THE CULTURE OF DENIAL

But Visegrad is still home to the Ivo Andric library, the finest collection of his books in the world. The librarian, Stojka Mijatovic, offered us a volume, a gift. “We have taken so many books from Muslim houses we hardly know what to do with them,” she said.

The Bridge on the Drina, the famous book by Ivo Andric was recently translated into portuguese. There was an older translation, but it had been sold out long ago, so it was possible to get it only in libraries, and even so, in the Lisbon public library the book was in such a shape that it readers were not allowed to take it home.
This translation has the merit of having been made directly to portuguese, unlike what usually happens with most books written in foreign languages spoken not widely known in Portugal.

Despite the merit of the publishing house in promoting universal literature by providing their readers with good quality direct translations, there is something wrong about this portuguese edition. On its cover, one

can see a photo of an old bridge, and those acquainted with ottoman architecture will recognize its style. However, this bridge is not THE bridge on the Drina, and it is unlikely that the small river that passes beneath it is the Drina. This reveals the lack of zeal with which the publishing house produces its covers, but it also has a reflex on the perception that the reader will have on the content of the book itself, as it is probable that most of its readers never heard about the Drinabefore, and it is highly probable that even if they did, they don’t have a mental image of it, and even less of the bridge itself (here is a picture of the real bridge)

Much more disturbing was the description I was given of the book’s launching event, held last year at the Faculty of Letters of the University of Lisbon, not long before Christmas.
I didn’t go, so I am relying on the description given to me by a girl who was there. It may not be wise to talk about events that we didn’t witness ourselves, but there are ways to valuate the credibility of our sources. In this case, her description was made in the presence of other participants in the event. who did not denie her version. On the contrary, their uneasy silence was a very clear, albeit tacit, confirmation of the version that I will now reproduce.
The event was a success. Lots of people attended it, and the book got a reasonable media attention. The translator, a serb living in Portugal, was very proud of his deed, because it seems that translating Ivo Andric is a very hard task and the portuguese language is not an easy language either. Two more persons spoke at the event: the serbian ambassador in Lisbon, and a portuguese Professor of Literature.
The serbian ambassador spoke of Andric as if he had been a serbian citizen, thus ‘nationalizing’ Yugoslavia only Nobel Prize.
Nobody mentioned that Visegrad, the town where the bridge stands, was ‘ethnically cleansed’ in 1992 and is now a ethnically pure serbian town. This ‘small’ detail was unworthy mentioning in such a pleasant event about a book that describes inter-ethnic relations in Bosnia under ottoman and austrian rule. Nowadays there are no inter-ethnic relations to describe in Visegrad anymore and the bridge itself, damaged during the war is on UNESCO’s black list of endangered world heritage cultural monuments.
The brige was also nationalised, that is serbianized, as the Grand Vizir who ordered its construction was an orthodox christian taken by force by the ottomans to join the janissaries. Thus it became a serbian bridge, not an ottoman bridge, despite the fact that its architectonic style and construction technique leave no room for doubth.

The girl was shocked. When the event occurred, she had recently returned from Mostar, where she had been working as a volunteer (I didn’t ask what she was doing, I never ask anything, I just listen). She wanted to lean more about BiH, and that was the reason she decided to attend the book’s launching event. But Bosnia itself was hardly mentioned. As she told me, she felt she was too isolated there to say anything, and anyway she wouldn’t know what to say in such a surrealist environment where, apparently, only herself seemed to be shocked.

It was denial in its purest form.

Here is a description of what happened in Visegrad in 1992. Sensible souls should take a deep breath before reading it, but still read it. If you get easily impressed, don’t read it all, this small excerpt will probably be enough:

“””(…) But the bloodiest arena was the bridge itself. The structure is visible from almost every balcony and window in Visegrad, which climbs both sides of the valley. Its cobblestones are a stage at the foot of an amphitheatre; the executions were intended to be as public as possible. (…) At the end of June a Visegrad police inspector, Milan Josipovic, received a macabre complaint from downriver, from the management of Bajina Basta hydro-electric plant across the Serbian border. The plant director said could whoever was responsible please slow the flow of corpses down the Drina? They were clogging up the culverts in his dam at such a rate that he could not assemble sufficient staff to remove them. (…)”””

(Blood Trail of Butchery at the Bridge, by Ed Vulliani, published originally in the Gardian in March 11, 1996).

Photo: The Drina in a rainy day. My picture, taken in October 2007.

5 Comments

Filed under Art, Bosnia, Culture of denial, Genocide, Nationalism, Portugal, Uncategorized, Violence

5 responses to “THE CULTURE OF DENIAL

  1. ida

    Seems you are ignorant of the fact that a Muslim opened the gates of the Visegrad dam and flooded the whole town causing immense damage and drowning people who hadn’t left. Previous to that another Muslim threatened he was going to blow up the dam with explosives. This caused a panic and many people left due to these threats, but not all. There were still people there when the Muslim flooded the town:

    On April 12, 1992 Šabanović received a cable message from the commander of the Green Berets of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sead Ahmetović, through the Višegrad Police Station. It read: “Blow up the Višegrad dam as soon as possible”.
    It was impossible to damage the dam by an explosion to such an extent so as to cause a flood so that the water was discharged from the lake by lifting the shutters. The discharged water flowed at a rate of 6,000 cubic meters per second.

    Before the water was discharged, the Muslims, who had been leaving Višegrad and the nearby village of Dušče en masse, begged the community and PDA leaders to prevent this from happening saying that all their property was in their houses and that they would have no place to return to. But, to no avail. And, after the water had been discharged and the screams of women and children crying for help were heard from the direction of the village of Dušče, the assembled Muslims again beseeched their leaders to stop the water and were told that it was Allah’s bidding.

    The unbridled water caused vast damage. In the village of Dušče it demolished the bridge and around 20 apartment buildings, and damaged a part of the Višegrad-Pijavice road and some auxiliary structures. Most of the city of Višegrad was flooded and heavy damage was caused to apartment buildings and industrial facilities.

    A number of women and children from Dušče were killed. The Muslims buried the victims of this calamity in Žepa (downstream from Višegrad) and later used this for their own propaganda ascribing these crimes to the Serbs.

    Extensive damage was also sustained by structures downstream from Višegrad, especially the Bajina Bašta and Zvornik power plants which belong to the Power Authority of Serbia. Because of the threats of the Muslims and for security reasons, the staff of the plants resorted to the controlled discharge from the impoundments of these plants – before the water from the Višegrad power plant was discharged – and thereby avoided an environmental catastrophe.

    From April 9-22, 1992 130 million cubic meters of water were discharged from the impoundment of the Bajina Bašta power plant, and around 73 million cubic meters of water from the Zvornik power plant, a total of 203 million cubic meters of water.

    The damage to the Bajina Bašta power plant amounted to DM 3,948,301. Of that losses in the generation of electric power were 23,020,000 kWh, i.e. DM 3,453,000 – due to the discharge of water and the operation of the power plant with the reduced quantity of water over several days. The extra labour recruited, the engagement of outside contractors for designing and other works as well as other expenses account for the rest of the damage.

    The damage to the Zvornik power plant amounted to DM 633,140 of which electric power production losses accounted for DM 618,150 and the rest were other types of damage.

    The total damage sustained by the Power Authority of Serbia by this act was DM 4,581,441 and some of the consequences are yet to be felt in the future.

  2. ida

    Additionally, I must point out that a Muslim, Murat Sabanovic, destroyed Ivo Andric’s statue under orders and contract (payment) by the leaders of the SDA (Izetbegovic’s party). He says the contract to blow up the statue was signed in February 1992 – so several weeks before the war was to begin. He says the destruction was videotaped and brought on the Bosnian leadership’s visits to Arabic countries. The following is extract from an interview he did with a Bosnian newspaper in 2000:

    Ganic and Behmen told me that if I toppled the statue of Ivo Andric in Visegrad, I would have preference in a tender for a shop in the center of Sarajevo. The statue was located on the bridge, built by Mehmed Pasha Sokolovic and that’s why it was in the way. They ordered me to topple the statue of Ivo Andric since he was “a culturological hater of the Muslim people”, that’s how they put it. Since at the time I already had four shops in Visegrad, I told my sister Zuhra Sabanovic to make a payment for the shop, since I did not need another one. A contract was signed on February 18 1992 and it states that “investment in the construction of a store” in Dzenetic Cikmo street will be made. The contract has the seal of the Islamic Community of Bosnia-Hercegovina Board for Sarajevo, and signatures of Zuhra Sabanovic, as investor, and Omer Behmen, as the contractor. I smashed the statue with a crowbar and everything was taped by Fadil Hajdarevic, who gave that videotape to SDA. They later showed that videotape on their visits to Arabic countries, when they sought financial help, as a proof that Bosniaks demolished a monument to their Salman Rushdi.

    Did you at least have some doubts when you decided to destroy the statue?

    I carried out the task with pleasure since I was convinced that I was doing a huge thing. Ganic and Behmen did not incite me to do that, they gave me an order to do so. They said that Andric was a huge enemy of Bosnian Muslims.

  3. sarahfranco

    what you wrote is totally irrelevant to the subject which this post is dealing with.

    you are free to think whatever and to relativise as much as you want. the mere fact that you feel the need to relativise is enough of a prove that I have a point in this post, as well as in others.

    what you really are trying to sell to the readers is that it is legitimate to terrorize,rape and kill the muslim residents of visegrad because someone decided to destroy ivo andric statue.

    this is not a competition. the one who committed the worse atrocities does not get the champions cup in the end. this is not a game.

    the fact is that visegrad was a ethnically mixed town and now it is not anymore.

  4. georgie

    That’s a simplistically inaccurate reply on your part Sarah.

  5. I wasn’t there and don’t know what happened, but these comments make me very sad after reading Andric’s book, an account of diverse people getting along over the centuries. They may or may not like each other, they don’t change their lives or their opinions very much, but they accept the rights of others to continue to exist on their own terms. I have posted on the book at http://silverseason.wordpress.com/