Schooled in hatred

 

 

 

In a thoroughly vandalised high-school classroom, boys and girls sit waiting for a teacher who never appears. To kill time, they take turns giving "lessons" - personal stories dealing with, among other topics, sex and gardening. And when the touchy subject of racial discrimination is broached, violence reaches its height, guns are drawn and the tragic ending is inevitable.

"I've always thought it's a deep and profound play that has social and political issues. Beyond that, there's something much deeper and more substantial about the human condition - war and any group of people isolated and oppressed.

"In that sense, this play is equal to 'Waiting for Godot' and 'Lord of the Flies' - great works that show human aggression and the desperation of humanity," Sarajevo-based East West Theatre Company's director Haris Pasovic said of "Class Enemy" in an interview to The Nation. He directed the Bosnian version of the play written by Briton Nigel Williams.

Pasovic explained the process of bringing this play up to date and setting it in the Bosnian capital of 2007, instead of Williams' 1978 South London. "We went to the classrooms [of Sarajevo high schools] where we met teachers and students and learnt [about their] first-hand experiences.

"Even now, we still go back to schools where we perform a scene, have a conversation with [the students and teachers], do another, and ask for their feedback. It's important for us to keep this relationship open.

"We also go to provincial towns, which are different from the dynamic and metropolitan Sarajevo, but where the problems are [similar] or even worse."

At its Asian premiere at the "Singapore Arts Festival 2008" last month, the NC-16-rated (no children under 16) play was a major hit, despite being performed in Bosnian with English surtitles (translated lyrics projected above a stage) in a country where violence is no problem.

All three shows at the 220-seat Esplanade Theatre Studio were sold out days before the opening night.

The captivating 105-minute show was played out on a stage that had a long blackboard on which a male genitalia was drawn; the classroom chairs and tables were frequently rearranged, smashed and hurled across.

Seeing the elements of the play, about 80 per cent of the audience stayed on to ask questions and to share their views during a question-and-answer session after the show.

For example, a young woman who had taught at a similar school in South London said what was happening now surpassed the extreme verbal and physical violence presented in the play.

At a supplementary programme, a talk titled "Surviving Ethnic Conflicts in Bosnia", the director and his cast members shared their experiences of the siege of Sarajevo and their views on multi-ethnic societies, a link they drew with the island state.

Pasovic said, "We have three major ethnic groups and some other inter-groups with those who were born out of inter-ethnic marriages. The population of both countries is about 4 million, but then, we're one of Europe's poorest countries, while Singapore is one of Asia's richest."

Additionally, racial and religious differences were one of the reasons behind what Pasovic referred to as "the worst atrocity and the first time genocide took place on European soil after World War II".

In sharp contrast, Singapore has been able to live through its differences peacefully. Pasovic said, "People here are too accustomed to convenience - and one shouldn't be, I think. You should enjoy and develop it further; you shouldn't complain that it's so perfect it's boring."

At the end, Pasovic asked the audience to remember that

no race or ethnicity is evil or wonderful and we should

always nurture our common sense.

His example: "A true German is believed to be tall and blonde. It turned out, 17 million out of 30 million voted for Hitler, who's a short and ugly Austrian. That's when and where we also had Thomas Mann, Martin Heidegger and Bertolt Brecht."

'Class Enemy' will feature in next month's Edinburgh International Festival 2008. For more details, visit http://www.eastwest.ba/

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