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NEWS 27 Oct 16

Bosnian Theatre Festival to Sue Over Death Threats

After canceling performances of a play due to threats of violence, the MESS International Theatre Festival in Sarajevo has said it will pursue those responsible.

Eleanor Rose
Sarajevo's National Theatre, where the play was staged. Photo: Slein80/Wikimedia.

Lawyers for the Sarajevo International Theatre Festival MESS have filed criminal complaints against those who allegedly threatened the life of the festival director and other staff, the organisation announced on Wednesday.

It will also launch a libel suit to address what it claims was misinformation in the press about the play “Our Violence and Your Violence” which, according to a statement released yesterday by the organization, affected the reputation of the festival.

Festival director Nihad Kresevljakovic canceled public performances of the play after reporting threats against his life and others involved in the production.

Plans to stage the play, inspired by the Peter Weiss novel "The Aesthetics of Resistance", and directed by Croatian Oliver Frljic, outraged some Catholic and Muslim groups in Bosnia because the play features nudity and sexual assault, women in headscarves and a Christ-like figure - all scenes that the festival said had been "taken out of context".

To ensure the safety of festival staff and the public, the festival limited performances to members of the jury of the festival, and some special guests. 

Refunds were offered to disappointed members of the public, although some turned up on the door, and were admitted, after insisting that they would not leave, according to Associated Press.

Festival organisers said the play had been falsely represented as offensive to religious people, which "resulted in pressure and threats from violent groups and individuals which jeopardized the security of the audience".

Kresevljakovic said on Wednesday that it was important for artists to be able to express their reflections on society, which sometimes meant the inclusion of provocative content.

“As an institution traditionally dedicated to social dialogue”, MESS would hold a public forum in the first half of November on the theme of freedom of artistic expression, he said.

The Croatian cultural society Napredak, among other NGOs, complained about the play earlier this month. 

Napredak said while it respected freedom of expression, the play was offensive both to Muslims and Christians and called on MESS to cancel performances.

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