Balkan Art Scene
Dušan Sabo⎯ Memory Tends to Be Selective and Some of the Authors Are Clearing Their Consciousness
The book "Sarajevo, those days..." is a published manuscript of the diary that the author, Dušan Sabo, journaled in the period between the end of 1991 and the middle of 1993, while staying and surviving in besieged Sarajevo.
Thirty years after the events described in it, this diary represents a valuable existentialist document about the life of an individual in a time marked by ideologies of collectivity, the same ones that condition political life in the countries of the Western Balkans to this day, shaping the fate of all who try to live in this climate.
Your collection of diary entries from the period of the siege under the title "Sarajevo, those days... (Diary 1991-1993)" was successfully published this year by Foundation EKIPA. As there are many literary works that cover Sarajevo siege, could you tell us what makes your perspective unique on this matter?
I have read several diaries written during the siege and which, with their descriptions, serve as testimonies. What happened before the eyes of their authors was simply like that. The truths in them can be abused by subsequent interpretations, but they cannot be changed. Here I am thinking especially of „Diary from Pale 1992“, by a friend and journalist Mladen Vuksanović. However, when numerous war memoirs (let's call them retrodiaries), based on incomplete notes, began to be published, it became clear to me that memory tends to be selective and that some of their authors, each for their own reason, are clearing consciousness.
I did not write the diary because of the testimony. I was aware that each of us in Sarajevo could testify to the same. My motive was and remains extremely personal, intellectually perhaps pretentious. As an oppositionist in both the communist and nationalist order, it was necessary for me to recognize, based on the very modest data that reached us, the citizens under siege: what is happening tectonically, as an invisible process of stiring war and politics, and which of their social shapes will determine our future destiny. I wondered what would remain as the truth about everything, when all the blood gets washed off the clothes and the asphalt.
Therefore my daily records, raw and unprocessed as they were written, do not contribute much to collective memory as they stop the collective oblivion. You understand the nuance: I was interested in observations that today many would sink into collective amnesia. So if they do not remember, let them not forget.
Diary entries were being written up until your travel to Paris in 1993, where you stayed. The diary entries were being kept from the public eye for 30 years, so what led you to publish them?
Diary entries started a few years before the war. Their purpose was to temporarily put aside all my doubts and unconvincing ideas in art, until one day, or maybe never, I unravel it. In this, "involuntarily, but secretly" (this is a Croatian oxymoron coined by me), helped me immensely a fictitious interlocutor: Miroslav Krleža. He was neither to the liking of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (especially before it came to power), nor to the nationalists after its collapse (when they came to power and still occupy it). With Krleža, that epoch-making giant of a writer and intellectual, I did not share the greatness, but I did share a common destiny: the social environment always valued critical intelligence, but never followed it. What I want to say is that my diary was created under the star sign "publish post mortem".
Publication of the Diary today, began His Majesty the Occasion. Matija Bošnjak, the editor "responsible" for its public disclosure, then a young man in professional maturity, was crossed by unpredictable paths. Let's not forget that there is an age difference of two generations between Matija and me. The war chased him to safety when he was an age for spielhozne. And when we got close enough, I showed him my several manuscripts, of which only a few dozen were the typed pages of the Diary.
The rest belongs to the passage of time, the birth of the publishing house Fondacija EKIPA. The most honest answer to your question about the motives that led me to publish Diary is: I was led to do so by its current editor, Matija Bošnjak. And let me continue rhetorically with honesty: isn't it fantastic that a manuscript, from the darkness of a drawer, is recognized by someone from the younger generation as something so valuable that they bring it out into the light of the day?
Photo: Private archive
You are a writer and a director, with decades of experience from essays and dramas and academic papers to film and theatre directing. When it comes to Sarajevo siege, why not write a drama, or develop it further into a play?
In the middle of '93, I was in France, and I noticed that there is no lack of sympathy with the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but that understanding is not exactly complete in everything. I devoted the entire first year of my stay to sensitizing the public opinion, starting from participation in public forums, through a theater performance in Grenoble ("Conquest of life") to happening in Chambéry ("Waiting for the beginning, waiting for the end"). Then I returned to my basic profession in the field of directing and acting pedagogy. I also published a textbook for directing (Le traité de mise en scène).
Then I had a doubt that most of the authors from the disintegrated Yugoslavia would do what the foreign public expected of them: to thematically cover the war. I made a firm decision not to become a war profiteer, an eternal victim of war in art and the art of a victim in war. My artistic prism is irony poisoned through humor and satire. I started to go beyond the existing genres and found myself once again in complete misunderstanding. Prejudices and expectations have always influenced the decisions of publishers, film producers and theater directors. If you experienced and survived the war, why are you interested in the intellectualization of vaudeville? You walked in blood and now you're writing a novel about people who, with full imagination, pronounce grammatically perfect nonsense in a Parisian setting? No war in all this?
So you understood: careers and jobs are made on war. Bid today on a manuscript about an ex-cop who suddenly returns home to find the mailman drinking soda with his wife. None of the young playwrights and theater directors who have graduated from "war schools" will notice that this is a comedy about a sadist who pathologically constructs a false accusation of fraud against his wife just so he can live out his frustrated dictatorial urges on someone innocent.
Personally, I don't complain about anything, because I understand everything. I have always lived under the guillotine of the epoch over my head. Fortunately, the masters have, by now, only lubricated it.
Research project ‘Brothers Serbs, What Happened?’ was published in 2014, and discusses the motives behind the origin and development of nationalisms in the Balkans, with a special focus on Serbian nationalism. The book is a personal search for answers to the questions of why an ordinary person, a member of a certain nation, feels like a victim because he shares the fate of his nation. Could you tell us a bit about the search process itself? When did it start, and how did you decide when the search ends and gets formatted into a book?
My family, both wider and narrower, experienced all the major tragedies of the 20th century. From war divisions to imprisonment and concentration camps. From great-grandmothers of Swabians, Hungarians, Serbians, Slovaks, through Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, and even some sects, everyone laughed more easily than cried. Humor dominates my upbringing. My mother was born from a Serbian family, my father from a Hungarian family. He would define Serbs and Hungarians as follows: you recognize a Serb by the fact that wherever he goes, he declares it his. Unlike the Hungarian who, however far as he gets, claims that it was already his.
I state this only to draw your attention to my innate tendency towards national and religious demythologizing. To that extent, the rise of Serbian nationalism in the 80s of the last century irritated my stomach. This balderdash of historically altered and even falsified data, based on the heroism of decasyllabic poetry and imbued with propaganda that sees phantom enemies everywhere, had to result in war. The majority of the Serbian people fell into that hellish spiral, not seeing that excessive glorification of their own history leads to blindness for the entire current environment. Having found myself in front of such historical autism, based on self-conceit and other people's "dangerous" apparitions, I decided to publicly oppose it, pointing out that it is not innate, but acquired through political training.
That I succeeded in this is shown by the fact that no one publicly attacked me, not even "snipers" from the solid media core of the Serbian Nazi phalanx. They assessed the risk of my persuasive answer as real. And how much they are in touch with the official authorities can be seen from the fact that bookstores did not order the book under the excuse that the suppliers "did not recommend it".
For the last question, I would like to ask you to share your advice for the up-and-coming artists in Balkans. How much do they need the Balkan history, or maybe does the Balkan need the art from them?
In my dictionary, the meaning of the term advice implies more the meaning of an attempt. If we assume that the attempts are correctable according to the results (action - reaction), the advice seems binding to me, as the sum of some ready-made, concentrated experience.
In the place of the young people, I would ask myself: am I more of a Balkanian European, or a European Balkanin? Thus, the same path, for artists, is passable in both directions. The most important thing for me was not to end up spiritually as a Balkanian Balkanin. Because, as much as the Balkan is a part of the Europe, the Europe is the Balkan capital.
Author: Hana Tiro