Bosnian director Haris Pašović sees parallels between Derry and Mostar

Haris Pašović, who is staging The Conquest of Happiness in Derry, calls for artists to work together to promote reconciliation

A director and producer regarded as one of the heroes of the siege of Sarajevo has denounced the "human rights industry" and called for artists to become more involved in post-conflict situations in Bosnia and Northern Ireland.

Haris Pašović, who kept producing plays – including a version of Waiting for Godot with Susan Sontag – while Serbian shells and bullets rained down on his city in the early 1990s, was speaking in Belfast to launch a major theatrical production, The Conquest of Happiness. The show will premiere as part of events to mark Derry's year as UK City of Culture before moving on to Bosnia, to the still-divided city of Mostar.

Pašović said an "organic process" was needed that would allow artists, writers, film-makers and historians to search for the truth about both civil wars.

"What's going on on the ground in Bosnia is that people collaborate more. They exchange more than the politicians do. So people work together, people trade. In the arts we have colleagues coming from all parts of the Balkans working together," he said.

He denounced what he called the "politics industry" and the "human-rights industry", which he claimed were holding back reconciliation.

"The industry of political conflict is the biggest industry in Bosnia and it is still not exhausted. What is needed is to replace these two industries, the industry of political conflict, the industry of human rights, with normal, creative walks of life," he said.

Pašović said he was struck by similarities between Derry's history and Mostar.

"It wasn't difficult to spot the parallels. Both cities have different communities, mainly on different sides of a river. Both cities are beautiful. Both cities have a complex history. And although there is peace in both cities, the process of integration and bringing communities together has been awfully slow."

The Conquest of Happiness is Pašović's directorial debut in the UK and Ireland, and involves 50 artists from Northern Ireland and the Balkans. Co-produced with Pašović's East West Centre in Sarajevo, the Mladinsko theatre in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana and Belfast's Prime Cut Productions, the theatrical-musical event is inspired by a question posed by the philosopher Bertrand Russell: how can people deserve happiness?

Emma Jordan from Prime Cut, who will co-direct the production – including a performance under the reconstructed Stari Most bridge, destroyed by Croat forces attacking the Bosnian side of Mostar – said that she, too, saw parallels between the Balkan city and Derry.

She said: "The journey back and forth has given us great perspective, and made us realise not only how introspective we are in terms of the scale of a conflict but also helps us acknowledge how far we have come in Northern Ireland."


Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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