Play reveals a bitter truth to Belgrade

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The Independent Online
SERBIA MAY be stumbling towards a confused revolution. Meanwhile, much of the country still finds itself in a moral no-man's land, where otherwise decent people are encouraged to deny the undeniable.

Ethnic cleansing? Yes, but not when talking about Albanians - only when talking about Serbs driven from Kosovo. Burnt-out houses? Rape? Civilian killings? Ditto.

There are, however, some surviving corners where you can be heartened by the existence of another, painfully honest Serbia - one that is more truly patriotic than the Serbia that lives a lie.

One such refreshing oasis is to be found inside a courtyard in Bircaninova Street, an unexceptional street in central Belgrade. There is the Institute for the Decontamination of Culture, whose official goal is "to transform a social atmosphere that has been contaminated by orchestrated nationalism, hatred and destruction". In modern Serbia, there can be no more difficult task.

The institute's creator is the indomitable Borka Pavicevic, a mother- hen figure whose energy fills the building. Under her patronage, the institute has organised events ranging from an exhibition on life in besieged Sarajevo to a theatre production about the events of the past 10 years, Alzheimer.

Ms Pavicevic argues: "Serbs like to describe themselves as the Jews. From the beginning of the [Balkan] war, being a victim meant being right. This is the worst position. If I'm a victim, everything is allowed."

Under this roof, in a building known as the Veljkovic Pavilion, performances challenge and broaden the mind. The pavilion resembles a down-at-heel outsize squash court. Theatre here comes without frills.

The experience of the Third Reich is ever-present. The repertoire includes Eva Braun, a play about Hitler's mistress. Currently in rehearsal is a play based partly on correspondence between a German and a Jew after 1945. The working title is On Germany, but few can miss the implied lessons for Serbia.

Theatregoers in Britain will have a chance to see one of the institute's productions from Tuesday, when Kafka's The Trial is performed at the Gate Theatre, London. Sonja Vukicevic, who directs the dance drama and stars as a female Joseph K, wants her character to be seen as a hero. "He is an extraordinary character if he has survived the meltdown of society," she says.

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