“I was born and raised in Yugoslavia, a socialist country with six republics and Serbo-Croatian as the official language. The nationalist tsunami, which provoked a civil war for some and a defensive war for others, destroyed all that”. The life of the writer Dubravka Ugresic was marked by the disappearance of the Yugoslav house (for her “the golden age of that geographical area”), and the trauma of this process was a source of inspiration to develop her creativity, but also a platform from which to understand our time.

Born in Kutina (in present-day Croatia) in 1949, since the 1970s she has published children’s literature and short stories, but her popularity would come with the novel Stefica cvek in the jaws of life (1981), adapted to the cinema by Rajko Grlic (1984); Here already lie elements that will characterize her work: her desire to dismantle the stereotypes of femininity articulated by a hegemonic masculine perspective, the use of intertextuality to situate her work in a broad-spectrum cultural context, and fragmentation as a pattern for observing a reality. incongruous that challenges the critical sense of the reader.

Employed at the Institute of Literary Theory in Zagreb since 1974, after studying Comparative Literature and Russian Literature, she published several academic papers on the latter, among them she edited together with the Slavist Aleksandar Flaker the Glossary of the Russian avant-garde (1984), as well as translating Daniíl Jarms and Borís Pilniak from Russian to Croatian. All this knowledge will not only sprinkle his literary and essay work, but will also serve to support his ideological apparatus. This will be based on a humanistic understanding outside the nation zone, to draw discursive lines between Western space and Eastern Europe, and to reveal how the great existential dilemmas affect the individual beyond conventional approaches to politics. Indeed, his novel Forcing a stream of consciousness (1988), winner of the prestigious NIN and Mesa Selimovic prizes, raises from satire an international conference of writers where a critique of the romanticization western communism, but delirious events also precipitate that account for the unpredictable nature of the human being.

In this line of thought, the nationalism that prevailed with the dissolution of Yugoslavia received a critical response from him. In August 1992, he published in the newspaper Die Zeitand later in The Independent on Sunday, an article, against the Croatian political environment during the war, which caused a huge media uproar. He made a quizzical reference to some cans that were sold as souvenirs in the streets of Zagreb with the coat of arms of the sahovnica (from Croatia) and the message: “Clean Croatian air”, and associated it with the times of hysteria and nationalist purification through an advertisement for cough drops: “Clean Croatian air makes breathing easier”. The writer recalled it like this: “I did not even think that a small essay, the power of which, in my opinion, did not exceed the scope of a New Year’s firecracker, would resound in the Croatian public like a bomb, and that the metaphor of the can would tighten the noose around my neck.”

That same year, in December, it was published in the local weekly globean article titled Croatian feminists rape Croatia! where Ugresic and four other writers and journalists (Rada Ivekovic, Slavenka Drakulic, Jelena Lovric and Vesna Kesic) participating in Pen International, in Rio de Janeiro, were accused of having boycotted, with statements conceived as anti-Croat, the candidacy for congress next, to be held in Dubrovnik. The intellectuals were branded as “the witches of Rio”. Faced with the controversy, Ugresic declared: “Instead of being on the border of my country, I would prefer to walk the border of literature or sit on the border of freedom of expression.”

Forced by circumstances, she first went to Berlin, and then established her habitual residence in Amsterdam. In an interview she expressed that she did not have any problem with Croatia, but with the Croatian cultural environment, and in fact from now on she would publish her novels in Belgrade. When asked in 2003, she pointed out: “I do not publish in Serbia, but I am published by the Samizdat B92 publishing house and its publisher Dejan Ilic.” The author always highlighted her refusal to become a national representative, contrary to European literature becoming a Eurovision competition. Of this vision she left testimony in her essay The culture of lies (1996), where he vindicated the intellectual’s moral obligation to confront nationalism (Serb and Croatian nationalism in particular), an approach that will return in other essays, such as There’s no one at home (2005), europe in sepia (2013), karaoke culture (revised version, 2015) or skin age (2019), where he questions other issues such as the processes of cultural homogenization, the market economy, bureaucratization or the situation of refugees.

In the two works that brought him international fame, The museum of unconditional surrender (1997) and The ministry of pain (2004), the theme of loneliness and forced exile converge as a physical and emotional condition that is reconciled with a depressing reality through memories and nostalgic thoughts. For the writer, human beings are the result of historical continuities, where memory is not merely capricious. In her next two novels, Baba yaga laid an egg (2008) and Fox (2018) lead respectively to two motivations that have crossed her literary career: reconfiguring the terms in which we historically interpret the role of women and her propensity for metaliterature, as a narrative strategy that affects an intimacy that escapes the risks of the superficial. and the generic.

Divided between the academic world of the Netherlands, Hungary, the United States and Germany, she never stopped following the post-Yugoslav and international political news, publishing in newspapers and literary magazines, and granting interviews, as close to her readers as she was scathing in the dialectical duel. Her work has been translated into almost all European languages ​​and she was able to enjoy international recognition: she was awarded numerous prizes, such as the Neustadt (considered the American Nobel), as well as in recent years she was in the pools to achieve the nobel. She made her words valid: “A few years ago, my (national) cultural environment declared me a witch and burned me at the stake in the media with undisguised joy. (…) Today, from my nomadic perspective, I can only be grateful to that ancient environment. I earned the money to buy the broom myself. And I fly alone.

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Deborah Acker

I write epic fantasy; self-published via KDP. Devoted dog mom to my 10 yr old GSD, Shadow! DM not a priority; slow response at best #amwriting #author.

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