I have sent the following email to relevant members of the Kosovon government and press.  It is written from a personal perspective, but I feel that it represents the overwhelming view of people in this community.  I'm also attaching Jeton Neziraj's original email calling for action at the bottom for anyone who didn't see this.  Let's hope that Eid sees a change of spirit in the Kosovon government!

 

Dear Sirs,

It is with great distress that we at National Theatre Wales have learned of recent developments at the National Theatre of Kosovo. 

In recent years your National Theatre has been a significant beacon for artistic freedom and, under the leadership of one of Europe's significant playwrights, Jeton Neziraj, the theatre has been an important ambassador for Kosovo on the international stage.

National Theatre Wales has been under discussions with Mr Neziraj about a collaboration between our theatres, which could potentially have brought National Theatre of Kosovo to a new audience in the United Kingdom.  I believe that there would have been great enthusiasm for the work of your National Theatre, and for Kosovon culture and ideas, here.

However, as a theatre which places artistic freedom and a diversity of viewpoints at the heart of its values, National Theatre Wales cannot collaborate with a company where the artistic leadership has been replaced for political reasons.

Along with many theatre colleagues, I call on the Kosovon government to restore the independence of the National Theatre of Kosovo and to reinstate its board and artistic director.

I hope that the Ministry of Culture will respond to the wide-ranging international calls for a return to independence for the theatre, and that we may once again look forward to working with the National Theatre of Kosovo and Mr Neziraj.

Yours faithfully,

John McGrath
Artistic Director

 

Jeton's email:

Dear theatre friends,

The National Theatre of Kosovo is being seriously threatened by politics. Even before, this theatre had been the target of manipulations and political control; nonetheless, the latest developments are disturbing and make this theatre’s perspective dim.  The National Theatre of Kosovo is an independent public institution, financed by public funds through The Ministry of Culture.

Recently, the newly appointed Minister of Culture has committed a series of violations of law and power abuses, intimidating the independence of this theatre by making some politically arbitrary decisions. He has dismissed The Board of The National Theatre of Kosovo, even though that board has a legitimate mandate. This decision was made after the board had positively evaluated my three years’ work as the Artistic Director in this Theatre. The Minister has also manipulated with the new board that he himself appointed. As a result, a totally unprofessional person – until recently, he was working in The Kosovo Prime Minister’s Office – has been appointed for the position of Artistic Director of The National Theatre of Kosovo.

This political interference weights down my efforts and those of the previous Board to aesthetically and conceptually reform this theatre, to open paths for cooperation with artists and international theatre companies, to liberate this theatre from schematic national plays, to alleviate it from primitive nationalistic mentality which continues to use the theatre as a medium for promotion of racism and induction of nationalism. Our concept, during the past three years, has brought more audience, about 150% more in comparison to previous years.

I would like to take the opportunity to invite You to react in order to exert pressure on those scandalous political actions, which have arrogated the creative and functional independence of The National Theatre of Kosovo.

I would kindly ask You to send Your reactions to those e-mails:

memli.Krasniqi@ks-gov.net / Minister of Culture

enver.hoxhaj@ks-gov.net / Minister of Foreign Affairs

hajredin.kuqi@ks-gov.net / Deputy Prime Minister of Kosovo

info_pmo@ks-gov.net / The Kosovo Prime Minister’s Office

grakur@gmail.com / Koha Ditore Newspaper

gjergj.filipaj@zeri.info / Zeri Newspaper

faton.raci@gazetaexpress.com  / Newspaper Express

jetonneziraj@gmail.com / Jeton Neziraj

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Comment by Kaite O'Reilly on September 13, 2011 at 8:37

POLITICS AND CULTURE (4)

The Minister says that he is devoted to cultural independence while in the meantime, even to buy toilet paper, TKK has to send a request to the Ministry. The Minister claims in the media how much a theatre performance should cost, while his Advisor issues orders on how many theatre performances the National Theatre should produce yearly. So, this is the ‘independent’ culture he’s been talking about. This is the ‘non-political culture’ that we have now. This is proof that the Minister’s tears for the National Theatre are crocodile’s!

Two years ago, when we refused to interrupt rehearsals—a request from the Office of the Prime Minister, when they wanted to hold a commemoration on National Theatres’ stage—Minister Krasniqi, who was then a spokesperson of the Government, displayed the power that Government has over theatre. When a local television asked him about the National Theatre’s refusal of the Government’s request, the Minister claimed, smiling: ‘I don’t believe those guys acted like that. That building is the property of the Kosovo government and the government can use it in whatever way it wants!’ That Government was the same as the current one. The present Minister of Culture was serving this government even back then. The state can turn the theatre into a hospital or an ammunition factory in times of disasters or wars. But, in times of peace, in times of democracy, such interference in a public cultural institution is symptomatic of something else; of the state’s devotion towards the degradation of culture. After this ‘incident’ we were again labeled as ‘anti-nationals,’ since we have aimed to sabotage a commemorative ceremony for a local hero of WWII. The truth was that we simply wanted to make theatre, good theatre, with the idea that this is the best way to honour our heroes and, above all, to honour the living, the reason theatre is made. As a result of political pressure, two years ago, the Managing Director of the National Theatre, Mr. Arian Krasniqi, submitted his resignation. Back then, similarly to the present, I appealed for politicians to give independence to the theatre. This has not happened. The control of politics over the theatre has now become even more threatening. 

 

(Now scroll down to ON RACISM AND NATIONALISM - I apologise for the fragmented reproduction of this letter)


Comment by Kaite O'Reilly on September 13, 2011 at 8:35

POLITICS AND CULTURE (3)

Minister Krasniqi has ‘created’ a sensational biography for the actual Director of TKK. While the “political director” of TKK states that he had staged two plays, the Minister, in his letter, says that he had staged “five plays” (apparently, he is calculating the ones that he will put on stage in the future!); while the “political director” of TKK is said to have written “two plays” (having in mind manuscripts), Minister Krasniqi says that he had written “four plays.” Moreover, he also attributes two academic publications to him (here also, he refers to manuscripts which perhaps he has written but still has in his drawers).

Why does Minister Krasniqi manufacture the biography of the “political director”? Can you see his tendency to present an unprofessional man as a professional one?! The Minister says that the “political director” is a university professor. And this is the sole truth in Minister’s interpretations. But the Minister forgets that this theatre professional lectures at the Department of Journalism of the University of Prishtina which is run by Minister’s father. What a coincidence! This political director is also a friend of the Advisor to Minister. The Minister tries to treat the previous position of this ‘political director,’ putting it mildly, by calling it a ‘civil’ position! Really marvelous! The Minister beautifies the biography of political director, but forgets to address my biography! How do those untruths serve the Minister? Naturally, they justify his scandalous political decision.

The Minister, somewhat intentionally, propagates the biographies of the new TKK board members as well (for one of the members he even claims that he was one of my professors – which is not true). He calls one member “the most renowned dramaturge in Kosovo” (but he forgets to mention that he is a friend of his Advisor); another, he calls an excellent producer (but he forgets to mention that the Minister’s sister has a role in the sitcom that this producer makes). And in this way, without getting into detail, I must say that some of the members of this new board are respected people, while others are strongly linked to the Minister or to his Advisor. And of course, in a small country, financially disturbed, and where the only financial source for arts and culture remains the Ministry of Culture, no doubt that lack of opportunity and disloyalty towards the Ministry present a challenge.

In his previous letter to the media, the Minister, in order to justify his scandalous actions, has attempted to present me as a member of a political group. Whereas now, he claims, with the arrival of the new ‘director from the Prime ministers cabinet,’ the national theatre will bring back the professionals, the experts and people of the community of arts and culture to which, according to him, the doors of the theatre were closed due to the politics. But the Minister doesn’t explain who these people are. The doors of the theatre, for the past three years, have been closed only to non-professionals, provincial artists and nationalist artists who have used nationalism as means for ‘promoting’ their rotten artistic values. 


Comment by Kaite O'Reilly on September 13, 2011 at 8:35

POLITIC AND CULTURE (2)

“Mulliqi said that the actual Board of TKK[1] is legitimate and as such, it has the right to hold meetings and make decisions” (Kosova sot – 22sn of June).

Was the mandate of that board due by 2nd of June or not? The Minister and his officials use this fact according to circumstances—in other words, as they like it. Whatever the circumstance, the dismissal of the Board of the Theatre is a violation of law. Moreover, there was no written decision for this dismissal. Those people were denigrated after making a voluntary contribution of several months in TKK. They learned the news of their separation from TKK’s Board from the media. That board was dismissed after positively evaluating my three-year work. It was dismissed because this was the only mechanism in order to shun the continuation of my three-year mandate. If, for the Minister, these are the actions to bring rule and law and to depoliticize cultural institutions, the board and I understood them as political interferences, violations of law and arbitrary acts. In the meantime, pressure and blackmail were used against the board in order to discontinue, indeed violate my contract, publicly and privately. This is how the Advisor to the Minister of Culture publicly violates Article 32 of the Law on Theatre (where it is explicitly stated that the Artistic Director has the right to another three-year mandate, which the Minister also confirms in his letters)  when he makes a statement for the daily newspaper Kosova sot:

 

“Mulliqi considers illegitimate the possibility for TKK’s Board, in tomorrow’s meeting, to make a decision to propose to the Minister of Culture to extend the contract of the actual director of TKK. “If the Board makes such a decision, it will be against the law, and I believe that this will not happen. It is not allowed to extend the contract”

In a language that I know, this is called menace; this statement is a tendency to manipulate and blackmail in order to a priori create the opinion regarding the ensuing decision.

In the meantime, this is how the leading Kosovo newspapers describe these arbitrary decisions of Minister Krasniqi regarding dismissals and appointments of new boards.

 

“The Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports, Memli Krasniqi, has violated two decisions of the institution he runs. His decision to appoint the TKK’s and Arts Gallery’s Board, signed on Friday afternoon, is illegal. The officials of Minister Krasniqi’s cabinet say that the mandate of those two boards terminated a month ago. Nevertheless, according to documents that the newspaper has provided, the mandate of TKK’s board is to terminate in 2013. The Arts Gallery’s mandate terminates in 2012. By now, the Director of Arts Gallery has initiated legal action. The Director of Film Centre of Kosovo has done the same thing” (Koha Ditore -17.07.2011).

“Recently, new members were appointed for the boards of cultural institutions, whose composition was criticized and considered as political.” (Zeri - 20-07-2011)

Here is another scandalous fact that demonstrates hostile manipulation by this Ministry. In Koha Ditore, in an article entitled “Ministry of Culture applies double standards in vacancies,” the editors say:

“The Law on Civil Servants states that in every vacancy there should be females and members of minority communities in order for the vacancy to be legitimate,” argued the Advisor Shasivar Haxhijaj, in regard to delay vacancy call for the Director of Arts Gallery of Kosovo. But he answered “I don’t know what to say,” when he was asked the reason why this law was not respected when the Artistic Director of TKK was appointed. ”I don’t know. I can’t say anything,” Haxhijaj repeated (Koha Ditore - 21.08.2011).

Here are two more examples that show Minister’s “dedication to d

Comment by Kaite O'Reilly on September 13, 2011 at 8:30

Apologies - I see that my first post here, reproducing Jeton's letter, was not fully copied. 

Here is the whole of the section titled Politics and culture again:

POLITICS AND CULTURE

In the beginning of his letter, the Minister explains his commitment to depoliticize culture. This is a nice idealistic claim to which we all should bow. However, it is overly idealistic and totally contrary to the existing reality. The Minister states, "my major political vision and objective ever since I have been appointed Minister in the Ministry for Culture, Youth and Sports (MCYS) some six months ago, was, and still is, to depoliticize the cultural institutions in Kosovo." Nevertheless, the fact is that upon his arrival, the board members of two major cultural institutions have been discharged, as well as four directors from the four cultural institutions. All the discharges of the board members and directors were illegal: Board members of the KNT and the board members of the Art Gallery were discharged, sabotaged and their contracts were arbitrarily terminated: The Director of the Centre of Kosovo Cinematography, Director of Culture (within MCYS), the Director of the Gallery of Arts and Artistic Director of NTK.

Let’s see it in order:

"Article 36 of this law states that" The Managing Board is elected for a term of three years. " However, Veton Firzi, the permanent secretary, his chief council may dismiss whenever he wishes. "It's the exclusive right of the Minister to elect the board whenever he wants. Tomorrow, after his inaugural meeting he can appoint another board of theatre," said Firzi." (Koha Ditore, 27.07.2011).

Read carefully the above answer provided by the Minister’s subordinate. Here, we can grasp the totalitarian logic this Minister and Ministry practice towards independent cultural institutions.

In his letter, the Minister Krasniqi suggests the decision of the former Minister was an "amendment" and "freshness" implies it was illegal, but Krasniqi forgets that the decision was made by a Minister of the Government of which, Minister Krasniqi was then the Spokesperson.  The previous decision of the Minister of Culture (dated 09.06.2010, which you can find via the link below to the newspaper Koha Ditore) gives the board the old term; but also (because two members had left), the Minister added four new members to increase the number to nine members. Now, if Minister Krasniqi considers that the term of the current board expired in June 2, 2011, then this holds true for only five board members, but not for four others who have joined the Board on 09/06/2010. This is because all Board members have individual mandates.

This is the newspaper’s link that also contains the Decision of the previous Minister: http://koha.net/?page=1%2C5%2C62831

And now, the most fantastic part of the Minister’s letter. He claims that the mandate of this board is due by 2nd of June, while he and his Ministry have complied with the decision of this very board up to 17th of July, 2011. According to this logic, it results that the Ministry has complied with the decision of an illegitimate board.

“At the meeting held on 23rd of June, the Directing Board of the National Theatre of Kosovo …” (Koha Ditore – 27th of June)

And if the mandate of that board is due, how comes that the Minister, in a newly established Board, nonetheless kept two of the previous members? How can this thing be understood? Below, you will discover why. The fact that the board had been legitimate (until the Minister, on a sunny day, decided to consider it illegitimate and dismiss it), is also be proved by this statement by the Advisor to the Minister in the daily newspaper Kosova sot.

“Mulliqi said that the actual Board of TKK

Comment by Kaite O'Reilly on September 13, 2011 at 8:24

Jeton's GOOD NEWS BAD - response to Minister of culture of the Republic of Kosovo (2)

ON RACISM AND NATIONALISM

Allow me now to delve deeper into the past. Three years ago, when we invited the well-respected, Roma director, Rahim Burham to direct a play in Prishtina, the father of the minister, (a writer, dramaturge, and an agitator of Islam) and the counselor to the incumbent minister, joined a campaign that gave most the impression of being racist. This campaign aimed at making fun of the fact that a Roma-director worked for “our" national theatre. The father of the minister first built up a media rage against the play, but then ended up sitting in the audience and seeing it! The racist campaign of this frustrated nationalist entity was only terminated after a strong resistance of the artistic community in Kosovo. A Kosovar scholar and a friend of the minister`s father, wrote among others in his article on the Tartuffo performance:

“This is a ‘genetic hash’ of the Balkans, a co-existence with mixed identities (or without them at all), which is offered as a cultural model and, obviously, also as a political model. In the Kosovo situation, this political circumstance suggests a multiethnic state, where, above all, the ‘multiculturalism’ of ‘perverted blood should prevail.’ Another message, seemingly cultural but again political, is the suggestion, not explicitly mentioned but obvious, that you, here in Kosovo, in your state of mixed, impure or perverted blood, or however you want to put it, you cannot produce national culture, you cannot have a national theatre, national plays and so on because your Ministry of Culture would be more generous towards the ‘Tartuffe’ of Vranje [a city in Serbia], with a Roma director, Turkish set designer, Macedonian costume designer, than it would ever be towards a national play at the National Theatre of Pristina…”

At the end of his article, the scholar Mehmet Kraja calls for state intervention in what he labels a ‘tragic accident’:

“…this performance, equivalent to a tragic accident (let’s say, of an airplane that crashes near the ground, because someone at the airport does not turn on the signal lights), should not pass without an analysis of our cultural policies on a state level and, as a logical and predictable consequence, an apportioning of responsibility for this cultural scandal with a clear political connotation. (Mehmet Kraja, Gazeta Express 19 December 2008)

 

The controversy surrounding the play of the Roma director Rahim Burhan in the National Theatre of Kosovo may not be the only case that exemplifies the harsh tendencies at work that cast KNT in the role of a “national” institution where only “national” plays may be shown.  Affected by myopia, these persons have continuously attacked our efforts to open up the theatre towards regional and international collaboration. Two years ago, when I objected to taking into our repertoire a valueless historic Albanian drama, I was accused of being “anti-nationalist,” as somebody who was “sold,” whereas the National Theater was labeled as “de-nationalized.” However, as I already mentioned in my previous letter, our insistence upon putting together a repertoire that reaches well beyond defamed nationalistic topics, beyond schematic dramas and dramaturgic clichés and stereotypes, has produced successful results. There has been a 150% surge in the audience and this especially among the younger population.

The trajectory of my dismissal from the position of the Artistic Director of the KNT can only be understood if we take into consideration my personal engagement in the last few years to promote regional and transcultural collaboration. The most recent case, which was called “the erroneous invitation,” may help to better understand what’s at stake here. Five months ago, the KNT was invited to perform a theatre play at Atelier 212 in Belgrade (in

Comment by Kaite O'Reilly on September 13, 2011 at 8:23

The debacle with National Theatre of Kosovo continues.. Many of us who had emailed the Minister of culture in Kosovo with concern for the political independence of the National Theatre there, received a letter refuting the claims. Jeton (former artistic director) promised he would respond to the Minister of culture's letter - and he has - and here it is. It is long, so I will embed it into several of these posts:

Response to the letter of the Minister of Culture, Memli Krasniqi

GOOD NEWS BAD

A few days ago, the Minister of Culture of the Republic of Kosovo, Mr. Memli Krasniqi, sent an answer to the addresses of all those who had launched protest letters after my letter, in which I had alarmed the theater community around the world about the arbitrary political interference in the National Theatre of Kosovo– KNT. I was very happy to read the extensive answer sent by the Minister. The reply comes after the powerful reactions of various artists and cultural organizations from all around the world, as well as after the reactions from the local media. Even though the Minister’s reply contains fabricated information and is wrapped with words that ‘sound just beautiful,’ it is still to be taken in consideration.

My letter consists of two parts. The first part consists of factual documents and refers directly to the inventions in the Minister’s answer. I apologize that this will be in a very 'technical' manner, including references, links from articles, newspapers and information that may be tedious, however, they explain the falsehoods stated by the Minister in his answer, and they also support my arguments, presented in the first letter. In second part of this letter, you will find a broader discussion of the terms "nationalism" and "racism," that I addressed in my first letter and an explanation of the context in which these terms are used.

Minister Krasniqi, in his answer attempted to present the ‘alarm’ from my letter as a "personal revenge," however, as I explain below, you will see that this issue relates to the basic principles of theater liberty and the freedom for creativity.  Additionally, I have to clarify to the Minister as well as to all those who are curious to know: This is not a 'battle' for "a job." For nearly three years, my monthly income for this specific job was 260 Euros (350 USD) while a teacher’s monthly salary that works in a Kosovar village is 300 Euros.

POLITICS AND CULTURE

In the beginning of his letter, the Minister explains his commitment to depoliticize culture. This is a nice idealistic claim to which we all should bow. However, it is overly idealistic and totally contrary to the existing reality. The Minister states, "my major political vision and objective ever since I have been appointed Minister in the Ministry for Culture, Youth and Sports (MCYS) some six months ago, was, and still is, to depoliticize the cultural institutions in Kosovo." Nevertheless, the fact is that upon his arrival, the board members of two major cultural institutions have been discharged, as well as four directors from the four cultural institutions. All the discharges of the board members and directors were illegal: Board members of the KNT and the board members of the Art Gallery were discharged, sabotaged and their contracts were arbitrarily terminated: The Director of the Centre of Kosovo Cinematography, Director of Culture (within MCYS), the Director of the Gallery of Arts and Artistic Director of NTK.

Let’s see it in order:

"Article 36 of this law states that" The Managing Board is elected for a term of three years. " However, Veton Firzi, the permanent secretary, his chief council may dismiss whenever he wishes. "It's the exclusive right of the Minister to elect the board whenever he wants. Tomorrow, after his inaugural meeting he can appoint another board of theatre," said Firzi." (Koha Ditore, 27.07.2011).

Read carefully

Comment by carmen medway-stephens on September 1, 2011 at 17:47
Thanks for sending this letter John,
Comment by Kaite O'Reilly on September 1, 2011 at 8:27

The plot further thickens... We at the Fence (an organisation of over 150 writers and gatekeepers across Europe) also have just received the same email from the Minister of Culture from Kosovo. We are all keen to have clarity and so anything from you, Jeton, will be appreciated. Meanwhile, I will copy your message, below, and send it out to the Fence.

Kaite x

 

 

 

 

Comment by Jeton Neziraj on August 31, 2011 at 21:20

Dear John, Abdul and Terry,

Thank you so much for all your great support. Our Minister today wrote back, and this is great. of course I am going to give him some good proves to his 'facts'. I just can not believe how easily he is giving his proves! The new Artistic Director himself declared in medias that he directed so far only two plays, but the Minister in here, writes as he directed 5 plays. This is of course a very small detail, as there are so many things like this in his letter. A good sign is that local Medias are supporting me very much. There is a group of local journalists, artists and intellectuals who are preparing an petition. So far, also the Director of the Kosovo Art Gallery, Director of the Kosovo Cinematographic Center and the Director of the Culture (Within Ministry of Culture) has been dismissed. Plus, boards of the National theater and of the Kosovo Art Gallery have been removed as well. But, will keep you updated. Plus, will send you my coments after his letter. I promise, my letter will be bit shorter than his! :)

Thanks a lot for your solidarity!

Jeton

Comment by Terry Victor on August 31, 2011 at 17:30
Sorry the posting is so long (methinks he doth protest too much?). I wasn't sure how else to get it out there. TVx

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