Biennale curator Natasha Ilic expressed her regrets for the removal of Albert Heta's art work

Podgorica - Natasha Ilic , curator of the fifth Cetinje Biennale, said today that she is sorry because of removal of the installation of Albanian artist Albert Heta from the building of ex-Serbian embassy.

Ilic told Beta news agency that the organizers of Biennale - National Museum of Montenegro and Prince Nikola Petrovic , were not acquainted with all the art works exposed at the Biennale, which was the her authority and of the other curator, a well known European art critic Rene Block.

She said that she did not know about Prince Nikola's apologizing to the Montenegrins, which followed after several harsh reactions regarding the installation, and said that everyone is entitled to have its own opinion.

The installation was removed yesterday, and the director of National Museum , Petar Cukovic in a statement for newspaper 'Vijesti' accused the Albanian artist for removing the notice from the building of ex-Serbian embassy that this was an art work, and thus abusing the institution of Biennale.

Ilic rejected the accusations of Cukovic that the instalation had a political connotation, except 'the politics in the space of art', adding that although the issue has to do with very sensitive questions, an artist has the right to deal with them.

'Biennale is being organized in three cities of three different states: Tirana, Cetinje, Dubrovnik , and it doesn't have to do only with the geographical closeness of these cities but also with the sensitive relations of these countries. We can also ask ourselves how people of Dubrovnik felt that Cetinje Biennale is held right in their city,' said Ilic.

She added that art should provoke dialogue regarding these issues and that the aim was to open the topics which are politically the most problematic ones.

'If all the works would provoke such reactions, art would have a much greater importance,' concluded Ilic.

C. Prelevic - Lj. Bozanovic 30.08.2004, 19:29:38

CETINJE - For three days now, the building of the Ethnographic Museum of Montenegro, former Embassy of the Kingdom of Serbia, has been 'graced' with a black double eagle and red Albanian flag placed above a sign reading 'Embassy of the Republic of Kosovo, Cetinje'!

Under the guise of a 'performance' held as part of the Cetinje Biennale, this unprecedented incident was caused by the Albanian artist Albert Heta. He does not hide that his intention was to set up a proper embassy of the 'Republic of Kosovo' in the Montenegrin capital, at least during event, the embassy which, according to Heta, exists. The scandal provoked violent reactions of some, while others virtually showed approval.


President of the Cetinje Biennale and its founder, Prince Nikola Petrovic, yesterday made a public apology for the scandal.

I'm shocked by this art installation, said Nikola Petrovic. In the current political context, it is inappropriate and dangerous. Unfortunately, I had no means of participating in the Fifth Biennale and I discovered the installation, like all other visitors, only after the opening.

Petar Cukovic, director of the Biennale and the National Museum of Montenegro says for 'Novosti' that 'the case shouldn't be politicized'.
Selectors are the ones who chose the works to be exhibited. I do not interfere with their work. I believe that the tensions surrounding this work of art should be reduced. Everything is being politicized now, especially because Kosovo is at issue, and this work fits into that story. However, I think artists are bound to lose if they politicize their work. I personally have no affinity for this kind of art or for this work, Cukovic told us. - The fact that Montenegrin authorities and the state or the National Museum have nothing to do with this case must be emphasized. This work was not made especially for the building on which it was put. Some people call that building Serbian Embassy, but it never served that purpose.

Cukovic says the performance will remain where it is until September 19 th , as planned.

While there are people who are of opinion that art and politics should be separated and against 'censoring' artistic freedom, Jovan Marku?, former Mayor of Cetinje, today an official of Narodna stranka (People's party) expects the Minister of Culture, Vesna Kilibarda to resign.

The building of the museum, former Embassy of the Kingdom of Serbia has been desecrated with the blessing of the Ministry of Culture. The perpetrator is an Albanian from Kosovo who has sent a clear political message to the residents of Cetinje, Montenegro and Serbia reminding them of the aim of the movement for a Greater Albania, says Marku?. - It would have been more appropriate if the flag, sign and coat of arms had been put up in the offices of DPS (Democratic Socialist Party) and SDP (Social Democratic Party), not on the honourable home of the dynasty Petrovic-Njegos and the Karadjordjevics.


Aleksandar Aleksic, Mayor of Cetinje is also exasperated by the fact that a purely political message has been sent from the town he is the head of.

The activities of artists should, in principle, demonstrate ideas of reconciliation, goodness, freedom, something that builds good relations between people, regardless of their origin and religious beliefs. Having all that in mind, I find that this is a continuation of the policy adopted by state officials, the policy that has always followed the most shameful and bloodiest examples from Montenegrin history - says Aleksic for this newspaper. On the other hand, while this is happening they are robbing the people of Montenegro - from usurping natural resources to the privatization of KAP, 'Telekom', Elektroprivreda' and all other Montenegrin companies which are soon to become property of the best man of the head of the current regime. Therefore, we believe this performance to be a shameful affair and such an idea shouldn't have emerged from Cetinje. Aleksic maintains that 'pure politics and something that has nothing to do with either art or good neighbourly relations between countries be it Albania or Serbia' is behind the scandal.

I'm completely sure that this Albanian artist is not nearly as much to blame as is the man who allowed such a thing to be done. This decision was made at the top; it is a political decision par excellence, harmful to good neighbourliness and interpersonal relations in the municipality. They intended to tarnish everything that Liberalni savez (Liberal Alliance) and Cetinje authorities have tried to achieve over the last two years with the aim of finally forgetting the divisions and turning to the future which should bring benefits and satisfaction to all of us. Obviously, this does not suit somebody's purposes and we know exactly who that is, concludes Aleksic.

The Mayor of Cetinje says that the local authorities cannot do anything that would lead to removing Albanian emblems from the building of the former Serbian Embassy, because municipal authorities are in no way connected with the Biennale.

We can write an official letter, but then, public expression of our opinion had, in a way, the same effect. We can lodge a protest, but we know this will meet with indifference from the people who are doing their best to create a total backwater, which is ideal only for them, since, naturally, they grow richer every day by laying hold of the Montenegrin spirit, tradition and cultural and material wealth, says the Mayor.

Yesterday, we tried to contact the Minister of Culture, Vesna Kilibarda. Mobile phone call was answered by her secretary. After we asked her to tell Mrs. Kilibarda that we would like her to give us a short statement regarding the 'Kosovo Embassy' scandal, no one answered the phone any more. There have been no other reactions from the authorities.


The Cetinje Biennale has a history of scandals. At the exhibition 'New Icon' held in 1997, the picture of Mother of God, patron saint of the town of Cetinje was displayed smudged with human faeces. The audience could see other icons too, including that of Christ, Saint Nicolas and other saints with 'accessories' surpassing the worst pornographic images.

Everyone who wants to can see for himself: it's enough to see the exhibits in Vladin dom. There is no doubt that atheism of the Cetinje Biennales is slowly transforming itself into anarchism. In the end, the final stage is pure and unadulterated Satanism, retorted archbishop Atanasije at that time.

Two years ago, a provocative, almost pornographic sculpture was again exhibited on the main square in Cetinje. Somebody destroyed in under the cover of night, while the destiny of wicker dog houses that 'artists' put all over Cetinje, as part of their 'performance' was exactly the same. People still remember that during one of the Biennales, Prince Nikola came to see an 'artistic performance' starring a poodle having an erection!

LJ. B.  31.08.2004, 19:09:49

Following the decision of Petar Cukovic, director of the Cetinje Biennale, scandalous performance by the Kosovo-based Albanian artist Albert Heta has been removed from the building of the former Serbian Embassy, although it should have remained there until September 19 th .

Cukovic says that he made the decision that the sign reading 'Embassy of Kosovo in Serbia and Montenegro' and the Albanian flag must be removed because of the 'unacceptable behaviour' of Heta himself.

Heta moved the sign put in front of the entrance to the building which served to let people know that an artistic event is taking place there, says Cukovic. - When I saw that the artist had hid the sign under a tree, I immediately decided that his work must be removed and informed the organizers of the Biennale - custodians Rene Blok and Nata?a Ilic who both agreed... He denied information that the performance was removed only after a violent act of an individual who did not like the work of art.

Unfortunately, this performance has obviously inflamed passions that shouldn't have been aroused to that extent in Cetinje. I think that this work is not worthy of so much attention. Its only strong point lies in the fact that it successfully provoked people to react and thus outshone other works that are truly brilliant, Cukovic points out. - Heta abused Montenegrin hospitality. I cannot imagine that such a thing would be possible in any of the neighbouring countries.

LJ. B.  29.08.2004, 19:12:39

CETINJE - A number of performances were held as part of the Cetinje Biennale that began in the capital of Montenegro. One of them caused a scandal, not of artistic but of purely political kind. Albanian artist, Albert Heta placed the Albanian flag, coat of arms and a sign reading 'Embassy of the Republic of Kosovo, Cetinje, State Union of Serbia and Montenegro' on the former Serbian Embassy building.

As with any exhibition, is very hard to judge whether or not it is art, Heta said. The building formerly housing the Serbian Embassy, today is officially the Embassy of the Republic of Kosovo. That's the reality that no one wants to recognize. As a man I speak, think and exist and so does the Republic of Kosovo.

Reacting to Heta's performance, Aleksandar Aleksic, Mayor of Cetinje said 'It is primarily a political decision of Montenegrin authorities which are responsible for it and always find ways to divide residents of Montenegro'. Rene Blok, organizer of the Biennale said that Heta's performance should be viewed only as a work of art. The opinion of the director of the Biennale, Petar Cukovic was similar.

However, Želidrag Nikcevic, writer and Gojko Perovic, Dean of the Seminary in Cetinje expressed a different opinion. The former said that Heta's exhibition was a shame for Montenegro and the latter believes that the majority of works shown at the Biennale are 'beyond reason'.


The trouble with conceptual art is that you cannot be sure whether something is a public toilet or an art installation until your art critic tells you. It is not clear whether a drunkard urinating in public is just that, or if it is a performance of a famous artist, until the organizers of the event in which an artist is performing by urinating tell you. But, that is the essence of conceptual art: since the painting has been sidestepped, knowing that it is obviously art, now we have to take the word of the critics who are able to tell the difference between urinating as a physiological need and urinating as an act of art. The line is obviously thin, and art critics are wise people worthy of admiration.

Cetinje is a town where nobody would stop drinking their morning coffee and their small chit chat even if a bomb were to fall in the middle of the town square. Thus, the town is an ideal setting for performances of conceptual artists. Oleg Kulik, for example, expresses himself artistically by raping dogs. He has put his arm into a cow's vagina and declared that to be art. The organizers of Cetinje Biennale did not hide their amazement with the ingenuity of his artistic concept - Kulik was invited to the Biennale, which was thought of as an event that takes the standards of expression in Montenegro further, and which turns Montenegro into a space that eagerly demonstrates how far artistic freedoms can go and how determined one has to be in defending them.

When reproductions of paintings splattered with feces were exhibited in the Biennale, we were authoritatively told that we are dealing with a work of art, and hence something that cannot be subject to censorship. From the very beginning, the Cetinje Biennale exhibited works that were very provocative. The story about artistic freedoms in Montenegro , it turns out, was only a theory. In reality, at the request of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the exhibition 'New Icon' was prohibited in 1997.

This conception of the Biennale was not betrayed this time round too. An artist from Prishtina, Albert Heta, exhibited his work: he transformed the Serbian Embassy building into an Embassy of the Republic of Kosova . The first to react were the Serbian political parties in Montenegro and the Serbian Orthodox Church. According to them, Heta's work is an unprecedented scandal, 'a shame for Montenegro '. The priests said that most of the pieces of the Biennale were 'acts of insanity' and thereby made their opinion on contemporary art clear. Since the technique used in Heta's work is not scandalous, nor is the work visually beyond the conventional, it turns out that what is scandalous is that the Albanian flag waved in Montenegro , and that the author used what was once a Serbian Embassy to portray the existence of Kosova as an independent country.

His work, obviously, succeeded. What scandalized people was in fact, reality. Heta only broke through the Serbian line of self-deceit and made obvious what is patently undeniable: that the reality is that Kosova does exist, and that it is, in real terms, independent from Serbia . And that tomorrow, the building that once housed the Serbian Embassy can house the Kosovan Embassy.

But, the frontline of showing fury against reality was, surprisedly, strengthened by the acquiescence of the organizers of the Biennale. First they tried to explain what was already clear: that Heta's Kosovan Embassy is...a work of art. But since the 'shock' of the public would not diminish, the founder of the Biennale, Prince Nikola Petrovic, took it upon himself to apologize to the Montenegrins about a reality that they cannot accept. He was, as he said, 'shocked' by Heta's work, as if what Heta did was to shoot a class of pupils in Cetinje and not show a piece of work, in which, by minimal interventions, he turned a building into something else. By doing that, the Prince showed that he is easy to shock - too easy for someone who stoically survived Kulik's rage on animals.

But if Kulik was to rape the animals with an Albanian banner flying high, the Prince would definitely be 'shocked'. The Prince publicly admitted that he was not in a situation to censor Heta's work. But Petar Cukovic had the chance to exercise censorship. After someone demolished Heta's work, and no one was 'shocked' by the fact that an artistic piece of work was vandalized, Petar Cukovic disqualified it with one of the most mindless censorship justifications of all time.

According to Cukovic, Heta's work was not removed because of the Albanian flag and because of the fact that the mention of the Kosovan Embassy made the Serb nationalists nervous. No, it was removed because Heta - listen to this - did not put a sign in front of his artistic work informing that it was a piece of art. It is the same as if you were to remove a painting from an exhibition because there is nothing under it saying that it is a painting. Or the same as if you banned a book from a library because it does not say novel on its covers. Or if you refuse to show a movie because the viewers might think it is reality.

Everything that happened around Heta's work is, indeed, a shame for Montenegro . But, it is a shame because of reasons totally different from those cited by furious Montenegrins, who are 'shocked' by the Embassy of Kosova. It is a shame because Heta's work brought to the surface the scale of deceit, lack of freedom and inequality existing in Montenegro . Reactions to Heta's work showed that elementary human stupidity in Montenegro is easily winning over human reason and freedoms. Heta tested our stupidity, primitivism and inability to accept a reality that goes against our wishes - the results are defeating for us. The confines of human stupidity are like the confines of space: unreachable. The Mayor of Cetinje, Aleksandar Aleksic, a liberal and by definition a defender of human rights, established that the Montenegrin Government is to blame for Heta's work, since it is 'sowing disarray amongst citizens ' via the Kosovan Embassy.

In every town in Montenegro there is at least one building with the graffiti 'This is Serbia ' written on it. You can hear the same slogan shouted in every Montenegrin square. Montenegrin sportsmen compete cheered on by Serbian flags with four S's. No one is shocked, even though these are not works of art and there are no information signs telling us about them. When the artist put an Albanian flag on the Serbian Embassy, he unleashed a hurricane of fury. One has to be corrupt to the core and not realize that the problem lies in the fact that it was an Albanian flag that was raised, and not a Serbian one. How come one can be raised any time and anywhere, while the other, if raised outside of the town of Ulqin, exposes the person who did it to being lynched.

In a society in which the public does not protest and intellectuals keep silent when thousands of throats in Herceg Novi shout 'kill and slay so that Shiptar (A derogative name for the Albanians used by Serbs)is no more', the public and the intellectuals are shocked by an Albanian flag on what was once a Serbian Embassy. In a society like that, there is no space for discussion on what is profane and what artistic. Here, we are still fighting for the mere survival of diversity. 

(Article published in Montengro Independent Weekly 'MONITOR')

Branimir Stojanovic

King UBU, the great hero of the surrealist drama, expert in ruling by means of jokes and puns, in one of his inspired speeches addressed his remaining followers in this way: 'Long live Poland for if there were no Poland , there would be no Poles!' Acting as if he were addressing the Polish crowd, the king of Poland asked them to express their support for Poland otherwise even they - Poles would no longer exist. In other words, in spite of everything he managed to achieve during his rule, he came up with an idea to present his people with an alienating, impossible choice of EITHER POLAND OR POLES. Following the logic of the joke, Ubu reversed the common order of address of the Master to his people. In the normal circumstances, the king - master should first show respect for the people he rules by exclaiming 'Long live the Polish people' so that he can, in turn, be recognized by them as a ruler worthy of their respect - 'Long live Poland ! Long live the Polish king!' In the Ubuesque upside down world, the ruler of the state does not praise the people but the State, meaning himself, threatening that if he is no longer king, his subjects will no longer exist either. As a result, the people frightened out of their wits by the impossible choice they have been given, end up choosing Poland without Poles.

It is interesting to note that Alfred Jarry's play Ubu Roi became popular in the 1930s, at the time when Poland was absolutely certain to have finally won independence. In Ubu's paradox, by choosing Poland , Poles choose to lose independence and support the state which is named after them but still condemns them to death. In other words, they give up their desire for independence. Instead of saying 'Down with the king who does not respect the Polish people!' Poles cheer 'Long live Poland!' saying, in fact, something quite opposite to what they really want: 'We don't want freedom; we want to submit to the hollow authority of force - but not just any form of submission but an occupation, what is more, an occupation by a non-native, foreign force' - a scenario which proved to be realistic in the light of actual historical events. Later in the twentieth century, Poland suffered its biggest national defeat. In a short space of time, the country was occupied twice by two delirious masters - Nazi and Stalinist regimes.

'Embassy of the Republic of Kosovo, Cetinje, SCG' - the installation by Albert Heta shown at this year's Cetinje Biennale focuses precisely on the Ubuesque paradox and alienating choice of either State or the desire for independence. Namely, the claim to a state does not necessarily entail the wish to be free and independent. It means that the desire for independence in the relations between nations have the shortcoming of having to be made a reality through a state, which can, at the same time, be an expression of freedom and the desire of a nation to be independent, as well as a weapon of terror and suppression of independence i.e. easy prey for the occupying forces. How did Heta achieve this? He used the simplest and most economical method possible, similar to the logic of King Ubu's joke: he set up an embassy of the non-existent, unrecognized state of Kosovo at an exhibition of contemporary art in Cetinje, i.e. on the territory of a state that does everything in its power to ignore and suppress the desire of the Kosovar Albanians for independence. So, it seems as though, through his installation, Heta exclaimed 'Long live the Embassy, because if there were no Embassy there would be no State', judging that it spoke both to his people voicing its desire for independence and to the outside world which is unwilling to recognize that desire. The reaction to the work was panic in the entire media apparatus of Montenegro and Serbia , the town where the installation was shown, as well as the entire state machinery of Montenegro , from the representatives of the biennale and politicians to clergy. The work was banned and removed!!!

Since the wish of the Kosovar Albanians to gain independence and have a state of their own has been ignored up to now, the fact that the act of proclaiming a new state by opening its embassy, a mere representative of the state in the outside world, did not go ignored is all the more interesting. Namely, where the desire for independence gets ignored, a mere demand for a State to be set up appeared. But it is a murderous, Ubuesque State which threatens anyone who tries to express his wish. Therefore, such a state can be given any name and exist in the name of anyone, it nevertheless remains a mere apparatus of occupation, terror and sadism. Those who ignore the desire for the independence of Kosovo are representatives of a murderous state whose embassies are mass graves and terror. Heta offered a joke as a tool for absolution of the excluding relationship between the Terror State and desire of people to gain independence, which touched a raw nerve by exposing the essence of infantile desires for a State of Terror, the one that cannot take a joke. In fact, Heta's installation communicates the message 'A joke should take the place of tragedy', meaning that only then can we say that we have freed ourselves from the State of Terror, the one that cannot take a joke and is ready to kill art or the artist over a joke.

(Article published in Daily Newspaper KOHA Ditore and Weekly JAVA)

Love It Or Leave It: Bringing Balkan Back to the Balkans
By Ana Devic

The mobilization strategy of the actual potentials of 'Balkans in the Balkan,' as presented by the Cetinje Biennial V, was a meaningful attempt to reposition the specific 'otherness' of the Balkans in the context of its wider thematicization--one which often characterizes the Balkans as the semi-wild, semi-tame exotic inverse of Europe.

The Cetinje Biennial V is a continuation and synthesis of ideas of the complex project 'Balkan Trilogy' whose initiator was René Block--director of Kunsthalle Fridericianum- Kassel and curator of the exhibition 'In the Gorges of the Balkans' which kicked off the trilogy a year ago in Kassel. This initiated a chain of long-term cooperation continued throughout 2004 with the project 'In the Cities of the Balkans'. With the strategic relocation of presenting the Balkans outside Western European space, a new space was opened for articulation, empowering its creators to sidestep the clichéd perceptions in which geographically orientated exhibitions tend to fall. A number of intense and diverse activities carried out by partners in Belgrade, Bucharest, Cetinje, Diyarbakir, Istanbul, Ljubljana, Prishtina, Sarajevo, Skopje, Sofia, Tirana and Zagreb were realized within the framework of the project 'In the Cities of the Balkans'. Affirming the exceptional critical potential of these artistic points marked by Southeast Europe on one side and the Middle East on the other, the Biennial situated the Balkans as a specific gap in Europe, its indivisible part, into the transit zone to the Middle East. Engulfing such a defined cultural-geographic territory, the Biennial outlines the trajectory of artistic strategies developed back in the 1960s and 70s with artists of the next generations.

Various emancipatory artistic practices directly reflect the turbulent happenings of this region--events of varying magnitudes within particular local scenes, which were generally marked by an unstable political climate, wars, the rise of nationalism and ruined local economies. The work of Turkish artist Halil Altindere - the slogan from his work provided the title for the Cetinje Biennial V - vividly points to these processes. 'Love it or leave it' by Altindere refers to a specific Turkish situation in the 90s in which the dilemma to love or to leave is broken down into a series of disturbing questions tied in with the problem of ethnic discrimination. The photograph shows Istanbul curator Erden Kosova and the artist himself in front of a wall, where the slogan 'Love it or leave it' is written, walking away in opposite directions. If we read this slogan as a figuration of the geographical map of Turkey, we can also read the dynamics of various global political currents but also the intimate paths of the protagonists themselves from the photo.

As Natasa Ilic, co-curator of the Biennial along with René Block, points out: 'The slogan 'Love it or leave it' has long since lost its sentimental connotations and is nowadays connected to conservative demagogies. This slogan also circles around the ambiguity of inner and internalized 'emotional' relations toward the Balkans. In many ways, it reflects the narcissistic, childish position that is the expression of prejudice that the Balkans cannot change its wild substance, and that it must be accepted the way it is...'

If we take into consideration the conflicts and unresolved relations between the countries and cities - Cetinje (Montenegro); Dubrovnik (Croatia); Shkodar and Tirana (Albania) - where this year's Biennial was located, the well-known insistence on 'initiating dialogue in the region' becomes, in fact, a key moment of activity. 'Love it or leave it' at the same time rejects its central form of a self-sufficient one-time biennial spectacle intended primarily for the artworld; instead, through its own phases, it invests in various local milieus, sketching new guidelines for relocating the entity of the biennial into the zone of regions which are close both in terms of distance and shared history but far in terms of the ways in which they function. The opening of this year's Cetinje Biennial and a significant segment of the exhibition in Dubrovnik, Croatia, manifests itself as a courageous and meaningful curatorial gesture. A fairly negative disposition toward cultural cooperation with Serbia and Montenegro still rules in Croatia, the mutual relations between Serbia and Montenegro is also marked by numerous tensions and differences of opinion, and the complex of problems regarding the status of the Albanian minority still remains unresolved within ex-Yugoslavia. The structure of the Biennial, which takes place in Croatia, Montenegro and Albania has clearly positioned itself in tactical role. Beginning in Dubrovnik, the Biennial culminated in Cetinje, and was accompanied by a series of workshops in Tirana and Shkodar.

The specific social prism of the Biennial resulted in sometimes painful confrontations with local communities, handling delicate social issues which have been swept 'under the carpet' for decades now. The process of working off these problematic traumas achieved its distinct manifestation in one of the 6 Cetinje venues for the Biennial, in the space of the former Serbian embassy. This space was used to present a series of works by artists who directly question the series of negative side effects of the collapse of Yugoslavia.

In relation to specific local circumstances of Cetinje, former capital of independent Montenegro state at the times before any Yugoslavia, and today cultural capital of the Republic (but not the state yet), pauperized by years of the EU economical sanctions and even more so by recent economical regulations undertaken with the goal to approach EU in not so distant future, 'Cetinje Biennial V' draws from internal non-consistency of the notion of Balkans and its symbolic potentials.

The specific social prism of the Biennial resulted in the sometimes painful confrontation with local communities with some delicate social issues which have been swept 'under the carpet' for decades now. The process of working off these problematic traumas achieved its distinct manifestation in one of the 6 Cetinje venues for the Biennial, in the space of the former Serbian embassy. This space was used to present a series of works by artists who directly question the series of negative side effects of the collapse of Yugoslavia.

Along with the work of Milica Tomi_ who concerns herself with the 'impossible gaze' upon Belgrade in 2001, from the perspective of one of the hanged members of the antifascist movement from 1941 - and who never had a monument commemorated in their honor - and which refers to the problematic relation towards the antifascist struggle in contemporary Serbia, the work of Croatian artist Sanja Ivekovi_ is concerned with the related problem of social amnesia from the viewpoint of contemporary Croatian society.

The video by Bosnian artist Maja Bajevi attempts to work off the experience of the horrors of war in Sarajevo during the 90s with the help of the obsessive retelling of brutal war jokes while the video by Marina Abramovic in which the artist is on a white horse singing the former national hymn of Yugoslavia, a forgotten archive of a now nonexistent country, is a nostalgic interrelation with one's own history. Not one of the works at the Biennial caused as tumultuous a reaction as did the work of young Kosovar artist Albert Heta who rigged up a Kosovo embassy directly on the façade of the building of the former Serbian embassy during the duration of the Biennial and in this way mobilized the Montenegrin public; these actions gradually brought about the destruction and withdrawal of the work. Heta, with this act, directly posed some key questions: not only concrete questions regarding the repression and disturbed dysfunctionality of that state, but also the crucial question of the right to independence of the imagination and autonomy of art, precisely in the symbolic and real territory of a state which has already for decades aggressively ignored the autonomy of Kosovo Albanians. As one of the local journalist who situated this project in a local cultural and political context asserted - that which actually scandalized the Montenegrin public was, in fact, reality.

Even though, at first glance, it might seem that interest in the contemporary artistic landscape of the geopolitical terrain tagged as the Balkans is slowly waning, and that its culmination was reached with the wave of several large exhibitions that splashed across Western Europe last year, The Cetinje Biennial made certain that the story of the Balkans is just beginning to be realized.

Shkëlzen Maliqi

In the Kosovar media, the participation of local visual artists in international events is reported either with total silence or by some sidelined information in which the events are put out of context--for example the misstatement of the importance, or the misplacement of the location of the event. The gap between the ever growing penetration of kosovar artists in prestigious international exhibitions, organized by eminent experts of modern art (Szeeman, Block etc.), and the lack of a realistic reflection on these events by the media is not a consequence of a simple lack of professional critique. The problem in evaluating the contemporary arts scene in Kosova rests in the fact that the ideas of contemporary art challenge the dominating worldview and taste of the mainstream cultural environment in Kosova. The dominant viewpoint of the cultural circles and the media editors is that contemporary art in Kosova is somewhat of a suspicious phenomenon, something that perhaps does not even deserve to be called art.

Only a scandal can raise some curiosity and cause reactions in the media. An example of such an exception is the interest that the kosovar media showed on an event that occurred at the Cetinje Biennale in early September 2004. The story was related to an installation that the kosovar artist Albert Heta exposed at the Biennale - a piece that was fiercely criticized in the Serb and Montenegrin pro-Serb press and was eventually damaged by vandals before the organizers decided to remove it from the exhibition entirely. Heta's installation was a provocation of its own kind: he had 'opened up' the embassy of the Republic of Kosova in Cetinje. To make his provocation more irritating, he had used for his installation the building of the historic Serbian liaison office from the age when Montenegro had been an independent Kingdom--a building which now serves as an ethnographic museum.

The installation of the Kosovar Embassy in Cetinje

Initially, Albert Heta was not lucky in bringing his embassy project to life. He had failed twice before Cetinje to gain support for the idea. His first failed attempt was in the autumn of 2003 when he projected the installation for an exhibition in Galerie 35 - a small arts gallery in Berlin . The project was initially approved but the owner of the gallery disliked the fact that Heta had planed to use the Albanian flag for the embassy (a flag that is currently used in Kosova). The owner demanded that the flag be removed because it might offend the feelings of the minorities in Kosova! Heta refused the political censure and his project failed. Heta was then invited to Belgrade for the October Salon 2004 exhibition and revived the idea to install Kosova's embassy, this time in Serbia's capital. But after external pressures, the curator decided that this was way too big of a challenge for Belgrade.

After finding out about these two refusals, the curators of the Cetinje Biennale, Rene Block and Natasa Ilic, invited Heta to do the installation in Cetinje. A place was appropriated for its realization: the historic Serbian liaison office in Montenegro.

In Cetinje - the bastion of Montenegro's independence movement - during the Biennale there was approval of Heta's piece even in its political context. Some people went even further by noting that the text should have stated that the embassy of the independent Kosova was located in the independent Montenegro and not in the Union of Serbia and Montenegro as Heta had written it!

The problems with the installation began when the Serb and the Montenegrin press with pro-Serb orientation alarmed the public about the double provocation--the artistic declaration of Kosova's independence and the placement of the installation in the building of the former Serbian liaison office. Orchestrated by Serb nationalist circles, a wide media protest was immediately launched with the ploy that the installation was 'a shame for Montenegro.' Then hooligans came and broke the embassy text-board and took off the flag from 'Kosova's embassy.' Surprisingly, and disappointingly as well, the organizers of the exhibition and public figures in Montenegro felt frightened by the campaign and stopped interpreting Heta's work as a piece of art and began looking for political alibis to remove Heta's work from the exhibition.

Later on, the scandal took on another direction, best described by the philosopher Andrej Nikolaidis in the Podgorica weekly 'Monitor': 'When, earlier in the Biennale icons painted with shit were exposed, there were authoritative explanations that this was a piece of art and that art cannot submit to censure. The Cetinje Biennale had exposed provocative works since its beginnings. (...)The Artist from Prishtina Albert Heta exposed his own piece of art: he turned the building of the Serbian liaison office in Cetinje into the embassy of the Republic of Kosova. Serbian political parties in Montenegro and the Orthodox Church immediately reacted. Since the technique used in Heta's work was not scandalous, and the piece did not get out of conventional frameworks, what was perceived and commented as scandalous was the fact that an Albanian flag was waving in Cetinje and that the former Serb liaison office was used by the author to indicate the existence of the independent state of Kosova. His piece of work was undoubtedly a success. What scandalized people was, in fact, the reality. Heta only penetrated beyond the line of Serbian self-deception by making visible something that realistically cannot be contested--the fact that Kosova exists independently of Serbia. And the fact that in the building where a Serb embassy stood once, tomorrow a Kosovar embassy can be installed' (Monitor, Podgorica, September 11 th 2004). Another philosopher from Belgrade, Branimir Stojanoviq, reacted in the same manner.

The Anti-cultural discourse of Mehmet Kraja

The Kosovar media followed the Cetinje scandal substantially and published the comments by Nikolaidis and Stojanivic. But the matter was discussed in the political sections, not in the cultural segments of the press. It was thus put into a political context and striped of its cultural and artistic aspects. In terms of the analysis of the artistic content of the installation, the media was as ignorant and inconsiderate as it had been previously. The event perhaps achieved only in rehabilitating the contemporary artists from their bad reputation in terms of 'patriotism'. The case proved that they did indeed create pieces of work that related to the troubles Kosova was facing.

Meanwhile, the most scandalous comment in the kosovar media, in response to Heta's installment, and on the relation between politics and art in general, was made by Mehmet Kraja - the editor for the culture section in the otherwise most liberal daily in Kosovar daily 'Koha Ditore'. Kraja belongs to the nationalist and conservative cultural circles and had often written against the contemporary art movement (represented in Kosova by Sokol Beqiri, Erzen Shkololli, Sisli Xhafa, Jakup Ferri, Dren Maliqi, Driton Hajredinaj, Lulëzim Zeqiri etc) by classifying it as 'foreign meat'. In his article entitled 'Arts and politics', Kraja expressed how intrigued he was with the harsh campaign of the Serbian and Montenegrin Press against Heta's work. In fact, what impressed him the most was the rapid mobilization of politicians and orthodox clerics against Heta's work. Simultaneously, he expressed distress over the lack of such mobilization among kosovar politicians and media in cases when something similar occurs in Kosova.

In arguing his case, Kraja does not stand in support of Heta and contemporary art (he continues to doubt whether his installation can be classified as art!). In fact, he slowly moves to his main concern: why wasn't the decision of a jury at the Documentary film Festival in Prizren 'Dokufest' followed with similar criticism when the Serb film 'Pretty Diana' was awarded the first prize. Kraja makes the parallel: while Heta's work is destroyed by Serb fascists in Cetinje, in the Prizren festival the movie by the director Boris Mitic is awarded first prize. Furthermore, Kraja complains, the director was allowed to give an 'offending' speech to Albanians when he came to receive his award.

During the debates on the matter, it turned out that Mehmet Kraja did not even attend the festival and was speaking 'blind-eyed' - based on gossip and personal prejudice. Even though, in principle, he was against the interference of politics in matters of art, he himself could not keep minimal distance from politicizing the problem he was discussing. His prejudicing construction was as follows: 'Dokufest' is a worthless event and an improvisation, and the fact that it was sponsored by the OSCE proves that the values promoted there are doubtful and anti-Albanian. In his text, Kraja treats the OSCE as if it was an enemy organization that came to Kosova to promote 'multiculturalism' and cosmopolitan ideas that threaten and ruin Albanian culture and its national values. To award a Serb film at a time when Heta's installment in Cetinje is destroyed is, according to Kraja, a gesture that signifies submission and a loss of identity--it is something that resembles national betrayal. Kraja did not even consider the possibility that the movie and the jury's decision had some kind of artistic and cultural motivation. Without even seeing the film and without showing interest on the jury's justification for giving the award, Kraja declared a conservative and nationalist anathema.

In the monthly supplement 'Arta', (financed by the Bundes Kultur Shtiftung as part of the Relations project) a critical editorial was published that opposed Kraja's discourse, titled 'Politics and Art.' The editorial stressed that if the autonomy of art from politics should be guaranteed by the unconditional respect for the freedom of speech, then any cultural discourse and any comment on the relation between art and politics should begin with an analysis of cultural and artistic values, not with prejudice. A cultural approach lacks entirely in Kraja's discourse. His writings and the writings of other extreme and xenophobic nationalists of his kind, in the context of the current historic moments that Kosova is going through, can be understood as an emotional manipulation with the Albanian-Serb conflict, by essentializing and eternalizing the conflict. On the other hand, easy logic and previous historical experiences prove the opposite. They are witness to the fact that conflicts and the hatreds between nations are not eternal. The current Albanian-Serb conflict should be only considered as an event limited in time. Because Albanians and Serbs are simply first neighbors who cannot remain eternally hostile to each other. Any enemy should be given the opportunity, at least principally, to 'improve' himself. And if someone today has a vision to improve and test the acceleration of contacts and reconciliation, what bad exists in that?

The problem with Kraja and the other xenophobes is that they do not allow any debate on the issue of whether there is room to carefully defreeze the strained relations. Kraja, in his writings, simply denies any possibility of such development. He does this not in respect to the role and function of art, as a person who is familiar with it and respective of it, but with a simply politically exclusive position that has nothing to do with art and freedom of expression.

Those who opposed Kraja's position stated that the jury in Prizren was professional and competent in making its decision (the head of the jury was Sisli Xhafa, a visual artist with an uncontestable international reputation). The jury was driven by artistic criterions and it had the backing of many in the public who appreciated the film's ideas. On the other hand, the disqualification that Kraja makes to the film is based on the presumed 'wrong' territorial and ethnic belongings: because the author was a Serb; because the movie was from a Serbian producer; because the movie illustrated the life of Roma refugees who fled Kosova and struggle in a Belgrade where they are faced with the racist disdain from Serbs (the racism against Roma's is a widespread phenomenon, not just in the Balkans).

Kraja's anti-cultural discourse had crossed into xenophobia and racism in other cases as well. For example, his reaction this August against UNESCO's decision to put the Decan Monastery (a very important medieval monument) in the list of protected monuments of world cultural heritage. Kraja perceived the decision as an anti-Albanian conspiracy from the international community with the aim to 'affirm Serb interests in Kosova.' He did not see UNESCO's decision simply as a cultural mater, since the primary interest was the protection of a first class cultural and artistic monument which does not belong only to Kosova (meaning, not only to Serbs and Albanians), but to humanity in general. In making his point against UNESCO's decision, Kraja brings forward falsified and contestable facts while he considers the Decan Monastery as a Serb monument that is foreign for the Albanian people. Furthermore, he goes on to dub it a dangerous 'anti-Albanian and anti-Kosovar' cradle that threatens Kosova, because, according to him, the inhabitants of the monastery are orthodox monks who were proponents of Serb nationalism!

With his anti-cultural and anti-art discourse Kraja has in fact publicly unfolded the wretchedness that exists within one segment of the kosovar intelligentsia--a group of people who cannot hide their primitive sentiments of hatred against others. After all, this discourse does not differ much from the attitudes of fundamentalists of other colors and kinds around the world, such as for example the Taliban in Afghanistan who destroyed the giant statues of Buddha carved in cliffs-rocks, regardless of global reactions, simply because they did not consider them as first hand cultural monuments but as remnants of a wrong religion! In his writings, Kraja makes it clear that he wouldn't mind if the Decan Monastery would not exist at all.

Anri Sala wins first prize in Belgrade

To end this story about the myopia and the language of prejudice and hate, I would like to mention another 'controversial' event in the SHPRISHURA relations between art and politics in the Balkans--an event that occurred almost in pattern with the Cetinje and Prizren 'scandals'. A mixed jury at the October Salon in Belgrade, which consisted of local and international members, made an artistically normal and understandable decision which was politically brave and provocative. It gave the first prize to Anri Sala, an artist from Albania who now lives and works in Paris. Sala's award-winning video 'The Burek' was 'fortunately' not politically provocative as Heta's installation or Mitic's 'Pretty Dianna' were. For this reason, the racist comments of Serb nationalists could not have been as harsh as those that inspired or planed the destruction of Heta's installation in Cetinje. But this should not be a condolence to the provocateurs and the aspirators of the myopic and xenophobic policies against art--in Serbia, Kosova or wherever. If Cetinje was a negative example of a scandalous intrusion of politics in art--a model so liked by Kraja as a response mechanism--then the 'Dokufest' prize for the Serb director given in Kosova and the 'October Salon' prize given to the Albanian artists in Belgrade are encouraging proofs that show the existence of a trend of an autonomous artistic evaluation in the region. This trend has its roots in normality and exists separately from the daily politics of a fundamentalist hatred which longs for the shut-down of free communication between people and nations. To award a Serb film in Prizren, by a jury led by Sisli Xhafa--an artist that in his work bravely stigmatizes the presence of xenophobia and racism in the Western world against foreigners--is not submission, nor is it a sign of weakness or a loss of identity. On the contrary, it is an expression of the power of resistance and the power of dignity in evaluating art against any political aspiration, whatever national side it came from.