20 Aug 12

The Anonymous Host

Ana Benacic

I asked my friend Sanja to wait in the car while I conducted the interview. “He doesn’t want to speak on the record,” I told her. “I can’t see why I would stay for more than 30 minutes.”

She parked on the street opposite his house, and we agreed to grab a beer after the interview. I did not know that we were being watched all this while. “Hello Ana,” he said, surprising me a little when he appeared in his garden.

He was skinny and in his seventies. Though his voice sounded tired, his movements were quick. He had the alert mind of someone who still filled in the crosswords.

We had spoken a week earlier on the phone. He seemed alarmed when I told him what I was writing about.

I tried to reassure him that there was no danger in revealing what he knew. He reluctantly agreed to talk, but warned me of trouble if I dared disclose his name.

“Come in,” he said, “and please tell your friend to come in as well. Why did you leave her in the car like that?”

I mumbled something about joining her for a beer later. But the truth was that I did not want to trouble Sanja with a tale about the collapse of  agriculture in a godforsaken village in Slavonia.

What’s more, I had wanted to wrap up the interview as quickly as possible because I was tired of people who would only speak off the record.

There were few secrets in these small communities. Everybody knew everybody’s business. Yet many feigned ignorance when they realised I was a reporter.

At his invitation, Sanja and I entered the house. A bottle of the finest rakija, ten-year-old plum brandy, awaited us on the table. White wine from the vineyards of eastern Slavonia emerged from the refrigerator. This was accompanied by servings of “kulen” sausage, with chilli peppers, ham and cheese. Everything on the table had been produced locally.

“I haven’t talked about this for years,” he said – but once he started, he did not stop.

“I built that company with my hands, brick by brick. I’ve had enough trouble because of it. I don’t want anything bad to happen to my children because I’m talking now.”

And yet he feared it was too early to speak openly about what had happened. “They tore it apart, it’s gone. The same people are still in power,” he said.

Sanja and I left his house long after midnight. We were drunk, and so was our host. I could not convince him to share the documents that would back up his story. Nor could I persuade him to allow his name to be used. He said he did not want to be “accidentally” hit by a car because he had spoken to me.

Sanja was supposed to have waited in the car for what was meant to have been a 30-minute interview. She is now following the story closely.

Talk about it!

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