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By Ivana Bilić

If Kosovars are not free to go to the world, well, FemArt has brought the entire world to them in a week-long theater festival. More than 150 artists and activists from 15 countries – Kosova, Austria, France, Israel, India, Venezuela, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lebanon, North Macedonia, Slovenia, Serbia, Spain, Belgium, and Poland – will participate in some 30 activities in different cultural institutions throughout Prishtina and Mitrovica. What an event for women in Kosova, the region, and around the world! For more than a decade now, FemArt has been promoting feminist values, while also putting this tiny Balkan country in the spotlight of the culture in the region. During these seven days, the local theaters, restaurants, hotels, cafés, and streets will be the locations of encounters, gatherings, small talks, profound discussions, and most importantly, new friendships. During these seven days, Kosova will be the world’s stage!

This year’s motto is “Burn Your Fear Away”. It is about courage, about love and light. As I heard some wise women say: “Only one ray of light is enough to light up an entire room.” We all have different fears and mechanisms to cope with them. Several men and women shared their thoughts about the meaning of this year’s slogan, the meaning of fear, and what fear represents for them.

One young woman shared how she realized she lives in fear daily, and that she constantly feels like she’s in fight-or-flight mode; therefore, she is questioning herself: why not make something out of it? Why not make it into her power and burn it? For another woman, the idea of burning your fear means that you are aggressively tackling your fear, putting a lot of energy into it. In her opinion, fear is social rejection and she wants to burn it because she wants to hold herself accountable instead of overthinking. “I want to set this fear on fire.”

For another interlocutor, “burning your fear” means “(…) acknowledging your fear, you face it and get rid of it somehow. I had some fears and the biggest was a fear of future and not knowing what I wanted to do and even bigger knowing what to do but not knowing how to get there. Burning this fear is trying not to worry about things I cannot control and trying to live in the now. I’m burning my fear of what is going to come in the future, because that’s for me to explore in the future.”

It is somehow in our nature to want to get rid of our fears, to burn them, to dispose of them, to eliminate them, to make them disappear. But in order to be courageous, we should not fear our fears. We should embrace them; we should treat them at their source. We should heal them.

FemArt opened with a text from the 1930s that has found its place in today’s society as well. The setting of tonight’s performance is in a café with shiny chandeliers. There is almost a cabaret-like ambience at first, intertwined with jazzy, hip-hop, dance-pop, and chanson française genres. The house was full and everyone was hunting for an available seat. It seemed that everyone wanted to be here tonight.

Burn your fear away – starts the traditional chant with a guitar and a tambourine.

And then, different women with different personalities on the outside and the inside start entering the place. Fefu, Cindy, Christina, Julia, Emma, Paula, and Sue are just seven ordinary girlfriends talking with each other about ordinary things. However, Fefu is more dominant than the others, portraying man-like characteristics, toughness, and even violence. Her girlfriends, all but one – Julia, do not contradict her; they continue in their boredom. As if they didn’t know what to do with their lives. “Are they afraid to live?” I was wondering.

But Julia is different. Julia defies Fefu, Julia raises her voice, Julia speaks up. The play ends with the two actresses telling each other to fight, to be courageous. To fight the system, to fight the fear. To burn their fear away.

We are still a society with unhealed trauma from war, with a still-present domination of violence. The victims are not freed from violence, it’s as if they are doing the same thing as what has been done to them, using guns and aggression. Aggression is stored inside. Nevertheless, love is the only way to heal. Love and support are needed to heal and to build trust. As the director herself said: “Love is love” and love is necessary for fighting our everyday battles.

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