CITIES, poetics of life

Predrag Mitrović for Zarez: How stereotypes are turning us into crocodiles (abridged excerpts)

The following text was originally published in Zarez, vol.X (233), 12 June 2008. Translation mine, and so was the bridging.

In these last few decades a kind of a mental crust has started to grow on people, because both media and life have imposed an artifical need to choose your side: starting from birth, which gives you your ethnic, confessional position that you have to behave according to. So, if you are a Croat or a Serb or a Bosnian, then you have to be a good Croat, good Serb, good Bosnian; you cannot, eg, be a Buddhist Croat. (laugh) That doesn't work. You have to be an exemplary Catholic, go to church like Bosnians need to go to the mosque on a regular basis.

These manufactured prototypes of Croats, Serbs and Bosnians are being imposed on children who are now living with these stereotypes. If they behave differently, they are either traitors or ugly ducklings nobody wants to play with. This all creates a pressure and a paranoid situation in which you are afraid to do anything outside these stereotypes, because it won't be considered right. It means you simply try to blend in as much as possible, to disappear in the crowd. It is an incredibly bad situation for an individual in their formative years, and a young person gets encrusted in the stereotype. I have worked with many young people in acting schools and I would be astonished when I demanded improvisation. I get such horrifyingly restricted movement; you have an impression that that young person feels to be asked to act in front of a group of crocodiles, not other people. You simply see that frightened look and the question: “What if I do something wrong now?” I explained to them individually: “You can't do anything wrong, whatever you do will be good, will be yours!” But to no avail, fear is always stronger. If we don't break from this fear of prototypes – good Serb, good Croat, good Bosnian; if we don't free our kids from this fear of creative thought and creative act, we will become the very bottom of Europe; people won't recognise us as fellow creatures.

For the end. Why did you include Robert Franciszty's Four seasons in a slaughterhouse in the program of this year's Teatarfest, which is about animal rights, better still, animal liberation? Is it not perhaps ethically out of measure to present a performance on animal rights in a city where, during the siege, people were forced to hunt and eat pigeons to survive, the zoosymbols of peace?

Not just pigeons we ate during the war… (laugh) You wouldn't believe what else we ate – tree bark, grass… Being a member of the generation that had to read partisan stories at school – you know, how they ate bark to survive guerrilla fighting – I thought once, in a very hungry moment: “How can you not remember which tree they ate from?” I couldn't remember which type of bark was poisonous, and which one wasn't. (laugh) We ate all sorts of things, not just pigeons; they were a luxury then.

What I'm trying to say is that a more drastic level of inhumaneness does not abolish a less drastic one from being inhumane, too. It's inhumane to murder, but if witness ten murders, that should not accustom us to murder. This is why it is precisely in Sarajevo we need to talk about animal rights, about cruelty, because it's a thin line when you're slicing throats – today it's a chook, tomorrow a pig, the day after tomorrow… These are thin lines. If you start raising the perceptive bar, then you start searching for the ultimate line, then the bar can go up indefinitely. I think we haven't even learnt from the war, we're forgotten everything too quickly. We've forgotten what a dead human body looks like, so today we don't care about killing, or not, a stray dog.

Sites of tragedy are the best places to say: “Look at what violence does, so let's talk about life, about earth, about society, non-violent communication!” This is why Srebrenica is the best place where to discuss peaceful cohabitation. What happened here happened as a mistake, and to transcend that mistake in that space is our task for the future.”