Category Archives: Balkans

1934 stroll from the Iron Gate to Istanbul

I am not a member of the Sir Patrick Michael Leigh (“Paddy”) Fermor, DSO, OBE (1915-2011) cult, though I readily stipulate that he had pluck and extensive culture. Decades after his stroll from the Netherlands to Istanbul (which like many Greeks he continued to call “Constantinople”) that took from 8 December 1933 to1 January 1935 and mostly without notes or diaries, he published two books about the trip and worked on a third. The third was put together by Colin Tiburon and Artemis Cooper. It has a baroque style, except for the appended diary of his later first trip to Mount Athos.

I suspect that the 18-19-year-old had not been as virulently anti-Ottoman as the author of The Broken Road was. The Greek nationalist fanaticism and unremitting denigration of Turks mars the book.

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It also has other major problems of organization (wildly digressive) and believability. I do not believe he could have remembered so many details 25-75 years earlier, and his disquisitions on history surely owe much to later reading. I don’t doubt he went where he says he went (much lengthening the trip by swinging from Plovdid in central Bulgaria to the Romanian capital of Bucharest). Nor do I doubt that he cadged off scores of Romanians and Bulgarians, including impoverished peasants as well as Romanian (and, earlier, Hungarian) aristocrats. I find his sense of entitlement to being fed and sheltered very off-putting. His outrage that some Bulgarians would not give him a free ride shows particularly clearly his exploitativeness. (He does sometimes mention unease at others paying for all his meals and drinks, though the reader cannot be sure if he felt this is 1934 or decades later looking at the record of his reliance on the kindness of strangers that exceeded that of Blanche DuBois).

Fermor worked on the manuscript into his 90s. I find the portrait of his 19-year-old self suspect. There is hardly anything about the target of the long walk (with at least one train trip, and lots of rides), not even what is Byzantine in Istanbul, let alone its mosques, Topkapi Palace, and the waterways within its boundaries.

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The parts that most interested me were about his visit to Rustchuk (Russe, Bulgaria on the Danube) and his extended stay (sponging in both cities) in Bucharest. He documented the rabid anti-Semitism of the Romanians (pp. 148-52).

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(interior of Kretzulescu Church in Bucharest, showing typical decoraiton of every inch)

©2018, Stephen O. Murray

The Gorilla Bathes at Noon

“The gorilla bathes at noon” (Gorila se kupa u podne,1993) is not set in Africa. It has a stubborn non-conformist whose verities have banished at its center. A Soviet major, Victor Borisovich, who had been hospitalized (like the devoutly communist mother in “Goodbye, Lenin”) finds that his army has deserted him in Berlin. He remains in dress uniform and he remains loyal to Lenin, not only cleaning a gigantic statue of Lenin, but dreaming of his sort-of-girlfriend in Lenin drag. (There is footage of a Lenin statue being decapitated and the head trucked away. There is also footage of Stalin visiting Berlin recently conquered by the Red Army and other footage from the 1949 Soviet propaganda film/documentary “The Fall of Berlin.”

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The major has access to the Berlin Zoo, steals food intended for the animals, and considers (dreams?) of feeding himself to his compatriots, the zoo’s Siberian tigers, except that neither tiger had ever been in Siberia: one was born in Stüttgart, the other in Budapest.

The sex and the music are muted in contrast to Makavejev’s Yugoslavian films (back when he was allowed to make them). There’s still plenty of comedy of the absurd in “Gorilla.”

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In the other communist founding father veneration film (Tito and Me), I don’t know if the family is Serbian or Croatian. I suspect that instead of speaking Russian, the actors in “Gorilla” are speaking Serbo-Croatian. The abandoned  major is played by “Yugoslav stage actor Svetozar Cvetkovic”) and the film is directed by Dusan Makavejev (director of “WR: Mysteries of the Organism” and “Montenegro”), who may now be German, but was Yugoslav before that was a code word for Serbian. (He was born in Belgrade in 1932.)

©2011, Stephen O. Murray

Rats, sexologists, and switchboard operators

I was bored by Dusan Makavejev’s 1967 “Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator“ (Ljubavni slucaj ili tragedija sluzbenice P.T.T.), one of the three movies in the Criterion Eclipse “” Makavejev: Free Radical” set. I assumed that the sexologist, Dr. Aleksandar Kostich, who natters frequently between scenes of the crime was a fictional parody, but, apparently, he was real, a cinematic objet trouvé. I don’t know if one could say the scenes of baking are documentary or not, but those of political rallies are.

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The Turkish sanitation expert Ahmed (Slobodan Aligrudić) who picks up Izabela (Eva Ras) who is out on the town (/prowl) her fellow switchboard operator (Ruzica Sokić) is charged with exterminating the gray rat population — a species that was introduced to wipe out black rats (like the mongeese of Hawai’i). It is impossible not to suspect that the dueling rat populations are a Metaphor for human politics in a land where communists supplanted Nazis.

The alien (Turk) is a suspect in the murder of Izabela, not least in that her corpse is found in his subterranean workplace (the sewers). Another suspect is the mailman (Miodrag Andric) who gave her rides to work and hit on her incessantly—and when Ahmed was away on business for a month overcame her resistance.

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The whodunit aspect obviously did not much interest Makavejev. Clearly, he was aiming to preach against sexual repression (even before “W.R.: Mysteries of the Orgasm”), but the main romance has none of the quirky charm of even the generally cold-blooded Rainer Fassbiner’s (1974) “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” centering on a Muslim male and an eastern European female.

Ahmed does install a bathtub for Izabela, which introduces a theme taken up again in “The Gorilla Bathes at Noon.”.

 

©2011, Stephen O. Murray

Body-builder showing off in 1942 and 1968

The question is whether ‘Nevinost bez zastite” (Innocence Unprotected), the documentary Dusan Makavejev (W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism; Montenegro; The Gorilla Bathes at Noon) made about/incorporating the first talkie shot in “Yugoslavian” (Serbian and Croatian use different scripts, but these inscribe the same spoken language) the 1942 ‘Nevinost bez zastite,” written, produced and directed by, and starring acrobat/bodybuilder/strongman Dragoljub Aleksic (1900-85) is one strange movie — or two strange movies intercut together.

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The 1942 melodrama has the creakiness of a particularly hokey silent-movie or Victorian play melodrama, except that the damsel in distress, Nada (Ana Milosavljevic) — on whom a rich man ((Bratoljub Gligorijević) is being pressed by a stereotypical wicked stepmother (Vera Jovanovic-Segvić) — is in love with Akrobata Aleksic, and when she speaks of his exploits, records of Aleksic’s daring feats are cut in. Hanging by his teeth from an airplane flying over Belgrade is not the most spectacular of these. (Hey! I have to leave something for the viewer to discover!)

In 1968, Aleksic remained a flamboyant exhibitionist, ready and more or less able to repeat some of his shows of strength. Other cast members (including both the female leads) gather at the grave of a departed one to picnic and reminisce. Makavejev splices in some maps of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, some WWII documentary footage, and large chunks of the 1942 movie.

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It seems that Aleksic and his brother intended to show their movie only after the war, but it did show in Belgrade during the war, which led to postwar charges of collaboration, though both were partisans (guerilla fighters against the Nazis) and even in the “right” partisan faction (the victorious communist one). Though filmed without any official permission, the theatrical release in Belgrade had at least implicit Nazi approval.

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The movie is part of a Criterion Eclipse (barebones) collection “Dusan Makavejev: Free Radical” with two earlier, also short movies shot in Tito’s Yugoslavia: “Man Is Not A Bird” (1965) and “Love Affair” (1967). “Innocence Unprotected” is like its immediate predecessor and “WR” in mixing found footage, documentary, and little narrative.

I’d actually like to know more about what people other than Aleksic thought of the 1942 movie in general and in using the (main) Yugoslavian language in particular, though I knew better than to expect any straightforward documentary from Makavejev. An idiosyncratic collage of “documentary” footage and fiction, much of the movie holds together because of the strength of ego (one completely unjustified by his film-making skill) of Dragoljub Aleksic. Aleksic is the kind of delusional larger-than-life character who would appearl to Werner Herzog, someone also more than willing to blur the fiction/documentary line.

What he shot and spliced together is only fitfully interesting, but is probably more interesting to someone more familiar with the 20th-century history and culture of the Southern Slavs (and I think that I am more familiar with these than most North Americans who are not of Southern Slav ancestry). The 1942 movie is now the first Serbian movie, I guess.

©2009, Stephen O. Murray

 

The most recent collection of essays by Josip Novakovich

Having caught up with the most recent collection of short stories by the Croatian-American-Canadian master Josip Novakovich (1956), Heritage of Smoke, I realized I had missed a collection of his essays, the provocatively titled Shopping for a Better Country. The country in which he was born, Yugoslavia, no longer exists. His hometown Daruvar, was significantly damaged by Serbian/Slavonian military/paramilitary forces during the early 1990s. Novakovich had been going to college in the Serbian city of Novi Stad before going (legally at both ends) to the US in 1976, gradually choosing English… and raising American kids.

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He traveled back to Croatia, as well as teaching in Moscow and Berlin. He took up a position at Concordia University, an Anglophone university in Montréal in 2009. He does not write about Canada or the decision to move there in Shopping, nor much about his third of a century in the US.

The book includes pieces on Vukovar, North Africa, Hungary, Berlin, Russian customs (which refused to allow his son’s cello—or either of the bows for it—back out of the country), and writers’ tombs (in Prague and Paris. There is a very moving, lengthy essay about his mother (Ruth) and her death, a more abstract (and shorter) one on fathers. Having grown up a Baptist in a communist country, and as someone with mixed ancestry (in the most Czech town in Croatia) Novakovich is keenly aware of the tyranny of the majority and attuned to the censorious of small town ethnocentrism in which people seek ways to isolate and ostracize anyone who is different from the majority.

(Vukovar water tower, Oct. 2017 photo by SM)

I found “Why I Can’t Write Erotica” especially insightful about the straitjacket heterosexual male writers now try to write in. “Two Croatias” also communicates much about how Croatians are (mis)perceived. Being a fellow lover of trains, I am saddened by the demise of the Balkan Express (and the Orient Express). And I have seen the still raw damages of Vukovar a decade after the visit about which Novakovich wrote herein. I don’t agree with him about “friendship addiction,” though he has much of interest to say about male competitiveness in his essay on the subject. And the memoir of childhood coughing was unsettling, especially since I was coughing while reading it (though I doubt from tuberculosis).

The book does not proceed in chronological order through the author’s life, or, indeed, in any particular order I can detect. I guess that means the whole is less than the sum of the parts, but many of the parts are masterful and there is much (fairly dark) humor throughout the volume along with recordings of pain, particularly ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia — not exculpating the Croatian fascists’ treatment of Serbs during the Second World War or either Croatian or Serbian war criminals in the wars for independence of Croatia and Bosnia. Kosovo (and Macedonia) don’t figure here, not that there is any lack of atrocities in earlier conflicts!

 

 

©2017, Stephen O. Murray

Internalizing hatred for one’s “kind”

Having read parts of the 1935-44 journal of surviging in Belgrade that Mihail Sebastian (né, Iosif Mendel Hechter, 1907-45) makes it even more difficult to regard his 1934 De două mii de ani, just translated by Philip O Ceallaigh as For Two Thousand Years, as a novel. The narrative voice is the same, and the lack of plot or even much narrative continuity makes 2000 feel more like a journal than a novel.

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It’s not that nothing happens, particularly early on, in 1923 when violence against Jewish students is routine at the University of Bucharest and the narrator is under the spell of a young lecturer on economic history (with a penchant for proto-fascist promotion of Romanian “blood” and the dangers of corruption by Jews), Ghiţă Blidaru, based on Nae Ionescu who wrote a rabidly anti-Semitic foreword to the first edition of the book. It is this teacher who convinced the narrator to leave the liberal arts program and become an architect. (This is fiction; Sebastian became a lawyer, not an architect.)

The narrator goes on to help build an oil well/refinery and, after two years of study in Paris, returns to build a villa with a terrace above the Danube. Anti-Semitism is back on the rise in Romania. It is surprising that Sebastian survived the holocaust and WWII—only to be run down by a truck on the way to the first class he was going to teach, on Balzac, in 1945. The diary of fascist times was not published until 1996, when it was “greeted” with renewed bursts of anti-Semitism in Romania.

The novel was not published in English until 2016. (The diary was published in the UK in 2001, in the US in 2012.) Its interest is more for documentation of Romanian fascism and of the psychopathology of self-hatred than as a novel, even a novel of consciousness. It was published in association with the US Holocaust Museum.

I think there is too little Bildung for it to be a Bildgunsroman: rather than growth, it documents flight from very pain-giving reality, following attempts by the narrator(/author) to understand the virulent hatred for Jews.

“I was expecting signs in the street—and there was nothing in the street but confusion, the fog of stupidity, intoxication. So I took refuge in intellectual problems, which cast no light, but gave me consolation.” (109)

“It was difficult to follow the progressive hardening of enity from one day to the next. Suddenly you find yourself surrounded on all sides, and have no idea how or when it happened. Scattered minor occurrences, gestures of no great account, the making of casual little threats. An argument in a gram today, a newspaper article tomorrow, a broken window after that. These things seem random, unconnected, frivolous. Then, one finr morning, you feel unable to breathe.” (209)

… And this was published in 1934. Things were going to get far worse, especially during the Iron Guard pogroms! (The reader knows this, though the author back then did not.)

For me, the most interesting character is an itinerant seller of books in Yiddish, Abraham Sulitzer, who has a passionate speech about Yiddish as a living language (nor a corrupt dialect of German, nor the attempted reincarnation of Hebrew outside synagogues):

“real Yiddish is a living, breathing language. Millions of Jews speak it, millions live through it. For these millions are printed the books uou see, for those million Yiddish is written, translations are made into Yiddish, and Jewish theater ir performed. It is a complete world, a complete people with itw own elite…. There are Yiddish novelists, poets, critics and essayists… The edgy, gritty urban realism of the ghetto and the mysticism of the synagogue unite in this folk-culture of the Jewish neighborhood.” (83)

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The narrator is convinced Jews are assimilating into national cultures, including Romanian. He rejects Zionism and Marxism, each having a representative advocate among his agemates (Sami Winkler and S.T. Haim, respectively). Most of the book is very talky. I doubt I would have read even the first part if I had had something else to read with me, though I finished the book later, at home.

 

©2017, Stephen O. Murray

 

 

A new collection of often harrowing, sometimes very funny stories by Josip Novakovich

I think that Croatian-Canadian author Josip Novakovich (1956-) is the greatest living writer of short stories. He has also published powerful collections of essays and what I consider The Great Croatian Novel, April Fool’s Day.

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This high esteem does not mean that I like everything he writes. Indeed, I hated the last story in his 2017 collection Heritage of Smoke, “In the Same Boat,” the only one not set in Europe or North America (but on the Pacific Ocean south of the US/Mexico border). And I didn’t much like the penultimate story, ‘Remote Love,” which centers on inventor Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), who was born in a Serbian village in what is now Croatia (but then was part of the Hapsburg/Austro-Hungarian Empire), attended high school in German in Karlovac, which is also now in Croatia, moved on to Vienna, Prague, and, eventually New York, where Novakovich’s story is set.

Enough about stories I disliked. I think that “Acorns” is a great work, centering on a UN translator who is disgusted by the complicity with Serbian genocide of the UN “peacekeepers,” has very harrowing adventures as a prisoner of a Serbian unit, and after finding her husband who has come searching for, spends months in a Bosnian unit. Living in the aftermath of rape is one important aspect of the story—not just for Ana.

The title story, which centers on an unexpected inheritance is the funniest story in the collection. The humor is not entirely dark, as, for instance that in “White Mustache” is. It recalls brothers who were swept up (drafted) by opposing forces during WWII, the fascist Utashas who outdid the Nazis in atrocities, and the anti-fascist partisans (chetniks). Both militias forced young men into their ranks (as later, in El Salvador). Let’s say that the narrator learns why his elderly relatives believe in ghosts…

“Be Patient” in which a child is overdosed with experimental (American) measles vaccine and gets her wish to adopt a dog only posthumously. “Dutch Treat” is an example of the maxim “No good deed goes unpunished,” when a Dutchman named Martin who had been among the UN “peacekeepers” unknowingly aided Serbians (Army of Srpska) to massacre Croatians at Srebrinca in 1995. In New York City he meets a man who remembers him from there and then. His aid gets him in very serious trouble in NYC.

“When the Saints Come” is more typical American short story fare about the dissolution of a marriage, though set mostly in Jerusalem. “Eclipse Near Golgotha” goes back the crucifixion of Christ, focusing on the unrepentant thief crucified beside Jesus. “The Wanderer” grew up in East Jerusalem and passes through Croatia.

“Strings” is a mock-heroic tale of multi-ethnic (Russian, Swiss-French, Croatian) students exterminating a rat. Soccer hooliganism provides a background for some more very dark humor in Ideal Goalie” and the sardonic, surprising “Crossbar,” which also involved grizzly bears given the Zagreb zoo by (Clinton-era) America.

There is a lot of displacement, a lot of wariness, more than a little violence in Novakovich’s stories. Though disdaining any objective history, the characters (OK, especially the Serbian ones) nourish ancient grudges against “Turks,” which they take out on Bosnian Muslims. (Bosnians converted to Islam during Ottoman times, but were not Turks.) This has continued with Albanian Kosovars (the vast majority of the people in Kosovo, though Serbs used to dominating everyone else within the Yugoslavia they claim to perpetuate as one region after another breaks loose).

Though I recommend stopping at page 182, there are alternately horrifying and moving stories before that point. In particular, I think that “Acorns” should have a very wide readership, by no means limited to those interested in what happened in Bosnia, since similar things continue to happen in “civil wars” in various places.

(BTW, after many years teaching in the US, the author of Shopping for a Better Country  moved on to Concordia University in Montréal in 2009.)

©2017, Stephen O. Murray

Macedonian stories

Though a great admirer of the Macedonian film “Before the Rain,” I have to say that I had never given even a passing thought to Macdonian literature until I picked up Faceless Men and Other Macedonian Stories by Meto Jovanovksi (1928-2016. The collection of English translations of a dozen Jovanovski was published in 1992, before the implosion of Yugoslavia. Indeed, the stories must have been written in a Yugoslavia that was communist.

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(Bitola, the closest city to Jovanovski’s home village of Braychino; photo by Dars, CC)

The story most explicit about the old communist regime is “The President of the Central Committee.” The titular character is obsessing about a case of a minor crime, while his insides are rotting.

“A Completely Loyal Citizen” is set in a system of acute irrationality, not specifically named as communism. What happens in it is likely to appall most tender-hearted western readers. Memorable, it certainly is.

The longest story, “The Balkans are an Ocean” is a picaresque tale of two Macedonians and various armies during the First World War. It prefigures his picaresque novel (available in English) Cousins, about the misadventures of a pair of cousins through various warring Balkan countries.

“Faceless Men” is a horror story that did nothing to interest me. For me “A Completely Loyal Citizen” is also a horror story, one that made me wince.

There are two stories with folklore resonances: “Flight to Eternity” and “Tote’s Finest Story.” “Marriage is a Need for a Man” is very rooted in the traditional Balkan rural mindset.

The first and the last stories in the collection, “The Man in the Blue Suit” and “The Red Bus” both involve busses during communist times. Both have mysterious well-dressed strangers disrupting everyday life (milling while waiting for the bus, and the strict hierarchy of seating that the stranger upends on the red bus. (The settings of these two stories are more urban than those of many of the others.)

Jovanovski was exploring the notion of Macedonia as a country with its own culture. He said he was influenced by American writers, specifically Hemingway, Faulkner and [Erskine] Caldwell.

Jeffrey Folks, who translated ten of the twelve stories, wrote in his introduction:

“Jovanovski likes in Skopje [the capital city] for much of the year, retreating to his ancestral village of Braychino in the summer monts. As with many Macednonians of his generation, he retains memories of the village life, and his moral vision is shapted to some extent by a traditionalism based on village mores [especially in “Marriage is a Need for a Man, the title of which is axiomatic there]. There is a dissatisfaction with the direction of ‘modern’ life and a longing to return to more meaningful relationships based on community and family.”

 

©2017, Stephen O. Murray

 

A great movie from Macedonia

I’m not sure that “Before the Rain”(“Pred dozhdot), a 1995 Oscar nominee for best foreign-language film, written and directed by Milcho Manchevski, is a good movie, but have no doubt that it is a great one. It is comprised of three episodes: the first two near the coast of Macedonia, the middle one in London. What happens in the third one follows the second one and seems to precede the astonishing opening one… but the second one also temporally follows events in the first one. “The circle is not round” is proclaimed in all three parts and in some ways the movie is more a Moibus strip than a circle. The Balkans is a region in which the past never seems to be past, in which outrages five or ten centuries ago are believed to cry out for revenge.

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Fierce hatred of Greek Orthodox Macedonians and Muslim Albanians bubbles over repeatedly throughout the course of the movie. The kind of ethnic warfare that was going on in Bosnia at the time the film was being shot broke out in 2001. It could have surprised no one who had seen “Before the Rain” before then.

I don’t like to regurgitate plot unless I can do so in ways that comment on it. I think that “plot spoiling” is exaggerated as a crime against readers generally, but in the case of “Before the Rain,” telling pretty much anything of what happens is at least a disservice to those who have not seen the movie — and that is, alas, a far-too-large population!

In the first part of Kiril, a young priest played by Grégoire Colin (Beau Travail), who has taken a vow of silence (getting around the actor not speaking Macedonian) harbors a Muslim (a feral Labina Mitevska whose character’s name is eventually revealed to be Zamira) who is being hunted by the Christians. Colin radiates compassion, which turns out to be a very dangerous feeling in all three parts of the movie.

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The second part is set in London, introducing a Macedonian photojournalist, Aleksander (Rade S[h]erbezija) who has just won a Pulitzer Prize for work in Bosnia. He invites a married (and pregnant) London picture-editor, Anne (Katrin Cartlidge), to accompany him on a return to his native village. She stays to ask her husband for a divorce.

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In the third part, Aleksander discovers “you can’t go home again,” all the more so if “home” was Yugoslavia, and all the more if you want to see the love of your youth who is of a different ethnicity (the Albanian minority in this case). Haunted by what he saw in Bosnia and desperate to prevent similar fratricide (among those who have ceased to consider themselves “brothers”), he takes action, which involves Zamira — who may be his daughter.

The writing is very impressive, the cinematography by Manuel Teran (Savage Nights, Banlieue 13), especially of the first part, is more than impressive. Each of the three parts has a different look. The first part is in the company of parts of “The English Patient” and “Beau travail.”

Katrin Cartlidge (Naked, Breaking the Waves) stands out in the middle section as someone knowingly disappointing both her husband and her lover and pained by the knowledge. As Aleksander Rade Serbezija is tormented by guilt for a prisoner who was shot after Aleksander complained of not having anything to photograph. At “home” after nearly being killed by family members and the son of his old flame, he takes a stand against ethnic violence. Well, more than a stance — he intervenes. That he fails to stop the violence is something anyone with the slightest familiarity of the history of the Balkans during the last two decades knows.

DVD extras

The Criterion edition transfer to DVD is outstanding even for Criterion, which is to say superlative. This was obvious watching the feature, and underlined by watching the 1993 “making of” featurette, which is quite interesting. The disc also includes a 2008 interview with Rade Serbezija about the movie, which paralleled his own experience as an ethnically Serbian prominent person raised in Croatia — and who had just made it out of Sarajevo before the Serbian military began the siege and carnage. Serbezija (whom I remember most vividly as the Greek trickster in “The Truce” and the police inspector in “The Quiet American,” but is probably best known for his mentoring role in “Batman Begins”) recalls people who were fans of his (as the biggest film star in Yugoslavia) and a year later wanted to kill him (Croatians with whom he grew up for being “a Serb,” Serbs for being a “traitor” in condemning the violence). The movie shows, the bonus features tell (the way it’s ‘spozed to be!)

There is also five minutes of miscellaneous videos from the movie’s making, 15 minutes of soundtrack selections, and Manchevski’s 1992 Grammy-winning (black-and-white) rap music video “Tennessee” (the Arrested Development song).

 

©2009, 2017, Stephen O. Murray

 

Cutsey animals recalling eastern European communism

I consider Slavenka Drakulic one of the best explicators of what it was like on the ground under and after communism. Yugoslavia was somewhat less totalitarian than the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries, though its dissolution was the bloodiest. Her 2009 book titled Two Underdogs and a Cat has serious message under the cutsey animal narrators. One of the “underdogs” is a mouse in a Museum of Communism in Prague. The exhibits contain material from Russia as well as Czechoslovakia (the focus is communist times, before the peaceful fission), though what is most salient — the pervasive atmosphere of fear, the shortages and endless queues — cannot be displayed. There is very little mousiness/mouse perspective. The analyses repeat what a Professor Perlik’s lectures said. But even a mouse observing museum visitors notices that “something mean and suspicious, something hypocritical still lingers within the people… as if people have not changed that much, not in their minds.”

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The oldest dog in Bucharest has concerns with the plight of stray dogs in the Romanian capital, dating back to the destruction of central city neighborhoods for Ceaușescu’s “Palace of the People (pictured below last month) and the grand avenue leading to it that he insisted must be bigger than the Champs Élysées in Paris. Displaced people abandoned many of their pets, and the population of stray dogs multiplied. Like the mouse, this dog sees a continuation of mentality: “Generally speaking, people still believe that there will always be someone ‘up there’ to take a decision in their names whom they can blame later on. Yesterday it was Comminism, today it’s the [EU] bureaucracy in Brussels. Leaving everything to the higher-ups, not taking the initiative, not willingly acting in the common interest is what our problem is. What to do when there’s not even an idea of common interest, a common good?”

The cat, who seems to me more feline than the dog is canine, belongs to the general (never-named, but clearly Wojciech Witold Jaruzelski) who declared martial law to put down Solidarity agitation in 1981. The cat wholeheartedly supports the general’s contention that the alternative to martial law was an invasion by the Soviet army (which many contend Brezhnev was not planning, and which General Jaruzelski at one point seemed to invite). The cat accepts her owner’s rationale, though when General Jaruzelski was charged in 2006 it was for illegal imprisonment rather than for declaring martial. I am surprised that — even in the guise of a long letter to the state prosecutor from a cat — that Drakulic seems so sympathetic to the plight of the Polish dictator. Though many Poles considered Jaruzelski a traitor, the Polish Quisling, a 2001 poll found more than half the populace (and even AAdam Michinik) accepting the rationale of an alternative to Soviet occupation.

The philosophical (sophist?) cat observes that “after all, most Poles did not choose to live under Communism they merely went along with it,a ccepting the military regime as reality. It is not in their interest to go back and wash their own dirty linen.” In contrast, Draulikc supported the trials for war crimes and crimes against humanity by both Croatian and Serbian leaders of the later violence through which she lived (They Would Never Hurt a Fly).

Drakluic’s would be Aesopian anthropomorphism verges on insipidness, and seems to me cutesier than, say, the 2016 Disney “The Jungle Book” with its array of talking animals.

Having recently been in Croatia (and Serbia), I’d like to know what Drakulic thinks about life after the dust of civil war has settled with a generation that not only does not remember communism but does not remember the carnage of ethnic cleansing among the southern Slavs.

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Overestimating the interest in her writing about communist eastern Europe through phony animal voices, Drakulic added another five monologues for a 2011 expanded reprinting with the title one of the original three, “A Guided Tour through the Museum of Communism” (the mouses’ observtions and overhearing. These include more attempts to make the autocrats of your sympathetic, including Albania’s General Mehmet Shehu, whose suicide was viewed by the psychoanalyst mother of the raven narrating an “unusual case.” There is an extended riff on the incomprehensibility to moles of burrowing under the Berlin wall to get into what the moles regarded a prison (in that West Berlin was surrounded by walls) that grates quickly, a pig writing a cookbook and explaining the differences between goulash and gulag, the last gypsy-owned dancing bear in Bulgaria (now retired), and an extended account of a foppish womanizer Marshall who is obviously Tito, from Drakulic’s native Yugoslavia. Since she is Croatian (his mother was Croatian, his father Slovenian) this is the account closest to home. It treats the Marshal with bemused affection without being as much an apologia for him as General Jaruzelski)’s cat offered. The parrot talking about his foibles hits on a major matter: that the Marshal was able to conceive that he was mortal. So, he ignored doctors’ advise and died sooner and with no successor groomed to hold things together after he was gone.

There are more records in the adde stories of authoritarian personalities lost without a dictator and lacking the guaranteed minimums of food and housing offered by the communist overlords. “Like every autocrat, the Marshal ruled by fear. But could you, please tell Koki how elese one could rule people around here. Tribes need a leader, an authority that has the power to punish them. The big boss in uniform with rows of decorations, that’s what they wanted to see.?

For me, three was already too much. Drakulic did not attempt dialogue between animals (as in Animal Farm, which is mentioned in two of the three blurbs for Tour, or in Disney movies, but the cumulative effect of her cutsey mouthpieces mutes the entertainingness of one or two in isolation.