Vukovar in November 1991, after three months of continuous Serbian shelling and bombing of this Croatian Baroque City.
A Story about a City
I have given up searching for justice, I have given up attempting to subsume ideals within my own life, I have given up on everything that, until yesterday, I considered as being necessary for a good beginning or a good ending. I would probably give up on myself, but I cannot. Because who would remain if we all gave up on ourselves and fled into our various fears? To whom would we leave the city? Who would care for it if I am gone, while I search for myself among the detritus of human souls, while I falter, vulnerable and tired, feverish and without a self, while my eyes gape at my own personal defeat?
Who will take care of my city, my friends, who will lead Vukovar out of the darkness?
No back is sturdier than mine and yours, and so, if it is not too much of a burden, if you still have some youthful murmur left in you, join us. Someone has been touching my parks, the benches on which your names are still carved, the shady places where you gave and received your first kisses — somebody has simply stolen it all away, as how else does one explain that not even a Shadow remains? No shop windows where you marvelled at your own happiness, no more cinema where you watched the saddest of films, your past has simply been destroyed and now you have nothing left. You have to build anew. First, your past, by seeking out your roots, then your present, and then, if you have the strength left, invest it into your future. And do not be alone in the future. And you need not worry about the city, the city wasalways within you. Only hidden. So that the executioner cannot find it. The City — you are the City.
Croats being expelled by Serb forces after fall of Vukovar, 1991
A Story about Love
The times we live in are such ungrateful times that it makes you wish you had never been born, or better still, born in a different time and for a second time, and only because in this day and age there is not enough love to go round. In vain, all the big houses, expensive cars, winters spent in the High Tartars, Garmisch-Partenkirchen ski resorts, in vain, all the perfumes, all the briefings, all the misty haze of substitutes for a real life. Man relaxes in narcotic-like deceits, skilfully concocted secret paths in life, and then, once it is too late, when he matures and reaches a certain age, all the while blind to all his failures, suddenly he realises that it is too late for new beginnings. The end is near; possibly peering out from around the first corner. There is no way for you to steal back the years, steal back the happiness — if there is no love. It may seem that everything is full of sunshine and joy, you may think that the medals you have received in the shadow of those greater than yourself make your success complete, but I have seen many who walk the streets of the city with empty pockets and heads held high. Their joy in not having possessions is far greater. As they have the city. They have friends. They have a soul. They did not have the money for Zagreb, Vienna, Prague. Their money went to paying for drams of friendship drunk with friends with whom they then waited for the dawn to arrive on Croatian barricades. For some the waiting was too long, so we were left without them. But we know full well where they are. If our lives allow love to permeate our being, just as their love sustained them, at some point, at the end of the road, perhaps even we can expect to die happy.
A Story about Enemies
Life is full of enigmas, but the greatest enigma of all is how a friend can turn into an enemy. Have you ever thought about why it is easier to gain enemies rather than friends? My whole life I have always wanted to be surrounded by good, worthy people, people who are respected and loved by others. Luck has been on my side, at least, up until now. I remained in the ruins of Vukovar, but with people who hold their heads high. Most of them I did not even know. Many of them, up until yesterday, were not even aware of their own strengths. Trust me, the best that can happen to you in Vukovar at the moment is that you enter a room full of people and greet them all.
Often, without even knowing it, your greetings, your good, heartfelt wishes remain in the shadow of someone’s hatred. The only thing you can ask yourself is whether you of all people have deserved it. True, this will not diminish the inimicality already created, but it will diminish the sorrow and pain, and hatred may even get carried away by its own fury, and so turn to dust, into nothing. Perhaps the darkness will strangle all ugly thoughts.
But this can only happen if there is an inkling of love left in the world.
So, if there is any within you, do not save it up. Share it, give pieces of your love to the man next to you and there will be fewer enemies. That should be enough for a start.
(AP Photo/Srdjan Ilic) Serb troops and civilians pass a body in the Croatian town of Vukovar following a massacre by Serb troops in this Nov. 18, 1991 file picture.
A Story about Time
There is nothing quite as difficult for man as waiting for time— for one’s five minutes. It always seems that the time has come, right now, this minute, and, if you do not take it, then you will regret it for the rest of your life.
Time is a highly valued commodity, time is money, it is guarded like a jewel, man looks up to time as, in time, time devours all things. And, if this is true, then time is master of the entire world. For those who do not have time, and for those for whom time is not on their side; either way, rather a bleak future. The poor man; his time is up. No wonder then that we say there is a time and place for all things.
Time is indefatigable. Despite its age, it always strides at the same pace; like human fate, it reminds us of our rancour, it gnaws at insignificant human filth, and, at times, strange, dark times come to us all. This usually occurs when too much evil has been accumulated in the world in which we live, so that plain human goodness endures for less than a lifetime, sorrow is greater than any joy, and man becomes possessed by some kind of madness. It is then that time waits for no man. It is the judge and the jury. And those who remain as witnesses to bygone times continue to warn all those yet to come for a long time to come. In the beginning, their voices are strong, and then later they fall quiet, until finally it does not seem to matter anymore. But it does matter, as man constantly makes the same mistake; he destroys that which has been created in time and through time.
Time has its own aroma; it is a part of us all, our beautiful moments and those other moments, difficult moments, which we then spend a lifetime trying to forget, but to no avail.
No one knows what time has in store for him. It deals out to each man what he deserves. And we can rage as much as we want, we can think up thousands of reasons that should have influenced our fate otherwise, we can scream and curse in pain at the world, but, in the final analysis, time will inexorably rule in its own favour.
A Story about a Poet
There are certain motions among the atoms within the human body that come together in an inexplicable manner and they create a vision that is difficult to commit to words. These atoms beat in the veins, they course through the tissue, and then somewhere behind the human eye a rainbow appears that is simply impossible to define.
Since the dawn of mankind, man has hoped to find an answer and meaningful words for this sensation.
When you feel this unrest, it is as if you are going to meet a loved one, you are happy and afraid, all at the same time; quite naturally. This feeling of bliss that you want to put into words, but cannot, this joyful searching is in fact pure poetry. This is what is left to you after you have explored everything that you have ever carried deep within your heart and lacked a word for, making you sit down or stop in the street to whisper this quintessence of the world, this universe of thoughts entwined within one breathe of your soul. And then poetry is born after you have spent years and years in ignorance of it. When you conceive poetry, you, the person from yesterday, from a moment ago, will never be the same again.
There are also many among men who do not have the strength to whisper poetry, but they definitely know it exists within them. And they are as happy as children, because they take joy from simple, little things that surround them; they perceive the most wondrous of details. The sky, the earth and the sea, and every bush, all of which gives them a sense of bliss that they cannot put into words; but it is there, within them.
The word in its motion, the sound that forms, the thought that gives it body and intangibility, the word is man’s totality, it is, in fact, the basis of mankind. The word, pure and clear, that is poetry. And poets are its keepers and defenders. Is there a calling for man that is more honourable and holier than this?
A Story about a Warrior
The generation whose flag even I carried at rallies, and whose name I yelled out for all I was worth, always gazed in awe and wonder upon fighters. We looked upon them as if they were sportsmen playing some kind of game of their own making, and even after their game we continued to cheer them on and defeat the adversary that had already been defeated.
These fighters are now old and tired people who have difficulties even remembering their own names, and many have been honourably laid to rest and benevolently forgotten. In all honesty, I have to admit that, in my mind, this was for the best and the best way for all traces of war and misfortune to be erased.
However, it would seem that many from my generation did not share my way of thinking, and for them this past was still something to be treasured, since they so eagerly took up arms. Within only a couple of months of war I have made so many enemies that it leaves me asking myself where they were till now. Why did they not spend their beautiful youth intoxicating themselves with the scents of love, why are they still hungry when they have been taking from others all their lives, perhaps, even from one who was their friend until yesterday? How is it there are so many lies lurking in friendship? Has this city affronted any one of them so much for them to raze it so heartily to the ground in this manner?
I have talked to many fighters who defend these ruins; and they are of the same opinion. Why would anyone need my city, except me and those who live in it and Croatia? It is a well-known fact that you cannot be that which you are not. That also applies to cities. It also applies to the land. People, giants of Croatian bravery, stand in defence of this idea, and they do not seem to be able to make those from the other side of the fence understand that the time of wars is slowly drawing to an end. Did they not grasp this while they sauntered through parks carrying their school bag and stealing kisses in the twilight? In vain did they carry my name and the names of my neighbours in their breasts, as this war they have lost, if not earlier, then by defiling their hands and cheeks in attempts to take that which is not theirs. I cannot accept dishonesty, nor the darkness they bring to my light.
I thank them in the name of all those who have died, and in the name of all those who have suffered because of their, ungrateful and gluttonous desire to take that which belongs,to others, and in the name of my own insignificant little self, which will, in the end, be greater than they.