Magazine article New Internationalist

Afghanistan's Theatre of the Oppressed

Magazine article New Internationalist

Afghanistan's Theatre of the Oppressed

Article excerpt

After more than 30 years

of war, Afghanistan is a country synonymous with suffering, its people facing a crippled economy and infrastructure as well as bereavement on an unimaginable scale..

Amid the continuing turmoil a participative theatre initiative is helping some Afghans move towards justice and reconciliation by, literally, putting them centre stage. 'People fell in love with the Theatre for the Oppressed,' says Hjalmar Joffre-Eichhorn, spokesperson for the Afghanistan Human Rights and Democracy Organization (AHRDO), which was born out of a vision to work with the most marginalized sectors of society.

Their first outing, five years ago, was a traditional scripted play performed by victims' groups. Since then, AHRDO has continued to function despite the unrest, and it now employs women and men from around the country.

The aim of the theatre is not to point fingers of blame. But there is, says Hjalmar, an issue of transitional justice - the idea of redressing human rights violations following conflict: 'Dealing with the past in a community-led way is where theatre comes in: it encourages a dialogue between different groups in society.'

AHRDO runs two main projects using different theatre techniques. Forum theatre explores issues of victimhood and the plays are developed by the 'victims' themselves. 'Afghan widows are marginalized on two counts [as women and as widows], but by participating in theatre, they can tell their stories and promote two concepts lacking in Afghan society: democracy and justice,' says Hjalmar.

'Widows haven't had their victimhood acknowledged yet. They want the government to be responsible for the murder of their husbands. The word "victim" doesn't have positive connotations; it clashes with the notion of healing, and has received some criticism from Western NGOs.' But coming to terms with loss is not easy when the perpetrators of unlawful killings are not brought to justice; accountability for human rights abuses has fallen offthe government's agenda.

'Usually theatre is passive, but forum theatre is different - the audience is encouraged to participate by going on stage and coming up with a solution together,' Hjalmar explains. 'Up to 500 people can be in the audience at any one time. …

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