“Probably my worst nightmare is ending up here.” Says Filip. He extends his arms to showcase the town of Srebrenica, a Bosnian settlement close to the Serbian border. His point is hard to argue with, the city was infamously the site of a massacre twenty years ago, but the town makes it look like it happened yesterday. Destroyed buildings, rubble and overgrown streets dominate Srebrenica. It gives off an almost post-apocalyptic feel. Filip knows a thing or two about Srebrenica, he’s a native. We were supposed to meet in Belgrade, Serbia, but complications moved us here. It was probably for the better anyway, this place suits the purposes of the project better.
We are here because of one man, David Glass. David is, to say the least, a genius. Anyone who has met him will tell you that. He’s a playwright and theatre practitioner, commonly creating works based on what he calls “Fringe Theatre”. He studied under famed theatre practitioner Jacques LeCoq in Paris. Although he legally resides in London, he spends most of the year abroad working on theatre projects like the one we’re embarking on. Unlike many other great thinkers, he does not remove himself from his work, seemingly always keeping the same persona of an out-there (David would use the word “crazy”) artist. This, needless to say, does not always mesh well with people. He once gave his University class an extra credit assignment, right after it emerged that Nestle had operated their production under ‘sub-par’ conditions. The story goes that David walked into his class and said,
“Do you want some extra credit?” The class responded in agreement.
“Alright then, what I want you to do is find the CEO of Nestle, and kill him.” The class was perplexed. “And don’t just kill him, take out his family too, his wife and children, kill them all.” The class started to look somewhat disturbed. “The wife and kids you can kill quickly, but the CEO, you have to make him suffer. Stretch out his death over several days. And record the whole ordeal and post it on the internet, as a warning to the other CEOs out there.”
The next day David was brought into his department head’s office, and was asked whether or not he incited his class to commit an assassination.
The play David is producing now is titled ‘the AB Project’. Taken at its most basic form, it tells the story of a tragedy and how people come to understand it. However, it goes so much deeper than that. The project is not so much about the story told, but how it affects those involved with it.
The premise behind the AB Project is to bring together groups of people aged 17-25 (the “disaffected” as David calls them) to perform the play. From there, they will build connections with each other and other performers – as David intends to open the AB Project across the world. This, in turn, will link together various creative minds and help raise them above their current living statuses, so that they may be removed from the political polarization that currently plagues the world (a central theme of the AB Project).
David eventually chose to plan the AB Project in Srebrenica as Srebrenica truly allowed the creators to envision what themes they were looking for, what they intend to do with the project. It was the ideal petri dish.
In 1991, the Cold War was finally ending. Germany had been reunited, and the Soviet Union was about to dissolve. Things looked cheery in Europe. However, where one ideology left, another took its place. Fierce nationalism arose in many Communist nations (isolation mixed in with a fear of anarchy led to a want for strong national leaders). Where this sudden change was most brutal would probably be Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia was a relatively young nation, not even being a hundred years old. Borne of the fires of the First World War, itself borne of nationalism, it was a pan-Slavic state – Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Bosnians and more coexisted peacefully in a celebration of Slavic unity. However, all good things must end. As Communism began to weaken, many in the former Yugoslavia (mostly Slovenes and Croats) petitioned the Serbian leader, Slobodan Miloševic, to democratize the nation, at least partially. Miloševic, who had pursued more centralist policies, eventually allowed multiple parties to run for election in the various republics in Yugoslavia. Miloševic’s party only won in his home of Serbia, with nationalist parties taking over in all other republics. One by one these republics declared independence. This remained controversial, as several (most notably Bosnia-Herzegovina) had substantial Serb minority populations. These divisions eventually led to wars and, in the worst cases, ethnic cleansings.
During the war, Srebrenica fell under the occupation of Republika Srpska (what would eventually become an administrative division of Bosnia-Herzegovina), a Serb loyalist power in the region. Srebrenica was mostly Muslim Bosniak, in contrast to Srpska’s Orthodox Serbs. In 1993, Srebrenica was deemed a ‘safe area’ by the UN Security Council. Later, in 1995, a UN organized peacekeeping group consisting of over 12,000 British, French and Dutch troops – were tasked with maintaining peace and order in the general region. The Dutch troops in particular were tasked with protecting Srebrenica itself. On 4 June 1995, Serb forces began advancing towards Srebrenica, taking out many Dutch outposts. The Dutch troops retreated, leaving the town of Srebrenica undefended. The Serb forces proceeded to execute over 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, whilst displacing 25-30,000 Muslim women and children. Mass rape and murder plagued the town, with the genocide occurring over just three days (11-13 July 1995).
Just recently, on March 24th, a general involved in the genocide, Radovan Karadzic, was convicted on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, the gravest convictions against a European since the Nuremberg trials. His superior, Ratko Mladic, still awaits sentencing.
Srebrenica still bears the scars of the atrocities of twenty years ago. Today it’s population is estimated to be around 5-6,000, a far cry from the estimated 37,000 in 1991. The roads are riddled with potholes and there seems to be no young people whatsoever. David asked Filip, a member of the devising group David had brought to envision the AB Project (and de facto regional commander of the Project), whether or not crime was a problem in Srebrenica.
“No. Not here.” Began Filip, “You probably have some people growing Marijuana or something, but no serious crime.” David asked why, to which Filip answered bluntly, “There’s no money to be made here. There’s no point in crime.”
“There’s no money to be made here. There’s no point in crime.”
Bosnia-Herzegovina has, according to the Worldbank, the second highest youth unemployment in the world, 57.5% as of 2014 (beaten only by Spain, at 57.9%). This was made patently obvious when I arrived in Sarajevo, on my way to Srebrenica. Young people littered the streets, each one filled with a look of boredom and depression in their eyes. If the happiness of a Thatcher-era mining town in the North of England had bone cancer, it would resemble Bosnia.
David had invited me to visit because of the AB Project. He wanted me to come and help him, acting as both his scribe, dinner buddy and occasional donor of ideas. But, what with his being artist, he forgot to tell me this. I entered into the Soviet resembling airport in Sarajevo essentially with no clue about what to do from there. Thankfully, David was with me on this one. While passing through Sarajevo we managed to find a taxi driver willing to circumvent several minor laws and take us to our hotel in Srebrenica.
Srebrenica is, perhaps, the saddest city on Earth. Many of its homes are in a permanent state of construction, with the brickwork of the buildings visible and the windows lacking glass. We were original supposed to meet the other members of the project at the Youth centre, but that was cancelled due to the only person running the Youth centre being out on maternity leave, effectively closing it until she comes back.
The day we met up to discuss the project, I spotted a heavily pregnant stray dog working its way up the street, with what appeared to be the bottom half of a raccoon carcass in it’s mouth (or some such rodent).
David introduced me to his de facto project organizer, Filip. There was some difficulty in finding him, at first. David had said Filip was about my height, in reality he is about six and a half feet (2m) tall.
David introduced me to the other members of the Project, the other creators. One of the themes of The AB Project is lack of opportunities for youth in Europe and around the world, and he couldn’t have picked a better group to understand this. Talking with them, I realized just how little opportunity they had. Artists in a region where most are struggling just to survive.
There is a stereotype of young Bosnians leaving the country (mostly in the direction of Germany) in search of a better life. The creators tell me that this stereotype is more true than most. I think about how the AB Project will affect people like them, lifting them out of their homes where they have no opportunity, allowing them to become pioneers in a grand new artistic world.
“[It seems as if] everyone, deep in their hearts, is waiting for the end of the world to come” – Haruki Murakami
We did our work far faster than expected, managing to finish early. David and I had dinner at our hotel. These dinners are the highlights of the day, not just because of the food – Bosnian food is almost entirely local and organic (mostly due to a lack of food trade and refrigeration), and incredibly delicious. David is a scintillating dinner partner. He tells me another one of his stories, about a prank he pulled in Singapore. He was alone in the city and had nothing to do, so he walked on over to the unemployment offices, searching for a job. The civil servant greeted him and asked what his profession was. He responded,
“Oh, I’m a Hunter-Gatherer.” The man looked at David perplexed, and asked for verification.
“Oh, you see I both hunt and forage fruits for sustenance. It’s one of the oldest professions on Earth. Not many now, but there are still pockets of us all around the world. Millions, in fact.” The unemployment officer thanked David, and promptly typed into his computer ‘Hunter-Gatherer’. He informed David that there were no openings, and that he should come by soon to see if anything pops up.
The next day was the last one of planning the Project. After finishing off the finer details of the Project, we all got to say our goodbyes. David, Nina (one of the creators) and I took a taxi to the bus station we needed to get to. While getting in, I tried to put on my seatbelt, only to realize there was no place to put it. Nina, who was sitting by me, said with a killer deadpan “No need. We do not care for safety here.”. The way she said it so matter-of-factly made me wonder whether or not she was intending to make a joke, or giving me a warning.
While exiting Srebrenica, on the bus, my thoughts went many places. I thought of the creators, of their lives, their opportunities, and what this Project means for them. I then thought of the pregnant dog with the carcass in its mouth. Its nipples sagging to the ground, not her first litter. Her struggle, not just to feed herself, but six or seven puppies. Her hard work, yet how does the world view her? As just another stray. How similar to the youth involved in the Project. How similar to the people of Bosnia.
Sources include The Guardian, The Economist Newspaper, BBC, and the New York Times
The AB Project will be opening in Geneva in 2017. Contact the author at email@example.com to learn more.
You can learn more about David Glass and his ensemble by visiting his website by clicking here.