News 08 Oct 13

Croatia ‘Destroyed Books by Non-Croats in Wartime’

As many as two million books could have been destroyed during the war in Croatia in the 1990s because they were declared ‘old’ or ‘inappropriate’, claims Croatian writer Ante Lesaja.

Marija Ristic

During the early part of the war in Croatia, huge numbers of books were removed on ideological grounds from public libraries, schools, universities and even private homes, Lesaja said on Monday in Belgrade at a promotional event for his own book on the subject, Knjigocid: Destruction of Books in Croatia in the 1990s.

Lesaja said that because there were no lists of the books that were destroyed, he had to gather data by getting documents from individual libraries and speaking with witnesses.

“I first noticed this in our local library on the island of Korcula when more than 550 titles of books were destroyed,” Lesaja said.

“For example, 165 were allegedly removed because they were old, while 400 were listed as unnecessary. Here we had books from Tolstoy, [Serbian writer] Svetozar Markovic, or 19 titles from the writer Branko Copic [a Bosnian Serb]. Tell me how Copic or Tolstoy can be old literature?” he asked.

Sociologist Bozidar Jaksic told the audience at the event that the “aim of the book cleansing was to remove all non-Croatian authors”.

He said that “books by authors who were not Croats, or that were not in Croatian, or published by a Croatian [publishing] house in Latin script” were removed.

Sasa Milosevic, the vice-president of the Serb National Council in Croatia, told the audience that the intention was to get rid of everything that was not in line with “dominant nationalistic discourse”.

“Apart from books that were written in Cyrillic, books from Croatian authors who didn’t have a nationalistic agenda were also considered inappropriate,” Milosevic said.

The destruction of books was not confined to Croatia during the 1990s wars in the former Yugoslavia. Probably the most dramatic event of this kind took place during the siege of Sarajevo in August 1992, when the National Library building was hit by several rockets fired by Bosnian Serb forces, destroying much of its collection.

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