The National Theatre of Kosovo in Crisis

by Karen Malpede

in Global Connections

(Ed. Note: Soon after posting Karen Malpede’s essay on her Global Connections project, Another Life on the Road, she received word that her collaborators in Kosovo were in crisis. What follows is more information from Karen regarding the political pressures on the National Theatre of Kosovo, and a letter from their Artistic Director, Jeton Neziraj.)
-August Schulenburg

After writing my essay Another Life on the Road, I was alerted that that my collaborator Jeton Neziraj’s job at Artistic Director of the National Theater of Kosovo is set to be terminated, and with it the artistic freedom of the theater he has created will be curtailed. Jeton is a cosmopolitan artist above and beyond petty nationalistic politics and he is attempting to create a truly free theater in Kosovo. In my experience, he has done so. I am enormously disheartened to learn that he and the theater are being threatened. I am copying below Jeton’s email and the letter I have written in response.
–Karen Malpede

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: / Minister of Culture / Minister of Foreign Affairs / Deputy Prime Minister of Kosovo / The Kosovo Prime Minister’s Office / Koha Ditore Newspaper / Zeri Newspaper / Newspaper Express / Jeton Neziraj

Thank You,

Jeton Neziraj
+377 44 186 393

To whom it may concern,

I recently had the great pleasure of working at the National Theater of Kosovo under the artistic direction of Jeton Neziraj, a major artist and a fantastic friend of artists world-wide. I was in Kosovo on a grant from Theatre Communications Group and the Mellon Foundation. The experience at the National Theater was first-rate by any standard. All our artistic needs were accommodated. We worked with wonderful actors whom Jeton had assembled. We worked under conditions of utmost respect for artists and for artistic freedom. In fact, I was surprised and enormously impressed by the leadership of the National Theater. I found it free of partisan politics, open to the ideas of world-class artists and able to attract wide audiences. I am enormously disheartened to learn that this freedom might be threatened, that politics might over-come true freedom of expression. It feels to me very important that Kosovo set a standard for freedom of expression and first-rate artistic accomplishment. It feels very important that Kovoso honor the freedom it, with the help of my country, fought for and won.

It is soon my privilege to welcome Jeton Neziraj to theUnited States as part of a 9/11 Performance Project. In the U.S., he will take his place alongside American artists who represent the highest standards of free expression and I know that he will receive the recognition his fine work deserves.

I hope his leadership of the National Theater will continue and that in his own country his visionary policies and his ability to attract world-class artists will continue to be honored.

I hope that the National Theater continues to be a beacon of freedom and free expression.


Prof. Karen Malpede

  • Seth Baumrin

    The whole world’s watching,
    Though political corruption may often be taken for granted internationally, when it infects the theatre, we theatre artists, a nation unto ourselves cannot stand idly by and allow it to contaminate our people and sacred places. If our nation were a democracy, its Thomas Jefferson would be the playwright Jeton Neziraj, Artistic Director of the National Theatre of Kosovo.
    Kosovo’s Ministry of Culture has attacked its own National Theatre by ousting its artistic director and the Theatre’s entire board and replacing this administration with the Minister of Culture’s friends, whose artistic pedigrees are fully insufficient to the task of running a theatre of any kind. This act offends the entire profession. Such inane impulsivity in the name of nationalist and ethnic self-interest cannot be tolerated.
    Neziraj’s fairness, openness to the art of the world, kindness to others of every ethnicity, race, and religion is evident in the way he has administered the National Theatre of Kosovo from the moment he assumed leadership. In November 2009, at the National Theatre of Kosovo’s First Annual International Theatre Festival, Neziraj opened the doors to this urban outpost of modern drama and performance to artists ranging from neighbors in Serbia, Slovenia, and Croatia to distant cousins in the USA, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom, and ever since Neziraj and the National Theatre of Kosovo has always welcomed the theatre of those who work in regions of War such as Sudan, Kurdistan, Northwest India, and Sri Lanka. Neziraj treats all his colleagues and guest artists as his equals, even though it has been apparent to me in my three visits to Prishtina to work at the NTK, that Neziraj is a cut above the typical theatre manager.
    Prishtina is no microscopic speck on the map of global culture, nor is the corruption that threatens Neziraj and his tenure at NTK a blip on any screen – for this theatre has been the island of artistic tranquility for all who enter – an island whose serenity stands in stark contrast to the history and edifices of recent war that still loom along Mother Teresa Boulevard in Prishtina.
    I urge the Ministry of Culture in Kosovo to immediately stop playing with The National Theatre of Kosovo as though it were a national plaything, and treat all Kosovars and all guests with the dignity with which Neziraj treats all artists and all who visit Prishtina.
    Kosovo’s Ministry of Culture’s crime against culture is a glaring affront to all artists. Truly the whole world is watching.
    Please see Ariel Dorfman’s letter below my signature. Decide for yourselves whether we should wait and see what happens or speak out now. You can reach the Ministry, National administration, and Kosovo press directly at: / Minister of Culture / Minister of Foreign Affairs / Deputy Prime Minister of Kosovo / The Kosovo Prime Minister’s Office Koha Ditore Newspaper / Zeri Newspaper / Newspaper Express
    all my best

    Seth Baumrin, PhD
    Associate Professor, Chair
    Communication and Theatre Arts
    John Jay College of Criminal Justice
    899 Tenth Avenue 336-13
    New York, NY 10019

    Ariel Dorfman says:

    “For many artists and citizens around the world, the tragedy and cause of Kosovo was of great concern and, for my part, I welcomed the possibility of the people of that land to express themselves and their identity freely. Now I hear of intimidation and bullying and the promotion of racial and narrow ethnic and nationalistic policies at the National Theatre of Kosovo through the intervention of recently appointed Minister of Culture. This threat to the independence of such an important theatrical institution should not be taken lightly. For a country like Kosovo, the theatre is undoubtedly one of the arts that most needs to be able to tell stories – just like the people of Kosovo – without fear – also like the people of Kosovo. Indeed, the freedom that should be represented on the stage of the National Theatre is symbolic of the freedom that all those who live and create in Kosovo deserve. I beg the authorities to allow this freedom to flourish without applying petty politics. As someone who has had his work staged in Kosovo, I feel that I am part of your culture as well, and hope that this crisis can be resolved with generosity and without damaging the good name of Kosovo.”

    Ariel Dorfman