May we kill for our ideals? If not, what are we going to do if we have to?

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EXODUS is a joint theatre production of artists from Germany, Poland, France, Italy, Spain, Austria, Portugal and Malta and is dedicated to the foundation of a veritable European Theatre: The seven participating theatre companies from all over Europe aim to create a regular schedule under the umbrella of a common corporate identity. EXODUS is the initiative?s showcase. The international production team will be blogging on the development of the initiative on a weekly basis.
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By Björn Potulski

The basic concept of EXODUS is to find in Europe seven ?real people? whose biography includes a form of ?Exodus?; a term which implies migration, the frequently quoted ?clash of civilizations? and inter-religious and political conflicts. In confidential interviews, our cast shall divulge their stories involving war and the suffering it brings about, being a refugee, suppressing others or being suppressed themselves for religious, political or cultural reasons and so forth. We ask for their ?Promised Land? and what they did to attain it and if they failed, why? This work will result in the seven storylines the show shall be consisting of. These autobiographical accounts will be presented on stage by those who have experienced them:

?In 1999 I was working in Slovenia when I saw on TV that the war had started. I called my family, told them I felt that I should be fighting for my home. They agree.?

My own journey to Kosovo takes place nine years later, on February 15th, 2008. The plane from Vienna is packed with journalists and cameramen; it is a miracle how they all manage to stow their equipment in the overhead bins. Independence is expected to be declared by Kosovo in the following days. Seeing as our theatre production is asking for Promised Lands, the former Serbian province offers a fascinating subject matter. It is my mission to find in Kosovo a new member for the EXODUS-cast. The UÇK: the ?Kosovo Liberation Army? comes to mind. The Hague Tribunal officially considers UÇK a ?criminal organisation? whereas the Albanians in Kosovo regard them as heroes for their people. I also think of the Serbs in Kosovo living in enclaves that have to be protected by UN-troupes. The Serbian massacres committed against the Albanian population in 1999 led to the intervention of NATO. The subsequent allies? air strikes on targets in Serbia caused a great deal of inner conflict in Europe, which many Europeans, myself included, remember very vividly.

Two Albanians are picking me up at Pristina airport

Pristina, February 17, 2008

?As soon as possible I take a flight back to Albania. I meet with my comrades near the frontier to Kosovo to be armed. The following night, we cross the border. Each of us is carrying at least 35kg: a machine gun, ammunition, grenades…?

On the way from the airport the ragged beauty of the landscape impresses me: greenish hills and snow-white mountains, rising three thousand metres above sea level silhouette the horizon. I recognise these images; I have seen them many times on TV. Along the streets I see countless flags, all displaying a black, two-headed eagle emblazoned on a red background: the national flag of Albania. The red background signifies blood, my Albanian guides tell me.

?During a 28-hour march, carrying a burden of 35kg, we never stop or leave the forest. If the Serbian troupes found us, it would be over. They were much better equipped and their soldiers greatly outnumbered us. But we knew the territory like the back of our hands. This is our home.?

February 16: I ask my guides to take me to Mitrovica, a divided city in the north of Kosovo. On the south side of the river, the Albanian population lives, while the Serbs have their houses in the northern part. French KFOR-troupes try to keep them apart. I want to see the famous bridge.

?But you don?t want to go on the other side, do you?? my Albanian friends ask warily. Of course I want to, I reply. They say they would never join me as in doing so they would be putting their lives at risk.

On the way to Mitrovica, my Albanian guides direct my attention to a number of terraced houses along the street. The houses look idyllic. ?The Slovenian Village? they say. Upon enquiring the origins of the term they reply, ?During the war in Croatia and Slovenia, Serbian refugees who had lost their houses and families came here.? They explain: ?The refugees were given these places to stay. When in 1998 the Kosovo war started, the Serbian refugees returned.? All right, I think, ?they returned?.

?We arrive at a place near my home village. Around thirty members of my family live there. Our order is to offload the weapons at this place. We had been successful. The Serbs had not caught us…?

Björn and Imer Deliu, Kosovo, February 2008

Mitrovica: My Albanian friends depart for a short while. I have a discussion with the soldiers guarding the bridge, aiming to convince them to let me pass. They see my German passport so they let me go. I slowly walk towards the Serbian side. A cold iron hand grips my heart ? walking through a divided city, in the midst of Europe. Serbian flags everywhere. Defiance. Hurt pride. I sense that I am being looked at furiously ? most probably I am mistaken, it is only the despondent ambience. I think of German fighter planes dropping bombs on Serbia.

?Serbian troupes are approaching! They are much greater in number than we are. Our commander gives the order to leave the place as quickly as possible. If the Serbs associated our presence with the village and its inhabitants, they might take revenge.?

On the way back from Mitrovica, my guides suggest stopping at a small village where they have family and friends. They want me to meet someone who fought with UÇK right from the beginning of the war. He lost 24 members of his family in a massacre. In the solitary heated room we sit on the floor around an oven. Some seven men and boys are present. They are shocked to learn that I had just returned from the Serbian side of Mitrovica. ?Did you have problems?? one of them asks. Not at all, I reply. ?That?s because you are German and they are afraid of your Tornado-fighter planes?, he says. Some of the others laugh. I don?t.

The UÇK-veteran arrives. A man in his fifties, clearly highly-respected: all the others stand up immediately when he enters the room and approach him to shake hands. I am impressed by his dignity. He speaks carefully, in a resolute manner, and is incredibly polite. He tells me his story. Before long, I am certain: This is our man. I ask, whether he would like to come to Malta to join the cast of EXODUS. He agrees. We fix an appointment for the next day to have an exhaustive interview.

?From a distance, we observe the Serbs? approach. They enter the village. From the sounds we hear it is obvious that something terrible is going on. We stay hidden. We observe. We were powerless, unable to do anything to stop them.?

February 17: At 3pm, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, before parliament, declares the independence of the new Democratic and Multiethnic Republic of Kosovo. In his speech, he also addresses the Serbian minority in Kosovo in the Serbian language. At a hotel lobby in Pristina which is packed with Albanians and journalists, I watch the ceremony live on TV: Each Member of Parliament is being addressed individually to sign the declaration of independence. The Serbian MEP?s are absent. The streets are packed with thousands of people, waving thousands of flags: the Albanian flag, the Stars and Stripes, the German and Italian Tricolours. It is the most touching scene I have ever witnessed.

?In the early morning ? whilst dawn was still dim and foggy ? it was decided that we should send someone to the village to check what had taken place. I was chosen to go. I was extremely careful not to cause any noise, not to be seen. When I arrived at the village I could see that there were no Serbs around. With a growing sense of dread I search for my family. But there were no sounds at all??

The next day: On the way to the interview with the UÇK-veteran, my Albanian guides stop the car in the midst of nowhere. They take me to an improvised cemetery next to the road. Twenty-four grave stones, marking the resting ground for members of a village, all killed on the same day. The eldest was 94 years old, the youngest a mere 3 months. An hour later I ask our future actor how long in his opinion it will take, until Serbs and Albanians will the able to coexist in Kosovo peacefully as neighbours. ?Soon?, he replies; ?I hope it will be soon?.

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Björn Potulski was born in Munich in 1976. As the initiative?s artistic director, Björn is coordinating efforts to form a veritable European Theatre and to produce EXODUS. Björn studied Drama, Literature and Political Science at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich. In 1997 he founded Munich based Theater Sündenfall. Since 2006, the company is consisting of a Franco German team that is regularly performing on an international level. Björn?s international experience includes the organisation of various guest performances amongst others in Washington, D.C., Boston, New York, Vienna, Budapest and Paris.

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