CULTURE

Middle class vs communism in interwar Yugoslavia

Serbian author Nebojsa Ozimic’s novel «The House» (published in Greek by Eurasia Editions in a translation by Constantinos Tsaousis) is a chronicle of Yugoslavia during the interwar period. The action takes place in the town of Nis, featuring the conflict between two worlds, that of the bourgeoisie and that of the communist regime. On the one hand, the book throws light on the new concentration of the middle class on the Balkan mainland during the wars, as well as offering a contemporary approach to the country’s recent traumatic past. Why did you choose the first half of the 20th century for your novel? I’m attracted to troubled times and this period is ripe with conflict: two Balkan wars, two great wars and right in the middle of it all, one family, one town, one country. The idea came from a photograph I saw of a monument dedicated to King Alexander Karageorgevic and erected in 1937. It was destroyed by the partisans in 1945. This sparked «The House» and I’m really pleased that this photograph has been used on the cover of the Greek edition. Is this a historical novel? Absolutely. «The House» has all the elements: It is based on original sources and the story is a real one. It is a book about Nis and against communism which is so closely linked to the history of the Balkans. Do you believe that the recent war renewed interest in Serbia’s history and identity? Not in my case. Irrespective of the war, I always read history, from antiquity to the 20th century. It is true that during periods of crisis, there is a need to go back, even somewhat exaggeratedly, into the land’s history. I don’t think it has to do with nationalism. It is the beginning of some kind of chauvinism. So it wasn’t the war that gave birth to inward-looking, nationalist literature? Sure it affected our lives, and literature as an extension, but I don’t believe that there is a link between introversion and nationalism. Would you say that Shakespeare, Dante, Machiavelli, Hugo, Marquez and Orwell, for instance, were introverts? Yet they were all nationalists in a way. The character of Mosha Abraham is very revealing as it represents the old world. Did you want to show the confrontation of two mentalities? Mosha Abraham is my favorite character. He personifies dignity and honesty. He represents a world that my generation will never see. Mosha’s generation built the modern Balkans based on a vision, which I felt the need to describe as a lost world. Which is Serbia’s most tragic moment? NATO’s bombing in 1999. It was horrible to realize that Europe in its entirety was against you because of the Milosevic regime, that no one gave a damn about you, that you were just a number. It was atrocious. As far as we are concerned, Greece’s stance marked our history. I would like to thank the Greeks. Are you optimistic in terms of Serbia’s European future? I honestly don’t understand what a European future means to Serbia. What I do know is that some countries, which didn’t even exist when Serbia was powerful, are very important to Europe today. If a «European Serbia» means a Serbia without a national heritage, then no, it should never happen. On the other hand, I like the idea of a Balkan co-federation. One would expect a wealth of literary production, given the country’s turbulent recent history. Fiction has entered a decadent phase in Serbia. I confess that we no longer have authors of the caliber of Andric, Bulatovic, Pavlovic and Drascovic, but I hope that things will improve in the next decade. On the other hand, poetry is doing really well – but that has always been the case in Serbia.