Borderline

There’s a moving profile in the Washington Post today highlighting the decision that Synetic Theater has made to replace their originally scheduled fall production with a remount of HOST AND GUEST, which deals with issues of identity and nationalism within the Synetic folk’s homeland of Georgia–a part of the world very much in the news recently as tiny Georgia faced off against the still bigger and stronger and once again finding its military legs, Russia. 

The conflict is happening just a hop, skip and a jump away from the Balkans–a part of the world we’ve been spending a lot of time with here at Theater J as we prepare to start rehearsals for HONEY BROWN EYES, set in the early 90s during the conflict in Bosnia.

 

It’s a tricky part of the world to understand. Maps help.

 

 

See the tiny green country underneath Russia, connecting it to the Northeastern corner of Turkey? That’s Georgia. Our focus is on the former Yugoslavia, now the nations of: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. They are over to the west of Romania: the brown country, the one nested within the other in the two shades of green, and the small pea green one on top of Greece.

Something about maps makes it all seem much simpler. See that brown blob? There was a war there. And that green one? That’s where genocide took place. It’s much more benign when it’s just a colored blob.

My cousin works in International Development. Georgia is one of her key countries. I asked her to explain to me what was going on and she simplified it like this (my paraphrasing), “Basically there’s Georgia, a very small country with a lot of support from the US. There’s a smaller part of that small country populated by a group of people, some of whom would rather be Russian. They have a lot of support from Russia, which is kind of more helpful because they are right there and have been rebuilding their military. Georgia wants them to stay Georgian. Russia will help them to be Russian. Conflict ensues.”

That’s probably a gross simplification. But bear with me.

As I read more and more about the history of the Balkans, and now trying to decipher the identity-crisis’s of the former USSR, a few thoughts resonate.

1. Borders don’t necessarily determine identity. Tony Kinsella of the Irish Times writes,

“Our planet is scarred by hundreds of such lines. Internal administrative divisions, often haphazardly following minor rivers or even property boundaries, metamorphose into internationally-recognised borders as empires collapse. Few corners of the globe are quite as scarred as the Caucasus. Hittite, Greek, Persian, Roman, Byzantine, Mongol, Ottoman, Russian and other empires have washed backwards and forwards along the coasts and through the valleys of one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Peoples have been evicted, settled, migrated, become Christians or Muslims, adopted languages and alphabets (including the unique 33-letter Georgian one) in function of conditions over which they exercised precious little influence.”

As in Bosnia, these border distinctions have sometimes seemed to exist in spite of, rather than because of, the identities of the people living within the borders.

and 2. Identity doesn’t just go away.This is a big, interesting, messy idea that is present in much of our research about the Bosnian war. Certain political systems attempt to do away with ethnic and religious identities, namely the communist regimes in the former Yugoslavia (under President Tito) and of course the Communist regime in the former USSR. But what we have found with the dissolving of both of these systems is that the identities of the people within these lands never actually went away. They were always there, dormant, waiting to resurface.

To go one step further–we speak often in this country about the neutralizing of our own individual ethnic identities, and what that will mean decades from now. Specifically in the Jewish community, we consider what will happen as generations become more secular, what will be lost? Traditions? Language? Faith? It’s not only happening within the Jewish community. Second and third generations from many countries fear the loss of once strong ties to their respective homelands.

But this is not something that is forced upon us by a political system. After all, we’re in a land advocating now for the “multi-culti” rather than the “melting pot”. Still, we seem all the more willing to “melt”. Is this because our respective homelands are hemispheres away? As opposed to these parts of the world, where the land always remains the same as only the borders continue to shift and change?

Perhaps.

Anyway, no answers here, just a lot of thoughts to try to make sense of. I promise there will be more dramaturgical musings as HONEY BROWN EYES nears, and as many maps, definitions, and timelines as you all could possibly desire.