The Ducic Affair
by Ivan Lovrenovic/ Radomir Konstantinovic/et al.
The Ducic Affair
On 21 October 2000, Vojislav Kotunica visited the Herzegovinian town of Trebinje (without permission from the B-H state authorities, just as Franjo Tudjman used to do) in order to attend the ceremonious re-burial of poet and diplomat Jovan Ducic (1869 -1943). Most Western media comment focused on the diplomatic disaster that was narrowly avoided when Kotunica was persuaded reluctantly and at the last minute to accept a ride to Sarajevo airport in Jacques Kleins helicopter after the ceremony, there to meet with High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch and B-H state representatives. But the character of the man Kotunica was honouring, and of the ceremony itself, were just as significant.
Unity of Religion, Nation, Army - and Poetry!
The apotheosis of Jovan Ducic formally proclaimed in Trebinje not long ago took place in great style. The service was conducted by the supreme head of the [Serb Orthodox] Church, while those present at the beatification included equal numbers of clerics, eminent poets from the Serb Academy, top politicians from RS and FRY, and members of the entity armys general staff. It was, for this area, an unprecedented manifestation of unity of religion, nation, state, army - and poetry.
That Serb poetry has since Jovan Ducic produced greater and more interesting poets is not questioned by serious literary criticism. What is quite certain, however, is that Serb poetry has never produced a greater and more committed Serb than Jovan Ducic. This fact, combined with his death in emigration and long posthumous idolization, clearly played a more important role than did poetry itself in this poets national-religious canonization.
In order to emphasize Ducics holy and martyred - though in reality political - dimension, the speeches at Trebinje repeatedly criticized the former Communist regime for proscribing Ducics works. At least so far as Bosnia-Herzegovina is concerned, however, the facts tell a different story. Ducics political testament - associated with his last, American phase - was indeed treated as unpalatable, which is not surprising in view of its strongly anti-Yugoslav and even more strongly Great Serb intonation. Ducics literary works, by contrast, were always treated with respect. They were part of the school curriculum, included in textbooks, treated as obligatory reading and prominently included in every B-H anthology of poetry. Every high-school student in the post-war period was taught that Ducic was a great poet. The first six-volume edition of his collected works was published in Sarajevo in 1969, in the collection The Cultural Heritage of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Indeed, in the latest comprehensive anthology of the 20th century poetry of Bosnia-Herzegovina, published this year in Sarajevo, Jovan Ducic and Antun Branko Simic are represented with the greatest number of poems.
So it is only right to say it: in terms of the domestic prescription of his literary legacy, Jovan Ducic is and has always been an integral part of Bosnia-Herzegovinas culture. The whole protocol of his Trebinje reburial, as well as the symbolic role given to his Herzegovinian resting place, has nothing to do with literature and everything to do with affirmation of his political testament in the service of current political needs - a testament which, if realised, would lead to Bosnia-Herzegovina being extinguished in favour of [Chetnik ideologue] Moljevics vision of a Greater Serbia.
This report for Radio Free Europe was published in Dani (Sarajevo), 27 October 2000
Hatred as obsession
Ducics world is a world without proportion, a world of fear and deformity, a world of hatred, of insecurity: few other poets have uttered such harsh words as this poet did about human nature, permeated with fear and hatred. (Man is instinctively mad, and everything in the world is forged in the furnace of passion, and that means in madness - Jutra s Leutara). Here are the roots of irrationality, above all hatred, which is always hatred for what is different, since people hate not just what is better or worse than them, but even more what is different from them: which means that hatred is unending, or rather which means that there exists inbred hatred, as with some animals. In furtherance of these inbred hatreds, he wrote a whole series of ultra-reactionary and ultra-nationalistic articles during the war, in 1942, in America...
Ducic sought to create a strong impression by combining incompatible qualities, but the artificiality that resulted was due not to the fact that such qualities were incompatible in principle, but to the fact that there was no real combination. At bottom, Ducic was quite feeble with metaphors, and this absence of metaphor is part of his apriorism - the aim imparted in advance to his poems or his language. Ducics world of knowledge and property (and knowledge as property) is not penetrated by metaphor: when the metaphor does appear, it is a mere stylistic effect - a kind of wit that he, Ducic, creates and that does not create him, Ducic.
Radomir Konstantinovic, one of the greatest living Serbian writers and author notably of Filozofija palanke [Boondock Philosophy](1969), contributed this comment to Slobodna Bosna, 26 October 2000.
Jovan Ducic (1871-1943) lived in the United States during World War II, during which time he advocated the creation of a Greater Serbia, including through a propaganda film made at his own expense. Marko Ristic, the eminent Serbian poet and literary critic, while acknowledging Ducic as a poet wrote the following about his ideological views and personality: Jovan Ducic, who was born in Trebinje and died in the United States, on the eve of his death brought dishonour upon himself by adopting a reactionary Great Serb position, thus dying as a Chetnik. Beginning his career as an impoverished individual, at considerable effort but also with certain moral compromises he became a poet and diplomat, and as such enjoyed a prestigious status and a considerable income. He was a selfish, ambitious, spineless and unintelligent man, an arriviste and a snob. Since Ducic never wrote about Montenegro, the ceremonial transport of his mortal remains as if they were sacred relics, attended by Montenegrin minister for religion Budimir Dubak and Serb Orthodox metropolitan of Cetinje Amfilohije Radovic, should be seen as neo-Chetnik, integralist pressure on Montenegros citizens.
Monitor, 27 October 2000
During the last two years of his life in exile in the United States, Jovan Ducic was the moving spirit of the journal American Srbobran. In June 1943 Elmer Davis, director of the Office of War Information which was seeking to promote cooperation between South Slavs in the United States, wrote to the journals publisher as follows: For some time several branches of the US government...have watched with concern the policies of the American Srbobran. Its violent attacks upon all peoples of Croatian extraction and their clergy, its strong anti-Catholic attacks, and its veiled efforts to defend the Quisling Neditch who supports the Nazi regime in Serbia, often have the effect of aiding the Nazi campaigns of intolerance and race hate, and are damaging to the American war effort.
Jovan Banjanin, minister of forestry and mining in the Royal Yugoslav government-in-exile and himself a Serb from Croatia, said the following at a session of the council of ministers in London on 1 September 1942: Here is what is written in that Srbobran. It is written that Yugoslavia is a historical and political absurdity, a political paradox, the aborted child of megalomaniacs. The dissemination of hatred between Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, the frenzied attacks on Croats and Slovenes, have passed all bounds. There have been plenty of disgusting outbursts in America by both Croat and Serb extremists, but nobody has gone further than the campaign in Srbobran waged by Fotic and Ducic. According to them, all Croats are for Pavelic [the Ustasha leader], all Serbs for a Greater Serbia, all Slovenes for any old scheme, but no one is for Yugoslavia. They have put forward a positive programme too - the unification of all Serb lands, without mentioning Yugoslavia or what is going on in Europe as a whole. The most scandalous things of all have been written by Jovan Ducic. Fotic and Ducic do not recognize the government in London, but some kind of government of Draza Mihajlovic [the Chetnik leader] in Kolain, which is their comfort and joy.