When women’s bodies become weapons of war
Three performances of a challenging play examining the use of rape as a military tactic will be one of the highlights of the Bourask theatre festival in Brussels this coming weekend.
The Director, Zenel Laci, spent much of his youth serving chips at his family’s well-known Fritland fast-food restaurant next to the Bourse – already in those days a Brussels landmark. But it wasn’t what he wanted to do. From an early age Laci fell in love with literature and theatre, and finally got the opportunity to turn his dream into reality when – at the age of 30 – he started studies in scenography, dramatic art and production.
His parents were sceptical. Having fled Albania in 1952 during the repressive communist regime, they valued financial security in their adopted homeland. But Laci persevered. In the late 1990s, it was the brutal war in Kosovo that sparked his creative imagination. Horrified by the violence against civilians, and especially the systematic rape of women as a way of intimidating and destroying a population, he felt compelled to react.
“I have family in Kosovo, but I’m a pacifist, I wasn’t going to go and fight,” he explains. Instead, he started to research and came across the writing of Sevdije Ahmeti. As a human-rights activist in Kosovo throughout the war, Ahmeti kept an internet diary of the atrocities with the aim of alerting the world to what was going on. Her account was later published in French as ‘Journal d’une Femme du Kosovo’.
Together with writer Safet Kryemadhi, Laci wrote a play ‘Je ne suis pas une Arme de Guerre’ (I am not a weapon of war). The hour-long monologue tackles harrowing issues: rape, the disappearance of friends and the devastating loss of a child. Although prompted by the Balkan conflict, its message is universal. In wars around the world, women and girls are the targets of sexual violence.
As Laci points out, in many societies, rather than receiving help and support, ‘defiled’ women may be rejected by their own families. What can a rape victim hope for from the future? Love? Acceptance? A new start in life? The play, performed by Albanian actress Anila Dervishi with live music by guitarist Afrim Jahja, manages, despite everything, to end on a positive note.
After successful performances in Paris, at the Albanian National Theatre in Tirana, and in Kosovo itself, ‘Je ne suis pas une Arme de Guerre’ can now be seen by Belgian audiences at the Theatre Riches-Claires, rue des Riches Claires 24, Brussels 1000.
Thursday 28th of February to Saturday 2nd of March. More details here