By Aleksandar Vasovic
BELGRADE (Reuters) - While lockdown measures have eased in Serbia, allowing indoor gatherings of up to 500 people and a soccer match attended by around 20,000, the country's theatres remain closed and some performers complain that culture is being demoted.
They say that at a time of crisis, the government has failed to back the country's arts.
"Theatres never closed ... not even during the Spanish flu (pandemic) or plague or cholera," said Dusanka Glid, a lead actress at the National Theatre, which is based in the capital Belgrade.
"It is as if they are being abolished, as if they are redundant," she told Reuters.
Serbia has reported 12,522 cases of the coronavirus and 257 deaths.
In restaurants and cafes around the city, life is returning to normal as people sip coffee and chat.
Most stage actors, meanwhile, remain out of work and out of pocket.
As part of Serbia's 5.1 billion euro ($5.73 billion) recovery programme, independent artists received a one-off financial aid payment of 90,000 Serbian dinars ($860.75).
Under provisions of the 2019 budget, about 0.73% of gross domestic product is allocated to Serbia's culture.
Many theatres in Serbia have tried to ride out the pandemic by streaming performances online or airing past plays.
And in late June and July, Belgrade theatres will start taking turns to use one of Belgrade's open-air stages. But even that will only last a few weeks, and most theatres will remain closed at least until October, when the new season traditionally begins.
Sonja Lapatanov, a ballet teacher and former prima ballerina at the National Ballet, said the government, which faces a general election on June 21, was putting mainstream entertainment ahead of theatre, opera and dance.
"When you need to fool the people and you need to give them something to enjoy, then they are given mass events."
($1 = 0.8903 euros)
($1 = 104.5600 Serbian dinars)
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Mike Collett-White)