Gojko Božović: ‘There are two options to remove the current regime’

“Democracy will not be restored by the enemies of democracy. It will be restored if the regime loses international support, or if a sufficient number of people decide to pursue their own interests in Serbia, a country in which they live and in which, organised and free, they want their children to live. Of course, I would prefer the second option”, says Gojko Božović, writer and editor-in-chief of the Arhipelag publishing company, in an interview for Nova.rs.

Talking to Gojko Božović is always a special challenge because he is the kind of intellectual that every culture would like to have. Educated, sophisticated, a man with a very clear vision of literature, society, politics and the world around him in general.

The cancellation of the Book Fair is just one of the reasons to interview Gojko Božović about various topics.

“The decision to cancel (the Book Fair) is reasonable but is made too late. What we know now, we also have known two months ago. The Book Fair is important and necessary, but in this situation, it is not viable to hold it. It was not cancelled because of the publishers, but because of the pandemic. The Book Fair no longer takes precedence. It will be difficult to restore social and cultural life after the pandemic, but for this to be possible we must be thinking about what will happen tomorrow and we must be responsible so as not to let ourselves be ruined by irresponsible and unrealistic approaches. In these circumstances, we need to solidify our contacts with readers with the help of bookshops and cultural institutions, book clubs and, above all, the new media outlets.”

Lyudmila Ulitskaya was one of the possible candidates for the Nobel Prize for literature. She was supposed to be a guest of Arhipelag a few years ago in Belgrade, but due to illness, she did not come. Do you have plans for her to come?

“I am sorry that Lyudmila Ulitskaya’s guest appearance in Belgrade was cancelled at the last moment a few years ago. She is an unsurpassed master of storytelling, but also a perfect interlocutor. She loves meeting readers and in her book “Just the Plague” she writes how impressed she is by translating and publishing so many books in a small country like Serbia. We will certainly do our best to organise a meeting between Ulitskaya and Serbian readers when the situation with the pandemic stabilises. Ulitskaya is very popular in Serbia and all her books have been well received here. After several novels, Arhipelag published her collection of short and autobiographical stories called “Just the Plague” a year ago. Also, we have published her book “The Body of the Soul”.

Some books have undeservedly slipped under the radar, one gets the impression that such is the book about Zoran Djindjic called “Portret političara u mladosti” by Dragan Lakicevic Lakas from 2018.

“This book has certainly done worse than it deserved. But most books today remain off the radar. Firstly, there are a lot of books, which are all in competition with each other. Secondly, there is little talk about books. They have lost their social influence as they are hardly visible to the public, they are usually only visible if one recognises entertainment in them. There is also a third reason, more closely related to the book in question. Unlike the Anglo-American culture, where these are the most widely-read genres, biographies and autobiographies have never been particularly popular in our country. Much has been written about Lakicevic’s book, and a whole series of well-attended public events have been held to mark the occasion. But the book did not become a bestseller. Zoran Djindjic was not popular while he was a politician and in power. He became popular after he was assassinated. But even this relationship between him and the general public is more ritualistic rather than reflecting the spirit of his politics or his philosophical or journalistic books.”

It seems that we, as a nation, have accepted that we will live for many more years without the democracy that we won following the 5th October political upheaval. What is your impression?

“Democracy has its ups and downs. In none of the cases are we innocent. Democracy is created with great difficulty and is easily and instantly destroyed, often through the use of democratic institutions and procedures. Nothing was in favour of the Serbian democracy that emerged after 5 October – neither our democratic experience, nor the prevailing political culture, nor the difficult legacy of the Milosevic regime, nor economic backwardness, nor international circumstances. Democracy failed not because it had numerous and powerful enemies, but because it did not have enough friends. But I don’t think that as a nation we accepted to live without democracy. Nobody asked us to. In the last ten years, the authoritarian regime in Serbia has been restored and, at the same time, there is a continuous effort to shape a one-party system. Democracy will not be restored by the enemies of democracy. It will be restored either by the regime losing international support, or by enough citizens deciding to pursue their own interests in Serbia as in the country in which they live and in which, organised and free, their children want to live. Of course, I would prefer this second option.”

You once said that culture was important in the 20th century and now mass culture is dominating the 21st century. Does this mean that culture has gone underground and that we have to accept the reality we live in?

“Throughout the modern age, culture has had crucial importance. It shapes societies and individuals, creates acceptable customs and patterns, and is followed by revolutionaries and conservatives, democracies and dictatorships. Culture is perceived as the formative basis and measure of free and captive societies. The totalitarian societies of Nazism and Communism controlled culture and recognised its value. They controlled it because they were afraid of it and believed in its power. In the second half of the 20th century, mass culture also appeared on the scene and had an important role to play. There is misunderstanding, jealousy and conflict between mass culture, on one side, and pop and high culture, on the other, but in their sometimes contradictory, sometimes pervasive relationship, some of the most exciting moments in the culture of recent times have been born. Mass culture is a culture of consumption and not a culture of creativity. It is the culture of popularity and not the culture of creation. It is the culture of fame and spin, pop and tabloid, not the culture of new creations and important ideas. So, culture no longer has a central role in modern society – it is pushed to the margins, mostly in the privacy of people interested in culture. It is not a natural state and leaves devastating consequences for entire societies. The rise of mass culture and the marginalisation of high culture is one of the causes of the emergence of populism as a global political process that destroys democracy and institutions, the public arena and critical thinking.”

Which books would you recommend that have been published by Arhipelag?

Lyudmila Ulitskaya’s book of short stories ‘The Body of the Soul’ and Charles Simic’s book of essays “Anđeli na žici za veš” have just been published. We are publishing the latest novels by Nina Savčić, Ratko Dangubić, Laslo Blašković, Sasa Obradović, Nikola Moravčević, Jani Virk, Andrija Ljubka, Vadim Levental and Robert Menasse. We will soon publish an anthology of contemporary Romanian stories. I am also pleased to announce that we will be publishing several books of poetry, including selected poems by Slobodan Zubanović. Books by Marija Karaklajić and Katarina Vešović are also about to see the light of the day. In addition to Sebastian Conrad’s book ‘What is Global History’, we will also publish two books of paramount importance for historiography. One is the exceptional biography of Stalin from the pen of Oleg Chlevnyuk ‘New Biography of a Dictator’. The second is ‘A History of the Adriatic’ by the Italian historian Egidio Ivetic. I am particularly pleased with the book, which will be a great surprise for readers, ‘Iz prepiske’ by Danilo Kiš, edited by Mirjana Miočinović. There are many rediscovered letters by Kiš and letters to Kiš from various people, from Milovan Đilas to Miroslav Krleža, from Davičo to Pekić, from Dovlatov to Kundera, from Okujava to Susan Sontag, from Karlo Štajner to Ljubo Popović. This book will be a whole new cultural and literary event.”

(Nova, 12.10.2021)


Photo credits: “Vesna Lalić/Nova.rs



This post is also available in: Italiano

Share this post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

scroll to top