Not patriotic enough - Oliver Frljić on the worsening conditions of making political theatre in a Croatia governed by rightwing populists
The witch-hunt is on
25. Mai 2016. Im deutschsprachigen Raum ist Oliver Frljić ein renommierter Regisseur, der für sein radikales politisches Theater geschätzt wird. Bei den Wiener Festwochen bringt er am 29. Mai sein neues Stück "Naše nasilje i vaše nasilje" (Unsere Gewalt und eure Gewalt) zur Uraufführung, für das er sich Peter Weiss' "Ästhetik des Widerstands" vorgenommen hat (nachtkritik.de wird berichten). In Kroatien leitet Frljić das Nationaltheater in Rijeka; dort ist er wegen seiner politischen Haltung vermehrt unter Druck geraten, seit die rechtspopulistische Partei HDZ im Januar 2016 an die Regierungsmacht gekommen ist.
Für nachtkritik.de hat Michael Isenberg mit Oliver Frljić gesprochen.
Mr. Frljić, you have been under attack because of your work before. Two months ago, we learnt that your apartment had been burglarized and that you saw a connection to the political situation in Croatia. Can you explain that?
After my girlfriend's apartment and my own had been burglarized, the Croatian police tried to convince me it had been a coincidence. Around that time, the president of Croatia Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović said that I belonged to the group of people whose public activity provokes, irritates and even offends the majority of Croatian people. I am constantly exposed to public pressure orchestrated by the media close to the reigning Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). I have also received a lot of death threats. In the city of Vinkovci, somebody wrote "Death to Oliver Frljić" on a wall. Also, the Croatian National Theater in Rijeka is the only national theater where the budget has been cut. The official explanation was that we don't have the world and Croatian literature classics in our repertoire. After demonstrating that this is not true – except if we don't consider George Orwell, Christa Wolf, Miguel de Cervantes, Miroslav Krleža, Euripides classics – we didn't get any answer. So, we obviously got a punishment for not being patriotic enough on the whole.
What is the reason for this aggression against you and your theatre?
The president accuses me of "untruthful representation of the Homeland War". First she labeled me as a target for the eruption of uncontrolled national hate, and then she added that I implicitly negate the very idea of Croatian state. Now, to understand the full meaning and implication of this statement, you have to know that HDZ has been producing terror over the last two years by permanently sending out the message that there are national traitors all around us and that we have to deal with them more efficiently. Top-ranked politicians repeating this over and over in public have made it clear that the witch-hunt is on.
Are there other artists, journalists or intellectuals who have been threatened or attacked?
Yes. For example, the writer and journalist Ante Tomić has been physically attacked two times. People working for the weekly newspaper of the Serbian minority "Novosti" receive threats on a daily basis. But public figures are not the only victims. Recently, a bomb detonated close to a kindergarden for Roma children in a suburb of Zagreb. The level of intolerance is higher than ever. The Jewish community has declared that it will boycott the country’s official Holocaust commemoration events this year in protest over the government's denial to curb Neo-Nazism.
Croatia has already become new Hungary. The situation is worse than during the 90's. Freedom of speech and freedom in general are endangered like never before.
What exactly has happened since the new government has come into office?
The minister of culture Zlatko Hasanbegović has systematically destroyed everything that his party (HDZ) regarded potentially critical towards its goverment. At the same time, the president of HDZ Tomislav Karamarko, according to his police-intelligence background, strives to establish complete control over the intelligence agencies and to organize a repressive state apparatus.
What kind of party is HDZ?
HDZ is the party responsible for the prosecution of independent journalists during the 90's, the biggest robbery of public ownership. HDZ is also responsible for the fact that the war-crimes committed by the Croatian Army have not been prosecuted. Over the last 15 years, HDZ has tried twice to topple a legally elected government. They mobilized the war-veterans and threatened to violate Croatian cooperation with International Court of Justice in Hague. HDZ's second attempt at a coup d'état happened less than two years ago. Like the first time, the veterans were instrumentalized in order to violently prevent the Serbian minority in the city of Vukovar to implement its constitutional right to publicly use the cyrillic alphabet. The veterans were made to start a protest in front of the Ministry of Veterans' Affairs, violating a number of positive laws without any legal sanction. They stopped the traffic, marched dressed in black with white crosses painted on their shirts, delivered a series of threats to public persons, accusing them of not being patriotic enough. This is a just a small part of the crimes committed or instigated by the party that is in power in Croatia right now. Not to forget its role in stopping the prosecution of the killers of Aleksandra Zec.
On 7th December 1991, during the Croatian War of Independence, a squad of five Croatian militiamen shot dead three members of an ethnic Serb family in Zagreb: Mihajlo Zec, his wife Marija and their 12-year-old daughter, Aleksandra. The murderers were apprehended, but later released after a controversial court decision in 1992. Since the justice in this case has not been done, I decided to make a kind of poetic indictment not just to the killers of Aleksandra Zec, but also to the society that didn't raise its voice in this case. To a society that has never been sympathetic towards victims not belonging to the national majority. At the opening night, war-veterans protested against the fact that I had made a performance about a 12-year-old Serbian girl that had become a victim of war. How can a dead child be less important because of her nationality?
In many countries in the EU, populist and nationalist movements are on the rise. What do you think are the reasons for this trend in Croatia?
Croatia has never given up on its nationalistic rhetoric from the 90's. Production of enemy has been the most successful means for the production of national consolidation – which in turn serves amortization and the hiding of social differences and tensions. The living standards in Croatia are now in fact worse than in Yugoslavia. Nevertheless, there is a strong negative sentiment towards Yugoslavia. You are not allowed to mention it in any positive context.
What are the elements and motives of the "new nationalism"?
Hatred towards different minorities is the major force for national homogenization. The majority of war-crimes against civil victims in Croatia has – like the Zec-case – never been prosecuted. Croatian independence and accompanying nationalistic discourse have been used for robbery of public good and creation of political oligarchy.
Do you think this is an East-European phenomenon?
It's interesting that the most xenophobic countries in Europe at the moment – Hungary and Poland – are ex-Eastern block countries. The internalized fear of freedom from that period has in those countries taken a new form with the arrival of democracy. But we should not fool ourselves in thinking that the situation is very different in Western democracies. Their system of political representation represents nothing but interests of capital. The future of Europe is most likely suspension of democracy, some kind of permanent state of exception. We have become infertile in terms of conceiving new political ideas. We operate within the range of Fukuyama's end of history and Huntington's clash of civilizations. Both these concepts are equally dangerous.
Is theatre a strong weapon against such development?
In Croatia it does not work. The majority of theatre people do not bother themselves with these things. Many prominent members of this community were supporters of Franjo Tuđman's autocratic regime. Several of them are fierce supporters of the present government. They start to protest against this government only when their rights and positions are jeopardized. They don't show any genuine empathy until they have become victims themselves. I invited the artistic directors of the five national theaters to stop the work of their theaters until Minister Hasanbegović's resignation, because I think that efficient fighting against centers of political power is only possible through cultural institutions. Unfortunately, only one of them responded, defending the minister of culture.
How else have you tried to use your power as artistic director of the national theatre in Rijeka?
I have been using the national theater and its symbolic capital as an instrument for broader social performance. On 5th of August last year, when the 20th anniversary of Operation Storm from Homeland War was celebrated with strong nationalistic rhetoric and in a triumphalist tone, I organized a performance with five women of different nationalities entitled "Second War". The title was a reference to the book of Simone de Beauvoir ("The Second Sex"), and the performance itself tried to address the Homeland War from the perspective of women, a perspective strange to the official war-narratives.
The idea was to establish a woman's subject against the objectification of women that happens in almost every war. Even before the event had started, the theatre was under siege of veterans and football hooligans. They tried to break in two times. Although their chanting was full of hate-speech and there were shouting the infamous salute "Za dom – spremni" from the time of the so-called "Independent State of Croatia" – equivalent to "Sieg Heil!" in Nazi Germany –, although they beat up two persons, one of them a journalist, the police didn't do anything.
Oliver Frljić wurde 1976 in Bosnien-Herzegowina geboren. Er lebt und arbeitet als Regisseur, Autor und Schauspieler in Kroatien, wo er Philosophie, Religionswissenschaft und Regie studierte. 1995 gründete er das Le Cheval Theatre, seit 2014 ist er Intendant des Kroatischen Nationaltheaters in Rijeka. Im deutschsprachigen Raum arbeitet Frljić vor allem am Theater Graz und ist mit seinen Inszenierungen zu Festivals wie der Wiesbadener Biennale Neue Stücke für Europa, dem Heidelberger Stückemarkt und den Wiener Festwochen eingeladen worden.