TRANSITIONS ONLINE: A New Reading of Dobrica Cosic: A Writer Who Became a Novel Character
31 January 1998
Svetislav Basara's Looney Tunes and David Albahari"s Darkness are the two most popular novels in Serbia at the moment. While reading these fine novels, one can contemplate how short-lived glory usually is: it seems that the rebellious "sons" of Serbian literature have denounced their "father" with some contempt. Dobrica Cosic has been in the focus of public attention in the past few years, but for reasons much different from those that made him famous and loved among his fellow Serbs. In the first stage of his spectacular rise, he was the "pro-state writer" of his time, representing Yugoslavia and everything it stood for wherever he went. He was simply a star, his novels were included in the primary school syllabus while he was still very young. Dobrica Cosic also had very good connections on "the other side too". Many people had high hopes about his political beliefs when he got angry with the Comrades, which once again brought him into the limelight as a dissident rallying all those unhappy with the post-Tito era in Yugoslavia. Now, however, he is in the focus of attention as the most notorious villain in Serbia's new, self-declared and allegedly cosmopolitan elite and its struggle against the so-called "traditionalists". Cosic is being fought with some passion and intensity: Basara can't stand the sight of him, he even called him the biggest Serbian villain since Vuk Karadzic, not including Slobodan Milosevic. Dragan Velikic refuses to call him by his name, so does Mileta Prodanovic.
Cosic himself has kept quiet most of the time. He makes his presence felt every now and then with his famous thought that "his fears are still stronger than his hope". Then he walks quietly back into the darkness of his Dedinje home. Meanwhile, Serbia's political and intellectual circles have split up into two confronted teams regarding this issue. One holds that no one with common sense can say anything bad about Dobrica Cosic, the other says exactly the opposite.
It is easy to understand and explain where all the hard feelings for Cosic come from. He was both a communist and a nationalist, meaning that he has committed the two biggest ideological sins of the century. He adored Krcun and Leka Rankovic, two of Serbia's most notorious political gendarmes of the 20th century, who were called heroes only by "mindless and fearful peasants", as his adversaries often said. He played a part in all important political decisions made by the Serbian establishment, some of which spelt nothing less than disaster for the Serbs. His closest aides are as appealing as the Adams family. All the above stated facts, however, do not fully explain why there is such a strong desire to discredit both Cosic and his literature to the maximum.
One must be warned that only a completely ignorant person can discredit his novel "The Rifts", the first valid attempt to shed some light on the "other side" in the Serbian civil war, from a position which was completely literal - it was neither "dogmatic" nor "revisionist". Dobrica Cosic is also the author of "Fairytales", still the most unread novel in recent Serbian literature. People calling themselves "pro-Cosic" seem to know less than anybody else about this book, which is most certainly one of its strong points.
Can anything positive be said about Cosic as a dissident ? The theory that he was a false dissident definitely holds water, but there is still something very fishy about it: the theory was launched by a group of people who never were dissidents, "true" or "false". The least they could have done to support their theory is show Cosic what it's like to be a real dissident: they had so many Russians, Poles and Czechs to learn from. This way, their criticism of Cosic looks like a retroactive biography erasure, for some of Cosic's harshest critics are people who would, all of a sudden, go to the nearby Kashmir district on very important business whenever an anti-regime petition was being signed. They probably went there to get a mantra or two for political prisoners in the former Yugoslavia. A satirical novel by Danilo Kis about Cosic and his voyages in Africa is a feast for any reader, for Kis was as superior to Cosic as Mozart was to Salieri. However, attempts by a pack of nameless opportunists to crucify Cosic with the intention of making political names for themselves look sad and disgusting, just as disgusting as the post-mortem odes to Danilo Kis by those who killed him.
Judging by the opinion of the Serbian intelligence on Cosic's "ideological" role in the war and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, Cosic is bound to burn in hell one day, if God agrees with that judgment of course. The author of this text has taken the liberty to add a few twigs to that bonfire, for the sin committed in this case is simply unforgivable. Indeed, Cosic and other "patriotic" academicians, poets and historians can never be forgiven for their active and energetic role in killing Bosnia. This former Yugoslav republic represents moral gallows for a vast majority of Serbia's recent intelligence. Until 1992, they had a chance to make amends in spite of all their misdeeds. The appearance of masked gunmen in Sarajevo was the beginning of their fall into oblivion, for under those masks were minds propelled by their own, tragically irresponsible and pathetic nazi ideology. There isn't a shadow of a doubt that the intelligence can partly be blamed for the war which broke out in the former Yugoslavia, but the guilt of the major and all too familiar culprits is far bigger and more obvious.
Mira Markovic will probably once again sing that song about the pact between "the civil right wing" and nationalist-monarchist" forces, she will perhaps once again say that these forces plunged Serbia into war and that the "progressive left wing", headed by The Family, got us out of it. One should hope that most people here are tired of listening to a broken record, for that's exactly what her fairytales resemble.
It is therefore the responsibility of sensible individuals to judge everyone and everything, including Cosic, with some care and consideration. Dobrica Cosic is far from falling into oblivion. The last few years have proved that his admirers and cloned ideological fans have gone astray, so now is perhaps the time to judge his superficial and ignorant critics. That would be a very positive start to a new chapter about Cosic and his deeds.
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