Expanses of New Romantic Heroes
Ever since Pushkin, Lermontov, Tolstoy, Tyutchev, Andreev… Serbian subjects and heroes have been present in Russian literature. The attractiveness, closeness and elusiveness of the Balkans still last. It’s the same today. Many contemporary Russian literature works are related to Serbs. War prose, patriotic poetry, science fiction, mythology and epic poetry, action and detective novels… We bring you this small review as an incentive for reading, translating and publishing

By: Ana Jakovljević Radunović

Serbs have entered Russian XIX century literature as romantic heroes from a territory where wars never cease. The awareness of the existence of Slavic Europe, close in faith, spirit and language, appeared with Alexander Pushkin’s Songs of the Western Slavs. Romanticism was no longer just the foggy Albion and German geniuses; it was also the boiling Balkans, whose soil gave birth to unique heroes with specific ethics and their own truth. Europe was introduced to Serbs through the works of Goethe and Merimee, and the Russians discovered them by reading Pushkin’s verses.
Somewhat later, while creating the character of his Serb, Lermontov wrote about the art of living with wars, about the philosophically accepting fate, not calmly and obediently, but more heroically and in the ancient way. Officer and philosopher-fatalist Vulich will become the key to understanding the hero of the novel Hero of Our Time. Fatalism, as the Balkan projection of the Caucasian text of Russian literature, created Russian romanticism (V. Maroshi wrote about it excellently) and made it speak its own language. Russian literature was formed in the moment it finally stopped imitating Europe and started speaking its own language, shedding metaphorical traps of metaphysical meanings.
Serbia is an expanse where a battle for life and death is constantly fought and it as shown as such in different Russian texts: the hero of Ana Karenina – Vronsky – seeks death in Serbia, the hero of Leonid Andreev’s story ”Foreigner” Rajko Vukich aches for Serbia, poet Tyutchev writes about Serbia and grieved for it.
In Vladislav Khodasevich’s poem ”Monkey”, written in the late 1918 and early 1919, a Serb appears on the day World War I began. This character indicates what had happened in the four years of the war, as well as the immediate cause of the global catastrophe which caught the entire world, inexorably and in a flash, like a summer fire. The idyllic holiday scene is disrupted by the arrival of a Serb with a monkey, just like the course of world history has changed in the moment a Serbian young boy, Gavrilo Princip, shot the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Khodasevich observes the war as a category present through the entire history of human civilization. Since history is eternally repeating, Dmitry Bykov in his poem ”Serbian Dance to the Ballad of the Great Return” (collection of poems Clearly, 2014) describes the same event from the beginning of the world war, but with much more cynicism towards the Serbian young men who thought they could confront the occupier. In the writer’s version, this war has never and will never stop.
Bykov deals with the same subject in his poem ”Farewell of the Slavic Girl”, in which the same war connects the Carpathian and Balkan mountains.


The last decade of the XX century again brought Serbs and the Balkans into the center of attention of Russian writers. The disintegration of Yugoslavia and wars that accompanied it became an inspiration and polygon for testing personal capabilities of a certain number of writers. Eduard Limonov was one of the first who set off to the Balkan lands, Serbian and others, affected by the wars. Just like Caucasus served as an arena for feats and escape into the exotics in the XIX century for Lermontov and several generations of Russian aristocrats and intellectuals, the Balkan wars became Limonov’s polygon for testing and proving himself in the late XX century. He was preparing to use all the knowledge gained in the Balkans, in case of need, in the territory of the Russian state. The writer’s experiences from the wars, encounters with common Serbian soldiers, as well as those leading the Serbian army formations, became part of his controversial book Anatomy of the Hero.
The subject of Russian volunteers is frequent in contemporary Russian works writing about Serbia, both in nonfiction and documentary texts, and is mostly based on facts. The writers who wrote about Russian soldiers who participated in Serbian wars include: Oleg Valetsky (White Wolves, Serbian Diary of a Russian Volunteer 19931999), Mikhail Polikarpov (Russian Squad, Our People in Serbia, Serbian Twilight, The Balkan Borderline, Russian Volunteers in Battles for Serbia), Vladislav Shurygin (Bidding Farewell to Kosovo), Boris Zemtsov (Volunteers). Memories of soldiers from the battalion transferred from Bosnia to Kosovo, such as Alexander Zelichenko’s Kosovo Diary and Alexander Lobanzev’s Kosovo 99 also belong to such type of texts.
Sergei Stratanovski, poet from St. Petersburg, alsowrites about Russian volunteers in the Serbian lands in his collection of poems Cyrillic Alphabet Chorus (1999). The romantic subjects of death and fate are continued through Stratanovsky’s verses, whose hero Fiery Vuk wishes to help his brothers in faith and die from a bullet in Kosovo Polje.
In Alexander Tutov’s novel Russians in Sarajevo. Less Known Pages of the Unfortunate War, a Russian doctor comes to Sarajevo to save people, but in the war circumstances, he is forced to treat both his own and the enemy soldiers, as well as to shoot and kill. One of the main questions the author is trying to answer is why have numerous Russians participated in the wars in Yugoslavia between 1992 and 1995.


There are many action novels and thrillers which take place in Serbian lands, most often in Kosovo, and write about conflicts with Albanians. As a rule, there is enormous interest for works of this genre, although there is little truth and history in them. Dmitry Cherkasov’s Night over Serbia initiated the TV series Rokotov: The Balkan Tiger, Kosovo Polje. The Balkans, Kosovo Polje. Russia, the Last Soldier of the President. A movie was made based on Ivan Naumov’s novel The Balkan Borderline, about the entrance of the Russian battalion in Kosovo. Also famous is the detective novel Traitor, written by Alexander Novikov and Andrei Konstantinov, based on the story about the death of Soviet reporters Nogin and Kuren in the early 1990s. The hero of this novel, popular TV program presenter Vladimir Mukuseev, decides to conduct his own investigation and flies to Yugoslavia. Alexander Vladimirovich Markov and Vitaly Ivanovich Pishchenko have chosen reporter Sergei Komov for their main hero in their novel Based on the Law of Hatred. In order to answer the question why NATO bombs are falling on cities and villages, he is sent to the Balkans, where he confronts the same dangers as the soldiers. Sergei Zverev wrote the novel Born in Casings, describing the fights of the Russian navy special forces and their commander captain Tatarinov against Albanian arms dealers. In the novel Legionary,the commander of the Foreign Legion squad tries to establish control over the ignited conflict between Serbs and Albanians. When the Albanians kidnap one of the soldiers from the squad, they ask for the psychotropic generator as ransom, which the former Russian commando rejects.
Action novels have also dealt with events and conflicts in Bosnia. The civil war in Bosnia has kept the entire world in tension for years, and nobody was indifferent towards it in Russia. Russian volunteers have gone to the war. Ordinary people sent money and material aid. Politicians gave statements of support. It seemed that all Russians were on the side of their Orthodox Serbian brothers. Egor Ovcharenko’s Last Offensive on the West writes about the adventures of Dmitry Emelyanov, who became a mercenary on the Serbian side. He risks his life every day hoping to get rich and leave to some peaceful country with the woman he loves, a Croatian girl named Zlata. Maxim Mikhailov in his works Clouds over Bosnia and By Shooting Your Brother You Kill Yourself shows how Russian volunteers in Republika Srpska fought against the ”Black Swallows” – Muslim special forces, and the ”Jokers” – Russian mercenaries in the Croatian army. Unlike Mikhailov, Alexei Victorovich Sviridov and Alexander Victorovich Biryukov in their Torn Skies write about people who tried to prove that Serbs were not the cause of the overall evil. Very popular is also Alexander Afanasiev’s (Markianov’s) novel White Tigers which combines the names of two famous military units in its title – ”White Wolves” and ”Arkan’s Tigers”.


The popularity of fiction based on Slavic subjects aroused interest for Serbian folklore. Serbian subjects are very frequent in the works of Jelena Vladimirovna Haetska. The heroes of Stanislav Senykin from his novel Conspiracy of the Dragon. Secret Chronicles are pulled into the eternal conflict between the Roman-German civilization and Byzantium. In this novel full of mysteries, an oak tree with a Serbian name Dušan appears, whom the winds bring news about mysterious forces that will confront the Eastern Christian civilization.
Zadunavski Vuk is a Russian author who writes science fiction based on the Balkan and Byzantine historical material. The author takes his readers to the cruel and picturesque world of the Balkans and describes events that influenced the course of the later world history. The readers watch the Battle of Kosovo together with Miloš Obilić and spend the last days and hours of Constantinople before its final fall with monk Dimitrije. The author creates interesting characters which decorate the valuable Crown of the Balkans, at the same time presenting the bylina style and discourse of Russian epic poetry.
Science fiction works are most often related to the name of Nikola Tesla, such as Alyona Dashuk’s Tesla’s Pigeons. Konstantin Kalbasov’s Armored Walkers. My Grenade depicts an alternative history in which Nikola Tesla didn’t become a man who changed the world with electricity. In this book, he sends mankind to a different path of development with steam engines. There is also a series of works in which the world shadow government tries to get hold of the lost relics of Serbian people: Svetlana Zhuravska’s Shadow Led by God, Alexei Kondratenko’s Katarina: the Number of Beginnings and Dmitry Aglakov’s Soldiers of the Age of Aquarius.
In historical and adventure novels, Serbia is shown as an eternally rebelled land within the Ottoman Empire. Victor Vasilevich’s Hero. Devshirme revives the era of prince Lazar and the courageous fight of Serbs with the Ottoman hordes. Marker of His Majesty speaks about the historical circumstances in the XVII century. The Ethnogenesis series mostly comprises of adventure and science fiction works, including Kiril Benedictov’s The Balkans. Dracula and Sergei Volkov’s Soldiers of Misfortune. When Volkov’s hero saves a young entrepreneur, he will go on the other side of law and hunted both by criminals and police officers. As a way out, his coach suggests him to go to the Balkans, where a war has been going on for several years. There are also adventure biographies, such as Boris Ponomaryov’s and Mustapha Golubich’s Stalin’s Secret Agent. In Victor Alexandrov’s novel Their Guiding Star, an officer believed to be dead returns from Belgrade to St. Petersburg in 1905 from a secret mission. He becomes involved in the work of a group of revolutionaries and thanks to his intellect, courageousness and skills, reveals a spy and saves the girl he has fallen in love with.


Famous reporter Andrei Shary, correspondent of Radio ”Free Europe” from the Balkans (Zagreb) from 1993 to 1996, deals with historical subjects in his two books Balkans – Periphery of an Empire and The Danube – The River of the Empire.
Due to its exoticness, crime novels in which truth and credibility are not that important to authors present Serbia in the Hollywood manner. Chingiz Akifovich Abdullaev brings detective Drong, his hero, in connection with crimes related to Serbia and wars in the Balkans: first in his Pricelist for the Publisher and then in his novel The Balkan Syndrome. In his Body of Milosović, Alexei Valentinovich Mitrofanov depicts deputy Filatov, who comes to Belgrade as member of the Russian parliament delegation to the funeral of the former Serbian president. The tension reaches its climax when a coffin, similar to the one Milosović was buried in, is boarded on the plane to Moscow. Filatov begins his own investigation, suspecting that the old gardener in the country house, where the former leader’s family lives, is the real Milosović.
Interesting is Eduard Verkin’s novel Anna’s Ashes. There is a special Serbian atmosphere in it, which the author brought impressed by his visit to the Belgrade Book Fair, but it is politicized to a certain extent.
Serbian subjects are also present in children’s patriotic literature, in Veronika Kungurtseva’s Mockingbird’s Field or Vanya Zhitni in the War. Vanya Zhitni, with his friends, house spirit Conifer Birch and flying girl Golden Forest, leaves to the Balkans searching for the last fairy. The travel through time will bring the heroes to the war which ripped former Yugoslavia apart.
Serbia is present in Russian literature as an expanse with constant warfare, ever since the beginning of time. It is a place of a constant battle between good and evil, a place of collision of different empires, religions, states and organizations. In this turbulent land, in heroic situations, contemporary romantic heroes are confirmed and shown in contemporary Russian literature.


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