You lived the war in first person; is your literary engagement a consequence of this?
Definitely, anyone who experiences war is bound to be marked for life, this way or another, by its horrors, atrocities, hopelessness, helplessness and suffering. Naturally, this war affected me very deeply too, and it sort of woke me up from that peace time lethargy; the position of the TV news viewer who keeps wondering every evening about how people can kill each other so easily in a remote part of the planet. And then it suddenly happens to you and you spend years, surprised, asking yourself if it is possible. And finally, after the war, you realize it is, and what is even more devastating, you realize it can happen to everyone. Anywhere and any time. I wrote my first novel around 20 years ago and then I stopped writing. Life took me elsewhere but war brought me back to writing. I just couldn’t accept the intentional passing over some truths and some people who existed and who suffered it all, for as much as such things were “officially” ignored. While the little, ordinary people in Sarajevo or any other city engulfed by war, spent the nights thinking of a way to get the groceries for their children and stay alive in the process, their leaders and politicians spent days, nights, months and years trying to divide this or that part of the country which belonged to all of them only the day before. All for their sake, of course. They just forgot to ask those ordinary people for their opinion. Well, I write about what those ordinary people thought and still think.
In what way has the war influenced your personal memories?
War reflects itself in different ways. It depends on whether you are personally on the front or you have someone close there, on how close you are to the front or how likely it is for you to end up there or not… And then there are the indirect consequences of the war like the breaking up of mixed marriages, abandoned children and all the other imaginable traumas. A friend of mine, a psychiatrist, once told me that we were all exposed to stress just because we lived in a country in war and were therefore exposed to war news every day. Such news, good or bad, of victory or defeat, always bring victims. Before entering a war, we should all stop and remember that victories, just like defeats, also take lives. You can imagine a five-year-long cycle (the duration of this war) of war stresses and its consequences if you watch the scenes of desperate wives of American soldiers who are seeing their husbands depart for the unknown these days. Think about it in terms of five years. I understand those women. Imagine they had the power to decide about the war… Whether we want it or not, the war poses new ways of thinking and behavior, new priorities, a new set of values; it pushes your whole life into a twilight zone and some people never come out (I don’t want to open the theme of post traumatic disorder, the so-called Vietnam syndrome, which has today also been accepted as Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian, tomorrow maybe Iraqi…).
Do you think that literature can make people think, even if it is about such a strong drama that seems impossible to fight?
Honestly – I don’t know. Actually, I know to what extent this is possible. What proves this point are thousands of messages I got from readers all over the ex Yugoslavia, who expressed their support and wanted me to keep writing (it often isn’t easy). On the other hand, I have no illusions that any literary or other work of art could significantly influence people’s thinking (I already said that we are just servants and not masters of the war, it is not given to us to decide about it, for as much as we may find it unacceptable). Then again, it is worth writing about, even if it touches only a few people and makes them seriously think about the sense of war. Imagine if we all remained silent and let arsonists speak alone. If a man has to take part in something he finds unacceptable (as it often happens, independently of one’s will), then he can at least express his indignation and show that, if he is forced to participate, he hasn’t given up his humanity.