Slobodan Prosperov in Rio, Ostap B. Novak from Rio

Slobodna Dalmacija, December 13, 1992, pp. 10-11


Unless Slobodan P. Novak stops the International P.E.N. Congress in Dubrovnik from turning into the glitz of Croatian democracy, he has then agreed to the “globusization” of Croatian culture and politics.

Vesna Kesić

When someone finds oneself in the middle of such a widespread and dangerous plot as the attempted international feminist conspiracy against the International P.E.N. Congress in Dubrovnik, with an anti-Croatian conspiracy in the background, one has to react. When articles-reports about the International P.E.N. Congress in Rio de Janeiro appeared with almost identical content but by different authors (published without the byline in Vjesnik, under the initials N.V.K. in Slobodna Dalmacija, Branka Kamenski signed her article in Večernji list) in all the major national newspapers and on Croatian Radio news - maybe also in some regional newspapers? - on Saturday, December 5, I restrained myself from reacting immediately. I decided to follow the code of professional correctness. I waited for Croatian P.E.N president, Prof. Dr. Slobodan P. Novak, a writer and the only participant from this country, to return so I could openly talk to him about what had happened. For the public, of course, because “public cases” can only be resolved if a persistent, consistent and all-embracing light is thrown on them in public.

Cancelled interview

After two days of having to bear the suspicious looks of my neighbours and acquaintances and having to answer the question “What was it like in Rio?”, since one could only conclude by a superficial reading of the confusing report that the subversive group had been there in person, I called Slobodan P. Novak immediately after his return and, in agreement with the editors, I suggested an interview for Slobodna Dalmacija. The next day, after Boris Dežulović had applied some investigative journalism and published an article “Dr. Prosperov and Mr. Novak” revealing that the mysterious correspondent from Rio who was glorifying the victories of the Croatian P.E.N Centre over the dangerous international conspiracy was no one else than the mentioned president, Dr. Novak phoned me and cancelled the interview explaining that he had to respond to Dežulović’s “impudent attack” first. I suggested that we do the scheduled interview after his response was published. It turned out, however, that Prof. Novak had already given an interview to Nedjeljna Dalmacija. At my insistence that it would be professionally correct, the most constructive and, to put it simply, fair to discuss issues where they are the most complex - in Slobodna Dalmacija - and to discuss it with at least one of the singled out persons, Prof. Dr. Novak promised he would contact me soon and offered me a consolation prize: a position at the press centre of the Congress, “where we need the most competent ones”.
Since Prof. Dr. Novak has not responded in writing to the Dežulović article to date and in his interview given to Nedjeljna Dalmacija he did not, as I see it, answer a single relevant question related to the “Rio case” making the situation even less transparent, I take this opportunity and the liberty to pose all the questions I wanted to ask in person here now in writing.  

The report from Rio

First: Prof. Dr. Novak did not, in the end, explain how the Rio report was created? Which information and interpretation, as the rather longish article read, “the small press memory” was written by him and which was written by “colleagues from the secretariat of the Croatian P.E.N. Centre”? The distinction is not irrelevant since it poses the next subquestions: a) Is he the writer of those article fragments that depict him as the Croatian St. George, who cut off the heads of the dragon in the anti-Croatian conspiracy, or was it an interpretation of his “colleagues” from the Zagreb P.E.N. office?; b) What arguments did the New York P.E.N. Centre delegate state with the intention to “undermine” the congress in Dubrovnik and what exactly was the topic of the “two-hour long and very difficult” board and behind-the-scenes discussions held at “Copacabana Palace” hotel?
And: How did it happen that the “Rio correspondent” thought it was necessary to outline the cases from Danas to the “feminists” individually as top information in his report when my international conspiracy resources report that those names were not publicly mentioned at board meetings or at the plenary session but were mentioned in various behind-the-scenes reports, from Helsinki Watch to New York Times headlines? Who cared enough to reveal, name and create the cases which were never official topics in Rio, in Croatia - was it the anonymous correspondent, the president of the Croatian P.E.N. or the Zagreb Centre colleague(s)? Finally, what did the Croatian P.E.N. president talk about for “less than an hour”, except the quoted phrases from the report, and how did he calm the passions and put the New York delegate to shame and achieve the Congress in Dubrovnik by acclamation? Was it just humanistic, honey-tongued flirtation, the description of the beauties of Dubrovnik or the tragic destiny of the city or did Mr. Novak have to convince the International P.E.N. of something?
For example, did he promise that the Croatian P.E.N. would promote the values and principles of the P.E.N. Charter and its other documents to protect writers against any kind of persecution or abuse, to protect human rights and the freedom of speech? (together with the protection of the stated rights in the mentioned “cases”). According to my international information - found no further than Slovenia, that is, the president of the Slovenian P.E.N. Centre whose good will was emphasized by the Croatian P.E.N. president himself - Mr. Novak, in order to make “his” Dubrovnik Congress possible, had to walk on a tightrope of present Croatian politics and cultural praxis. In fact, he stated that the Croatian P.E.N. had done a lot in that regard. Actually, this is the starting point of other questions to which Slobodan Prosperov Novak will have to give answers in order to ensure the legitimacy of the Dubrovnik P.E.N. Congress.

One question after another

The question is: What did the Croatian P.E.N. Centre, during Dr. Novak’s presidency, do to promote and protect any of the four articles of the International PEN Charter? First things first: The first article of the Charter affirms that (as if it was written to encompass the unwanted events that happened here): Literature knows no frontiers, and should remain a common currency between nations in spite of political or international upheavals. What then did the Croatian P.E.N. Centre and its president personally do to stop the neglect and frequent demonization of the literature of other Southern Slavic nations, including Serbian, and its being the object of chauvinism and national hatred together with the members of the mentioned nations? What did they do with the strange instruction given by the Ministry of Culture concerning other Southern Slavic literature to Croatian libraries and librarians? The librarians themselves do not know what to do with Serbian literature: put it in the basements, maybe set it on fire or just keep it moving on the shelves. The same question refers to the second article of the Charter: In all circumstances, and particularly in time of war, works of art, the patrimony of humanity at large, should be left untouched by national or political passion. If they have done something, I apologize then for missing this information, but on the other hand, their speaking out was surely not loud or memorable enough.

The third article of the P.E.N. Charter states that: Members of PEN should at all times use what influence they have in favour of good understanding and mutual respect between nations; they pledge themselves to do their utmost to dispel race, class and national hatreds, and to champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace in one world. The article, as with the entire P.E.N. Charter in general, can sound naive and idealistic at this moment but it is the tragedy of all those who dismiss it cynically and violate it brutally, as it is the problem of S.P. Novak in that it has survived despite the contradictions of reality - wars, international crises and tensions. For now, the leading idea and moral commitment that remains, at least for the ones who want to be P.E.N. members, is to organize its congresses. Consequently, what then did the Croatian P.E.N., its president and the majority of its members do in accordance with this? Many did - just the opposite.
Article four: PEN stands for the principle of unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations; and members pledge themselves to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression in the country and community to which they belong as well as throughout the world wherever this is possible. P.E.N. declares for a free press and opposes arbitrary censorship in time of peace. The question posed to the Croatian P.E.N. Centre and its president is: How many times and where did they speak out during the last two years in terms of the notorious examples of suppressing not only free journalism but also the journalism in Croatia in general? Not to mention the subtle problem of self-censorship (conformism, careerism, etc.) Article 4 further states that: It believes that the necessary advance of the world towards a more highly organised political and economic order renders a free criticism of governments, administrations and institutions imperative. Concerning this part of the Charter, president Novak had to dissuade the P.E.N. international public that the Croatian P.E.N. Centre is a “servant of the Croatian Government”. Did Mr. President inform the same public that the Croatian P.E.N. delegation had recently visited President Tuđman and asked for his patronage of the Dubrovnik Congress? Of course, this does not break with protocol conventions but it has not been noticed up to now that the Croatian P.E.N. Centre has appealed to Dr. Tuđman in respect of the catastrophic position of the media and freedom of speech in Croatia. And he himself has contributed to such a position with some of his statements. To our knowledge, Minister Mrs. Vesna Girardi-Jurkić will be among the high patrons of the Congress, and she is the woman who stands behind all the suspicious instructions from the Ministry of Culture and who, with her statement that Serbs shouldn’t teach Croatian language in Croatia, has violated every single article, every comma and the PEN Charter itself as well as a number of other international conventions on human rights, tolerance and against racism!
And since freedom implies voluntary restraint, members pledge themselves to oppose such evils of a free press as mendacious publication, deliberate falsehood and distortions of fact for political and personal ends. The end of the Charter.

Violation of the PEN Charter

The examples and situations where neither the president, the Croatian P.E.N. Centre as a whole nor members themselves have reacted in accordance with their PEN commitment would by far surpass the scope and the ambitions of this article. Those examples are, although only in part, indicated in all the reports which have almost “undermined” the Dubrovnik Congress anyway. However, I will state some cases I am personally familiar with. Does the president of the Croatian P.E.N. Centre believe that it was useless to react when the media tore Jelena Lovrić to pieces because she wrote for the Belgrade newspaper Vremena or Slavenka Drakulić (member of the American P.E.N.), Rada Iveković and Dubravka Ugrešić (member of the Croatian P.E.N.) when they wrote for the international press? And all four Charter articles are clear in these cases: the authors respected them and the frenzied “public” and P.E.N. members violated them when they failed to react.  
Furthermore, does Mr. Novak believe that the moronic three-article series by Stipe Čuić published in the Slobodna Dalmacija Forum, where in his poor and crude socio-political ellipsis and deductions he “proves the intellectual and spiritual connection between what is left of the independent Croatian press and Slavenka Drakulić on one hand, and the Yugo-Serbian-Communist-Chetnik-Army positions and circles on the other hand” deserves at least some sort of intellectual reaction on behalf of Articles 3 and 4 of the PEN Charter? Čuić, in the best of the Šuvar tradition, calls for political consequences that have already, because of such a way of thinking, happened to the abolished Danas paper and he tries to give an intellectual alibi to that massacre. Or, in the crudest forgery by Milan Ivkošić who accused me of “quisling activities and collaboration with the occupier” in a national tabloid?

Needless to say, neither P.E.N. nor its honourable president can react to every case but shouldn’t they do it at least once? Maybe just in principal? Does the P.E.N. president agree with Ivkošić that the most dangerous enemies of Croatia currently are fighters for freedom of speech? If not, why did not he say it loud and clear enough on time?
Of course, the P.E.N. and its president are not the only ones who have failed. Much more significant segments of the state and political infrastructure have also failed. One “independent” court accepted the public prosecutor’s charges and found Jelena Lovrić guilty for saying that a certain governmental official has a “Mr. Ten percent” nickname but the other “independent” court rejected my private lawsuit against Ivkošić for much worse slander.

I can agree with S.P. Novak that “when one of the best Croatian writers” Antun Šoljan writes a critique for Die Zeit, then it is not a case of the persecution of a female writer and there is no need to put her name on a list of people who have problems with the state and politics since it would be, as S.P.N. says in Nedjeljna Dalmacija, - an exchange of views. But what can we do when a text by D.U. is “critiqued” in a dirty little bulletin of the party in power and written by one of the “Thea Binzes” (in quotation marks because of the court) of Croatian journalism - Hloverka Novak-Srzić and when the “criticism” - blindly written as usual, as the accused articles are never translated - isn’t a “criticism” at all but a denunciation filled with allusions about Dubravka’s nationality. Or what to do when the other self-proclaimed hater of Serbs, Tanja Torbarina, who makes her articles out of human skin (like Thea Binz made lamp-shades in German camps) mentions “Milorad Pupovac’s thin neck” in Globus? What is the first association when a thin Serbian neck is mentioned? Can honourable members and officials of the Croatian P.E.N., Croatian writers and the entire Croatian academic and intellectual public (who have never reacted to such cases) think about that before they fiercely and angrily attack Dubravka Ugrešić, Rada Iveković, Slavenka Drakulić? Or is this again a case of - an exchange of views?

Insincere, unfair

In fact, the exchange of views is a method used by Slobodan P. Novak in an interview given to Nedjeljna Dalmacija. He did not, as could be expected from a responsible P.E.N. president, resolve the “cases” which he had sent from Zagreb (or which had been created in his office in Zagreb, who knows anymore) by revealing relevant answers. He just started manufacturing new ones.
Specifically, after his interview, besides the Feral case, there is also the Dežulović case - a rogue  who is undeservedly trying to get hold of dissident status and who writes in 100,000 copies (but under which conditions - has S.P. Novak spoken about that?). Dissidents aren’t what they used to be. It seems as if even S.P. Novak has slipped into a little bit of Yugo-nostalgia himself. It was easy to stand for dissidents in a system that didn’t aspire to classical civil democracy but what will we do when dissidents suddenly appear in democracy and freedom where they do not belong? It seems that we are left with nothing else but to intelligently defend the regime and the elite in power which do not (so far) put people in prisons. (However, it is democratically refusing to issue certificates of Croatian citizenship, but that’s another issue entirely, obviously outside the sphere of the literary-congress interests of S.P. Novak.) How is it that the president of a respectable international association in Croatia defends the ruling order? With an exchange of views, allusions, a certain dose of perfidy and as usual, double standards: some are for home and some are for Rio. Human rights and freedom of speech there, feigned dissidents here. Once again, Mr. Novak jumps to Serbia, showing a rather common literary and petty-political move which is not so expected from the P.E.N. office and by which he has disowned the alleged Croatian dissidents (and denounced a young poet who dared to ask P.E.N. for help) and draws a comparison: There are no dissidents in Serbia because they aren’t snitching and we are. So we are then, of course, traitors of the homeland and conspirators against his Congress which we cannot undermine but we are degrading Croatia’s image what could be dangerous for the Congress itself. But Mr. Novak is forgetting the notorious fact, with which he probably agrees, that there is no democracy in Serbia. So, why aren’t there dissidents? Who cares, it’s important that a comparison has been drawn.

Yes, Mr. President has tied himself into knots and is trying to untangle himself using the same methods which have so thoroughly devastated the Croatian general public: he plays incorrectly, insincerely, unfairly, calculatingly. And he probably considers himself to be a good politician. Stylistically, it is in complete accordance with Croatian ruling politics which leaves desolation, insecurity, fear and intellectual corruption of the Croatian public behind. Finally, the blame will be put on a new group of scapegoats and this time they will come from the ranks of higher politics if needed: Jurica, Krpina, Vukojević, Vrdoljak. Even the P.E.N. president has something to say about them after the pressure has already been put on them by mighty policeman Manolić.
One of the questions I wanted to ask Mr. Novak was: If he could choose, who would he rather be: the Croatian Minister of Culture or the president of the International P.E.N? Probably both.

Epilogue at home...

And finally, the cases created in Rio receive their authentic epilogue (or just an interlude?). After the anonymous report and its finishing at the Zagreb P.E.N. office, the anonymous lynch avalanche was on its way; an anonymous antifeminist pamphlet in Večernji list, yet another public denunciation of Dubravka Ugrešić and, of course, the total pogrom in Globus. Did the president of the Croatian P.E.N. Centre think that it would not come to that? I suppose he knows something about what Hanna Arendt calls the performative power of speech; speech elicits certain consequent actions. Just as the “national weekly paper Globus” isn’t capable of counting ships of the 6th Fleet in the Adriatic Sea, so too is it not in the function of a “correct lynch” capable of revealing the exact “compromising information”, no longer plays any role in this frenzy. (And so, neither was my mother “the head of the correctional institution for women”, nor was my father a diplomat, nor is my nationality Croatian, or rather, it is, but for Globus and its primitive needs it would have been best to scratch out the fact that, under certain circumstances, I do not state my nationality, and I wasn’t in Austria and Slovenia during the war”.)

The avalanche, caused by Dr. Slobodan and Mr. Prosperov together with their reporting and presidential activities, pressed on its uncontrollable way. Concerned solely for the promotion of Croatia and their congress, they did absolutely nothing to stop it. It is very dangerous and it could also sweep them away.
Does the president of the Croatian P.E.N. believe that, despite everything, it is necessary to host the Congress in Dubrovnik and to go there to, as he pointed out in Rio, defend human rights, dignity and freedom of speech? If he believes that, I am willing to support him. I suggest the following: He should admit Jelena Lovrić, Rada Iveković, Slavenka Drakulić, myself and some other of our like-minded colleagues (Dubravka Ugrešić is already a member) to the membership of the Croatian P.E.N. Centre. On what do I base this seemingly over-presumptuous demand? On my conviction that our entire public work and cultural involvement was always in the spirit of the P.E.N. Charter and in accordance with all its principles and that we have never, I mean never, brought it deliberately into question or violated it. After our admission, we would immediately form a women’s (“feminist”) section of P.E.N. This is, as S.P.N. knows, one of the most respectable and most influential branches of the prominent international organization (even the Kurd P.E.N. has it). It would act autonomously and independently from the “men’s” P.E.N. and protect and promote some specific women’s rights together with universal human rights and literary interests. Exactly the ones which are being so fiercely violated in Croatia.

From Tuđman to Dežulović

Otherwise, it could happen that the Croatian P.E.N. and its president might soon have, even before the Dubrovnik Congress, a women’s section in exile (in emigration, as refugees). And that, of course, wouldn’t be good for their image. But since we are neither sexists nor female chauvinists, we will give an opportunity to the writers from Feral and other male writers, essayists and poets who wish so to become our members. I believe that in that case S. P. Novak would be able to organize a Congress that meets the standards of the International P.E.N. and which he himself wants and this would most certainly benefit Croatia. It would be a Congress with a place for a wide range of participants, “from Franjo Tuđman to Boris Dežulović” (S.P.N.), but belonging more to Dežulović.
If the Croatian P.E.N. and its president do not have the strength to accept this offer, it will be an indication that the Dubrovnik Congress is in danger of becoming the cheap glitz of Croatian democracy and shameless lobster gorging in the City and Republic, which, instead of the euphoria of relief and ecstasy of rebuilding that usually follows the end of war (especially after victory), will then be ruled by the collapse of social, emotional and spiritual structures; instead of internalization there will be “globusization”. And Mr. President will prove that he, unlike the legendary bluffer Ostap Bender, arrived in Rio and returned as Dr. Slobodan, Mr. Prosperov and Ostap B. Novak.