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By Johanna Mertinz

On May 15-21, 2023 in Prishtina and Mitrovica, Republic of Kosova took place the 11th edition of the first feminist festival in the Western Balkan – “FemArt – INTERNATIONAL WOMEN ARTIST AND ACTIVIST FESTIVAL”. A festival that intertwines art and activism for positive social transformations; peace building; gender equality and women empowerment. For more than a decade now FemArt has been a space of freedom, emancipation, life narratives, and endless curiosity and enchantment.

It was the November 2022 when I first heard about FemArt through its founder and executive director, Zana Hoxha, also a theater director whom I met in Israel.  We were both participants in Isra-Drama, watched many theater performances together in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and I did not want to lose sight of this impressive woman. This was the beginning of a journey to “burn my fear away”, that would occur six months later.

Unfortunately, due to many appointments I was able to witness only the last three days of the Festival, but enough to touch the power of art and activism.


The closer the day to travel to Kosova was approaching, the more fear inside of me was growing.

Many questions occupied my mind, also the concerns of my family members and friends arose; What are you doing in Kosova? … Isn’t it dangerous there? … You must not get into a cab alone under any circumstances … Who is taking care of you there? …  Contact the Embassy in any case since you don’t know a word of the language there … Former-Yugoslavia, and what is the political situation? …etc.

Coincidently the motto of this edition of FemArt Festival was “Burn Your Fear”, that was a call to allow newness, courage and love to be born. My whole life was and still is guided by curiosity. That has led me to many great experiences in life, and this one was not exception, too. I had to make a step forward, as woman, as artist, as activist, and burn my fear away!

So, on Thursday, 18th of May, in the midnight, I sat down in the plane, after a long working day a short pleasant 1 ½ hour AUA flight and there stood Berat Bajrami! My reliable wonderful contact for the next few days who accompanied me by cab to the Hotel International booked by FemArt, a bit outside of the city center, beautiful and pleasant. He gave me meal vouchers; we arranged a pickup the next day at 3 pm.

Day light of May 19, was a short exploration of the hotel surroundings, punctually at 3 pm a young woman (Valëza Sijarina), project coordinator at Artpolis, was waiting for me.

She showed me around the city, this incredible huge library building with the unique facade design, which I could also see from the inside, we visited two mosques, ate tomato soup and chicken with rice, and talked about our countries, about the hospitality of the family, the capitalism prevailing everything in Austria, and everyday struggle in Kosovo, the only country in Europe still without visa liberalization!

I didn’t have to actively burn my fears about Prishtina, they just melted away, all my fears were gone.

Not only burn them, we have to face them, name them, every single day, make a book of fears, a diary of your fears and then overcome them. There are so many shapes of fear and so many forms of coping. One of them is certainly to present it, to confront it in performances, in theater, through music. “Just do it” was my lesson, and it turned out to be a wonderful, lasting experience.



The program of the 11th edition of the Festival, which I unfortunately only saw the last three days, was a reflection of Artpolis and FemArt vision and mission: feminism, justice, emancipation, humanism and loyalty.

I met Zana a few times during these days in Kosova. How much power and vision there is in this woman. Zana lives and realizes what thousands of other artists dream of. FemArt is a reflection of her persona. How much work, perseverance is behind it?! How much planning, and in the end we can see and experience these efforts in reality. A social concern is realized through art. How much I admire her! We talked about new plans, Zana will perform Euripides’ “Trojan Women” in Kosova, I will perform it in Klagenfurt, a grandiose anti-war play that was already performed in 415 B.C. I would like very much for Zana to come to Klagenfurt in August to see my interpretation of Trojan, that we will see each other again soon…

Through theater performances, concerts, movies and a drag show FemArt was breaking social norms, boundaries, and stigma during the last three days of the Festival.

Theater performance “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea” in Dodona Theater was a clear, simple stage, one woman, one man, united in self-destruction and the feeling of worthlessness, but always with a glimpse of hope there. It was a great play, the treatment of the relationship between these two people… a feeling! Afterwards I saw “Woman and Life” in Oda Theater. A polish production about solidarity and freedom in every relationship. Get together – be strong.

On May 20, was time to watch two great feminist movies: “Ka me Kalu” – very good actors, sensitive, in a non-blatantly manner the topic of a family trauma was dealt with, the overcoming of the resulting fears…no matter where you run, life pursues you. Then “Vera dreams of the Sea” – what a wonderful actress in the lead role. Her partly non-verbal struggle against fear and mistrust in a family still ruled by patriarchal patterns was impressively portrayed.

Theater performance “Molly” in the National Theater, without English subtitles, but I think I will procure the play by Brian Friel- it should also be performed in the German-speaking area, this difficult examination of the process of being blind since birth and suddenly being catapulted by an operation into the seeing perception of this world. Great topic.

After that the drag show “VAV – Vibrate Authentic Victory”, location Servis Fantasia, filled with what has already been seen, experienced. A lot of people, started at 10 p.m., which was delayed a bit. So, I sat down at a table outside, saw drag queens Victoria, Vanessa and Agatha coming, they wanted to do a short rehearsal before … and then I couldn’t find a seat! Totally full and I was too small to look away over the heads. Therefore, it was more of an acoustical thrilling experience. At some point I fell into my hotel bed completely over-impressed.

The fire of theater, philosophy and music wrapped up the “Burning of Fear” on the last day of the Festival.

Theater performance “Superfluous Man- Oblomov”, directed by Jehezkel Lazarov, in the Oda Theater was an impressive performance of the Israeli Troupe, outdoors – down a long staircase, lush red costumes, philosophical introduction in interaction with the audience. Oblomov – a symbol of constant persistence in inaction, lethargy, the lethargic idleness of the title character Oblomov from Ivan Alexandrovich Goncharov’s most famous novel. We all have from time-to-time fits of “oblomoverei” (German: don’t be so lazy) – destructiveness because inactive behavior towards the circumstances that need to be fought. I decided to pay attention to the actors and not to the very quickly inserted English text lines in this fabulous staging. This play would also deserve to be performed in Vienna – yesterday I saw an adaptation of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” here, too: Inactivity is fatal!

After that the final concert, the Rina Kaçinari Trio, again in the alternate quarters of the Kosova National Theater, currently under construction. Stunning, fantastic. Three musicians merge into a cloud of sound, a universe of rhythm and sound. I have rarely heard such a delightful concert.

Then the speech of Zana, and a never ending applause…. I am regretful for every event of this festival that I could not experience!

In the morning of May 22nd, I had to go back to Vienna. I had burned another fear and in return I had received impressions of people, artists, and the world.

I will never forget. Grateful and with love for all members of FemArt Festival 11. I hope to see you in Vienna soon and next year in Prishtina again!

Johanna Mertinz is an Austrian actress in Theatre, TV and movie. Mertinz is also a teacher at the Performing Art Center Vienna – Acting Department, Magister and PhD (Doctor of Philosophy at the Vienna University of Music and Fine arts). She wrote 2 books published by Mandelbaum Verlag. Johanna is a mother and grandmother.