Sunday, July 23, 2000
Mileta Prodanovic, Serbian writer awarded in Croatia
It's easy to be smart from a distance
Mileta Prodanovic was born in 1959 in Belgrade. He is a painter and writer and member of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is part of the generation of authors who were given the common name 'New Serbian Prose' in the 1980'. Prodanovic already distinguished himself from other authors of his generation with his first book, 'Dinner with St. Apolonia', an unusual and extended narrative story published in 1984. His later books also displayed a tendency towards unusual topics and modification of style. He has published nine books so far and has participated in several book shows. The novel 'This Could Be Your Lucky Day' took first prize in a contest of twenty-one novels written by authors from former Yugoslav states. The 'Arkzinov' jury presided by Igor Mandic awarded the second prize to Dasa Drndic and third prize to Damir Pilic. The awarded books will be published by Arkzinov's publishing house 'Bastard'.
Whether Serbo-Croatian cultural and literary bonds will prove to be tougher than state administrations from both countries, which are doing their best to limit the exchange of people and ideas between former Yugoslav states as much as possible, will mostly depend on revived institutions and individuals in both countries. Among the signs of a growing will for new and different bondage is the literary award 'Bulgarica' given by Zagreb's magazine 'Arkzin' to Mileta Prodanovic, a writer from Belgrade, for his novel 'This Could Be Your Lucky Day'. The novel was also published by 'Stubovi kulture' from Belgrade. It describes the life of a Belgrade family, without pathos or quasi-patriotism, delicately balancing between irony and grotesque, who decide to stay in their flat in Dorcol (old Belgrade district) during last year's NATO bombing raids.
FS: One of your introductory theories is that we, East Europeans, feel as if the society is controlled by malicious groups or pre-designed plans. Does this disbelief in the idea of spontaneity derive from a long period of life in a system that encouraged such convictions?
I think I will have to explain this introduction to people who have not read the book. It is a sort of an ironic introduction to ourselves, 'deeply frustrated East Europeans'. There are several angles to this subject, from our attitude towards the consumer civilisation to our attitude towards history, so I guess only one of these angles is contained in your question. Now, what we mean by 'disbelief in the idea of spontaneity' in common speech is the intense conviction in various conspiracy theories.
This conviction has been encouraged through propaganda in all imprisoned societies and ours is not an exception. It's a kind of a natural anaesthetic for the public to divert attention from all the troubles, thefts and wars that regimes produce in order to stay in power.
It is true that in the former one-party system there were also ideas of powerful structures having their way with the world. But only in the last ten years have we been we able to witness fortune-tellers and some kind of 'experts' appearing on TV who skilfully present the fatalism of 'conspiratology'. All these 'sorcerers', emerging from their spiritual cesspools, have become part of a crazy image of the world, a surreal movie that is our reality. A few days ago, Dusan Kovacevic, a playwright, reminded us of a statement given by former presidential candidate Nikola Secerovski some time ago. During his campaign, he was asked on television about the extent of his property. He answered that he owned 'three white dogs of which two were black'. Nowt, that sums it all up. That is what we are living in.
FS: Your novel is one among very few literary works dealing with last year's war between the NATO alliance and our country. To what extent did the time distance limit you in expressing opinions on the causes and consequences of the tragic events that took place on our soil?
Well, I don't know…..they say the 'NATO library' has quite a few editions now. I've heard of many patriotic books printed during the intervention. So, we had the vulgar propaganda, the 'targeting', but we also had a fine book on this subject by Zoran Ciric that competed for the NIN magazine award. It is true that literary work produced in the midst of events that are its subject brings certain limitations. It is easy to be smart from a distance of several years. I feel this just isn't the 'job' of literature. I only tried to express the imprint of the two-way madness that the people of my country and the city I live in got trapped between.
FS: Your characters compare last year's war with a poker game. Who are the poker players here and what are their stakes?
According to Milica , my dog, but also my literary character who becomes a writer herself after various challenges, poker is an elementary game. The cards are just a medium for a game that is defined by completely different parameters. I think it is clear at first glance who are the 'chips' here - all of us who had the luck to be born in these geographical latitudes and longitudes. And the poker players, well, I guess they are all those people, on both sides, who have identified themselves with this role and feel thy are masters of other peoples' lives.