In January 2013 70 refuge seekers took hold of one of the churches in Austria’s capital Vienna. By doing so they wanted to make the society and government aware of their situation. The protest was organised against inhuman conditions in one of the refugee camps not far away from Vienna. The seekers were only asking for better translators, work permits, the right for their children to go to school and finally to stop changing the camp’s inner rules daily. For most of them deportation to their original country meant nothing else but death. It did not, however, stop Austria from sending the majority of the refugees back home as soon as the coming summer. This event became the initial throb that prompted an Austrian writer, Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek to write the play “The Seekers” in the summer of 2013.
It really astonishes me to see all the hysteria in Lithuania, in the country with almost zero immigrants, and which most probably will stay so as nobody wants to come here. There are just a few immigrants but it is enough for people to be hysterical about it, and also for some political parties to earn points. It is, indeed, extremely cynical. Such lack of empathy is first and foremost the ignorance to the history of Europe, for Europe is so closely related to the Middle East. Isn’t this the same obscurity that didn’t stop or even encouraged the Holocaust in Lithuania? Even having killed all the Jews, antisemitism is still very vital, whereas racism prevails without any known ground. It’s characteristic to the whole Eastern Bloc, especially Lithuania where, paradoxically enough, one third of the population are social emigrants. So how come we resent other social emigrants, especially those stricken by war? Isn’t it obvious that by throwing bombs the Western civilisation itself is provoking that war?
I always choose the material that is related to my personal experience in one way or another. Situations that I’ve seen in so many different countries have urged me to take on this play by Elfriede Jelinek. It’s very relevant and is being staged throughout Europe. In many other countries, however, things are quite different – people face these issues every day, whereas in Lithuania we don’t have this social problem, just this vague metaphysics and the invisible fear. Here it’s not a social, rather a mental or emotional problem. I think this play is even more relevant as it talks about the extreme reluctance to try to understand anything, the unwillingness to accept the fact that you’re ‘with the others’ in this world, and maybe they’re strangers to you but that’s the question of cohabitation, isn’t it? Inexplicable psychological depths open up here and you can’t explain that by mere obscurity. I hope that ‘The Seekers’ will prompt the discussion about this issue as our society certainly needs it.
Producers – OKT/Vilnius City Theatre, Lithuanian National Drama Theatre.