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Feature in Issue 3-4 | Winter 1991

With the great European unification just around the corner, Total Theatre asks ‘Can art place the horror of the struggle for Slavic and Croatian survival on the public agenda?’ Report from David Ryan.

Croatia and Slovenia have played to date the most progressive role of any of the middle-European nations in politics, social and cultural development and has cultivated a considerable role in the avant-garde of contemporary European Theatre, Zagreb hosted the Informal European Theatre Meeting - IETM in 1990, and has run with great success two significant European Performance Festivals, Eurokaz and the Dance & Movement Festival of Zagreb. It appears these festivals and other initiatives will now be lost amongst the mêlée of armoured cars, tanks and guns.

Politicians and diplomats are handcuffed and gagged, seemingly powerless to neutralise the tragic situation that slowly unfolds in what once was termed Yugoslavia. A European Art Collective initiative, however, is gathering momentum.

A Dutch initiative (sponsored by the Netherlands Theatre Institute, Netherlands Mime Centre, Netherlands Institute for Dance, Netherlands Institute For Puppetry, Vlaams Theatre Institute (Belgium), Informal European Theatre Meeting and the European Mime Federation) have sent a cry for help to The Dutch Arts Minister, Dutch Parliament and Cultural Committee of the European Parliament.

These networking organisations have been involved in intensive cooperative projects with their Croatian and Slovenian partners since 1982. At present they are awaiting Ministerial response.

A unified response from Britain is perhaps a necessity. Now is the time to initiate a response through our artistic resources and networks. We must decide the most effective method of aiding this excellent European initiative, thus effectively supporting a Western European transfusion to our colleagues in Croatia and Slovenia. The following paragraphs are the synopsis of two faxes received by MAG over the last two months.

Zagreb, September 21, 1991 To IETM members

More than one third of the Croatian territory is occupied. The occupation took place under the order of the Serbian government presided over by Slobodan Milošević and a group of Serbian army generals.

Croatia has no adequate weapons to fight against the tanks, aircraft and cannons being used by the Federal Army and specially trained squads of Serbian terrorists (chetniks). The world put an embargo on the import of arms to Croatia. Our defence was left with guns and machine guns, a small quantity of ammunition. The Croatian forces have been compelled to surrender village by village, city by city.

What happens on the occupied territory is, by its brutality and cruelty, unprecedented in European history since the Second World War. The population of Croatian villages are slaughtered and massacred (the arms and legs of still living people are cut off, the eyes and hearts are pulled out according to an old chetnik custom). Their houses are burnt to the ground. Villages like Kijevo, Celije, Skela and many others do not exist any more on the map of Croatia. There have been reports that in Baranja the surviving Croats are obliged to wear red ribbons on sleeves and their houses are marked with red colour.

The number of refugees from the occupied area amounts to at least 300,000 and this number increases every day. It is estimated that by now over 2000 Croatians have lost their lives in the war, the exact number of the wounded is unknown but certainly can be measured by thousands.

The Croatian economy is in a state of collapse. Goods, corn and cattle have been taken away to Serbia. Factories, storages, plants, and civilian houses are plundered, then put to fire. There is no communication between various parts of the country. Roads and railways are blocked or destroyed, bridges blown up, all civilian airports are closed. Guarded by warships, the sea traffic is blocked. The islands have no connection to the coast. In all parts of Croatia there is a shortage of food, water, electricity, and medicine.

The foreign war correspondents claim that this war is one of the dirtiest they have experienced. Until now, more than fifteen journalists have been killed, many wounded. The press, Red Cross and ambulance units serve as conscious targets. The aggressor does not hesitate to fire at hospitals, schools, churches, historical monuments, EEC observers.

In the last few days the cities of Osijek, Vukovar, Vinkovci, Sibenik, Split, Ploce, have been heavily bombarded from the Army aircraft. The old town of Osijek, one of the most beautiful cities in this part of the Balkans, known for its Gothic church and baroque house is destroyed. The main hospital in Osijek, with the sick and wounded people in, was bombarded for several days. Only ruins remained.

Zagreb lives in the atmosphere of panic and fear. Every day we await air attacks spending most of our time in cellars and shelters. The town was attacked by aircraft and heavy artillery several times. Gun-fire can be heard everywhere.

By now Europe has completely failed in treating this matter. Endless negotiations, unwillingness to define the sides of the conflict, to name the aggressor, as well as the hesitation to recognise the independence of Croatia and Slovenia, have only encouraged the destructive force of the Federal/Serbian Army. Not only Europe calmly watches a catastrophe of our nation to the point of extinction; it even prevents us, by various sorts of embargoes, to defend ourselves.

After so many unsuccessful peace treaties, it seems that the only way this war can be stopped is the military defeat of Serbia. The Croatian policy has exhausted all means for a peaceful solution. Yet peace is everything we are asking for. Ultimately, the armed UN or European forces could be the only means left to prevent further battles.

Please help by spreading the truth about the war in Croatia. Plead to your governments for help.

Gordana Vnuk - Artistic Director of ‘Eurokaz’
Mirna Zagar - Artistic Director Dance Week Festival

Fax From The Dancers Association Zagreb

Dear colleagues,

This is to inform you that our professional activity has at this moment abruptly stopped. It has been stopped by an undeclared war, hopefully the last and surely the only Imperialistic war in the world lead by the Serbian Government and helped by the Federal (now mostly Serbian) Army. The aim of this war is not only the conquest of territory but also the elimination of the cultural identity of the Croatian nation. A nation proud of its thousand year-old and rich cultural heritage…

During war Art is silent. Thus our steps are now turned toward defence of our country. Unfortunately during war reason also remains silent.

Defending our homes and lives, we are also defending democracy, freedom of thought, speech and creation.

Do not remain silent. Do not wait and see what tomorrow will bring. Many of us might not live to see it. Appealing against war, supporting our rightful battle for peace you will restore our faith in life and humanity, but also in art as the highest of human achievements

Give us your support – talk to your representatives in the Government, send your appeal against the war to the press, help spread our cry for Croatia throughout the world.

Let’s hope that very soon we shall all be able to join our forces in helping to create and maintain a social and political environment conducive to free development of art; that our diverse culture, both European and non-European will, in free interaction, appear true partners in a global cultural society.

May each of your steps be our step forward towards freedom and peace. Help us stop the war in Croatia.

Ends.

A unified response is growing within Europe. MAG have sent on this news to other art organisations. Get involved. Write with your messages of support to The President, European Mime Federation, Herengracht 172, 1016 BP Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

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Issue 3-4
p. 8