A NOTE FROM THE PLAYWRIGHT
In 2004, I was commissioned to create a forum theater piece for children of the families of those missing from the war in Kosovo (1998-2000). At that time these families still widely believed that those who had disappeared during the war were being kept in Serbian prisons, or being otherwise detained against their will, far away from their loved ones by the enemy. A strong sense of hope that grandfathers, fathers, brothers, sons – and even a few mothers, sisters, and daughters – would return home any day was still prevailing. However, the media, international organizations, and people working in the field had all concluded that there was little room for hope. Over the years, many of the missing have been found in mass graves, mainly in Serbia. But today, 14 years later, a lot of families are still waiting.
The Finger is a play set on a thin line dividing fact from fiction. It borrows documentary images from my research and blends them with the fantasy world of Shkurta and Zoja. In the course of my work in 2004, I encountered families that – 5 years after the war – would set an extra plate at the table for their missing loved one, as if his/her return was a question of minutes; I encountered people who knew by heart – in minute detail – all the articles of clothing that their loved ones were wearing on the day of their disappearance; I encountered people who had to go to a big tent set up on the border with Serbia, where bodies and other remains, such as clothing that had been found in the mass graves, would be displayed in black plastic bags as if in an exhibition, and a relative would have to go from one black plastic bag to another to locate and identify a piece of clothing – a wristwatch, a cap, or a shoe. All these images have been incorporated in The Finger as a way to tell this story to a wider audience, to people living in the comfort of their homes and intact families. The play premiered in December of 2012 in Belgrade, Serbia, and was followed by a Macedonian production in 2013, one in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2014, an Austrian production in 2015, one in Kosovo, at last, in 2015, and just this year it played in Tirana, Albania. During this life lived by the play in various countries in the Western Balkans and Europe, the number of those unaccounted for from the war in Kosovo has not changed.
Today, in 2018, out of about 4000 deemed to be missing from Kosovo in 1999, there are still 1660 whose fate is unknown. That means roughly 1600 families – Albanian, Serbian and Roma – are still hoping to receive news of their loved ones. But now, instead of setting the table with an extra plate, spoon, and cup, and cooking day after day their loved one’s favorite dish in preparation for an unannounced return, the families of the missing wait only for their bodies. They need those bodies so that they can be buried and bring this exhausting, heart-wrenching vigil to an end – to a full stop.