Moliere's theatre rocked by censorship row

5th May 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 4, 2006 (AFP) - France's best known theatre company, the Comédie Française, once home to Molière, was Thursday embroiled in a row after scrapping a play by Austrian writer Peter Handke who attended the funeral of war crimes suspect Slobodan Milosevic.

PARIS, May 4, 2006 (AFP) - France's best known theatre company, the Comédie Française, once home to Molière, was Thursday embroiled in a row after scrapping a play by Austrian writer Peter Handke who attended the funeral of war crimes suspect Slobodan Milosevic.

Handke said he was "disgusted" with the decision by company administrator Marcel Bozonnet to pull the play, while Bozonnet shot back that he been scandalised by the playwright's eulogy at Milosevic's graveside.

"For my soul and my conscience it was impossible to welcome this person into my theatre," Bozonnet told a press conference, adding that to host someone's work in the theatre was "an act of recognition, of love."

"For three weeks ... I have been plunged back into the horror of ethnic cleansing," Bozonnet said as he confirmed that Handke's 'Voyage to the Sonorous Land or the Art of Asking' would not be staged as planned in January.

Bozonnet took the decision after reading reports about Milosevic's funeral in Serbia on March 18 at which Handke, 63, gave a eulogy saying he was "happy to be beside Slobodan Milosevic, a man who defended his people."

Milosevic died on March 11 in The Hague, where he had been on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for four years.

The former Yugoslav strongman had faced 66 counts, including genocide over the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, for crimes allegedly committed during the 1990s wars which tore Yugoslavia.

But Handke, known for his staunch pro-Serb views, denied he was an apologist for crimes committed by the Milosevic regime.

"The so-called world knows everything about Slobodan Milosevic. The so-called world knows the truth .. but I don't know the truth," he told Friday's edition of the daily Le Monde.

"But I watch. I feel. I remember. I question," he said.

"I have never been a revisionist," Handke told Le Monde. "Why don't people just open ... my works instead of accusing me? I wrote about the Serbs, because no-one was writing about them, even if I also think about the Croat and Muslim victims."

The decision to withdraw the play from the programme of France's most important state theatre has rocked the cultural world, with Austrian Nobel prize-winning author Elfriede Jelinek slamming the move.

"By not putting on his play, the Comédie Française, with its rich past, is following in the worst tradition of cultural institutions under dictatorships, who throw out artists who cause trouble and condemn them to silence," she said in a statement.

Bozonnet, who has held the post since 2001 and is hoping to win a second and final term as theatre administrator, denied his decision amounted to censorship and said Jelinek had "fallen on her head."

"This is not censorship. It is one theatre director who has decided not to put on a play, but all the others can stage it. He (Handke) is allowed a lot of freedom, so give me some too," he added.

French Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres implicitly distanced himself from the decision in a letter to Bozonnet on Wednesday, in which he wrote that the play "poses universal, contemporary questions ... which in these troubled times might have been useful to show to the public."

Donnedieu de Vabres is set to meet with Handke and his translator and director Bruno Bayen on Sunday.

Bayen told Le Monde that the Comédie Française decision could set a precedent. "What if other theatre directors decide not to put on plays by Peter Handke, perhaps without giving any reason, or saying it stems from moral integrity and the courage to ban something", Bayen said.

"Is that really the way to honour the victims of Milosevic's regime?" he asked.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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