Thanks to Richard Byrne at Balkans via Bohemia, I came to know that today we are commemorating twenty years over the death of the great Yugoslav writer Danilo Kiš.
One of the things that keeps me attracted to Yugoslavia and its successor countries is the quality of writers and intellectuals, which by contrast, make the dominant narrow minded nationalism even more appalling. In Serbia and in Bosnia I was able to meet vibrant people, cultivated cosmopolitans trapped in societies dominated by parochial concepts of national interest. Meeting such people was always produced in me a contradictory feeling of being intellectually stimulated by them and at the same time absorbing a certain sense of hopelessness, the feeling of frustration of realizing how difficult it is to promote one’s cosmopolitan perspective agains the narrow mindness of parochialism.
On his short story “A man with No Country”, published in Balkan Blues: Writing out of Yugoslavia, such feeling is, I think, clearly expressed in the final paragraph:
The great idea of the community entered drawing rooms and market-places, and under its banner rallied the wise and the stupid, noble souls and rabble, people linked by no affinity whatsoever, by no spiritual kinship, except for that banal, kitsh and dangerous theory of race and social origin.
Danilo Kiš is considered to be the last Yugoslav writer. As Richard Byrne highlights, the conflicts that tore Yugoslavia apart were rooted in the paranoia and ignorance belittled by Kiš, and the cultural artifacts of that era trafficked in the banality and kitsch that he so savagely ridiculed.
This is not to say that Yugoslavia was a cosmopolitan paradise, but just to remember how its potential was destroyed. Every time I go to Belgrade, a city that I love and where I feel almost as much at home as in my own native Lisbon, I have the impression that, had the dissolution of Yugoslavia been conducted through non-violent means, Belgrade would be by now one of the great cities of Europe, probably the cultural and economic centre of South Eastern Europe. Of course, this is nothing comparing to the damage cause to a city like Sarajevo, a city where more than ten thousand people were killed, a city which had to endure the longest siege in modern History and whose identity was severely damaged.
Unfortunatelly, looking around in contemporary Europe, I see too often, at least too often for my taste, the same narrow mindness, the same ‘repli identitaire’, to use the french expression, the same kitsch that so much appalled Kiš. For that reason, I think that Danilo Kiš is mandatory reading to anyone who appreciates subtety and values an open commitment against totalitarian mentality.