by Igor LASIC
The contested article dealt with the meeting of the Korcula local council at which the councilors selected the manager of Ivan Vidal library. At the meeting, HDZ councilors rewarded the diligence of Izabel Skokandic by promoting her from the acting manager of the library to its full-blown manager. However, although the article specified that Skokandic ordered that books be dumped into garbage, a part of the headline stated that she had them burned, which was a paraphrased quote of one of the HDZ councilors from the meeting. Since Skokandic did not actually burn about 700 books, but instead had them taken to a garbage dump, this part of the headline was sufficient to push her into agony and mental suffering, while Migotti-Gajski confirmed the diagnosis. Apparently, it was irrelevant that the competent authorities in Dubrovnik concluded that the mentioned reduction in the library book fund was “illegal from its beginning to the end”. Dubravka Migotti-Gajski found that document utterly irrelevant.
Moreover, besides that opinion, the Croatian Librarian Council last year conducted an investigation and concluded (this conclusion was referred to by Minister of Culture Antun Vujic) that the manager of the library Ivan Vidali “harmed the dignity of the whole profession”. The council condemned “this and all similar cases, if there were any” (Novosti, Croatian Librarian Society, issue 17, 2001). We shall return to other cases - “if there were any” – later in this article… But, as far as this case is concerned, our virtuous judge ignored the views of the Croatian Librarian Council and literally in her verdict emphasized that Izabel Skokandic “…obviously professionally conducted her duties”. Naturally, we would not dare question the professionalism of Dubravka Migotti-Gajski, but let us mention in passing that both Migotti-Gajski and Skokandic obviously share the same view of professionalism.
The verdict clearly states that in this case “the crucial issue was whether the books had been disposed of at a garbage dump or burned, as was claimed in the contested article”. Yours truly tried at a hearing, as a witness, to explain to judge Migotti-Gajski why that was not “the crucial issue”, and that the difference between dumping books into garbage or burning them was only a formal distinction. Namely, every destruction of books – that violates regulations for destruction of old books – is equally scandalous; the ritual burning of books is not necessary for this act to be condemned as uncivilized. After Nazis and before them the Inquisition, the pyre is sometimes only a metaphor for showdowns with unsuitable books, but definitely not the only means for those showdowns. Moreover, the choice of a different method instead of a public burning indicates a desire to hide the destruction of books. However, the Croatian Librarian Council should be reminded that the cleansing of books in Korcula was not the only case of that sort in Croatia. For example, Feral has discovered and wrote on several occasions about other cases of that kind. The incident in Korcula was the best researched, but it is definitely not the only one. In 1992, all managers of school libraries received “Mandatory instructions for use of library books”, signed by the then Minister of Culture and Education Vesna Girardi-Jukic, which opened the gates for hygienic library activities among Croats.
The second instruction, much worse in content, was signed by certain Veronika Celic-Tica from the Zagreb National and University Library. She instructs that “only books of Croat writers and translated by Croat translators be kept in libraries (books by writers of other ethnicity are to be exceptionally kept only if the book is on the mandatory reading list)”. Obviously, only ethnic Croats can be Croat writers… The instruction also orders that “… for the sake of elementary hygiene, children picture books, that are linguistically unsuitable, have no place in school libraries”. This detail would make proud even Wolfgang Hermann, the chief creator of the book destruction program during the Third Reich. Finally, in early 1998, the then Minister of Economy Borislav Skegro openly announced that the money collected by the Value Added Tax would partly be used for cleansing of libraries from books in the Serb and similar languages. He did not explain what these languages “similar to” the Serb languages are, but one is led to believe that he was not referring to the Croatian language. In such an atmosphere, if ministers urge destruction of books and promise to finance such efforts, are numerous librarians not expected to roll up their sleeves and get to work?
Feral has discovered and publicized several cases of destruction of books, besides the one in Korcula, over the years. The manager of the library in the primary school Nikola Hribar in Velika Gorica ordered in 1992 that about 400 books be burned in the school heating furnace. In the summer of 1992 there was a scandal in Slatina, where several containers full of books, altogether about 3,000 books from the library of the Culture center in Slatina, were dumped at the local garbage dump in Radosavci. In the summer of 1997, the Split City Library kept in the hallway of the Bishop’s Palace in Split about 15 cubic meters of books, which, according to statements of certain citizens, later disappeared without a trace. The Croatian Library Council, on the other hand, concluded in its report about the destruction of books in Croatia that the case “was inappropriately given political context”. This conclusion was reached based on the inspection of book shelves that located a few samples of Serb literature… In the meantime we could hear about the examples of the books that ended up in garbage in Korcula. For example, if Oscar Wilde and Jack London ended up in garbage, and they are definitely not Serbs, then the destruction of books could not have had an ideological basis. Sure! Cleansed books by Oscar Wilde and Jack London were simply published in Belgrade of Sarajevo, while Izabel Skokandic, even though the law obliged her to do so, failed to include the name of the publisher in the list of discarded books. If someone is still not convinced in the ideologically driven purge of Croatian libraries, let us mention that during the nineties only in Zagreb libraries ten percent of books were discarded each year, although the law specifies that only 3 percent of the book fund may be discarded annually.
In the end, the Croatian Librarian Council complained in its report about Korcula that “for now there is no developed methodology for action in this and similar situations in which lack of professionalism serious endangers the standing of the profession”. Of course, lack of professionalism is not the problem here. The true problem is deformed politics and also the desire of the Croatian Librarian Council to hush up the whole scandal. The important message, as quoted above, is that no one will be sanctioned, because “there is no developed methodology” for something like that. Actually, so far only Feral has been sanctioned, and since Skokandic has filed several suits against the magazine, its editors and journalists, we may end up being fined more than once. Ms Dubravka Migotti-Gajski, who independently concluded the first one of the cases, should not be upset at having her decision dissected here. This was nothing personal. As far as we are concerned, she, as well as Izabel Skokandic, are merely typical examples of prevailing trends in Croatian judiciary, or Croatian libraries.