Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Macedonian Minister steps down after attempt to ban play

Amid a furor over his decision to ban a theatrical work, Macedonia's culture minister has resigned. The attempted ban triggered protests from actors, the media, and political figures -- including Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski -- who said he supported the play. He denied any involvement in the effort to censor it.

Just two days before the March 31st premiere of "Tito, Certain Diagrams of Desire," Minister Ilirijan Bekiri sent a letter to the directors and producers, warning them that rehearsals and preparations should cease, and that any further activities would be penalised.

Justifying the ban, Bekiri suggested the play is the work of "exponents of communism in decline". He said he is "a consistent representative of the democratic values and mercilessly rejects communist values".

Nevertheless, the premiere went ahead, and Gruevski subsequently accepted Bekiri's resignation. According to the prime minister, Bekiri explained his views and the reasons for his move, and said he had not changed his stance.

"Our government does not censor," Gruevski vowed, adding that as long as he is prime minister, no play would be prohibited.

That didn't convince the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), whose leader, Radmila Sekerinska, claims it is Gruevski himself who ordered the ban.

"I don't believe that a minister can take on an autocratic game and prohibit a play," she said.

An EU-sponsored co-production, "Tito" is now scheduled for a European tour. The play, based on a text by Croatian director Slobodan Snajder, is directed by Macedonians Martin Kocovski, Dejan Damjanovski and Dejan Projkovski in collaboration with Croatian director and conceptual leader Branko Brezovec.

According to playwright Goran Stefanovski, it is a "complex, polyphonic theatre and mosaic encyclopedia of images, a sad and funny two-and-a-half-hour tragicomedy where the performers sing and dance and stand on their heads". At the Bitola premiere, the audience reacted with a ten-minute standing ovation.

"It is important that art won," said co-director Damjanovski, "despite the talks on anything but theatre in the past couple of days."

Minister of Culture-designate Arifhikmet Xhemaili is a member of the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA).

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