Former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, considered the main architect of a decade of bloody wars in the Balkans, is not the first person who comes to mind when thinking about subjects for a possible musical.
And it may not even be a full musical, but a drama that mixes theatrical forms. Its author describes it as “a documentary drama with singing.”
Belgrade playwright Jelena Bogavac says the aim of “Lift: The Slobodan Show” is not to deliver historic truths about Milosevic — the man who drove Serbia into international isolation and died while on trial for genocide at a U.N. war crimes court — but to tackle an important period in Serbia’s history.
She says the project deals with Milosevic’s era in power as well as the lives of ordinary people in the former Serbian province of Kosovo, where he waged a bloody crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists in 1998-99. It will combine historic events, personal moments between Milosevic and his wife Mirjana Markovic and real-life stories of the actors, most of who come from Kosovo.
“By speaking about Sloba and Mira, we sought to frame up a problem of all our generations, being born, growing up and growing old as a result of the 1990s,” Bogavac told The Associated Press.
Though still in its early stages, the project already has stirred public interest in Serbia, where people remain divided over Milosevic’s historic role and where his ex-allies have returned to power. It will be directed by Nenad Todorovic, a Serb from Kosovo.
Set to open in the Kosovo Serb town of Gracanica in March, the play is likely also to raise controversy there. Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence and ethnic tensions there still persist. More than 10,000 people died in Kosovo during the conflict, mostly ethnic Albanians.
Apart from the warmongering, Milosevic’s rule in Serbia in the 1990s also brought sharp economic decline, international sanctions and a crackdown against political opponents.
Bogavac says she wanted to contrast the “authoritarianism” of Serbia’s political scene at the time with the couple’s “melodramatic” love for one another.
“The turn of a drama into, not satire but a political tragedy, is what is so interesting here theatrically,” she said.
The tale of Milosevic and his wife is seen through both historic situations and private conversations. While focused on the late 1990s during the bloodshed in Kosovo, the play also relates to the period after Milosevic’s ouster in a popular revolution in 2000 and his subsequent U.N. war crimes trial, where Milosevic died of a heart attack in 2006. It does not deal with Serbia’s wars under Milosevic in Croatia and in Bosnia, where over 100,000 people were killed in years of fighting in the early 1990s.
With weeks of rehearsals ahead, the cast ran through the script Friday in a Belgrade cafe, including a scene in which Milosevic realizes he is going to be arrested in 2001.
Actor Dejan Cicmilovic said the audience shouldn’t expect him to copy Milosevic’s looks or voice but rather his character.
“Playing historic individuals carries a lot of responsibility,” he said.
Ivana Kovacevic, who plays Milosevic’s wife, fled her home in Kosovo’s capital of Pristina in 1999, when NATO bombed Serbia to end the bloodshed in Kosovo.
“The text seems tragi-comical, but there is so much more underneath,” Kovacevic said. “The period of the 1990s that we are playing is full of emotions, unfortunately many more bad ones than good ones … that period left me without my home, my friends and many of my dreams.”