Jeton Neziraj, a leading Kosovar playwright

KOSOVO and BELGRADE: Jeton Neziraj is arguably Kosovo’s leading dramatist. For years, this playwright/director led the National Theater of Kosovo. He has published short stories in local magazines in Kosovo and Albania. He was a professor of dramaturgy at the Faculty of Arts at the University of Prishtina. And Neziraj’s more than 15 plays have been performed in many important theatre festivals in Europe.

Beyond this prolific output, what distinguishes Neziraj is his extra-artistic work. He is the author of dozens of books and articles, as well as speeches about the Balkan theater, which he has delivered at festivals, conferences and universities throughout the world. About the relationship between the newly born state of Kosovo and its National Theatre, Neziraj observes:

“There are definitely elements of comedy. It’s interesting to see how the new state and the theatre perceive each other. Their relationship is unnatural. Since it is financially dependent on the state, the theatre hasn’t managed to free itself from political entanglements; and the unprincipled way it subjects itself to the powers that be is immensely detrimental to its credibility. In a way, Kosovar theatre has turned into a court jester. Not a jester, however, who insolently confronts the king with his bad deeds and weaknesses, but into a servile jester. The atmosphere is desolate. And it isn’t only the state that contributes to this mood with its disregard and neglect of the theatre. Theatre makers themselves only follow their creative urges within the confines of a seeming provinciality. Isolation, poverty and corruption have confused Kosovar theatre so much that it has become unable to see beyond itself.”

Neziraj’s latest work, Yue Madeleine Yue, roams beyond the specific focus of Kosovo, but it does reflect that country’s status as a struggling democracy. It is a political drama about the plight of the Roma. As Europe’s largest ethnic minority, Roma inside the EU comprise the youngest and fastest-growing demographic segment of the population. The Roma have been persecuted across Europe for centuries. Now they face a form of discrimination unseen in Europe since World War II: group evictions and expulsions from several European democracies of men, women, and children on the grounds that they pose a threat to public order.

After opening in Vienna’s Volkstheater (the name roughly translates as “people’s theater”), Yue Madeleine Yue premieres May 21 at the National Theater of Kosovo and then performs May 23 and 24 at CZKD - Center for Cultural Decontamination in Belgrade, Serbia.

Jeton Neziraj, a leading Kosovar playwright
Jeton Neziraj, a leading Kosovar playwright

Yue Madeleine Yue has an American connection. In the past several years, Neziraj has been experimenting with non-fiction techniques. This play began from explorations on the dilemma of reconciliation which he has been doing with the American theater director Michael Lessac. The play offers a view of the current situation between Serbia and Albania, but it will be given from the perspective of a Roma family.

Yue Madeleine Yue is produced as a part of the culture component of the “EU support for the Implementation of the RAE Strategy,” an European-funded project managed by the European Commission Liaison Office to Kosovo and implemented by the Kosovo Foundation for Open Society. This project aims to improve socio-economic well-being, access to education, preservation and promotion of cultural heritage of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities in Kosovo.

Neziraj sent me a description of this play: “On central focus of this musical tragicomedy of the absurd is a Roma family, which was forcedly expelled from Germany to Kosovo. Found in a new reality, this family will have to face the challenges of the recently newborn state. A Roma girl, Medelein, one day falls in a hole opened by a construction company. And while the girl in coma fights for her life, her father, striving to pursue justice, faces bureaucratic officers, businessmen, policemen and embassy workers. This is a political drama about chaotic post-war Kosovo, but, before all, it is a drama about unwanted Roma in Europe. Away from those common stereotypes about Roma, away from that exoticism which usually accompanies Roma topics, Yue Medlin Yue is an intelligent drama that excellently reviews the emotional process that thousands of Roma people from Europe undergo, yielding to violent processes of repatriation.”

I had the pleasure of becoming familiar with Neziraj’s political drama, The Demolition of the Eiffel Tower, which had a reading at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater in New York. I saw that play when it was performed at SARTR Theater as part of the MESS International Theater Festival in Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina. At the same time I met him, around October of 2011, he had also co-authored (with Minja Bogavac) a new work, Patriotic Hypermarket, at the Bitef Theater in Belgrade.

Another fascinating performance, Patriotic Hypermarket grew out of artist-run research project, called The Views: A Meeting of Personal Histories of Serbs and Albanians, which was carried out in collaboration of Kulturanova and Multimedia Qendra during 2010. Within the framework of the project, 40 individuals of Serb and Albanian ethnic origin were interviewed. The questions asked were related to their personal memories of Serbian-Albanian conflicts, their versions of the future and the possibilities of Serbian-Albanian co-habitation. An exhibition of photographs and the publishing of a three-lingual publication, composed from these interviews, completed this research. Based on the material used for the exhibition, Bogavac, a dramaturge from Belgrade, and Neziraj, a dramaturge from Priština, worked in collaboration to write a documentary, post-dramatic text, which a director based in Sarajevo, Dino Mustafić, with the actors and actresses from Belgrade, Priština, Skoplje and Tirana.

Concerning the possibility of reconciliation between Serbs and Albanians, Neziraj says, “Reconciliation will happen simply because, otherwise, it won’t work. I think it is the duty of every one of us to contribute to this process. Serbs and Albanians don’t trust each other anymore. This is evident. I don’t know if there ever was a moment in history when they trusted each other, but this is not important. What is important is that now we are at point zero.” -- RG

About Kosovo
In the Serbian language, the word Kosovo (kos meaning the blackbird, and Kosovo, a field of blackbirds) combined with another historical name, Metohija (derived from the Greek word metochion, pl. metochia, meaning monastic possessions), is the official name of the southern province of Serbia. Although its majority population is now Albanian, Kosovo is seen as epitomizing both the national and cultural identity of the whole Serbian nation.

Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in February 2008 over the objections of Serbia and Russia. This culminated more than one hundred years of sometimes violent resistance to what the majority Albanian population considered to be “occupation” by foreign forces – first those of the Ottoman Empire, then those of Serbia, and finally by the United Nations. Kosovo’s independence was the product of careful diplomacy, orchestrated by the United States and leading members of the European Union, under a framework brokered by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, who subsequently won the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Jeton Neziraj, a leading Kosovar playwright
Jeton Neziraj, a leading Kosovar playwright

About the play:

“Yue Madeleine Yue” by Jeton Neziraj
May 23 and 24, 2012

directed by: Blerta Rrustemi Neziraj
Sound and music composer: Gabriele Marangoni
Actors: Anisa Ismaili, Kushtrim Hoxha, Kujtim Pacak, Bajram Kinolli, Fitore Broqi, Fisnik Sykaj
Musicians: Gabriele Marangoni, Susanna Tognella
Stage and light design: Nico de Rooij
Choreography: Gjergj Prevazi
Costume designer: Dorothy Barnes
Video: Yll Citaku
Ass. costume designer: Amber Givens
Photo: Armin Bardel
Stage manager: Adelina Berisha
Lighting technician: Skender Latifi
Translation: Andrea Grill (German), Ajkuna Hope (English), Shkelzen Maliqi (Serbian)
Design: Agon Ceta
Produced by: Qendra Multimedia, Prishtina
Running time: 60’ min
Language: Albanian, Roma and German
Existing subtitles: German, English and Serbian/Croatian/Bosnian

About the company:

Qendra Multimedia, based in Prishtina, Kosovo, is a cultural production company, working in the field of arts and culture since 2002. Qendra produces and co-produces cultural activities for all ages; locally and internationally. Its main focus is in contemporary theater and dramaturgy. Qendra’s main theater productions are: “The Least Supper”, “Travel to Unmikistan”, “Aeneas wounded”, “Gogoli”, “Beni”, “War in times of love”, “Newborn”, “Yue Madeleine Yue”, etc.  Some of our main theater partners we worked with include: Volkstheater- Vienna, Markus Zohner Theater Compagnie - Lugano, nomad theater- London, L’Espace d’un instant – Paris, Oda Theater, Prishtina, National Theater of Kosovo, Prishtina, CTC, Skopje, Bitef Theater- Belgrade, Prizren City Theater – Prizren, CZKD – Belgrade etc.  Qendra cooperates with theaters, cultural institutions, universities, theater schools and art organizations from all around the globe. Since 2002 Qendra organized more than 100 cultural projects in Kosovo as well as in other countries of Europe, including Serbia, Macedonia, France, Germany, UK, Austria, Albania etc. Qendra’s community of collaborating artists/experts create its own events and facilitate programming for others.

Performance schedule 2012:

Austria (world opening):       24th of February / Volkstheater – Vienna, Austria

Kosovo:                                  21st of May  / National Theater of Kosovo, Kosovo

Serbia:                                    23rd of May / CZKD, Belgrade, Serbia

Croatia:                                 07 September / zoom Festival, Rijeka, Croatia

Germany:                               4 – 11 November / euro –scene, International Theater Festival, Leipzig, Germ

This performance is produced in the framework of the project “EU support for the implementation of RAE strategy” - EU SIMRAES financed by the European Union, managed by EU Office in Kosovo and implemented by the Kosovo Foundation for Open Society - KFOS.

Co-financed by:

Swiss Cultural Programme in the Western Balkans

The Olof Palme International Center

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