A World Endless and Narrow
He wasn’t unbreakable, we know that. However, his laughter before the weight of the world is still healthily roaring. In the famous writer’s hometown, many things have changed compared to the time he used to visit it. Older people still remember him, tell his anecdotes and puns, recognize his ”idlers” and ”inborn dummies”, people who ”embrace the entire world”. His grandpa Rade and his ”girl from Bosanska Krupa” are actually all of them. Will we really silently watch the house Branko Ćopić was born in being renovated by the government of Azerbaijan?

By: Ilijana Božić
Photo: Vladimir Stojaković, Ilijana Božić, Archive NR

His love for his homeland and his people was infinite. Carried by his poetic nature, he was in love with life, the world, springs, his neighbors. Many things have changed since Ćopić has stopped visiting. Today, Krupa upon Una and Bosanska Krupa are not the same. According to the Dayton Agreement, Ćopić’s Krupa moved under Grmeč and only a small part of it remained on the Una river. There are no more Ćopić’s moustached men, ”road vagabonds”, bohemians, or village rascals. Passing through Hašani, we look for the hill where Branko Ćopić tended sheep with his grandfather, the Japra river and the old mill. We can still meet grandpa Rade, Petrak the leather craftsman, or cousin Sava.
The village of Hašani, scattered on the hills of Grmeč, is proud of its nature, rarely seen anywhere else. It is a place where people used to work and live in communities, associate, sing, tell jokes next to rakia cauldrons. People used to forget all their troubles in folklore dances, evenings breathing with liveliness, friendliness and competitions. The broken lines of villages, the hills, coves and belvederes, open a man’s soul. It is from such a source that Ćopić took life and entered it in his literary works.
– You should have seen him – starts his story Svetozar Ličina, president of the ”Branko Ćopić” Foundation. – He was a great man, a big man, genuine man of Lika. His lips always puckered, always ready to tell jokes, everything accompanied with laughter, which was actually reality. Ćopić didn’t want to make people laugh, he experienced the world through a veil of laughter.
He spent summers in his home village talking with neighbors and cousins. Svetozar Ličina tells us that classics were his favorite, and he spent his days with his brother, Ratko Novaković.
– The two of them came to Hašani together and stayed in Ratko’s house. He loved Petar Stojisavljević and considered him his best friend. After his political earthquake, when he was persecuted, Petar saved him from Goli Otok. He didn’t have many friends among intellectuals. He never judged people by who they were or their status in the society or politics. He appreciated the human strength in character, soul and ethics. He highlighted it in his literary heroes as well – tells Ličina.
Professor Duško Pevulja adds:
– When he was interrogated by his friends, writers, ideologically righteous members of the City of Belgrade Communist Association, Ćopić responded to all their attacks and artistical denials self-assuredly with: ”If I had to do it all over again, I’d write the same”, sacrificing a lot, but remaining free as a writer. I consider that a password of his work and human character, which, unfortunately, wasn’t unbreakable.


In the long-gone year of 1921, Branko Ćopić sat at his school desk for the first time, probably not even anticipating the role it will have in his life. Especially important for Ćopić was his schoolteacher, who recognized his literary talent and gave him the book Miguel Cervantes.
– Today the school Branko Ćopić attended in Hašani has only eight students. It was first destroyed in 1943 and severely damaged in 1995. It was renovated in 2010, but there are still many more things to do – tells Dragana Todić, president of the ”Branko Ćopić” Heritage Association.
At the age of eleven, scared and with tentative steps, with tears in his eyes, he started off to Bihać, to find his place under the sun. He bid farewell to Mihailića Hill, where graves of his father Vid and grandpa Rade were standing. He bid farewell to his mother Soja and brother Rajko. Melancholy and loneliness have accompanied him ever since, and the magical world of ”butterflies and bears” turned into exceptional pages of our literature.
People in Hašani remember Ćopić with joy and are always willing to talk about him. Older people remember him much better. They say that he used to sit with the villagers on a small bench or doorstep. They speak about his strong connection with his mother and grandfather.
– One of the most touching parts of his entire opus is his relation with grandpa Rade. Tolerant, compassionate, bursting with gentleness and understanding for everyone, Rade Ćopić was very protective of his grandson Branko in a particular manner. In an ungodly hour, when his grandson starts off towards his fantasies in a state of intertwined dream and reality, grandpa asks him: ”Baja, where are you going?” That short question perhaps most touchingly expresses the old man’s constant concern – tells professor Pevulja.
Ćopić was very popular in social gatherings.
– There’s a saying in the village: ”Hubbub is where Branko is” – explains Dragana Todić. She adds that the village has become desolate, and not even close to the period when Branko Ćopić lived and wrote in it.
Ličina tells that someone asked Ćopić once whether his fellow villagers were happy because he was born there. He replied: ”Yes and no. They’ll know I was born there only when they give contributions for my tombstone.” He made jokes at his own expense, he had enormous energy, but life consumed it. When visiting his homeland, he always visited schools. He founded a library in Hašani, which was destroyed in the last war. Visiting schools, speaking with children and teachers was a necessity for him. Ćopić’s house is gone. Villagers would like to repay their Branko, but the lack of financial means is preventing them.
– When I hear that his birth house will be renovated by the Azerbaijani government, which will never happen by the way, I cannot believe that we have become so senseless, sunk so deeply into self-humiliation. How can others appreciate or recognize us if we have such an attitude towards our best artists? Ćopić is a good paradigm for it – states professor Pevulja.


Whenever a thought started haunting him, he would take his notebook. Svetozar Ličina watched Branko put the notebook on his knees and write with a small pencil. He asked him whether it was possible he wrote all those great stories and novels with that small pencil. Ćopić would reply: ”I wrote everything with this pencil, brother, I even have a rubber.” He would note his thoughts immediately and never amended what he originally wrote. Ličina received a good piece of advice from him: ”Brother, remember: the first thought that crosses your mind is the best, the most original and most adequate.” Drago Vukomanović, villager of Hašani and janitor in Ćopić’s school for many years, remembers Branko’s last visit to the village, in October 1983, when he came to his uncle’s saint day, Miholjdan.
– Wearing his red shirt, he’d sit in front of the school or cooperative for hours, talking to the villagers. He often put the gimmicks and adventures of villagers in his literary works, so it wasn’t smart to tell him things you wouldn’t like to find in books. He liked to drink and have a good meal – tells Dragana Todić. Ličina says that Ćopić once told him: ”Those villagers of mine made a fuss because they didn’t like what I put into the newspapers.”
”Oh, I ate so much, without limits, in Hašani at my aunt Danica’s”, the locals remember Ćopić’s words.


The writer introduced great people into the unreal ambient of Grmeč, illuminated by the Indian summer sun. They are chatterboxes, dreamers, ”idlers” and ”inborn dummies”, people who embrace the entire world and don’t hate anyone. Just think of Bandić and his troubles, Jovandeka with the bees that fled from his beehive, or Nikoletina Bursać near Bihać.
– Nikoletina was really such in life, but wasn’t the only one. Everyone was more or less Nikoletina in Branko’s world. Of course, there is always someone completely opposite from Nikoletina. Jovica Jež for example. There are such people in life, those who carry the weight of the world, as well as those who help them – says Ličina.
Let us remember grandpa Rade and Petar, the leather craftsman. According to the oldest Ćopić, a decent village house should offer sanctuary to any traveler, to repay an old, blind horse, and not to desecrate the mill. He knows the value of true friendship and accepts people as they are, thus revealing that a peasant from Grmeč is familiar with ethics. Petrak, the leather craftsman, is a personification of a desolate, uncertain life, while grandpa Rade is a symbol of certainty. The contrast between patriarchal and vagabond values cannot be reconciled. In such an atmosphere, a boy takes the rake and starts off to conquer the moon. The world of Ćopić’s heroes, besides all the serenity and fantasy, remains narrow. Only waters prevented uncle Nidža, in his travels through North America and the Balkans caught in warfare, to continue. In his homeland, however, people prevent him from singing a song he wants to sing with a comical pun. The world is especially narrow to a boy, constantly vibrant, lost between dream and reality, when rules and bans start limiting him. Thus, the tragic limitations of man underlie Ćopić’ serenity, warmth and humor.
– ”The Garden of Marshmallow Color” is one of the last impulses of Ćopić’s unrepeatable artistic creativity, being at the same time the central work for understanding his poetics and narrative esthetics. Its prologue, letter to Zijo Dizdarević, Ćopić’s friend killed in Jasenovac, is particularly important. With that letter, the writer testifies about his current state and mood. With it he wishes to settle in a world overshadowed by the protective aura of grandpa Rade – explains professor Pevulja.
Branko’s poetry has unjustly remained in the shadow of his novels and stories.
– We shouldn’t forget that he’s an exquisite poet, and that his famous poem ”My Girl from Bosanska Krupa” is just one example of his poetic strength and linguistic skills – continues professor Pevulja.
He never revealed who the one that made him forget his name and fatherland is, who the girl who enchanted him is.
– It wasn’t a concrete girl. He formed her based on all the girls he had met on the streets of Bosanska Krupa – adds Ličina. – What an extraordinary human and poetic nature! Many people have passed through my life, but I’ve never met such a personality again. He was a man for everything.


I’m not a General
– People asked him: ”Branko, tell us, were you really that scared in the war?” ”Of course I was scared?!” he said. ”And”, they continued, ”as soon as an airplane passes by, you hide under a bush.” ”It’s true, but others who ran away faster than me, are today generals and I’m not. I’m a poet!” – tells Svetozar Ličina with a smile on his face and sorrow in his eyes.


Three Homelands
– Ćopić used to say that he had three homelands, making his villagers from Hašani angry. He used to say: ”You know, I’m actually a man of Lika.” The villagers would then angrily ask how come, and Ćopić would reply: ”I was born here, but my mother, my Soja, is from Lika. Grandpa Rade is from Lika, all my family is from Lika.” Ćopić hid his Lika from his neighbors and friends from Hašani, but liked to say, among closest friends, that he was a man of Lika and was proud of it. His second homeland was Grmeč, Bosnia. He liked to say that he had a third homeland as well, Banat, where his uncle Nidža was colonized after World War I – tells Svetozar Ličina.


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