Life, Novels

Faithful to the Truth, In Spite of Everything
Deafened by circuses, turmoil and loud emptiness, a writer will find the best stronghold in literature. It is difficult to say where his past boy-narrator is today and all the things that have happened to him. If we understand the nature of the occupation we are in, the rest will just appear before us. It is not easy to save children or to call out to the brainwashed ones. The planet is heavy with banality and senile barbarism. What can a writer do in a world without justice and dignity of words, deep in tricks and plunderage, robbery and lies? Things are difficult, yet simple

By: Branislav Matić

Everything he touches becomes a story. A winter story, told by the fire, salted. As if engraved in stone, with mustache and masterly. His Herzegovina is a mythical land, all made of legends, language and marble. The whole world originates from it and reflects in it. You don’t have to go anywhere from there, you’ll see and hear everything. Then it’s up to you.
It’s easy with Bratić, just begin a story. The only trouble is: how to shorten it when everything is worth keeping.

A flower on the stone. The years after the war were very, very difficult in Herzegovina. The world of my childhood was bitter. I was only three months old when I lost my father. I was my mother’s only son. An unprotected child, pushed and attacked by everyone. My younger brother and sister died before that. The world was falling apart: without a father, without a guide, sanctuary or strongpoint.
It’s hard for me to talk about my childhood. All kinds of things happened. When I was six, our house burned down under straw, so we moved from one family member to the other, and finally and unwillingly went all the way to Banat to my uncles. After enduring a year in the plain, we returned to Herzegovina and lived at my uncle’s in a deserted house. I went to elementary school in Korita, a place teeming with students, whereas today this building (as it is the case with Serbs) is dilapidated and closed down.
I mostly remember gloomy things, those with which they released me from fear. Herzegovina is a land of heavy language, heavy oaths, prophecies and mythical stories. There is lots of humor as well, though, which helped us make our way through life.

The pit. You are like a close cousin to me, I dare say ancestor. Don’t mention the bottomless pits and the bunch of bones heard at night over the entire world, but obviously not sufficiently and not clearly enough. They renounced our common language to pretend they don’t understand it, that they don’t recognize the bunch either. Vuk and Daničić created the foundation for their language and literacy, but in vain.
In time, the pit in Korita swooped down and was covered. Probably so no one could see what our tombs were like. And they were more horrible than the most terrible thoughts and horror novels, full of dreadfulness. I grew up with these stories told by older men and women. Not only have I listened to them, but day after day swallowed the voice of mourners who would, usually in the evening, sob and mourn, weaving our drama. It was equal to an antique chorus, with a horrible lamenting voice, which narrated our tragedy.
Ferid Mujezinović has recently nicely said in his text ”The Well of Ćamil Sijarić” that he doesn’t believe Tuđman’s story that 80.000 innocent Serbs, Jews and Romas died a horrible death in Jasenovac, since it was already clearly confirmed that there were more than 700.000.

All-time narrator. Worlds made of salt, fire and stories have a strange taste, a particular aroma. A special narration is formed in that relation, around nothing, don’t ask me where and when. Herzegovina is full of stories and different material, everywhere and all the time. In my childhood, I was given the role of a folk singer, the one reciting folk poems. I already spoke and wrote about it: when I read Banović Strahinja, a miracle happened. There were people who couldn’t stand the fact that Banović Strahinja forgave his wife’s infidelity and betrayal. You could hear slaps on the faces of women sitting by the fire.

Departures. My first departure was to Bileća, to school. I stayed at my uncle’s and traveled several kilometers on foot. Our elementary school was in a beautiful building,but not for long. The municipality authorities took it and made offices from it. Even today I joke that once I’ll sue the municipality and request them to return my school.
A sorrowful event is related to that period. The landlord threw me out of the apartment and I settled, against my will, in an abandoned prison, under the Courthouse. They discovered me only half a year later and moved me to the orphanage. I remember those days especially well.

Serbia. It was my homeland and bread. Already as a student, I traveled to churches and monasteries in many parts of the country and was delighted with their beauty. I read serious books for the first time in Serbia and understood what and how great our history is.

Belgrade stories. I don’t know whether I chose Belgrade or it chose me. After the Students’ Campus I changed about fifteen apartments in almost all parts of the city. For a while my roommate was my best man M. Obradović.
I love to take walks in Belgrade: in Ada, by the Danube, in front of ”Jugoslavija” hotel and elsewhere. I’m attracted by water. Belgrade used to have its famous literary kafanas, some of which unforgettable Momo Kapor wrote books about. What’s left of it today? No kafanas, no literary life, no spirit of the city. We are actually under occupation. And all the questions we raise are in vain.

Textbooks, universities. I remember, I was given books from the school library and took them home. My mother saw a privilege, a wonder in books.I was never given the duty to watch over sheep and calves. Everything I had to do was to read books. Just that. The epic folk poems were above everything. I learned very early to recite verses and read poems by the fire. It was a great privilege indeed. Our school library was not rich in books, but we used to get books from cousins and friends. You ask me who young writers could lean on today. The same as in my time: on entire literature, anything that comes into their hands. I didn’t lean on big public libraries, because there were none nearby. The nearest one was in Bileća. When I later moved to the city, reading became even more thorough and complete.

Friends, mirrors. Memories of friends are always numerous and multilayered. I like to say: I’m lucky many of them let them be near them. Pekić, Mihiz, Kiš, Raičković, Bulatović, Kapor, Sijarić, Mihailović... I really associated with them and heard many remarkable stories. Unfortunately, none of those great people is alive now. Telling about them isn’t easy at all, and I’m not really certain if my memory serves me well. I was editor of the selected or compiled works of most of them. I had a correspondence with some of them, and a part of the correspondence was published in posthumous books of Borislav Pekić. Especially remarkable about them was that they liked to talk, they liked humor.
Today, I don’t associate with writers that much, I’m rarely someone’s first reader.

Ćopić. I used to go to him often and had a lot to hear from him. Branko discovered and fenced his well with living water at the beginning. Then he took out water from it and watered his grandfather’s garden during summer droughts, when everything begins dying of thirst. He liberated the work of his genes, equally successful in any genre. He became the most popular writer very early, everywhere and to everyone to whom Serbian language is close and understandable. Ćopić’s main wish completely came true: ”My wish is to enter as much joy, smiles, hopes, blue fairytales, pleasant lies as possible into this sorrowful world packed with dark anticipations. And believe me: I lie the least.”

Bule. Andrić considered Bulatović his friend. When the young writer was supposed to enter the Serbian Writers’ Association, Andrić said it’s better to let him enter through the door, because otherwise he’ll come alone through the window. Critics saw greatest ideals in war and revolution, while Bulatović saw concupiscence and perversion. He didn’t tell about the time of glory, but the time of shame. Velibor Gligorić suggested kicking out Bulatović from literature, and the writer responded: ”I’m a kamikaze, samurai, or in our words hayduk. Rabelais of the underground, the Slavic Bosch.”
While we were roommates in Podgorica, he woke up in the morning once and said: ”Writer, move your legs, move your hands, move all parts of your body! If it’s working, good!” Such was Bule.

Mihiz. I heard many valuable words from Borislav Mihajlović, those you cannot read anywhere. He gave me advice for the story Secret of Herzegovina Artisans. Mihiz didn’t talk about literature much. He preferred to talk about the life literature originates from. He once complained: ”What would happen if we had the luck to see the Arabs and Turks change their directions of invasions, and if we got Aristotle in the ninth and they got Ćele-Kula in the nineteenth century?”

Sijarić. Ćamil once told me: ”Oh, Radoslav, you placed a great burden on the back of your character. Take care of him, he’s just a child. Don’t let him stay an orphan!” Perhaps then Sijarić told the essence of his art – that we are all, in one way or another, just orphans. He gave a bit of the patriarchal warmth we’ll take with us. Ćamil Sijarić is our Scheherazade from Sandžak, from Raška; a man who truly knew that one lives until he talks and imagines.

Momčilo. Certain critics considered Kapor a ”pulp writer”, saw his prose as texts without depth, without shaded and psychologized characters. Perhaps because Kapor had the same fate as Hemingway and Salinger: he immediately paid for his journalism and television appearances.
When he made my portrait in oil, I said that I look more like Vlah Alija than myself. He laughed and said that it only seems so because of the mustache. Then he jokingly asked me to sell him the painting. I asked for five thousand euro and the said that I’m too expensive.
Injustices are always settled at the end, and only writers whose works are really widely read survive. Momo Kapor is still one of the most widely read Serbian writers.

Homeland. I can easily say that I’ve never left my homeland. In a way, wherever I traveled, I could say I traveled to Herzegovina. Homeland is a wondrous symbol, without a possibility of simplifying it. Great excitement overcomes me while I go down from Čemerno, and behind a curve, behind some bend, the Gatačko Polje breaks before my eyes. Historical and geographical pictures pass through my head, related to all those small towns I see along the way, and which I test against myself.
I have nothing left in my homeland except a bit of language and humor. I might also add a bit of stone.

Eternal Kosovo. Someone has already said it, and great Njegoš elevated it a long time ago, that Kosovo and Metohija are the two most expensive words of the Serbian people. If it weren’t true, it would be both pathetic and too symbolic.
In the lands where our early medieval history was created, where the most enduring Serbian endowments were erected, where we have accepted our faith, it seems that during the previous fifty-odd years everything was done to make the Serbian people a minority in their own country. Robbers and ruffians have seized our state before our own eyes. They say that today the most important thing are human rights, and that state borders, wherever ”American interests are jeopardized”, can be changed. Terrorism is dangerous only in their countries, while they support it in small countries giving it an innocent face and name. Their numerous books and articles are made of lies and frauds. The Pulitzer Prize for journalism is granted for shameful lies. They killed and executed many Serbs in Kosovo to take out their organs and sell them to Western merchants. Can any good be built on this?

Rush towards the abyss. What can a writer do in a world without justice, in a world of collapsed ethics, especially when he is so exposed to temptations and competition between Faustus and the Devil? Is there a chance for a writer to defend Faustus and show him the way? Or is it a futile effort?
What should a writer do today when rivers of stale and destroyed taboos and myths are running around him? What can a writer do when today’s events are already confuting everything from yesterday? When there are so many charlatans, fools and ignoramuses, robbers and ruffians? When the arrogant and powerful ones want to rearrange history, to bring back fascism, to proclaim winners in wars as defeated and the defeated ones as winners, to turn criminals into victims? It seems to me that those great powers are rushing towards the third world war. It’s not important for them how many small and helpless countries they will bomb in their hurry, how many people they will kill.

Drawers and chests. The episode of renaming Serbian literature into Bosnian is sad and foolish, so Ćopić, Kočić, Dučić, Šantić Ćorović, Andrić, Selimović... all of a sudden became Bosnian, instead of Serbian writers. We made a special edition of Nova Zora with that subject. Writers and wise people laughed at such things. Then, I suppose, there came a smart Bosnian writer and said: ”People, it doesn’t make sense to compel Serbs into Bosnian literature. You can’t do it by force.” Someone understood it and listened to this voice of conscience. And then all was returned to its original state.

Very Montenegro. In my childhood, I was growing up with love, hope and great wish to grow up as soon as possible and put on the Montenegrin folk costume. Now the situation has changed. Montenegrins separated from Serbia, but were among the first to recognize the secession of Kosovo and Metohija. What else is there to say? With all those experts and professors, they managed to find two words of their specificity and in them two letters: sj (as sjekira, sjedi) and nz (the word bronzin). What else is there to say about it?
Look at the letter Francesco Palovinetti, spy of Pope Paul VI, sent from Sarajevo on December 26, 1969 to Metropolitan Danilo. This extraordinarily important document, which you can find in the interesting book Seven Funerals of Njegoš by Slobodan Kljakić and Ratko Peković, testifies about the interest of Vatican to remove Njegoš’s chapel from Lovćen and the real background of this scandalous act.
After reading it, one sees many things more clearly.

My mother’s eyes. Writers, of course, as long as they live, go through papers and try to make something new. When my mother died, thirteen years ago, I told my friends about an exquisite event. I didn’t go out – I looked after my sick mother and wrote. She asked me what I was doing. I told her I’m trying to put together a story. She didn’t give up but asked: what’s the title? I replied. And she said that it’s no good and that a much better title would be ”My Mother’s Eyes”. I told the story to many people and soon afterwards saw the title on another book. I have to respect my mother’s wish and finish that book.


Radoslav Bratić was born on St. Vid’s Day in 1948 in Brestice, Herzegovina. He went to elementary school in Korita and Bileća, high school in Trebinje, and studied literature in Belgrade. He was the founder and editor of ”Znak” magazine, editor of ”Književna Reč” and ”Književnost”, editor in BIGZ, editor in chief of Relations magazine… Today he is editor in chief of Nova Zora magazine.
He traveled to India, Russia, Germany, China, Hungary, England… Translated into more than ten languages. Winner of the ”Mladost” magazine prize, as well as ”Isidora Sekulić”, ”Andrić’s Prize”, ”Meša Selimović”, ”Ćamil Sijarić”, ”Petar Kočić” prizes...
Lives in Belgrade.


Bratić published novels ”Death of the Savior” (1973), ”Doubt in Biography” (1980), ”Salt Square” (2002), books of stories ”Picture Without Father” (1985), ”Fear of Bells” (1991), ”Winter in Herzegovina” (1996), essays and poetics books ”Scheherazade’s Lover” (1995), ”Writer and Document” (2000)... He compiled anthologies ”Smile of God Ham” (stories of African-Americans), ”Literature of Lusatian Serbs”, ”Anthology of Short Stories of India”, ”Chinese Literature Yesterday and Today”… Patriarch Pavle chose him to compile his book ”Prayers and Pleas” (1996). He also compiled the capital edition ”We Accuse” (resistance of writers towards the crimes of the NATO pact in Serbia and Montenegro in 1999).


Put Salt on the World, so It Doesn’t Become Bland
I researched the ancient roads and traces of salt. And I wonder: how do we salt our world as it is today, at the beginning of the third millennium after Christ? Another novel should be written to answer this question. You can judge based on ”Salt Square” whether I have at least made a hint of the answer. I only know that the world is widely insipid today and that it’s becoming increasingly insipid.


Miloš the Great
I remember an interview I made as a student with Miloš Crnjanski for Radio Belgrade, in the show of Vlado Bunjac. I was so happy while he was telling me what to read and how to do it. He mostly spoke about patience. When I came to Belgrade to study, I thought that the street of Miloš the Great was named after Miloš Crnjanski, the writer who will become increasingly important in time. Everything he touched turned to gold.


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