One hundred years ago, the First World War broke out. For the countries involved in it, nothing would be the same again. Ahead of a series of debates the British Council is running with the BBC, the first of which will be held in Sarajevo on 22 June, Nihad Kreševljaković, director of the Sarajevo War Theatre, explains why people in crisis regions risk their lives to go the theatre.
When did you join the Sarajevo War Theatre?
I joined at the end of 2012. The main reason I decided to apply was the theatre's fascinating history. It was founded on 17 May 1992, at the very beginning of the siege, and produced the first theatre premiere in the besieged Sarajevo. It was one of those institutions that, through affirming art and beauty, fought against the destruction of Sarajevo.
It must have been dangerous to attend the theatre during the war. Why did the citizens of Sarajevo risk it?
What happened in Sarajevo during the siege was a phenomenon in the world of art - a 'cultural resistance'. The fact that the city's cultural life during the siege remained so intense, vividly shows that arts and culture are basic human needs, along with water, food and air.
All of the new performances, exhibitions, film screenings and concerts that went on during the siege were highly attended. In fact, more people used to come to the theatre back then than they do today. Back then, theatre was a reflection of a purely human need. You did not go to the theatre to be seen, but because you needed to escape from reality. The arts could offer a way to do that. During the war, if you decided to go to the theatre, you knew that decision could be the last one you ever made.
As far as I know, ours is the only theatre founded in conditions of war, or under siege. I think that our example might be unique in the world. It certainly is in Europe. That legacy means we are able to deal with radical experiences, the culture of memory and the attitude towards the past. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in the Balkans after the war, theatres and artists were the first to start a dialogue and exchange experiences. They significantly contributed to relations stabilising between citizens of the former Yugoslav states.
What does the first World War mean today?
For me personally, since I graduated with a history degree, the First World War was really the beginning of a drama which is not over yet -- especially if we talk about the part of Europe where Bosnia is. The previous century began and ended in Sarajevo; hundreds of thousands of people perished as a result. Bosnians fought for an idea of Europe, but the battle for that idea has been unfortunately lost. In the ideal Europe that we fought for, diversity would be much more appreciated than it is in Europe we have today.
Nationalism and the First World War is the first in a series of events about the legacy and relevance of the First World War today. It will be broadcast from the Sarajevo War Theatre on the BBC World Service on 22 June to mark the centenary of Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination [Ticket link no longer available].
Bookmark the British Council's pages about the World War One centenary for more events around the world.