In Other Words

War and Peace in Zagreb

In 1991, Croatia's declaration of independence from Yugoslavia helped spark the Balkan wars. Led for nearly a decade by a nationalist president, the small republic now seeks to join the European Union. FP spoke with Nenad Popovic -- the director of Zagreb's Durieux publishing house, known for its support of young authors and exiled writers -- to learn how Croatians are reconciling their post nationalist future with their recent past.

Foreign Policy: What are people reading in Zagreb?

Nenad Popovic: Pluralism is flowering since the death of Croatia’s nationalist wartime president, Franjo Tudjman, in 1999. Some of the most noteworthy works are Julijana Matanovic’s autobiographical novel, Zasto sam vam lagala (Why I Lied to You), which is about growing up in [Marshal Josip Broz] Tito’s Yugoslavia, and journalist Ante Tomic’s Smotra Folklora (Folklore Festival), a collection of dispatches from Croatia’s neglected countryside that had originally been published in the daily newspaper Jutarnji List. Popular foreign authors include Naomi Klein, Umberto Eco, Salman Rushdie, and Zadie Smith. Apart from the Anglo-Saxon world, we import literature from Italy, Austria, Germany, and Hungary — countries with which we share a common history and similar interests.

FP: Is there a body of literature on Croatia’s 1992-95 war with Serbia and Bosnia?

NP: Our international, well-translated superstar is Slavenka Drakulic, whose books Café Europa and They Would Never Hurt a Fly: War Criminals on Trial in the Hague depict Croatia’s recent history through individual stories and detailed, critical observation. After their own publishing infrastructure collapsed during the war, several Bosnian authors injected themselves into Croatia’s literary debate. Among them are Dzevad Karahasan, known for his prizewinning reflections on war and the clash between Islam and Christianity; Ivan Lovrenovic, who writes about Bosnia’s cultural history; and Semezdin Mehmedinovic, who described life during wartime in Sarajevo Blues and who offered his impressions of North America through the poetry collection Devet Alexandrija (Nine Alexandrias).

FP: Who are the most provocative Croatian authors?

NP: In recent months, commentators in Zagreb have clashed over a new wave of apologist tracts about generals and politicians who are war criminals, such as Ante Gotovina and [the late] Janko Bobetko. Croatian historian Ivo Goldstein kicked off a veritable scandal two years ago with Holocaust u Zagrebu (The Holocaust in Zagreb), followed last fall by Zidovi u Zagrebu: 1918-1941 (Jews in Zagreb), two books exposing the full extent of fascist Croatia’s involvement in crimes against humanity during World War II.

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