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The Culture of Lies

lip 15

Dubravka Ugrešić is a well known author among Polish readers. For many years she was a journalist writing for Gazeta Wyborcza and other newspapers around the world. She was a professor on the University of Zagreb. She specializes in Russian literature, especially

avant-garde. She is considered by many as the one of the female authors who have changed the world’s perception of some very specific problems.

One of her most famous book, or rather a composition of essays, is The Culture of Lies.(1998). In my opinion it can be especially interesting for Polish readers because of political and historical impact that it carries . Many Poles don’t even remember that not so long ago (in 1991) have started the war that was the biggest and most cruel one in Europe since II World War. The personal experiences of the Yugoslav Wars motivated Ugrešić to speak at loud about the nationalism and as Clive James writes in his critical review of The Culture of Lies “the way that nationalistic ideology permeates every pore of life”.

So how did the war influence the Croatian professor teaching in the capital city of Croatia? People living in Yugoslavia considered themselves ( at least in theory) as a nation. Creation of Yugoslavian identity was not simple and as the war and conflict showed was unsuccessful in many cases. In the end it occurred that most of people wanted to remain Serbs or Croats rather than Yugoslavs. But there were those who didn’t know any other identity than Yugoslavian.

Dubravka Ugrešić after the war was denounced as she says ‘a whore, a witch and a traitor’. When the new Croatia arose, she took a stand in fighting the nationalistic behaviors. She couldn’t understand and didn’t want to support the threats against Serbs who not so long ago were considered to be Croatian’s brothers, neighbors, husbands, wives, relatives. In her own words it was „a collective paranoia: people rushed to be willing executioners. Nobody forced them to kill, spit on and humiliate others – but they did. It became acceptable. It was like being marked with a yellow star.” She considers nationalism as an ‘ideology of stupid’.

We can say that Ugrešić has being the warrior in her blood – her father was a teenage anti-Nazi partisan during the Second World War. When the nationalistic tendencies in Croatia occurred her mother was one of many people who got threatened. Why? She was Bulgarian and as Dubravka refers „being Bulgarian was almost like being Serb”.

In my opinion the most shocking and disturbing metaphor or symbol which occurred at that time in Croatia was “the Clean Croatian air”. In shops and on the markets as an souvenir people were selling small boxes in which it was supposed to be trapped this so called clear Croatian air. It has unfortunately nothing to do with the environment and nature. It was one of many propaganda’s instruments. The clear Croatian air meant the air and environment without any other nationalities , especially Serbs. It meant clearing out the territory of new Croatia from Serbs despite the fact that they lived there for so many years, had families, houses, worked there. Despite that till the 1990 they were considered dear friends, beloved ones. As Ugrešić depictures in her essays, it took just a moment to change from friends to enemies. Not only Serbs were enemies, also people who were disrupting the process of “clearing the Croatian air” started to be perceived as traitors. That was what happened to Ugrešić. In one moment everyone, including her students and collegue professors ( people who from the definition should be educated enough and have some sense of morality )

Maya Jaggi from The Guardian wrote about Ugrešić “When forced to apply for a Croatian passport, under „ethnicity” Ugrešić wrote „none”. Because of the heritage of the second world war, when Croats and Serbs killed each other, she says „people accepted Yugoslavdom as a kind of relief, especially in Bosnia. They didn’t want to hear who was who.” She partly blames EU policy for having to choose. „When Yugoslavia fell apart, there were more declared Yugoslavs than Slovenes, but the EU wouldn’t accept them. They lost ground and were never recognised. You hear only of the fight between Croats and Serbs. But people were deaf to the story of those who didn’t want to be either.”

Ugrešić lives abroad since 1993 but she writes in her native language, you can call it Croatian or (not that politically correct) Serbo-Croatian. The problem of Yugoslav Wars and national identity of the Balkans citizens remain her main interest which she expresses in many books besides The Culture of Lies. Her writings are worth reading if you are looking for sharp language and ironic depicture of the political aspects of European history, which is very often forgotten.

(AK)

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