Monday July 14, 2003
I take my actors to the Sibenik International Children's Theatre Festival. On the idyllic Croatian coast, we pass burned-out Serbian villages. This is a clear message to any Serbs planning return.
We are to perform The Golem. This Yiddish Frankenstein story comes from medieval Prague and, in my version, the monster created to defend ghettoised Jews from Catholics, is a metaphor for the conflict between self-defence and violence. Most importantly, it is about minority culture. The contradiction between what we are presenting and what we are seeing soon becomes apparent. U signs are common graffiti. This is the U of the fascist Ustashe, the puppet Nazi state of the second world war which still has underground support.
We give theatre workshops to teenagers. War talk is taboo at home but with us, they feel safe enough to reveal childhood memories of bombings and tanks. Our workshop leader asks, "What is the U painted on the walls here?" The next day I am hauled into the theatre programmer's office and ordered to keep politics out of the festival. "Parents have been complaining," she says. "You mustn't talk about war and certainly never mention Ustashe in the theatre." Another theatre board member proclaims that my troupe are "not English, they're Jews". Before our performance, we give a synopsis of The Golem in Croatian for non-English speakers. The translation is scrupulously checked to ensure it contains no Serbian or international vocabulary. Language, as well as people, must be ethnically cleansed. Minorities have got the message. The few remaining Serbs and Bosnians here are fast changing their names and converting to Catholicism .
I meet a 40-year-old Serb married to a Croatian. He was drafted by the Croatian army to fight Serbs in l99l. His reward was being thrown out of his flat for being a Serb. I meet J, a 76-year-old Croatian who, at 15, ran to the partisans. This war heroine fought Ustashe, Italians and Germans and still has a body full of shrapnel fragments. President Franjo Tudjman withdrew the partisans' pensions for six months during the 199l war and her husband, once Tito's bodyguard, starved to death. 0thers committed suicide at the humiliation of being transformed from heroes to pariahs.
Today, J's pension has been cut in half, the stolen 50% going to the Ustashe fascists who attacked her in the 40s. I tell her joining the EU will rebalance this injustice, but I might as well be talking about flying saucers. All around I find suspicion of European solutions. Croatia is isolated and traumatised. J cries at the death of Tito's dream of a multi-ethnic Yugoslavia. "I am a Yugoslav," she insists. "I spent my whole life fighting nationalism. And it was all for nothing."
Back in the Solaris Hotel I talk to a Croatian waiter, a former gastarbeiter in Germany. We discuss Berlin. "Sheisse," he spits. "Berlin is sheisse. Too many Turks. Just like the Bosnians. I hate Muslims, I want to go to Iraq and fight Muslims." On the last night of the festival, our driver, who is the son of a theatre secretary, is to return us to Solaris. His drinking mate, a six-foot giant, sandwiches me in. I am crushed between the two drunks who scream with laughter and hardly look at the road. "Calm down," I tell the driver who ignores me. When our Croatian actor/translator intervenes, he yells at her, "Fuck off, you. And your Jews."
It is our last day and we chill out. One of the actors starts a jamming session on the beach. The Hotel Solaris Animation Team join us. These local musicians are paid to entertain the mainly German guests. Tonight is a Caribbean evening. The singers are wearing rasta wigs and have blacked up. I tell them, "You know this would be seen as offensive in Britain." "Look," they say in surprise, "we are not racist. We don't even dislike black people. We just hate Serbs."
Julia Pascal's last play Crossing Jerusalem is published by Oberon Books