By Alba Ajdarevikj
One of the first things anyone thinks about when the land of Kosovo is mentioned is the brutal war that happened in the 90s. The fear, the anger, the tears, the courage, the sorrow, the resistance, and everything that led to its partial freedom. This chaotic period, haunting for many, traumatizing for all, even the generations that were brought to life after, was impeccably displayed on June 14, 2022, at the National Theater of Kosova, by the Artistic Resident Troupe of Artpolis. It was the opening night of the 10th edition of FemArt – the largest Feminist Festival of Women Artists and Activists in the region.
Before the play even started, a large number of people were standing outside the theater or in the lobby, excited about the play, some going in blindly, unaware of what they were about to witness. The theater was filled to the brim with people, curious to see this masterpiece and experience all the emotions the artists exhibited. As the play begins, the actors of the troupe accompanied by the melodic voice of Donika Rushiti, bring the scene to life. The singing resembles the lullabies we have all once heard being sung by our mother or grandmother; as a mother surrenders her daughter to marriage. The following scene, supported by the familiar sounds of the Albanian defa and drums, shows the marriage of this newlywed couple dancing. And then suddenly the sounds intensify, bringing back the memories of guns being picked up by the people resisting its ethnic cleansing.
Further, a lady in a ravishingly gorgeous bloody-red gown appeared in the scene. A dress so red, it made me think of a mesmerizing land covered in blood. A land that more than 20 years later, still carries the dried red blood of the fallen soldiers, the fallen heroines, and the innocent children. A land haunted by their spirits, a land haunted by its blood.
The people standing behind ‘Lady Blood’, facing an imaginary wall, with their hands behind their heads, fall on and get off the ground, as she voices the feeling of being trapped and isolated in a land of blood. Resisting the regime, resisting the feeling of being isolated, falling, and rising again, like a phoenix in a never ending, exhausting loop.
And then, the issue that is least discussed in this society unfolds. Women during this war. The experiences of women, their feelings, their memories, and their trauma. The feeling of weakness, shame, guilt, fear, being trapped, of feeling as if they are the one at fault. That horrific moment of finding yourself naked, exposed to the elements, with legs up high, being tormented by an army of men, an army of pigs, an army of dirtbags. That memory that will never die, that exact minute when your whole life turns around, and it is not under your control. The moment you know everything is falling apart, and yet, there is nothing you can do but fight – even if that means not winning. The moment your body feels endangered and your brain receives that signal. The moment your body feels violated and you get raped. Raped by disgusting inhumane “beings”. And no one believes you. “It is not true / I am a woman / Trying to escape / The nightmare of a lost battle / That was never mine.”
Trapped by a barricade of men, pushing her back, silencing her, and yet, she continues raising her voice, speaking up. Nevertheless, no one wants to hear that, no one wants to believe that, and no one admits that. The sad reality of the many violated women.
A mother, a concerned mother, of a child who sees dead people and still hears gunshots and talks to herself. A mother seeking help for her own child. No one in the playground wants to play with her child, and no one can help her. Because as she said, “there are no doctors to help with her anxiety.” You can see people scorning her, ignorant to her pleas for help, as she is knocked down and raises up talking to them, crying for help.
And finally, the piece that affected each and every member of the audience. In the background, footage of soldiers, and other footage of the ‘99 Kosovo war is screened, projecting through the Motherland – the ‘Lady Red’, the clear curtain standing between her and the rest of the cast, in the role of the people of Kosovo. The latter were celebrating their liberation, Kosovo’s liberation. Dancing, laughing, singing, and ignoring their blooded Motherland who was speaking to them. She was pointing out that the earth they live in has been scarred – the land they know as their home is tainted with blood and it will remain as such forever. However, the citizens, as if trying to avoid the reality at that moment, paid no attention to her, divided by the curtain that was almost masked.
The war ended indeed; but, the armed conflict that followed, the atrocities that followed, did not end immediately. And still, people tried to identify a silver lining to the situation and just find what they received sufficient. Nevertheless, the next scene perfectly described what so many of the Kosovar families were confronted with – the reality of loss. A young man talking to his grandparents, his mother, and so forth, whom he could not see, but still appeared on the scene. The lack of conversation among them and the lack of physical attention towards one another made it obvious to the audience that they were gone. They were gone and were never coming back. Their bodies were there, but they, as he knew them, were not. The family members sat, eloquently and quietly, on a bench that was set on the stage. Following them, the son asks for his father, shouting on the stage. And just like the rest, he answers; however, they cannot conversate. Both remembering moments of the son’s childhood, the father slowly drifts to the back of the stage, lining up with other people. The fact that he does not join the rest of his family on the bench, suggests that he is among more than a thousand people, whose bodies are still missing. Whose bodies their families have still not found, and souls that have no resting place, which the family can go visit and express their anger and sadness. Whose luck is still unknown to many, and people who are believed to still be alive somewhere.
This play was definitely something I have personally not encountered before. It affected each person in the audience. As uncommon as it is remarkable. The direction, the scenic play, the poems, the coreography, the music and the videoprojection are in an extraordinary interaction. Through them, an extremery crucial piece of a nation’s history is conveyed. Many people, including myself, teared up during it. The swollen eyes were emphasized by the bright lights in the lobby of the National Theater of Kosova after the play. The souls battered by a bloody history loom on the horizon, never to be forgotten.
Alba Ajdarevikj is a recent graduate from Rochester Institute of Technology, with concentrations in Peace & Conflict Studies and Public Policy & Governance. She was an intern at Artpolis and is currently a project reporter at Artpolis.