Croatia arts festival to stage Houellebecq play after all


A play by author Michel Houellebecq, whose book imagining a Muslim-governed France stirred controversy, will be staged as planned at a Croatian arts festival despite calls for its cancellation over security fears, the Culture Ministry said on Wednesday.

The Dubrovnik Summer Festival announced earlier this month that it would have to cancel Houellebecq's drama "The Elementary Particles" ("Les Particules elementaires") after the Interior Ministry deemed it a "security risk".

But at a meeting held at the Culture Ministry on Wednesday, the festival's organising council voted in favour of sticking with the original programme, which includes Houellebecq's controversial play.

The "security aspect will be discussed at the council's next session," state-run HINA news agency quoted a ministry spokeswoman as saying. The earlier decision to pull the play from the line-up had caused a furore, with Croatian artists slamming the move as censorship. It came after Dubrovnik regional authorities raised concerns over the French author's alleged "negative view towards Islam" and after Dubrovnik county said it would not contribute funding to a programme that might "offend their fellow citizens".

Houellebecq's latest book "Submission", which imagines a France under Islamic rule in 2022, was released in France in January. The novel provoked a fiery debate, with critics accusing the author of stirring up Islamophobia and helping the cause of France's far-right National Front.

In 2001, Houellebecq prompted outrage by stating in an interview that "the most stupid religion is, let's face it, Islam". However, Dubrovnik festival chief Ivana Medo Bogdanovic told AFP earlier that the "Elementary Particles" play was not dealing with religious issues but "rather with the crisis of Western liberal societies in the context of love and relations between a man and a woman".

Almost 90 per cent of Croatia's 4.2 million population are Catholics, while Muslims account for around 1.5 per cent. Although Muslims in the Balkans are mostly moderate, some 600 people from Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia have joined jihadists in Syria and Iraq, according to estimates.

The 66th edition of Dubrovnik festival is opening on 10 July and runs for almost two months over the prime tourist season. (AFP)

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