Magazine article Salmagundi

Artists and Murderers

Magazine article Salmagundi

Artists and Murderers

Article excerpt


I admit that over the last twenty-five years I have been finding it increasingly difficult in the ex-Yugoslavia and other "transition" countries to find a "home" for my texts, whether whole books or shorter pieces. I won't here go into whether I'd agree to publish a piece of mine in the mainstream newspapers in Croatia or Serbia. Right now I am shaken by the fact that no one since the fall of Yugoslavia has even asked. In my 'native' Croatia, the newspapers and magazines have been circumventing me at every turn. Croats are particularly prickly about their Croatianhood; trample on their Croatianhood and you're trodding on a land mine. Led by this logic, one could assume that Serbs might be more welcoming, but, surprisingly, no. Each side keeps a strict watch over their Croatianhood, or Serbdom. If you don't give a hoot about Serbdom and Croatianhood, and if you're, moreover, a woman, your unpopularity in both these communities is not hard to understand. Oh, yes-and I left. Them. These communities. And that is not readily forgiven.

Does this mean that publishing in the countries in transition, the post-communist countries, is on its last legs? Why no, it appears to be flourishing. Is culture being sold short? No, actually, people are tripping over themselves to support culture. There are at least three international literary festivals and dozens of local ones every year in little Croatia alone. Every one of the tycoons owns their own newspaper, and oligarchs own whole chains of bookstores (Russians are peerless in this), while the wives, lovers, daughters and sisters of these same tycoons own publishing houses, galleries, museums, or something similar, in any case something "artistic."

So what is wrong with this picture?!

An email arrived the other day from a woman I know in Belgrade. My acquaintance is a writer and, wouldn't you know it, she had observed similar issues: "To tell you the truth, finding a publisher, at least in my case, is much more difficult than writing the book. And this at a time when there is hardly a soul who HASN'T written a book and published it in Serbia!" She went on to describe a television show on the Belgrade Book Fair. "Sitting there were these caricatures, all crowing at once, holding books on their laps, their books, and behind them cooks were cooking, although the show was not a cooking show. The announcer, herself the author of several books, asked them one by one, the singer, the dancer, the drummer, the starlet... what they'd written about. A petite woman, her hair in a bouffant and her manner huffy, sat at the end of the row, tapping her toes. The announcer came over and asked, "Are you the only one here who doesn't have a book?" The petite lady spat out: "Not for long!"


In his book Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible, Peter Pomerantsev writes about the new Russia, the world of criminals, murderers, oligarchs, politicians, millionaires-called Forbeses in new Russian slang-and the gold-diggers, known as tyolkas.

"Can anyone be a killer?" (...)

"No. When I was in prison there were men who regretted what they'd done. They wept, went to church. Not everyone has the inner strength to do it. But I do."

"And would you ever return to crime?"

Vitaly smiled. "Nowadays my life is all about art."

"I often think now I should have gone into politics (...) I just thought it boring. I didn't realize they used the same methods as us. It's too late now, though. I've dedicated myself to art. If I can't film, I'll write. And you know what the future is, Peter? Comedy."

The portrait of Vitaly Djomochka hit me in a flash of enlightenment and a total eclipse. Of course there's no room left for me! All of it has been taken up by the Vitaly Djomochkas: the killers who have morphed into "artists"! But if I allow for the possibility that murderers can morph into artists, should I also allow for artists morphing into symbolic and real murderers? …

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