Signs of a new nation - interview
by Bora Cosic
Exile is an ideological or political adventure for me, one that I entered upon even though I was not being persecuted or endangered. It was a conscious decision, taken because I could not bring myself to assent to or live under such a regime. I decided to leave in disdain and in that way make my protest. From 1991 until now my wife Lola and I have passed through a number of phases. We went first of all to Croatia, because I was born there (my mother is from Banija, my father from Slavonia) and I believed that we wouldnt be made to feel uncomfortable there - and really nothing of that nature did happen in Rovinj, where we lived in complete solidarity with Croatia as a country under attack, but without any connection with the Croatian authorities. It was rather like the situation of Germans living in one of the Allied countries that were waging war against Germany. While I was there I wrote Dnevnik apatrida [Diary of a man without a country], with recollections of Proust and what had happened in the Franco-German war. That was our first phase, recalls the well-known Serbian writer Bora Cosic (1932), who has published more than thirty books and made his international reputation in the sixties with Uloga moje porodice u svetskoj revoluciji [My Familys Role in the World Revolution], in an interview with Monitor. The whole experience was a bit like that of mountaineers reaching first one, then another base camp before the actual ascent. In April 1993 I got my [Croatian] papers. I had a strong emotional connection with the war, I thought that the country had to defend itself, irrespective of its government, because of what the army had done to it in Miloevics name. But we also watched the negative solution chosen by the Croatian authorities, which we had expected. Slowly things became clear - it was a semi-fascist state - by which time we were already thinking about that second camp on the mountain and intending to leave, explains Cosic, who has now been living in Berlin for six of his nine years of exile.
Signs of a new nation
- an interview with Bora Cosic
What influenced your decision to choose to remain in Germany?
We came to Germany because of one fortunate circumstance I was given a scholarship by the German Exchange Academy (DAD). A second reason was that the German publishing house Rowohlt, which is also in Berlin, decided to take me on as an author. Moreover, for thirty years I had already felt a personal affinity with this city, from the time when we came here on a state-financed visit and it was clear that you could live really well here. But there are everyday problems, of course. Its a big environment, a big nation, with a major and well-established culture, that nevertheless has certain elements of mediocrity and narrow-mindedness like smaller places. That does exist. But there are more opportunities for people to choose what is close to that environment. It is once again the question posed by Karl Popper of an open society. In a completely closed environment like Serbia, or a partly closed one as Croatia was until recently and to some extent still is, very little can be done not simply for oneself but for any kind of idea. I have profound admiration for the people fighting for this same idea in Serbia. There are many people there who do not agree with the regime, but they either do not find the best way of opposing it, or they have become lethargic.
Among the numerous fascinations which Berlin offers, there is the constant, daily presence of the theme of Nazism and a permanent recollection of the events of World War II. Even now, fifty-five years after the war. Is that a political decision and compulsion, a state of consciousness, or
A little bit of everything. It is possibly a form of political thinking, possibly it has commercial reasons. But I think that it is largely the result of the maturity of this environment. It is the kind of maturity I wish for my own nation, but I have no hope at all that it will reach this kind of cathartic stage. I said eight years ago that the Serbian people have to reach their catharsis. The Germans have reached theirs, and it runs extremely deep. I believe that there is no fascism here, apart from a small percentage of fat young skinheads, of whom there are few
Apart from that there are a few thousand more surviving SS colonels and generals, who pop up on TV and talk like some Croatian volunteer general or one of Miloevics officers. That does exist! But normal people, especially the generation aged between 30 and 40 years old, those born after the war, they represent the new German nation. I believe that a nation cannot last forever, except through its language and traditions; they have to learn at school about Goethe, Kant and Herder upon whom the country is based. A nation exists in a particular period, and then another nation takes its place, and so on. Each period in each state has its own nation. And this post-1945 German nation is a different nation. And that is what I would wish for our people a new Serbian nation. This can be reached either very slowly and with great difficulty, or never. Some nations drown themselves in their own degradation.
As a side-effect of last years bombing, there appeared to a far greater extent than before in liberal circles in Serbia the view that the Serbian case cannot be compared with the German experience. What do you think about that?
I think the two situations are absolutely comparable. Irrespective of how much Stojan Cerovic attacked and even made fun of me last year in Berlin, at a congress on the subject of our Yugoslav problems, I think it is a comparable historical situation. Miloevics aggression in our region has in a small way mirrored the huge aggression mounted by Hitler on the countries of Europe. If we imagine Europe as united 60 years ago, it would have looked exactly the same - within the framework of one country. Because the small European continent is one country, and we shall soon experience it as such. That is to say, the framework is a set of different nations, but with one historical culture and one spiritual totality. A core that is beginning to expand beneath a single mantle. So the total supremacy of one nation is the issue: here the German, there the Serbian.
Are you talking about the technology of governance and warfare?
Exactly. Everything is Serbian, just as here everything was Aryan and everyone was German. For stupid Serbs, therefore, all Croats and all Muslims were - Serbs. And then the question of territory
The Germans are a densely packed nation so they created a mega-city comprising seven cities with no space in between. This also happens in Japan, in England, and so on. Each nation sorts itself out, but they dont do it with tanks. However, it is precisely that pro-Serb and Great-Serb mentality which sees Karlobag and Dubrovnik as Serbian cities. It is all identical, just played out within a smaller provincial framework. Here the great world conflicts are ended, but over there in Serbia, in the Balkans, it is otherwise. It is a question of the aggressiveness and contamination of one myth and the arrogance of one nation. As for some kind of post-festum or relatively peaceful sentiment, that is a question of peoples level of consciousness. In Germany too it was difficult to accept defeat when Zhukov arrived in Berlin, but they still accepted it.
And in Belgrade they claim that they beat Nato, and erect a monument where the Sava joins the Danube to their victory.
I dont know who the wretch was who made it, but no one has the right to take the verses of a dead poet, Branko Miljkovic, and put them on that monument. I feel personally affronted, because he was a friend and colleague. He has been dead for 40 years, and now they raise him from the tomb to put his signature to the lie written on that monument. For now this is my private anger, but it should be general. It is impossible that people do not understand what this fraudulent business is all about. It would be like erecting a monument in the middle of destroyed Berlin in 1945 to the victory over Eisenhower and the Russian army. And that is the difference: the German nation instructs its offspring every day with readings from its own history. Hitler is for them a part of their history as well, a negative part.
The history of artistic creation overflows with works produced in emigration. Now you too have made your contribution to it. What has this experience brought you?
I shall say something that is not novel at all. We are in exile from life. One of my Russian colleagues, here in Berlin, has a completely different relation to life from mine. When she realised how many books I had written, she said, What have you been doing? You havent lived, you have just written books - though she writes as well. It is a form of refuge from ordinary life and a form of imprisonment, not just in a room (which is the paradigm of anyone who does anything) but in another sense too. Those of us who live in exile are a small circle, a small family, wherever we live. There are about ten people with whom we are in contact, wherever we live. And this creates many a trap for profiteering and manipulation, not just with our public but with ourselves. I lived as an isolated national individual during the Serbo-Croatian war, but I didnt think about that. I was protected by no one. It was as though I was lying fallow, but I made no drama out of that. On the contrary, I expressed my drama through solidarity with a nation under aggression. And what is the fate of Steva Tontic, surely the best of the Bosnian poets? His fate is such that he has scarcely survived in Berlin - but no one, including him, makes any capital out of that. Or worse still, someone living in the heart of Belgrade he is obviously in exile. Rade Konstantinovic lives in that kind of exile, and still more so does Mia Stanisavljevic who struggles from one day to the next, but no one makes a big deal out of it.
The fall of the Berlin wall produced real confusion in the definition of Left and Right, particularly when their behaviour is taken into account. This was seen quite clearly in the reactions in Germany to last years bombing of Serbia. You were in Berlin during that time, what was your experience?
I have particular and personal experience of the understandings and misunderstandings of the Left and leftism among the Germans. For example, among German leftists I am known as a rightist. Because I believe that the leftists who, together with the blackest reactionaries and fascists, hold power in Serbia are really on the far right. So that the only left option in the former East Europe stands much further to the right than the non-leftist regime in France or Italy. I consider Gysi, currently the most left-wing politician in Germany, a rightist and a reactionary, who stands much further away from any Left than does any liberal or centrist leader, such as the current president of Croatia, Stipe Mesic.
This interview has been translated from a longer version in Monitor (Podgorica), 8 September 2000