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Why Bernard-Henri Levy Wants His New Play To Help Bosnia

Bernard-Henri Levy spent time in Bosnia during the war.
Bernard-Henri Levy spent time in Bosnia during the war.

Bernard-Henri Levy is hoping that a two-hour monologue pushes Bosnia-Herzegovina into the European Union.

The French public intellectual is opening his new play, titled "Hotel Europe" and starring the French actor Jacques Weber, on June 27 in Sarajevo.

"Our aim here with this play is not only to give a play, it is to try to use this play in order to help to change something in the terrible situation which Bosnia is still living," Levy told RFE/RL's Balkan Service in an interview, speaking in English. He said his hope is that "this play could be [a] push which helps Bosnia to enter at last [the] European Union before Serbia."

The play is two hours long in real time, according to Levy. The main character is preparing to deliver a speech about Europe to the National Theater in Sarajevo. The speech, set to begin in two hours, is meant to mark the centenary of the June 1914 assassination in Sarajevo of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which led to World War I a month later.

But Levy declined to give his opinion on the June 28 commemoration of the assassination. "I have no opinion about that frankly. I am in the future, not in the past. My real concern is my dear Bosnia entering Europe, and Europe paying its debt toward Bosnia."

He said of Weber that he is one of the few actors able to hold the audience's attention for two hours. "He's the best," said Levy.

Levy is not pleased with the direction of Europe after right-wing parties made big gains in May elections to the European Parliament, but said that Bosnia's EU entry could give it a kick. Europe is "so sick nowadays... so overwhelmed by the return of populisms, nationalisms, extreme nationalism, and sometimes extreme-right and fascisms even in France, the entry of Bosnia would be a fresh air, would be a new blood, will be like an injection of these values of Sarajevo."

Bosnia's accession to the European Union has long been stalled for several reasons, including intransigence by the country's ethnically-divided leaders. The country's GDP per capita -- which at $4,555, in 2012, ranks below Namibia's -- is also a fraction of the European Union average of nearly $33,000.

Levy has long been sympathetic to the plight of the Bosnian people, coming to Sarajevo a dozen times during the war after a first visit in 1992. Writing the play was hard because it made "all these souvenirs of 20 years ago" come back, he said. "I had the terrible privilege to share with the Bosnian people a part of his suffering from 1992 to 1995."

He has high hopes for the play. "I don't know if I will succeed, but if I succeed it is such a privilege to see theater fulfilling its real role, which is to change the world," said Lévy.

Written By Luke Johnson in Washington, based on an interview by Zvjezdan Zivkovic of RFE/RL's Balkan Service.

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