interview by Boris PAVELIC
BOGDANOVIC: No, I will not. Above all, I am limping a bit. Secondly, so far I have fainted twice under the "Stone flower"; once I almost slipped into comma, and all of that was driven by psychological reactions. Given such previous experiences I would not dare go there again. Especially after hearing that on the Bosnian side there was some sort of trouble, which could be repeated on the Croatian side on Sunday.
In Donja Gradina, on the Bosnian side of the river Sava, last week a commemoration was organized by the Republic of Srpska. There, they repeated the claim that 700,000 persons were murdered in Jasenovac.
Yes, that is the usual figure. I had it confirmed by at least ten distinguished Partisan fighters that it is exaggerated and senseless. I always found it suspicious, and later I heard that it was not correct. Ivan Stambolic personally told me that the number makes no sense as the comparison of the last population census before WWII and the first population census after WWII does not indicate such a large loss of population. However, ultimately it does not matter whether 700,000 or 70,000 or 170,000 were killed. A crime was committed - a horrible crime - and such silly auctioning only diminishes its horror. That auction-like competition with the number of victims is pure madness.
Seven hundred thousand victims, that is, if I may say so, folk poetry. It comes from folk imagination, rounded up so that even the most unsophisticated individual can say it...
How do you, as the author of the project for the whole memorial complex, feel now that it has been split into two parts?
We had problems with that from the start. Jasenovac was being built on the Croatian side, the Flower was already there, but they always had a desire to have their own monument. Then, they did something that made me angry, desperate and fearful. In the early eighties, someone had an idea to build another monument on the Bosnian side of the Sava River, larger than the Flower, and they even picked a project for the monument, done by a sculptor from Slovenia. His proposal was an enormous skull. And then a friend who was on the selection committee tried to calm me down by saying "don't worry, they'll never build it". But the problem is that someone actually had the idea to do that!
Therefore, you fear that the two memorials will remain divided?
It cannot be done. And it would be expensive to boot. But let me tell you something else. The Bosnian monument was supposed to be a skull. However, a skull is also a Chetnik symbol... There could be more trouble.
I am trying to force myself to follow what is going on there, but I don't understand anything. I don't understand the mentality. This is something new, some new, rightist Serbia. My Serbs were always a bit conservative, but now their nationalism is verging on fascism. With the difference that fascism was above all a European [sophisticated] ideology, while the Serb, Balkan fascism is primitive and boils down to "a fist in the face".
In 1988 you wrote the seminal article - "Serbia is tired". I wanted to ask you about that weariness, but you say that now we have a different Serbia...
Yes, yes... Does Serbia exist at all? That is the key question: does Serbia exist any more? Everything young, smart, ambitious, courageous is gone from Serbia. Now a new, dark Serbia is there. They are coming from dark crevices; they know nothing about the rest of the world... In Belgrade you can find young people who haven't seen Bosnia, Sarajevo. They know about Skopje, but they have never seen it... Then, they grow beards. That is very disturbing. Borka Pavicevic told me a story I like to retell. She was leaving the park behind the Yugoslav Drama Theater and overheard three young men talking about the world Jewish conspiracy, using foul language. She asked them, given that there are very few Jews left in Belgrade if they had ever seen any Jews. They said - "we haven't seen any, but we know all about them!" "What do you know about Jews?" she asked them. "They delivered our Lord Jesus Christ to his executors!" "And do you know that Jesus Christ was a Jew?" "Fuck off old hag, you're gonna tell us!" Here, that is horrible. That is the current atmosphere in Belgrade: brutal, violent... The language has changed! There is a trolleybus stop in front of our apartment house. I came down the stairs. The trolleybus stop was very crowded and I had to go by three men who were screaming at each other, waving, pulling each others lapels... I instinctively pulled back. While doing that, I realized they were not arguing, but actually having a conversation. Such savagery! Such stuff would have shocked me incredibly in the past. It is enough to spend ten years away from that atmosphere to start thinking differently, calmly.
They are all waiting to be accepted in the European Union (EU), but they have a very silly vision of how that should work. They think they will join the EU and everyone will be happy to have them and their warriors. Their view of Europe is based on their backward illusions, going back some 100-120 years. Windows of bookstores are full of Serbian officers who fought in WWI. It seems to me there were not too many of them, because there are only a few portraits. That is a full, unbelievable regression, total past. Nowhere else can you find such return to the past as in Serbia.
Nevertheless, supposedly everyone supports accession to the EU?
Forget about it! What Europe! If they every get to Europe they will be dumbfounded. People are lazy; they forgot everything they had learned. In the meantime - do not forget that all of that lasted for twenty years - they've fallen technologically behind. Serbia is a world without sense of time.
The situation in Croatia and Bosnia is not significantly different.
Croatia has built nice roads. That is a sign, a difference. Serbia had very few roads in the past, and now they are all definitely gone. Trains are falling apart. When we travel by train to Belgrade and the train leaves Budapest towards Belgrade... We reach Budapest from Vienna in two-three hours, but then we need seven-eight hours of torture to reach Belgrade... Then, you pass beautiful Vojvodina that is falling apart: empty farms, uncultivated land... Total savagery, stone age... Europe is not perfect, but they...
What is your opinion of Europe?
I am worried. Europe is a big experiment and it would be nice if it succeeded. However, I am too old for optimism. Who knows what will happen!
Well, you see, Serbs are everywhere (laughter). Everyone has their own Serbs! Even the Spaniards, Swedes, everyone. That is a big experiment. It is scary that nothing else can be imagined. If the EU truly fell apart that would set off global instability. That would be horrendous.
Do you think that is possible?
Let's see what happens in Spain.
In Spain the decision will be made in the parliament [wrong, Spain held a referendum on the proposed EU "constitution"].
True, but parliaments do not guarantee anything. They may fail. There are rightists everywhere. Even in Austria, we have our own rightists. They are very confused, but nevertheless very dangerous.
What is your opinion of Heider?
I see his party as an element of chaos. On the other hand, Vienna has a strong socialist base. But in principle, all European countries have potential for veering towards the right, to some sort of "dark" right.
You do not see as a passing trend, but as a deeper tendency?
Yes, it stems from political tradition, human psychology, even illusions, so to speak. Everyone has their own madness, their own Kosovo.
At my age I can only say that none of that is new. Chaos is an essential part of human nature. The world has always been chaotic; the whole history of human race is chaotic. I am sharing pessimism of my advanced age, but we must wonder if human beings can adapt to an ideal society. No! I am telling you horrible things, but that's how I see that: people are evil.
Nevertheless, you persevered. You are not saying that everything was in vain?
You know, I was not a zealot. My decision to turn against nationalism was based on aesthetic grounds - they were just too ugly for my taste.
But you did not give up.
I could not. But that's partly based on my family tradition. My father fought against monarchy. Then, there is the Belgrade tradition, the leftist nature of Belgrade. That is a minority outlook, but it existed in the past. After all, in the past it was unimaginable that kids in park talk about Jewish sins against Jesus Christ.
Let me offer you a better description: I sound old. I do not want to fall in the trap of my youthful reasoning. Recall the old worn out saying: a young conservative is wicked, but an old revolutionary is a fool. But let's look on the bright side. Things are getting quieter and, that is very encouraging, they are getting quieter much faster than was to be expected after such a horrible tragedy. Children will be able to travel again and the only solution is in Europe. If Bosnia-Hercegovina, Serbia bad Croatia joined the EU everything would change. That is the key.
What do you think, why is Croatia not developing faster?
To us, who arrive in Croatia with an image of Serbian roads, it seems Croatia is developing. It's not the same as in Serbia. Serbs want to exterminate Jews.
You know, that book never made it to Belgrade. It was published in Split, by Feral Tribune and they are trying to distribute it in Belgrade, but very few have seen it.
Filip David says that your writing equals that of Danilo Kis?
That is a nice compliment, but I never thought about that. I am an architect, a builder. My writing is a side activity. But, if it is valuable, as you say, I am glad, although that is peripheral. I do not think about it as a writer.
What do you write about?
Soon I'll finish "Vienna trilogy". Besides "Cursed Builder", it also includes "About happiness in cities". Both books are memoirs, but deal with slightly different topics. The third one has a somewhat strange name "Book of dreams". It is striking, perhaps somewhat surprising from the psychological point of view, but in those horrible Belgrade nights, before our escape, I recorded my dreams. Now, soon a book with descriptions of my dreams should be published. It is interesting that those dreams were not nightmares. Only two or three "harder" dreams were included in the book. I'd say that the rest were interesting, as a different world, an escape from the horrible Milosevic's world. Here and there, Milosevic penetrated my dreams, but in a role "worthy" of him. For example, in one dream I saw him as a painter, painting a whole building in red. The "book of dreams" will complete my Vienna trilogy.
Why hasn't more of your writing been translated in Croatia?
I had offers during Racan's government, but everything stopped once the HDZ came back to power. Perhaps someone will again contact me.