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Theater Joins Kosovo Ethnic groups

April 3, 1998

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Serbs and Albanians live separate lives in Kosovo province, except in the world of make-believe.

Outside Kosovo’s National Theater, the conflict between the two groups over whether the province should become independent from Serbia leads to frequent bloodshed and fears of war.

Inside the theater building, Serbs and Albanians work together and share a common stage, equipment and love of art.

``Art lives, politics come and go,″ says Radosav Stojanovic, the Serb theater manager. ``Our theater is a great victory of art and common sense.″

About half the theater’s 100 employees are Serb, the other half Albanian. An equal number of Serb and Albanian-language dramas are produced each season. Posters and banners in two languages are plastered on the theater’s walls.

Such ethnic tolerance is rare in Kosovo, where Serbs and Albanians have lived separate lives even before last month’s crackdown by Serb police aimed at ethnic Albanian separatists who make up 90 percent of the province’s population. More than 80 people were killed.

When Serbia revoked Kosovo’s autonomy in 1989, Albanians walked out of government institutions to protest Serb domination, establishing parallel educational, health and cultural institutions.

Several ethnic Albanians left the theater. But most stayed, and more joined them later.

``It’s good work that counts and that kept us together,″ says Stojanovic.

Florja Krasnici, an Albanian make-up artist has worked here for 15 years, sharing her working space with a Serb, Jovanka Blaskovic.

``We have never had any problems,″ said Krasnici, working on an Albanian actress shortly before a dress rehearsal of an Albanian-language drama.

``Thank God it is so,″ added Blaskovic, working on another Albanian actress. ``It could be like this everywhere only if people would come to their senses.″

In a small room just down the corridor, Serb actors were rehearsing another play.

``We just want to work, no one even mentions politics while we are in here,″ said Igor Damjanovic. ``Here, art is important and we must keep the politics out.″

Still, some tensions from the outside seep in.

All Albanian-language dramas were canceled recently because of an audience boycott to protest the Serb police crackdown in early March.

When an Albanian-language play was staged last week, an Associated Press Television crew was banned from filming and some actors refused to talk to an AP reporter. They apparently feared repercussions in their own community from publicity that shows them working with Serbs.

Stojanovic says they had to postpone some planned visits to other towns in Kosovo because of the violence, along with a theater festival planned for Pristina, the capital.

Nonetheless, the theater is planning eight new premieres for the next season.

``Art must win against evil,″ says Stojanovic. ``It always did.″

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