namely, the exposure itself, shaped as a multi-vocal statement by the actors themselves (not the characters!) about the time and place of "receiving" the red scarf, sets a healing anti-illusionary tone; such a tone will allow the director to more fluidly and effectively introduce the events of "general history" into the intimate story of Nedeljko's devastation of his own family. It is gradually revealed that such a combination of irony and distance contributes to the desired impression in another way: namely, not only the feeling that the breakup of Vladan's family is a consistently constructed metaphor for the disintegration of our former country (effective, but not new!), but also something far more important – (Vladan’s, and preferably ours) discovery that, no matter how much the truth (and talking about it) gives us of the past, such truths have value only to the extent that we are able to overcome them.
Following this meaningful-stylistic determination, director Marko Misirača has, despite the places of "congestion" in the dynamics of intertwining past and present events, as well as certain awkwardness in placing an ironic emphasis on serious events, in large part seamlessly and purposefully led this sobering performance towards a meaningful resolution: Vladan's final encounter with his father, who – on the other side of crime and punishment (though, because of them, as well) – is revealed, first and foremost, to be a man eaten by stories.
In the realization of such, genre-wise, "slippery" and for all of us still distressingly relatable events, the combined acting prospects of Koper, Prijedor and Banja Luka seemed compact for the most part. Among the most successful we can certainly put the modern sensibility of, in both life periods equally convincing, Blaž Popovski (Vladan), the combined bitterness and sarcasm of the solid Aleksandar Stojković (Emir), and on par with them were also the subtly discreet performance of Miljka Brđanin (Mediha), playfully agile in irony, Igor Štamulak (Brane), as well as quietly tense and technically flawless Boris Šavija (Nedeljko). The set design of Dragana Purković Macan and the costumes of Jelena Vidović were unobtrusively and functionally incorporated into the general, bitter-ironic tone of this sobering theatrical journey into the near past and quite distant present.
Svetislav Jovanov18. jun 2021