What made you and is still making you write?
The simplest thing to say would be that I love writing. However, as it is with everything else in life, the answer is much more complex. About twenty years ago I wrote my first novel, Half-way to Heaven, and then life took a different turn. At first as an officer, then as a lawyer, I simply couldn’t find the time for writing in the daily routine and all the duties I had to attend to. The things to do are always too many, we don’t know how to make a selection and we end up totally submitted until something bigger shakes you up. In my case it was the war that devastated these territories in the nineties and significantly marked my life and the lives of the people around me. Like any war, this one left so many unanswered questions and even more dilemmas and hesitations, that I simply had to write something, express and thus get out everything that was haunting me from this war. That is how I began to write again.
The world is dominated by clichés. Especially when we talk about the Balkans and its peoples and their relationships. People have no time or desire to analyze the essence of someone’s problems, especially if those problems are far away from their homes. These one-sided and, after all, damaging and wrong approaches to these people and their problems are partly responsible for the proportions of the last war (although the greatest part of the responsibility always lies on the direct protagonists). I’ve been through the war with people from all Balkan nationalities and I simply had to say what I said. I had to show the other side of our relationship, generally carefully hidden, and say that there were and still are people here who didn’t want the war, and that has made them no less Croats, a Serbs or any others, on the contrary. There simply comes the time when a man has got to say what he’s got to say in order to remain a man.
Do you have any specific kind of reader in mind while writing?
No. I think that everyone can find a part of themselves and their environment in my books (especially in the novels), even if they are not from these territories. My books are about universal issues on the attitude to war, multiculturalism, nationalism, (in)tolerance; issues that are currently worrying many on this planet. The Balkans are just a tiny mosaic of an identical global story. I only know that I am automatically unacceptable to those people who start looking for weapons left over from previous wars at the sole mention of tolerance.
By the way, I can still surprise myself when I remember my thoughts before the war, on a possible war in the Balkans. As well as many people around me, I couldn’t even imagine such a thing. And it happened. Suddenly. Incredibly easily. War just broke out. As if it was smoldering all these years, just waiting for someone who would blow into live coals. We weren’t aware that the coals were burning. That is the reason why I wrote all this. There is currently no country in the world that doesn’t have such live coals somewhere, the question is only how much of them and to what extent they have been recognized. This is the most horrible thing I realized in this war. The conscience that there is no guaranteed peace anywhere in the world if we don’t do our best to achieve it every single day. Especially in the Balkans, where peace is just a period of rest until the next round. And the fighters never leave the ring. They are there today, too. Waiting for someone to strike the gong.
How would you define your style?
I write about real events (naturally, with a bit of “poetic license”) so that both the vocabulary and style have to reflect that reality as it really was (at least as I saw it). That is the reason for my style, somewhere between naturalism and realism. I could have used a different language, a more poetic one, but I think it would be in contrast with the world of reality I describe. And that is precisely what I didn’t want. I didn’t want to create a sterile text to delight a couple of critics – and what about the readers? The great number of people who read my books in all the ex Yugoslavia proved that I’ve chosen the right approach. The fact that Banja Luka (in the Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina) published only my novel Balkan Farewells among all the others by Croatian writers, says enough about it all.
The prevailing characteristic of my writing is dialogue with irony and grotesque (in the novels, too), because I find such a style to be the closest to my own personality.
It is difficult to write today when the young generations get all their knowledge of the classics from video stores, provided that a film has been made based on a book.