We are deeply saddened by the passing of dramaturge and activist Borka Pavićević, who was a recipient of the ECF Princess Margriet Award in 2010. All of us at the European Cultural Foundation send our deepest condolences to her friends and family, and to her colleagues at the Centre for Cultural Decontamination in Belgrade.
As well as being a theatre-maker and dramaturge, Borka Pavićević was a tireless cultural activist working across the former Yugoslavia. She has devoted her career to all art forms, and particularly theatre as a podium for debate and public expression that takes action against intolerance and cultural homogenisation. As the Director of Belgrade’s Centre for Cultural Decontamination, which she co-founded in 1994, Pavićević continued to sustain public discourse under difficult conditions.
Thanks to her inspiring leadership, the centre grew into an open space for creative minds to articulate their responses to events around them; a venue in which individuals from across the region can work freely together. At the European Cultural Foundation we believe cultural spaces should be exactly that – a place where we understand how we can live together, understand our identities and make ourselves at home.
ECF director André Wilkens said: “She showed us how to think of culture as a democratic potential. Because you can’t keep a democracy the same forever. It has to be rethought everyday.”
As well as remembering Pavićević for her professionalism, we fondly remember her humour during the ECF Princess Margriet Award ceremony of 2010. She inserted her self-confessed Yugoslav ‘black humour’ into her acceptance speech, which is – unfortunately – as relevant now as it was back then in its warnings against the defiance of those in power. “Reterritorialization is not a Balkan invention,” she said. “Edward Said calls it ‘not belonging’, the perpetual formation of majorities that reject minorities.” In that same speech she referred to the ways in which culture should always challenge the system of oppression, by embracing diversity in all of its senses. Because “Diversity in those circumstances means subversiveness – and, above all, autonomy.”
To her, that line of thought automatically evolved into her participation in numerous anti-war actions and protests in Belgrade and other Yugoslav cities, in collaboration with Yugoslav organisations striving for democracy and civil society development in Serbia and across the region. That is why she was removed from her position as art director of the Belgrade Drama Theatre in 1993. The following year she founded Belgrade’s Centre for Cultural Decontamination.
Pavićević deployed that same working ethos in her journalistic writing on cultural and political life, without losing sight of the mundane everyday life. Her 2017 book Head in a bag brings together many of her columns and other pieces. According to critic Saša Ćirić, the publication is many things – a book of remembrance, a book of reminders and a chronicle of the cultural and social life of post-Yugoslav societies. We will take her lessons and insights with us. She will be very sadly missed.