On the Stage of LNDT - five stories about the search for a new homeland

On November 25, five immigrants living in Lithuania will tell their stories to theatergoers for the first time. A small business owner from Afghanistan who has not seen his wife and children for four years, two members of the Russian opposition, a Muslim student from Turkey, and a love migrant from Lebanon are the main characters of the play Dreamland by the Lithuanian National Drama Theater.

Lithuanians Don’t Appreciate What They Have

Vsevolod Chernozub, a member of the opposition in Russia, became an activist when he still was a student. He studied psychology, but he never worked as a psychologist. Instead, he engaged in public relations and politics. Vsevolod was a member of the council of the “Solidarnost” movement, working shoulder to shoulder with Boris Nemtsov, Garry Kasparov, and Ilya Yashin. When the Bolotnaya case was launched and many of the people who had protested the inauguration of Vladimir Putin at the square of the same name were sent to prison, Vsevolod decided to flee Russia. He has been living in Vilnius for four years now.

“People in Lithuania are well aware of what’s happening in Russia. They can learn about it from the news. But it is important that people of Europe understand that not all refugees come from developing countries. For Europeans it’s hard to identify themselves with people from Africa – they feel superior to them – but when a country whose citizens are asking for asylum in Lithuania is very close, it’s easier for Lithuanians to understand that they themselves may one day end up being refugees. It is important that young people, who did not live in the Soviet Union, understand this. They should know that if they tolerate corruption, partial judges, crime and lying politicians, if they do not participate in politics themselves, then what happened in Russia may very well happen in their country too,” says Vsevolod.

For Vsevolod this performance is one of the forms of integration, because it allows him to meet interesting people. According to Vsevolod, who has always been interested in culture, the language of art is a very good way to talk about migration, multi-ethnicity and problems faced by refugees.

“Lithuanians are well aware of their country’s problems, that emigration is huge, that the standard of living is not as high as, say, in Sweden. But, in my opinion, there are many good things here that you do not appreciate. The main thing is that the authorities change during elections. In the time I have been here, the authorities have changed both in Vilnius and in the parliament. Whether you like the new government or not, it is important that you can change it. This should be appreciated. After all, everyone knows that when her term is over, your president will leave the post and she knows it too. In Russia, it would be hard to imagine a politician losing the election and leaving,” says a participant of Dreamland.


Will Try to Break Stereotypes about Muslims

Feyzanur Önal, the only girl in the performance, comes from Turkey. She is studying Business Management at Vilnius Gediminas Technical University. Feyzanur began her studies in her native Turkey, but when her university, like many others in the country, was closed, the girl looked for opportunities to study in Europe. The young woman’s uncle owns a business in Lithuania, so she came to study in Vilnius. In her opinion, people in Lithuania are afraid of foreigners, and think of Muslims only as terrorists. Feyzanur hopes that her appearance in the performance will help to break these stereotypes.

“I have never worked at the theater before, so I was curious to try. I am curious by nature. However, I also saw that Lithuanians are not extraverts, they are shy, afraid of foreigners, I could see it in their eyes. So I thought that if they saw that a girl wearing a hijab is open and communicative, this could help break stereotypes. This is the first step to show that Muslims are normal people. We are socially active, we speak other languages. Islam is similar to Christianity or Judaism. The only difference is how we practice our faith. The principles are the same in all the religions – do not lie, do not speak ill of others, do not steal. Jesus is one of the main prophets in Islam. He is mentioned in the Koran many times. The differences are very small, but we, the people, manage to create huge problems out of them,” says the Turkish woman.

Feyzanur says she has not encountered hostile behavior of Lithuanian people, although she had heard girls say that in Vilnius people pulled their hijab, but she thinks that when she came to Lithuania there were already more foreigners here and Lithuanians received them in a more friendly manner. The young woman says that she has many friends in Vilnius, but admits that most of them are foreigners.

Feyzanur says that she gets curious looks all the time. “At first, I thought: Feyzanur, do you really look so strange? But after this summer’s holiday, I realized that these people are looking at me because the only Muslims they have seen were on TV and now they are seeing a real Muslim woman with a hijab, so they want to see how it looks in real life, how she’s wearing it. When I changed my mind, I began to love those people more and started smiling at them. It really changes their behavior, I noticed it,” says Feyzanur.

A Long Way to Europe and Marginal Experiences

The third participant of Dreamland, Zabi Ahmadi, is from Afghanistan. The story of this small business owner is the closest to a typical refugee story. Zabi paid a lot of money for his trip to Europe. He traveled for 25 days on foot, spent almost 24 hours in a truck of refugee smugglers. After arriving in Lithuania, he traveled to Germany, France, and then to Great Britain, until he ended up in Lithuania again. Zabi has been living in the Pabradė foreigners’ Registration Center for two and a half years now, although according to the law, the decision on granting asylum must be made within 3 months, extending the term for another 3 months if necessary. The Afghan man has not seen his wife and children for four years.

Apart from Vsevolod’s story, the audience will hear another shocking account of a Russian citizen. His name is Daniil Konstantinov. Daniil worked as a lawyer in Moscow. Besides, he contributed to the opposition movement, received serious accusations from the state, and subsequently spent two years in prison. When he was released, he heard that the crackdown on him was not over, so he and his wife decided to flee Russia.

Dreamland will also tell the story of a “love migrant” Abdo Zein Al Abedeen from Lebanon. His story, according to the creative team, is the most optimistic. Abdo met his wife Jekaterina on the internet and corresponded with her for two years. The woman travelled to Beirut from Klaipėda and the couple got married. Since the situation in Lebanon was not very stable, they decided to move to Lithuania. The Lebanese man has been living in Lithuania for ten years, he has a Lithuanian citizenship. He and his wife have two children. Abdo works as an IT specialist at Nasdaq.

Lack of Solidarity across the Region

Migration expert Karolis Žibas, a valuable consultant of Dreamland’s creative team, says that this performance is necessary not only for the modern Lithuanian society, but also for the whole of Central and Eastern Europe: “We see a huge polarization and a solidarity crisis. To be more precise, we are witnessing selective solidarity and selective human rights, which illustrates the value crisis in the whole region.

We cannot believe that we will be able to cope with the local problems without coping with global challenges. This performance is important because it makes you wonder why, after the Second World War, political refugees from our region received help from all over the world, yet today we do not want to show similar solidarity. I am not talking only about Lithuania but about the whole region.

This play is not only about the lack of solidarity as an important context for asylum policy. It speaks about society, individual experiences, opposition to solidarity and human rights, attempts to fit in. About how people feel when they stop actively participating in civil society and become outcasts.”

Dreamland, directed by Mantas Jančiauskas, will premiere at the Lithuanian National Drama Theater, on November 25 and 26, at 4 pm.