Interview – Radio Icaro

Simona Mulazzani interview (RADIO ICARO – RIMINI, Italia, 27/02/03) 

What was your impression of the war years, both as a man and as a writer?
My position was very specific since I was both an officer of the ex Yugoslav army, which I left a short time before the war, and a lawyer. On one hand, the war caught me as a civilian, a Croat, and on the other hand, I had many friends of different nationalities in that army which was coming apart. I could see human tragedies every day, not on TV or in the movies, but trying to help those people, whoever they were, although in most cases there was nothing to be done. Those were terrible experiences. Sometimes I think that, psychologically, such experiences have a worse impact than the direct war experience. There are definite rules on the front. There are no rules in the background. How do you save a marriage if your spouse is a different nationality? What do you do with the children? Do you stay together and flee? Do you stay where you are and try to survive? Do you fight or not? Against whom do you fight and for whose sake? I’ve seen more tears in the second half of 1991 than ten average people see in their whole lives. And every one of those tears was worse than all the other tears cried in peace because it expressed the helplessness of people who used to be somebody only the day before.

Many years have passed from the events you describe, how much are those wounds still open among people?
I have written quite extensively about the after-war period and the consequences of war in my new novel Love for Punishment. The greatness of man is in his ability to forgive. Without it, there cannot be any coexistence, tolerance or normal life. Some wounds take a lot of time to heal. They are so deep that entire generations cannot forget them. It was clearly visible in the recent war in which many ghosts from World War II returned. That is why every well-intentioned person has to do their best to make those wounds less painful and hope that they will heal sooner or later. Unfortunately, there are many people whose interest, for different reasons, is to make those wounds continually bleed, and make a living out of that blood. Those hyenas of war are always waiting for a new occasion. That is why the healing is difficult and it is uncertain whether some of those wounds will ever heal. The aim is not to forget them, because it’s impossible, but to forgive and move on. We should at least try to temper the hate as much as possible.

What is the situation with literature in the Balkans and what role can writers have in the actual political situation?
It would be wonderful if I could say something positive in the answer to this question. Unfortunately, to put it simply, you couldn’t make a living out of writing in the Balkans even if you were a Nobel Prize-winner. Especially if God failed to give you a nationalistic inspiration and you turned out to be inclined to multiculturalism and tolerance. The worst thing that happened to the people in the Balkans is that the war and the destructive post-war economy dissolved the so-called middle class, the class of intellectuals who, naturally, are those that read the most. It is difficult to speak of the influence of literature on the current events in countries where any price is too high for a book, where retired professors have trouble paying the monthly fee in the public library (let alone buying a book). Our public opinion is made by the media, who reflect the position of the government. I doubt that we can talk about public opinion in the western sense. It is easier to speak about manipulated masses in which the majority of people have realized what happened to them but have also impoverished in the meantime and are therefore indifferent and apathetic (and we all know that apathy is the worst thing for a country). Then again, if we all stay quiet, I fear to think of the proportions of the terrifying silence that would come to rule over these territories.

Why do you think that it is important for the Italian readers to read Balkan Roulette?
The reason is very simple but also hardly comprehensible for people who are lulled in a false sense of security in the environment surrounding them. To put it poetically, Balkan roulette is just a part of a world roulette. It is a piece of the mosaic of the world, taken out of a story that has happened to everyone and can still happen to anyone, for as much as this may seem improbable. The worst notion I got from the war is that there are no guarantees for a lasting peace in any part of the world, and we all have to give our best to achieve peace every day in order to avoid the same things happening again. In other words, to avoid a situation in which tomorrow, God forbid, someone might write an Italian, a German or any other roulette, in which only the names will change, but the contents will remain the same. Unfortunately, it is possible. There are arsonists everywhere, just waiting for their moment in some back street pub. Our task is to diminish the chances for such actions, and hope that nothing similar will ever happen again. After all, we live in a world where the conflicts are ever more certain while the future is more uncertain than ever. It is another reason to write about it.

In the context of this conversation and the situation in the world at the moment, the question about international terrorism and its consequences poses itself.

No doubt, the international terrorism is an open wound of the modern civilization. On one hand, it contributes to a general sense of insecurity thus lowering the quality of life, and on the other hand, it is a source of new conflicts. Bismarck said that politics was the art of the possible. It is obvious that everything has to be done in order to fight terrorism, but it is just as obvious that we have to do everything in our power to avoid new wars caused by terrorism. Politics is what stands between these two extremes which only apparently exclude each other, but are in reality complementary. Our future depends on the political skills. There have always been great nations, but there are not enough great politicians in a positive sense; politicians with a vision of goodness for themselves and for others. You cannot harm someone and expect them to respond by doing good.
I can only hope that we shall find a way to fight terrorism without new wars, because in wars, the majority of casualties are always innocent civilians. A victim is always a victim, no matter how noble the idea that caused it. And any victim leaves behind frustrated generations that will resort to the same means tomorrow, the only ones they know and recognize. I have to admit that after my experience and the things it taught me, the future frightens me.

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