Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Angelina Jolie’s Bosnian imbroglio

Angelina Jolie is among the most intelligent and politically aware of Hollywood actresses; her humanitarian campaigning has taken her all over the world, and she has a particular interest in the plight of refugees. It would seem appropriate, therefore, that her directorial debut will be a film set during the Bosnian war, with Bosnian actors and actresses playing several of the leading roles (as well as, apparently, the famous Croatian Hollywood actor Rade Serbedzija). For all the publicity that the Bosnian war received, it is often forgotten that Bosnia effectively lost the war, and that the Bosnian state remains crippled to this day by its outcome; its people still suffering from the effects of an unjust peace settlement. One would think that one of the world’s most famous actresses showing such an interest in the country would be something warmly received by its people.

Yet Jolie has had to overcome a degree of unfounded hostility and suspicion before being allowed to film in Bosnia. Her permit to film was initially revoked by the minister of culture in the Federation of Bosnia-Hercegovina, Gavrilo Grahovac, formally on the grounds that she had failed to submit a copy of the script to the ministry. This came, however, after complaints about the film from Women Victims of War, an organisation representing wartime rape victims, which claimed to have learned that the storyline involved a Muslim rape-victim falling in love with a Serb rapist. The organisation’s president Bakira Hasecic, herself a rape victim, said that such a storyline would be an ‘an outrageous and humiliating misrepresentation of our ordeal’.

However, neither Hasecic nor any member of her organisation had actually read the script, and it was suggested that the rumour may have originated with TV Pink, a Serbian television network formerly associated with Slobodan Milosevic’s wife Mira Markovic. TV Pink’s owner Zeljko Mitrovic was already reported to have been hostile to Jolie’s film project on the grounds that it was ‘biased against Serbs’, and some Bosnian officials have been horrified that such a source should have led the country to snub Jolie. Emir Hadzihafizbegovic, minister of culture minister of the Sarajevo Canton and himself a famous actor, asked ‘Is this how we thank Angelina Jolie… for treating a Bosnian tragedy that has already been forgotten by the world… for hiring five or six Bosnian actors in her movie?’ He also said that it was ‘grotesque that the owner of a television network that was created with Milosevic’s financial backing was now concerned about the dignity of Bosnian women who were victims of war.’ Hadzihafizbegovic made clear that he was ‘going to give a shooting permit even if they have to arrest me.’

Grahovac told Bosnian radio ‘They no longer have the authorisation to shoot in Bosnia. They will have it if they send us the script with a story which will be different from what we have been told by people who read it.’ This amounted to a grave infringement on freedom of expression, as the prominent anti-nationalist Croatian writer Slavenka Drakulic made clear: ‘In this case we are dealing with censorship, which is unacceptable coming from the minister of culture, whom reports quoted as saying that he would ban shooting of that movie anywhere, not just in Bosnia, because the movie offends the feelings of victims… Such an important decision was based on rumours.’

Jolie, for her part, urged the Bosnians not to succumb to ‘unfair pressure based on wrong information’. As she said, ‘The choice to make a film about this area and set in this time in history was also to remind people of what happened not so long ago and to give attention to the survivors of the war.’ She added that she would like to talk with representatives of the rape victims’ association ‘to personally clear up any misunderstandings about this project.’ Eventually, permission for Jolie to film was reinstated, but only after her production had been treated in a manner that bordered on harassment. In the words of the film’s Bosnian producer, Edin Sarkic, ‘At no other place in the world they would ask for the script. One is required to give a synopsis, not a script.’ There remains the possibility that the filming may be disrupted by protests.

The whole affair represents a minor disgrace for patriotic Bosnians; a pathetic attempt at censorship inspired by unfounded rumour that only illustrates the unserious character of the Bosnian state and its officials, and their whimsical approach to both procedure and freedom of expression. While one may sympathise with the feelings of Hasecic and the members of her organisation, a democratic state has no business suppressing a film just because they deem it to be politically incorrect. As far back as 1974, it was possible for the film ‘The Night Porter’, starring Charlotte Rampling and Dirk Bogarde, to be shown in Western cinemas; it was a story of a consensual sadomasochistic relationship between a former Nazi SS guard and a former female camp inmate he had previously abused during the war. It was controversial, but it was not censored.

The struggle for Bosnia is far from over; there are indications that the conflict there may heat up again in the near future. Currently, it is the government in Republika Srpska that is pursuing a clever, sustained campaign to win foreign support. This is not a time for Bosnia to be alienating its friends.

Visiting refugees in East Bosnia with partner Brad Pitt

Meeting Bosnian presidency member Haris Silajdzic.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Marko Attila Hoare, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments