Macedonian Theatre Group Harassed by Bulgarian Border Police

April 11, 2002

The Macedonian theatre group "Skrb i uteha" visited Bulgaria from April 6 till April 10, 2002 on invitation of the "Chitalishte Nikola Vapcarov" from the locality of Mosomishte. During the visit the group performed 5 shows of Tihomir Ilevski's play "Olesni, razresi, prosti" in the localities of Mikrevo, Kremen, Sandanski, Mosomishte and Leski. The play is based on the lives of Sts.Cyril and Methodius and includes events from the Republic of Macedonia. During the visit the author gave an interview to the local newspaper in the town of Goce Delchev. The group considered the visit a chance to introduce theatre art in communities where rarely have an opportunity to see theatre plays. As a matter of fact this was the first visit of a theatre group to the locality of Kremen.

The visit went in perfect order. It was approved and financed by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Macedonia and an official information about the visit was forwarded to the Bulgarian Embassy in Skopje. Problems arose on the return while crossing the border. First there was a routine control of the technical equipment and then there was a control of the vehicles which took about 40 minutes. After that the police started a detailed search of the baggage and personal belongings of everybody. It appeared that this was just a tactic to allow the arrival of a group of security personnel. At that point as a leader of the group I was led into the office of the chief of customs and questioned by three agents in plainclothes. The customs chief was also present. I was asked what was the purpose of the theatre visit to Bulgaria to which I answered that we were invited. I was told that the visit was with propaganda purpose and against the interests of their country. I was questioned as to why did we visit the particular places, why did we cooperate with the "chitalishte", why did we perform this play - all the time themselves supplying answers to the questions. I was told that if we visited other localities we would've had our heads broken. Then I was told that our hosts were a group of misled and disturbed people and that our play was pure propaganda and that we shouldn't get involved in their internal state matters. Further I was told that we should mind our own business and that our actions contribute to the worsening of state relations between Bulgaria and Macedonia. I was told that the fact that Sts. Cyril and Methodius in the play were portrayed as Macedonians was an attack against the Bulgarian state and was accused that we were misleading the people and the children. I informed them the localities where the play was performed were chosen by our hosts and that the play was perforemed in front of school children in the Republic of Macedonia. Then I was asked to produce a copy of the text of the play and also to show the book of viewer's comments. They were photocopied and returned to me. During the questioning our vehicles were searched carefully. I was asked why did we take journalists, including some from "hostile publications," with us and called them to join the interrogation. They were told to refrain from reporting the whole incident because that would worsen state relations between the two countries. We were also told that we could be subject to heavy fines since we didn't report our stay with the local authorities although we did that at the hotel. After approximately four hours delay, we were issued an apology, our travel documents returned and we were allowed to preceed.

Igor Stojanovski
Cultural Center "Skrb i uteha"

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