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Bos/Hrv/Srp 19 May 12

Igor Mandic: Serbs and Croats Belong Together

The unrepentant advocate of Yugoslavia and Socialism says time’s up for the independence projects of the ex-Yugoslav republics - none of whom have made a go of it.

Andrej Klemencic
BIRN Belgrade
Igor Mandic | Phoyo by organizers of the festival dedicated to the writer Miroslav Krleza

At 72 Igor Mandic still refuses to identify himself with the new political map of former Yugoslavia.

His views keep him in constant conflict with the Croatian public but at the same time make him a star among people who still view Yugoslavia as their homeland.

Mandic, author of 30 books of reviews, polemics and essays, is used to being in frequent conflict with the mainstream.

When he wrote in a review in 1974 that “Tchaikovsky’s is the kitschiest opus in the history of music,“ his editors at the Croatian daily Vijesnik battled a public outcry, demanding that Mandic stop writing.

Once Mandic started incorporating his bold views into political topics, he was banned from Croatian literary life.

In 1977 he published a sympathetic review of a book stamped by the then regime as nationalist. As Mandic was deemed insufficiently critical of author Petar Segedin, Croatian publications stopped working with him until the fall of the Communist system.

Since the beginning of Yugoslav wars, however, Mandic has switched tack, focusing on what he sees as the inability of the newly created republics to justify their independence.

Mandic is one of the few surviving authors who knew Miroslav Krleza, one of the foremost writers in Croatia in the Yugoslav era.

Krleza’s popularity is growing again throughout the former Yugoslavia. In May almost 30 round tables, presentations and theatre performances took place in Belgrade, Serbia, for a festival dedicated to his work and legacy.

Sharing his pro-Yugoslav views, Mandic argues that Krleza was politically a dualistic figure, criticising and embracing the Communist regime while writing from an angle that was much wider than just Croatian or just Serbian.

“Krleza’s entire opus is integrally Yugoslav and his views, from perspective of the current politics of the former Yugoslav republics, are like dynamite,” he says.

“They require the de-composition of everything created by the break apart of Yugoslavia.

“The prevalence of the free market, of nationalist parties, and of capital over the working class, is something that Krleza fought against,” he adds.

“To advocate his views would mean undoing all of the achievements of these mini-states, which would be devastating”, Mandic argues.

When Mandic speaks of Yugoslavia, his short sentences, spoken with almost military strictness, elongate and his voice softens.

He blames the politicians for not being able to recognize the true ingeniousness of Yugoslavia as political project and the numerous possibilities it offered.

“Socialist Yugoslavia was the only successful political project of the Southern Slavic nations. It was a concept that was well developed and accepted by all its nations,” he maintains.

“The break-up has shown that Yugoslav republics are too immature to live independently.

“Even Serbia, which has a longer tradition of statehood than the others, has little chance of success. Same goes for Croatia and Slovenia,” he says.

Mandic’s affirmative views of the old Tito-era concept of “Brotherhood and Unity” make him a loner among the intellectual elites of the Balkan countries.

Most intellectuals now either promote or accept the cultural and political independence of their individual nations.

But not Mandic. “I believe Serbs and Croats should live in the same country because they are in fact one nation. If the Slovenes join in we have a tri-tribal nation,” he says, with a touch of irony in his smile.

He believes that intellectuals can now employ much more free thinking into their work, but that the work itself has never been less of a public commodity.

“Today liberties are undoubtedly bigger. But ironically they are perhaps irrelevant. That is the true irony of our achievements,” he says.

“The liberties today are overwhelming, yet unnecessary, void of the charge and intensity given by revolution.

“Earlier, when you knew that you were fighting against an authoritarian regime, this craving for other shores made sense. Utopia made sense then. Today, utopia has turned into dystopia,” he says.

Despite being an advocate of Yugoslavia, Mandic was never associated with any particular political structure designed to bring the people of former Yugoslavia closer together.

Asked if someone of some party should assume such a task, he says that “Yugoslavs themselves should assume responsibility for their political existence.”

In the early 1990s, he recalls, a political party called the UJDI [the Association for a Yugoslav Democratic Initiative] tried to unite those who still felt Yugoslav.

“But, you know, as soon as you have a party things tend to go wrong. However, this kind of collaboration might be a good reference point for future political actions of Yugoslavs,” he concludes.

This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.

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