Domestic violence, and especially violence against women, is something most people in Kosovo prefer not to talk about. We read about men stabbing, shooting, beating, choking and brutalizing their families in all sorts of ways in the crime sections of newspapers, but the lived reality of this violence for the most part remains hidden. “Copë Copë” (Bits and Pieces) forces us to look, and forces us to listen to the stories of women who manage to survive.
Directed by Zana Hoxha Krasniqi and written by Blerta Zeqiri, “Copë Copë” is a theatrical pieces that strings together various stories of trauma and violence directed at women. Hoxha Krasniqi and Zeqiri gathered their stories by visiting various domestic violence shelters for women throughout Kosovo, and two of them (Bashkime Sulejmani and Minire Bujupi) even agreed to participate as performers in the play. I sat down with Zeqiri to talk about how the play was created and why personal stories of violence become political once they are uttered publicly.
“It started from the fact that we visited safe houses. I knew that they existed, and I had read about their experiences in newspapers, but never in the first person,” Zeqiri says. I ask Zeqiri about the tricky act of taking a marginalized group’s stories and shaping them into a narrative frame – and the inherent risk of claiming “ownership” of stories that are deeply personal. Zeqiri explains that the entire cast visited domestic violence shelters along with Hoxha Krasniqi and Zeqiri, a move which helped put everyone at ease. “They were like AA meetings, we all opened up – and at moments all of us were similar on certain levels,” Zeqiri says.
The two survivors who told their stories in the play, Bashkime Sulejmani and Minire Bujupi, give Bits and Pieces the gravity of lived experience. Sulejmani and her son were brutalized by her husband for years, and even threatened with murder. The police failed to give her justice, and she ended up in a shelter. Bujupi was abused by both her husband and her father in law, and served her in-laws like a domestic servant. When she left her husband custody of their daughter was given to his family.
These experiences aren’t unique to Sulejmani and Bujupi. Research shows that the majority of women in Kosovo will experience some form of domestic violence in their lifetime, primarily at the hands of their husband, parents or in-laws. Kosovo’s justice system legitimizes domestic violence to despite progressive legislation, with police officers who refuse to initiate criminal cases against abusers and judges that prefer to keep abusive families together at all costs.
Other narratives woven into Bits and Pieces include the story of a woman who was sexually assaulted by her father as a child, an abusive mother who all but sells her daughter into an undesired marriage, and a lesbian couple that are kidnapped, beaten and raped for being gay. All of these stories, Zeqiri says, are based on real events that happened in Kosovo.
“We don’t like to see these things. We’re ashamed, because we feel, I don’t know, sometimes I feel like the female gender becomes a target – if you bring these things to light, we’re used to placing the blame on the woman. With projects like this, the balance slowly shifts, little by little,” Zeqiri says. The confrontation Bits and Pieces throws at the audience is both a call to wake up and call to action. “One shouldn’t stay in the bubble they feel safe in, to tell yourself that there’s no misogyny,” Zeqiri says.
“Copë Copë” has toured around the country since it premiered last year. Based on its overwhelmingly positive reviews, it seems to have struck a powerful emotional chord with Kosovar audiences. But more importantly, it has given a voice to pain that should have never been silenced in the first place.