World War I was precipitated by events in the Balkans, particularly the assassination of Prince Franz Ferdinand, the Austro-Hungarian Archduke. They declared war on Serbia. By the end of World War I, the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empire had effectively fallen apart. After World War II, the Balkan states (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia and Macedonia, were incorporated into the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia. The Communist Party, under Josip Broz Tito, held Yugoslavia together until his death in 1980. The union of the Balkan States started to fall apart with political discontent getting progressively more and more tense. In 1991 Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia declared their independence, and war followed unrest, officially beginning in April 1992 . The Yugoslav army was dominated by Orthodox Christian Serbs. Slovenia (Bosnia-Herzegovina) was predominantly Bosniak – Bosnian Muslim. Most Croatians are Roman Catholic. There are also many Roma (formerly known as Gypsies) in the Balkan States. The war ended in December 1995, after a massive genocide of the Bosniaks by the Serbs.
The play Cheers to Sarajevo is set in the latter days of this war. Sarajevo is in Bosnia-Herzegovina. By then the city was effectively devastated. The war was particularly known for its perpetration of rapes, mostly by Serbian forces of Bosniak women and the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia) determined that systematic rape was a war crime. Statistics at the end of the war determined that 90% of the war crimes were perpetrated by Serbians, with 6% being perpetrated by Croatians and 4% by Bosniaks. It is estimated that the number of women raped during this time could have been as high as 50 000.
The three main characters in the play are Peter (Chris van Rensberg), a photojournalist from South Africa. Mirella (Aimee Goldsmith), a Bosniak woman and Aleksander (Duane Behrens) the Greatest, a Serbian man. The latter two have formed a romantic liaison. There are two other actors, Julian Kruger who takes several cameos and Yiorgo Sotiropolos who plays the role of a Serbian officer, Mladen.
The acting is mostly superb, but I did lose the plot a few times. There was a LOT of foreign language being used and it didn’t help that my knowledge of the history of the era was sketchy. This is not an easy play to watch, but it is interesting, and a change from our endless South African navel gazing. The play has travelled to Austria where it was well received.
“We feel an absolute urgency to tell this story so it is remembered and never forgotten. So much of what happened in Sarajevo was about violence against difference. Without expressing our traumatized past we merely manifest war into our daily mentality. A mentality of destruction perpetuated into our homes as rape, into our friendships as betrayal and ultimately into our society as apathy. This story is about the endurance of the human spirit to overcome insurmountable acts of violence and hate. It brings message of healing, history and love that is relevant not only on our own soil but to the world.” – Aimèe & Lidija
Cheers to Sarajevo was written by Lidija Marelic and Aimëe Goldsmith and directed by Lidija Marelic with assistant director Larice Kell and designer Kayli Elit Smith. It runs at the Auto and General Theatre at the Square until 9 October 2016.