On February 10th 2014 (the day I turned 59), Hjalmar Jorge Joffre-Eichhorn, a German-Bolivian Theatre of the Oppresed (TO) practitioner based in Afghanistan, sent me an urgent mail from Ukraine. He had responded to a call from colleagues in that beleaguered country to help organize grassroots TO sessions on the streets in the hope to engage local communities to find possible solutions to a peaceful future. Through an online campaign a number of TO jokers (facilitators) volunteered to travel from overseas to Ukraine. They includied Olivier Forges, Roberto Mazzini, Idan Meir, Evan Hastings, Hector Aristizabal, and Brent Blair.
Needless to say, theirs was a powerful intervention in one of the most volatile, politically complex, and violent situations in the world today. Hjalmar reports that they were able to work in 5 different Ukrainian regions, including the pro-Russian East of the country. And while there were some tense moments with pro-government demonstrators and secret police officers accusing the jokers of being ‘foreign agents’ and local goons threatening to stop the theatre activities, Hjalmar, his Ukrainian colleagues and the foreign jokers were once again left ‘amazed by the power of TO to create true dialogue’. Before he left Ukraine, Hector, who – together with Luc Opdebeeck – will be at our next International Community Arts Festival in Rotterdam between 26 and 30 March, wrote the following: ‘We hope that some of the people involved in the project will continue doing the urgent work of reaching out to the other side and engaging in further dialogue so they can truly imagine a different outcome to the current polarization of the power relations in Ukraine. I agree with Hjalmar that our focus as international participants must be now in finding ways to continue supporting the efforts of the local organizers that are highly motivated and committed to continuing the work’.
Over the weekend, of 23 February, the political situation miraculously turned around: the president has fled, his former allies are disowning him, and there are new elections on the horizon. Too soon to tell where all this will lead. We’d like to create space at our upcoming event next month to spread the word, provide updates about engaged arts practices for dialogue in Ukraine, and generate concrete support. Meanwhile, keep checking the special facebook page on theatre for dialogue in Ukraine: https://www.facebook.com/theatrefordialogue
Eugene van Erven