SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Bosnians politely but firmly persuaded organizers of a Sarajevo theater festival to allow them to watch a controversial play criticized by both Catholics and Muslims and threatened by violent groups.
Hours before the performance Sunday night, the MESS festival announced it would allow only the festival jury to see “Our Violence and Your Violence” by Croatian director Oliver Frljic, an award-winning director whose provocative plays often criticize nationalism and spark protests. The play, which has a fairly abstract plot, contains scenes of nudity and rape.
Organizers said Bosnian Cardinal Vinko Puljic had filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office, claiming the performance offends Christians and Muslims alike. No charges have yet been raised. The church as well as Muslim non-governmental organizations said they respect artistic freedoms but had called for the play to be taken off the festival program.
The festival organizers said these demands and negative media reports before the performance “resulted in pressure and threats from violent groups and individuals which jeopardized the security of the audience.”
Ticket-holders perceived this as censorship and gathered in front of the Sarajevo National Theater demanding to be allowed to see the performance. People without tickets came to join the protest, and police deployed around the theater.
Organizers gave in after the well-behaved theatergoers said they would not leave and about 200 people were admitted.
“Nobody will be telling me what I will be watching,” 49-year-old Eldina Jasarevic said after the performance.
The festival jury honored members of the audience for asserting their right to watch, but there was no award for the play.
The producers said the play “is not questioning the values of any religion but instead questions their dependence from the liberal-capitalistic system we live in and calls on Europe to take responsibility for its past.”
The play was the closing performance of the festival.