REQUIEM FOR A BYGONE COUNTRY – PERSONAL NOTES ON YUGOSLAVIA

Once upon a time there was a country. With a MOO COW and a BUNNY living in it. Happily and unhappily by turns. This way one day, that way the next. The sun would rise, run its course, then sink behind the horizon. This is how this country was. Neither MOO COW nor BUNNY would really try to cast their own occasional happiness into words. Whenever they did feel that way, each would try to live life rather than to explain his or her special brand of happiness. This despite the fact that they did have reason to feel happy once in a while, although not in so much abundance as many surmised. This was a country complete with all its miseries. A country where the skies were broad, the heat of the sun scorching, and the wind cold as the leading edge of a razor; a country where you could stretch out on a warm sandy beach and easily freeze to death when the snow was more than knee-deep. You could wander across the plains, climb the mountains, plough the sky with your gaze, but also get dragged down in a grimy quagmire. It was a complete country. Peace to her ashes!

As any post-World War II Yugoslav schoolbook will tell you, Yugoslavia during the second great world conflagration – from when of course its history truly dates –was not only riddled by occupiers but also by an inhuman, accursed ancien régime. The partisans and the liberating popular army ousted the agents of the freak monster establishment, and the new leaders called upon the overjoyed people to elect their own presidents and representative bodies in the cities, villages and county districts. Thus were created the liberating commissariats, the first legitimate vehicles of popular sovereignty. War still raged on in those days. In late November 1945, the district representatives elected in the wake of the liberation proclaimed the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to great fanfare in Belgrade. The new Constitution declared every stretch of land from the vortical Vardar of Macedonia to the high grounds of Triglav in Slovenia to be the property of the industrious hands that lived and worked on it.

In the name and momentum of these great changes, everything that could be seized was seized from the large landowners, churches, monasteries and well-heeled village farmers (even from the less well-heeled if necessary), and redistributed among the needy and others otherwise deemed eligible. Then the inevitable excessive fragmentation that ensued forced the peasants to pitch in and form cooperatives, also known as “state model farms”. At the same time, the victors confiscated mines and factories from domestic and foreign capitalists. Proclaiming it all to be state property fulfilled the promise of the slogan “Land to the peasants, factories to the workers!” Spearheaded by Comrade Tito and the Communist Party, this campaign played on a yearning for brotherhood among the Yugoslav peoples, and the dream of the Amazingly Open Country of Dreams which seemed perhaps to be coming true at last. Yet it soon turned out that the road taken by the YU brand of communism was no less arduous than similar attempts made elsewhere in the world, and that ancient raw nerves were not going to be soothed by this new laying-on of hands. There was hope in the air for better times to come, nevertheless. The history of Yugoslavia, if you will, consisted of nothing but the periodic alternation or simultaneity of confidence and dismay, of calm and tension – until the last perforation of the ulcer, when destruction rose to reign supreme. This was the “bloody disintegration”.

In the budding spring of 1999, NATO Secretary General Javier Solana delivered a sockdolager by ordering air strikes against Yugoslavia, by then well and truly a rump state. The operation, launched in several waves, lasted deep into the summer. Soon enough, the forces on a battlefield that no longer truly existed realised that, except for a few random hits, there was nothing to do against these aircraft that attacked from unreachable heights, emerging as it were from a different futuristic dimension, technically alien, fuelled by all the money and ammo the rest of the world could provide and, it seemed, equipped with all the time in the world as well. There was no fighting these machines any more than you could combat new heroes of the people. At this juncture, Yugoslavia went down in the annals of history as yet another disappeared country – and, if you will, claimed an entry in The Encyclopaedia of the Dead by Danilo Kiš, the “last Yugoslav writer”. By the same token, it wrote itself into the realm of eclectic-dialectic possibilities in a multidimensional, puzzling (post)modern novel or whodunit. But that is another story.

And those who think of Yugoslavia today, with or without its literature? The Yugoslavia which irrevocably ceased to exist ten years ago with the emergence of the Serbia–Montenegro formation? Well, many still cry after that country and talk about a bygone golden era, albeit who knows how many of those are actually crying for the sweet bird of their youth, whether they lived in that country or not. Then there is the large camp of those who could hardly be accused of nostalgia as they had not been born yet or never went there. What did they take away from this YU-Atlantis? What did they gain from this who-knows-what wedged under our consciousness, home to macrocosmic legend and the kind of microcosm perhaps best represented by Ottó Tolnai, the last President of the Yugoslav Writers’ Association?

The idea for the latest issue (number 82 of the current year) of Ex Symposion, an art and society journal published in Veszprém, Hungary, came from a hefty volume entitled LEKSIKON YU MITOLOGIJE (Yugoslav Mythological Lexicon), published in 2004 jointly by Postscriptum of Zagreb and Rende of Belgrade, in a truly laudable example of reciprocal approach dictated by sheer common sense. It was in fact a quasi-lexicon of sorts, the brainchild of the Croatian writer Dubravka Ugrešić, the entry contributors to which included a large number of regularly published authors as well as occasional writers. In the introduction, the editors take pains to emphasise the very understandable lack of desire for intellectual completion, as do the editors of Ex Symposion. In the selection, we will follow their example by sampling only a few fascinating entries from this massive enterprise. Not just along the lines of for whom the bell tolls, mind you, but de te fabula narratur, from the perspective of a former resident and neighbour.

MACKEREL SKY – “The Yugo tanks might as well enter!” This is the sentence that best introduces my mackerel sky memories of the former Yugoslavia. I am three or four years old, we are tuned to a sputtering Radio Free Europe, nibbling on a cold duck roast with radishes. Occupying pride of place at the table, Uncle Zsiga is automatically being served half of the fowl, commensurably with the bulk of his body. Uncle Zsiga is a staunch defender of private property and a reliable source of knowledge regarding confiscated lands. All I have gleaned about this Yugo is that it must be some kind of America from where we get our weather and information; from where the winds, as it were, of opinion and non-alignment blow.

The next Yugo snapshot flashes up in my memory from the mirror of Robinson Crusoe and the communist shortage economy. It’s around 1976 or 1977. I am in elementary school, wearing jeans sourced from Czechoslovakia and wielding an air-gun: my modest contribution to the Danube Bend’s hallmark fashion of the day and to the ideal of freedom. My father had allowed an emerald green VW Beatle to be parked in our backyard. The car was crammed stock full of blatantly ostentatious emblems of consumption and self-determination. For me, the pinnacle of Defoe’s novel consisted of the interminable inventories of objects kept by the protagonist in an effort to render his uninhabited island habitable. I never tired of reading out loud from the novel to my pals, who listened in fatigue and dismay over being deprived of hearing yet another chapter from Tokei-Ihto or Winnetou. Then emerged this guy riding a 175 Czetka who announced that Yugo jeans were superior owing to their bell-bottom design. Forget your silver-buttoned Levi’s, double-stitched Rifles, and studded Wranglers, he said. “Those are straight-legs and will rub your balls the wrong way.” Later, a climate change set in for me wherein the VW rides grew few and far between and my air-gun for fun was replaced by periodicals such as Mozgó Világ (“The World in Motion”) and the Paris- based Magyar Műhely (“Hungarian Workshop”). I waded into and began to navigate the murky literary waters of Kassák and Szentkuthy, driving my childhood pals to give up on me as someone who “went nuts in grammar school”. The hottest girl in all of my Sándor Sztáron Grammar School defected from the Yugo coast of the Adriatic to the shores of Ireland along with her parents at the worst possible moment, fast on the heels of the mirage of a dream kiss. Then a specific issue of Symposion struck down hard on me with the lightning-like epiphany that Dada was about more than just Tzara and picture poetry: It was a brand of philosophy, even scientific theory, in its own right.

By the time I fought my way out of the thunderstorm zone of unrequited love and empirical literary scholarship with more than a little help from Rilke, and the hallways of the Humanities Faculty at the University of Szeged filled with scriveners from Vojvodina with an ability to write in a Ulysses-style so uncanny that, for a while, we were literally inundated by a modernist tsunami of rabbit-riddled zigzag prose and poems proliferating like cauliflowers – by then, it had become plain to see that Yugo was the direction from which surged the purging draft that happened to sweep the daughter of my landlord in the town of Móra so far away that she landed in Canada.

I was myself swept as far as West Berlin by the winds of the late Kádár-era. When I returned to graduate, the regime in Hungary had been overhauled and the direction of the draft had shifted. At two thirty in the morning of 16 June 1993, wrapped in the clouds of cigarette smoke that hovered on the premises of the Edith Piaf Institute in Budapest, I woke up with a start to the fact that, unlike me, everyone else had just come directly from Vojvodina and, like me, they sustained themselves on the rarefied air of contemporary art. This was the first funnel of the ex-Yugoslav tornado, which would strike again and suck me in for good around the end of the second millennium. I still freeze whenever I am even touched by a whiff of something like the things that would transpire in those days. And it does happen every once in a while, because the vapours of the lowlands in East Central Europe do continue to produce such moments. For me, the stratified memories of YU meteorology mean both the infernal eye of the storm of local instability and the veiled garden of recollections of a bygone, ambivalent progress, which continues to rise again and pass away in uncounted guises in our real-time global pageant. Here, in the heart of the Wild Central East, the forecasts that sometimes light up inside people’s heads tend to strain the climate of the common sky above us to the unbearable breaking point. By the time we have heard all the mesmerising lectures from all the ethnicities, we will have been lucky if a fraction of the sun remains in that common sky.

As Michel Serres once observed, “The real is not rational; it is improbable and miraculous”. The present is the storm, the cloud, the chaos and the tumult. I imagine ex-Yugoslavia and my memories attached to it as a hologram with the Vitruvius- like figure of Tesla in the centre, arms stretched out straining valiantly against the world forces positive and negative, but still helpless as he throws lightning after lightning into the contemporary semantics of the 21st century. (János Fehér Kurdy)

A YUGOSLAVISTIC PORTRAIT – It’s an amalgam of contradictions welded well together. The seams and scars are visible, but none of the parts allows inference to the next any more than nothing leads to anything but nothing, except another contradiction without consequence. The whole shebang is charming as a woman you cannot help but adore, no matter how unnerving the prospects of a marriage may be…


I was introduced to Yugoslavia, the ex and the post, by Laslo Sekelj, just at the juncture of the two eras. Born László Székely in Subotica, Sekelj was a Hungarian Jew living in Belgrade, a heterodox Marxist and a sociologist-philosopher once affiliated with Praxis, whose dissident views had kept him from being allowed to teach university courses under a regime that called itself Marxist.

Sekelj was a bag of contradictions himself, as he explained while showing me the destruction in Belgrade. “Well, this is where the missile went through the dining room”, he said, with an unmistakable note of theoretical brooding in his voice. This was the kind of doubt that informed what he had written about the Jewry of Yugoslavia: that, for all its contradictions, it was better to be a Jew in Tito’s system than after ethno-nationalism flared up and the peoples of Yugoslavia discovered and “instrumentalised” Jews for their own purposes. A case in point was the publication in Slovenia, for the first time since 1945, of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, by acolytes who would later join the Liberal Democratic Party, even as a Star-of-David demonstration was held to show how these very same people in Yugoslavia were just as oppressed as the Jews all over the world. The former ambassador to Berlin of the Croatian Ustasha regime was even more cunning in asserting, against a background choir of assent supplied by the Croatian public, that the Jews, joining forces with the Ustashi, had themselves been responsible for running the concentration camp of Jasenovac, and thus for the extermination of Serbs, Romani, and themselves…

No man was better equipped than Székely to introduce me to the world of dissident intelligentsia in Belgrade, to those circles of civilised, erudite and highly qualified intellectuals who had so obviously lost their footing. Not only were they prevented from shaping history any more, but they came to question their own bonds with the West. It was as if everything that used to be Yugoslavia, including its own criticism, had reached an impasse overnight and become impossible to continue.

A big eater and heavy drinker loud-mouth, Laslo Sekelj left us in 2001 at the age of 52, without ever having made an attempt to resolve his contradictions. At best, he allowed us a glimpse of those contradictions in his own picaresque personality. (Zoltán Bretter)


YUGO – An object of desire located to the south. The fiction of unfathomable freedom, of an incomprehensible state of bliss in the eyes and heart of the enslaved peoples to the north of it. A place without explanation near or far, in the north, the south, the east, or the west, a place no one has the faintest clue about what holds it together, why the Yugo concept refuses to fall into atomic particles even as it has already done so. A place where visiting heirs to the throne are assassinated causing world wars to break out; a place that a man, or rather a man’s daughter in her university years is bent on defending, on the pretext of Captain Tito’s death, armed to the chin and ready to ascend the mountains, against an illusory invasion by Russian forces. A place where man’s daughter imagines her premature heroic death with a Kalashnikov in hand, only because she suffers terribly from the pangs of an overwhelming, wanton love passion that gives her inhuman pain. A place teeming with beautiful towering Serbian guys who will save me from other Serbian guys who roll down their car windows to yell obscenities into the Belgradian night with the aim of luring me out and… But you know the rest of the story. (Bruria Zsuzsa Forgács)


WAF – Originally AFŽ, the acronym for Antifašistički Front Žena, or Women’s Antifascist Front. Essentially, WAF took off upon the realisation that the triumph of antifascism was not so much a gift from men to women as very much a female accomplishment. This new angle on reality became incarnated in the organisation dubbed WAF, which included many a proud woman wearing trousers and deciding that flirtatious winks were out of the question. The year 1946 saw the adoption of the Matrimony Act, which was followed by a series of legislative acts built on the premise of full equality of the sexes. In this field at least, Yugoslavia was way ahead of many European countries and certainly of America. In a marriage made after 1946, a woman could assume her husband’s last name, but – and this is not a joke – the law also allowed the reverse, permitting the husband to assume her wife’s last name. In terms of inheritance, the distinction between children born in or out of wedlock was abolished. The laws also made it relatively easy to dissolve a marriage, and the statutory grounds for divorce no longer discriminated between husband and wife. Men and women had equal suffrage. To put this in perspective, in those days – and for several decades right up to the early 1970s – women did not have the right to vote in Switzerland, and the laws of New York State only recognised adultery as the sole grounds for a divorce.

Yet it was not always under the aegis of the WAF that women strove to draw attention. Nor did daily practice always follow the principles enshrined in statutory provisions. While March the 8th, International Women’s Day, was observed everywhere, strangely it was mostly the men who celebrated. Very few men meanwhile availed themselves of their newly granted right to assume their wife’s surname. In fact, I know of only one such case. There was the story of the soccer player named Stjepan Bobek whose daughter married a gifted young player commonly known by the name of Zec or “The Rabbit”. Zec came to the conclusion that he could share in his father-in-law’s legend if he assumed the name Bobek. So he did, but his teammates ridiculed him with such relentlessness that eventually he gave up and reverted to Zec.

I also recall giving some legal advice to an officer once while serving out my time as a conscript in the army in Aleksinac. In gratitude he invited me to his home for dinner. It was an antifascist family, husband and wife were both ardent communists, and the dinner was plentiful. Yet the lady of the house would not sit with us but instead seemed content to serve up the meal. Something not unlike this had happened at the time with Jesse Owens, who bagged four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, right under the nose of Hitler. Declared a hero of antiracism, Owens was celebrated in the free world, including America, as the vanquisher of Hitler, yet was denied a bed in a dorm where white people were put up.

In the Novi Sad of the post-war years, Ida Szabó was one of the leading figures of the antifascist women’s movement. She had political clout. I remember a colleague of mine at the School of Law who was actually fearful of her. When, in the early 1980s, my family and I moved to Kej Moše Pijade Street (today named Kej žrtava racije or “Victims of the Raid”), we became Ida Szabó’s neighbours. She and I did talk every once in a while, not very much but all the more congenially, whenever we ran into one another on the corridor. By then, she had become more of a neighbour than a WAF chief.

Women must reinvent their lives several times over, you see. (Dr Tibor Várady)


TITO MARCH – On spring and summer evenings, my grandmother would keep her balcony door open to hear my father whistle the tune of the Tito March as he came home from work. This was a sign that, by the time he scaled the stairs to the second floor, he expected something, at least a semblance of dinner, to be waiting for him on the table. He took two steps at a stride and was always hungry. As he would say, he learned the tune from the Yugo in 1945, when the Partisans ousted the German and Hungarian contingents and liberated Bor. It remains unanswerable whether Tito’s men really executed just a few reservists here and there as the liberated residents said or whether this was just wishful thinking on their part, a kind of fictitious glad tidings that everyone was all too happy to share. In any event, my father aimed higher, joined the Partisans, and proceeded to memorise the tune he would call the Tito March. What it really was I do not have an idea. (Not to mention the fact that this here is one of the stars in the Gutenberg Galaxy, where we have no music history lessons, ever…) Whether this was indeed a Tito March or not, or whether anything like this ever existed, I could not help but know this song by heart after hearing my father whistling it every long summer between 1961 and 1972. Then I heard it in Horány, on the Red Meteor grounds, and again in a kielboot as my father paddled upstream toward Surány. One thing is certain: under the influence of this tune, I realised that Kádár was not the real McCoy, that the truly cool guy was Tito, a brave and free man if there ever was one. No wonder I liked the idea of workers’ self-management.

Decades later I hummed the tune to someone. “I know this”, he said. “They would sing it on the island where my father was incarcerated in a concentration camp in 1950.” (Péter György)


SELF-MANAGED SOCIALISM – The principle of so-called workers’ self-management was developed and elaborated by two of the Old Man’s closest comrades: Edvard Kardelj and Boris Kidrić. The point of the concept was to enable workers to exercise their power via workers’ councils set up in “socially owned” (as opposed to “state-owned”!) factories and corporations, and thus to have a say in shaping their own destiny. Needless to say, they were to be allowed to do this exclusively under the sage tutelage and supervision of the Party, understood as the avant-garde of the working class. Interestingly, one day in December 1962, Kardelj left for London unexpectedly, without letting anyone know. Tito construed this as desertion pure and simple. “Kardelj has abandoned me”, he declared. Ranković, the famous – or, rather, infamous – interior minister of the day, widely regarded as “the scourge of the Kosovar Albanians”, outlined three possibilities: Kardelj 1) deserted to the West; 2) went to see a doctor following a hunting accident at home; 3) simply needed a vacation. At first, Tito dispatched a foreign ministry hand named Simić to fetch him, but Kardelj would not so much as answer the phone. Finally, he was nudged back home by a friend called Bakarić. All that Kardelj offered to say was that he had flown to London for his vacation, availing himself of his privilege to travel without having to account for his movements to anyone. Tito hugged him to his chest in rapture over his comrade’s return, and everything was all right. Tito’s biographer Jasper Ridley underlines this episode as exemplifying a major difference between Stalin’s regime and Titoism, pointing out that Stalin would certainly have summarily executed any close ally who had the nerve to pull something like this on him. (Péter Bozsik)


NON-ALIGNED COUNTRIES – The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) was created in Belgrade in 1961 by the Egyptian President Nasser, the Indian Prime Minister Nehru, Indonesian President Sukarno, and Yugoslavia’s President Tito.

“The Movement focuses on drives for independence, its main objective being the abolition of poverty, economic progress, and the fight against colonialism, imperialism and neo-colonialism. The members are the poorest countries in the world, which therefore possess little political power.” Although many Arab countries were members of the NAM, nowhere did gasoline – paid for in old Yugos – cost more than in my Hero’s country. And once the Old Man got going to visit the NAM countries aboard of his famed and notorious vessel Galeb (“The Seagull”), he was sure to make breaking news on radio and television, and to make the headlines in the papers. “Non-aligned summits”, “bilateral relations”, “territorial integrity”… such phrases loom large in the memory of my Hero. As does ennui. How bored to death he was by it all! Some time later he heard an anecdote about Comrade Tito being invited to lunch on a trip to China. He duly accepted the invitation as if by surprise – he had an aversion to exotic cuisine and, in his eating habits at least, always remained the farmer from Zagorje that he was. Then, upon being served a roast sparrow, he is reported to have opined that sparrows were the proletariat of the winged world, and that for him, who had devoted his entire life to the fight for the proletariat (whoa, was this difficult to write down!), it would be anathema to consume a member of that proletariat for lunch. On the Brioni Islands, where Tito lived quite modestly (information courtesy of the painter István Szajkó, who served in the military there) an entire zoo was filled up – and remains well-stocked to this day – with animals donated by non-aligned countries. There is everything from elephants to popinjays. My Hero’s favourite of the latter species is named Koki, well into his fifties, who can say “Djurcanj!” And this: “Tito! Kako si Koki?” (Péter Bozsik)


VOJVODINA – The Serbian name for the Hungarian Vajdaság, an autonomous province in Serbia populated by a considerably sized, although steadily dwindling Hungarian minority, among other nationalities. Also a popular name for hotels in the area. And last but not least, the name of the world’s finest mediocre soccer team, which chalked up some decent victories in the sixties and seventies in what was then the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (then the UEFA Cup and now known as the Europa League). Novi Sad (Újvidék in Hungarian),the hometown of the FK Vojvodina club, to this day hosts a famous agricultural fair every year, which back then would see banners advertising puffing tractors and grunting hogs to crop up around the Vojvodina stadium or rather temple of soccer. The most popular such banner was one of stars and stripes design, which usually vanished the first night they were put up after the local youth discovered they would make excellent raw material for the fabrication of home-made jeans. The team itself was a textbook example of a multicultural project wedged between two goals, a team that always had on the field, as if in deference to the principle of brotherhood and solidarity, one or two Hungarian players, or at the very least players with a vaguely Hungarian-sounding last name. They included the devilish dribbler Szilveszter Takács, who made it to the Yugoslav national team twice, despite being widely and viciously rumoured to be of Slovakian extraction; the amazing dwarf-legged sprinter Mókus; and József Zemkó, who looked like a Schwabian butcher but had an astonishing talent for getting away with spitting at the referee as the latter scuttled back from the penalty area line to the halfway line. As an unadulterated curiosity on Sunday afternoons, the games could be followed from the windows of the top floors of a nearby concrete high-rise, including from the apartment of one Ottó Schumacher, a grammar- school pal now a pilot based in Dubai… True enough, you could only see half of the field, but it was surely free, and nobody could deny we had a bloody good time enjoying the games. As for the invisible goals, well, we watched any there were on the evening highlights on television. (A. B.)


CHECKMATE – In the Second World War, many writers took up arms. Not so the Croatian Miroslav Krleža, who had learned to hate the clamour of the battlefield while he had served in the disintegrating army of the Monarchy. This aversion of his drew the ire of more than one important people, including the bloody-handed commissar and latter-day convert Milovan Djilas. Krleža is claimed to have Tito’s friendship to thank for being left alive. In any case, he was iced for a long time after the war-of-liberation-cum-revolution had emerged victorious without his active participation and, in fact, without his delivering a single panegyric in honour of that victory. Yet if Krleža was reluctant to sing the praises of sacred and global freedom (albeit he was known to have recited Petőfi fluently by heart) there were others to sing in his stead, such as the Serbian writer Branko Ćopić, who achieved tremendous popularity with his jovial heroes but ended his old age in terminal desperation by jumping off a bridge in Belgrade. It may well be that Ćopić did not play chess any more than did the Nobel laureate Ivo Andrić. At least neither of them, unlike Krleža, was ever recorded to have played so much as a quickstep party with the President. This is of the essence, for Tito – this old rake of a Hungarian Jew, as some people took him for – adored chess and, being the incurable inquisitive that he was, switched his partners in this game as frequently as he would in all other areas of life. Indeed, there was no shortage of “curious” people in those days. Take the example of the Serbian police chief Aleksandar Ranković, hardly an illustrious advocate of Hungarian and Croatian friendship himself, who was so intrigued by what could possibly transpire in the chess room, as the pieces were shuffled on the board under the veil of peacefully puffing cigarette smoke, that he could not resist bugging Tito’s own suite. That’s where he screwed up big time. As a result, he was granted the grace to live the rest of his life in total seclusion, locked up with his partisan memories. He probably never realised or acknowledged his own detrimental role in frustrating the unimpeded triumph of progress. On the flip side, these chess parties do seem to haveyielded a benefit, inasmuch as Krleža once happened to say he would hate to survive Tito to witness the upheaval that would surely follow in the wake of Broz’s death… Well, we now know that he did, if not by much longer. (A. B.)


TWIN TIBIA OF MOSTAR – From a historical perspective, it was not until the end of the 19th century that the Hungarian public really began to discover Bosnia, the major arena of the partisan wars that engendered Yugoslavia. Later on, Bosnia achieved literary fame through the work of the Nobel laureate Ivo Andrić, and became even better known in subsequent history through the siege of Sarajevo, headed by a demented psychologist and a no less demented general. As the major reference work in Hungarian entitled Hungarian Relics and Sights mentions in the section dealing with Bosnia–Herzegovina, Vasárnapi Újság, a large-circulation weekly, used to run a colourful column about the country from the pen of a learned geographer (perhaps a traveller or adventurer), inspiring another rural daily to these words of tribute to the beauties of Mostar: “In the first days of August we set out to Mostar via the state railway line of Bosnia– Herzegovina, winding our way among the magnificent bastion-like cliffs of the Karst.” Beside the gorgeous mountain scenery, the best-known landmark here, and one often described as picturesque for good reason, is of course the Stari Most or Old Bridge of Mostar, which some researchers credit to the Hungarian King Matthias and the route used by Hungarian armies, although most insist that it was rather the fruit of demands by local citizens in the 16th century. Now it is a proven fact that the bridge was built according to the plans of one Hajrudin, the disciple of the master who had created Mostar’s elder sister bridge in Visegrád, Hungary, in the Danube Bend. Using stone blocks carved from a nearby quarry, the construction was completed by 1566, and the Bridge of Mostar continued to serve traffic in tranquil beauty until November 1993 when the Croatians bombed it to shreds with a shrug, saying “They will build another one in its place, and it will be nicer and older to boot.” One of the television stations is rumoured to have paid the officers to wait until the cameras had started rolling before issuing the order to fire. Whatever happened that day, it is a fact that the footage exists. There were also reports about a pair of fractured vestigial tibia of rock, protruding from the stony riverbank – all that remained as a memento of the bridge after its destruction, left there to defy weather and time. Curiously – or perhaps not so curiously at all – these “bones” reminded a poet from Mostar of a late Hungarian painter who would often loiter around the bridge and possibly disappeared in its vicinity. Nomen est omen: This painter was the great Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka (csont means “bone” in Hungarian). Whether this fateful morphological association was a profoundly true observation, a bad joke, or simply the hallucination of an air blast victim, we will never know. (An Anonymous Chronicler)

Translation by Péter Balikó Lengyel

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