Magazine article UNESCO Courier

'Poetry Is on the Side of Love.' (Quote from Bosnia's Poet Izet Sarajlic)(Interview)

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

'Poetry Is on the Side of Love.' (Quote from Bosnia's Poet Izet Sarajlic)(Interview)

Article excerpt

* Poetry has been part of your life for half a century. How do you see this art-form today?

Izet Sarajlic: I'm sorry to see that poetry has lost the place it should occupy in people's lives, Poets are partly responsible for this, but the spirit of the age is also to blame. When I was young, Neruda, Sartre, Malraux, Camus, Tuwim, Frost and Ungaretti were the important writers. Living in that world brought responsibilities as well as pleasure; you had to surpass yourself. Imagine having a poem published in a magazine next to one by Neruda! We couldn't afford to be mediocre. In today's literary world, it's not difficult to pass yourself off as a poet. The poet will soon belong to an extinct species. I fear that people will eventually stop reading us altogether.

* Are you equally pessimistic about the future of prose?

I.S.: Yes, because I think that modern novelists couldn't care less about that essential thing known as love. I can't remember the last heroine I fell in love with. The age of Anna Karenina is gone for good. Today's novelists write against a background of violence, and they want to shock their readers. In modern novels there is a kind of indifference, a failure to connect, whose causes I cannot fathom. Is it because writers are trying to appeal to the culture moguls who announce a "new sensibility" every five years or so?

After the Sarajevo tragedy, I had the opportunity to make several trips abroad. I was amazed to see splendidly bound works by so many nonentities displayed in bookshop windows. There are so many bestsellers and so few great writers. The era of great art is over. It seems as though we've lost the joy of creation.

* A Russian poet once said that even sadness is joyful in your poetry. But your recent war poems give the opposite impression.

I.S.: The fact is that all values have been turned upside down, not only for me but for everybody. All the old landmarks have gone. Immorality will soon replace moral values and lies will replace truth. This change has happened very quickly. If the world had moved more slowly in this direction (which actually leads to a dead end), people might have had the time to prepare themselves psychologically. But this is impossible because of the speed at which things are moving.

I feel that civilization took a wrong turning about thirty years ago, as if the powers-that-be had pointed it in a direction in which I can see no future. It appals and depresses me that this utter confusion is accepted as the normal human condition.

* Was it the war that changed your view of the world?

I.S.: To some extent, yes. I've always thought that humanity needed responsible politicians and that there were fewer and fewer of these. It's no accident that the war which has destroyed my former homeland should have happened at a moment in history when there was no longer anyone capable of giving a constructive turn to political events and leading this poor world, so rich in trivia and so poor in basics, into the twenty-first century.

When foreigners who came to Sarajevo during the war asked me what I thought about the West's attitude to Bosnia, I used to tell them that while Tito had had the guts to stand up to the might of Stalin, nobody today - neither the United States, nor France nor Germany - is capable of saying "no" to a local bandit.

The war also taught me something else. It showed me that the behaviour of the world's thinkers is not only irresponsible but immoral. And so was the conduct of some of the generals stationed in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I'm thinking of one of them in particular who was reported to have raped young Muslim girls who were brought to him in brothels. Everybody knew about it. Everybody turned a blind eye.

The war also showed me the meaning of solidarity. We received great support from ordinary people, especially in France, Italy and Switzerland, and without it we would not have survived. …

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