Drazan Gunjaca - We are all brothers

FROM BOOK

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We are all brothers
- on-line
- preface
- recension

EDITIONS
- Balkan Farewells
- The Balkan Roulette
- The Shade of Reason
- Love as punishment
- Half-way o heaven
- Good night my friends
- Dreams have no price
- We are all brothers
- The Balkan aquarelle
- The sky over Dalmatia

 

 

 

AT FIRST SIGHT
AFTER THE WAR – WAR
DACHAU 2004 (Forgotten memory)
INTELLIGENT BOMBS
IT’S CALLED WAR
PROMISES
TRAINS WITH NO TIMETABLE

 

AT FIRST SIGHT


How can I write something that has not been written yet, something that, after all, I myself haven't already written, and besides that, make it interesting to readers who don't have any direct connection to my theme? Hard. Very hard. Especially from my perspective reduced to a life in a small, newly formed state whose existence is known only to the immediate neighbours and people whose job it is to deal with such states. And then, the things for which is it known…
Anyway, there is something relatively universal that has begun bothering me these days. In spite of the recently ended five-year-war, this country is living today as if there never was a war. At first sight. The summer season has just ended, with very many tourists from all over the world who have spent their deserved holidays enjoying the rare beauties of my country. Among them were a couple of friends who usually come to visit in summer. Relaxed as people are on holidays, they concluded that the war was definitely behind us and that nothing reminded them of it… I tried discussing that with them and gave up. Why should I, of all people, ruin their holidays? After all, maybe it's best that they think that way, so they will return next year, and the year after that, and until then things might really be as they see them now. All in all, I agree with them – at first sight.
Just as all the tourist seasons, this one ended too, and we remained alone with ourselves and our memories.
What is it that reminds other people of tragedies they luckily haven't experienced themselves? Nor have any of their loved ones. How can they recognize the disastrous consequences when those tragedies, from the point of view of history, come to an end? All the tragedies have dates that mark their beginnings and their endings, and these dates are everything that people remember about them, with only a little bit of what was in between.
I've been watching a TV show these days on the numerous projects on the reconstruction of what was the WTC that disappeared on September 11, 2001 in New York, together with many innocent victims as a result of the action of deranged minds. Nice projects. Interesting even to an ordinary man as myself. Some architect will surely become worldly famous no matter how the place will be called later. Most of these projects are intended to symbolize the tragedy of that particular place. How will they do that? With their particular looks? With the numerous arches that look like… Like what? Ask the families of the victims if it reminds them of anything? Ask tourist one future day, when you see them taking pictures of that grand project, if they know why it looks as it will. Do you think they'll know? Maybe some of them, at first sight.
They say life goes on, we have to rebuild, it's a triumph of life over death… Maybe. But what do we do with those people for whom life stopped there on one, at first sight, ordinary day in September in which was at first sight an ordinary year? How will they be recognized in that monumental building?
Maybe they should have left an empty space on that now historical location, the same empty space that this tragedy has left in the hearts of the people who lost someone there. Think of that empty space in the middle of the overcrowded megalopolis. Is there anyone in this world who wouldn't ask himself why it's there? An empty space that would be so different from everything around it, just like that September day was so different from all the other days that year. A space that would remind every person passing by, wherever they came from, that they too have lost a lot that day. Maybe it would make them more conscious that tragedies do not end with official dates in history books.
However, the empty space will be filled again and life will go on. And then someone admiring the structures of the new building will comfort a New Yorker saying that it looks as if nothing's ever happened. And he will, whether he likes it or not, admit that it really looks that way at first sight. What about a second sight? This civilization has no time for second sights, and that will sooner or later, cost it its existence.
Oh, yes. There might be a compromise. Maybe one of the conditions for the tenders should be to spend at least a month with one of the families who lost someone at the WTC. Symbolically. Then again, who knows what might come out of it?
In the end, I'll allow the possibility that I see it all wrong. I can't even cope with the specters of my own past, let alone with somebody else's. But then again, it seems to me that the tragedy of September 11 is a tragedy for all of us, just like the recent tragedy of my country, or the present and future tragedies all over this world of ours… The only one we have, no matter how differently some people think.


AFTER THE WAR – WAR

It's summer, awfully sultry, and the sea is so near – the solution is obvious, isn't it? It would take only a few steps to let the tired spirit in an exhausted body, find comfort in the cold waves; something the most of the civilized world calls vacation. It's not so simple, though. You need to know how to rest.
I vaguely remember what it looked like before the last, five-year-long war that devastated this land I was condemned to by God and my incomprehensible love for it. I remember the times when man walked here, too. And then the war came. Out of the blue, intollerably arrogant like any unwanted guest who cannot accept to be rejected. On the contrary. Some people I used to have fun with disappeared over night, some other came whose idea of fun I couldn't understand, no matter how hard I tried. To avoid feeling excluded I asked the newcomers to explain the reasons of their joy, which to my dismay, surprised them very much. Shouldn't one know why he is merry? Anyway, after a time, some of them became my other self while the other started avoiding me.
Have you ever seen how the warriors rest? In no way. When they don't shoot, they drink to forget why and who they were shooting at. It seemed the best solution to me too, during the first year of the war – but my war didn't end on time. As any war never ends on time, no matter how long it lasted. After some dreadful hangovers I realized that it had nothing to do with resting.
They say all wars have to end sooner or later. Are you sure? If so, why do the warriors "rest" in the same way after the war, too?
Let us leave the warriors in their world they themselves do not understand, let alone the others. The warriors will never understand why, out of heroes, in time they became modern lepers widely avoided by everyone, and those people avoiding them will never understand why, only a short while ago, they thought those lepers were heroes.
It's so hard to be a simple man in war, wherever it catches you. History is only interested in people of its stature. Not in simple men.
Perhaps everything would somehow come to balance at a bearable level of existence of the ones and the others, if it wasn't for the third ones; those who needed the war while it lasted, but who need it even more now that it's "over". The hyenas of war. They do not understand the warriors or the sufferers, nor do they try to. They need the war just like an auto mechanic needs a broken car – to make a living. And if there are no broken cars, all the worse for them. You do have to make a living, don't you? That is why they are the most successful in their "missions". In any way. And that is why the war doesn't end until they are on the scene. They feel perfect on that scene where it's unbearably easy for them to transform a lost poor wretch into a warrior again, and the scared sufferers into ostriches who are so terrified that they do not just put their head in the sand, they all go underground. Unless some of the other ones should stumble over them.
What will happen if you raise your head anyway? And they notice. Perhaps they won't shoot because the war is formally over, after all. But they will do everything to push you back in, make you bury yourself once again in the hot sand, drenched with blood and tears. With your eyes open, so you don't forget the lesson. If you somehow manage to stay on the surface, then the others won't see you. They won't let them. And if some of the other sufferers notice you after all, then it's high time you left or started quickly to revise your religious education.
You don't believe it? Don't. It's your right. But then, just in case, revise all the prayers you know; you might need it. Do you think your hyenas are more civilized? Maybe more refined? Or maybe you do not rhetorically recognize them? But this does not change the essence.
Oh yes, you can try something more simple. For example, try playing a tourist in the just "liberated" Iraq. Spend your vacation there. Why not? Wasn't it liberated? Spend some time with the liberated people. Share the joy of liberation. It's a unique feeling, trust me on that.
But when you return from Iraq, don't ever ask yourselves: what is freedom? This question can only take you in one direction – to a mental institution. I know many people who have gone crazy because of "freedom".
On second thought, maybe it's best if you forget what I just wrote and enjoy it while you can. You can't change anything anyway, except…

DACHAU 2004 (Forgotten memory)

Sometimes I curse the day I began to write. Writing has brought me so close to other people’s tragedies that sometimes, a human reaction, I wish I had never heard, met or seen them. It is getting more and more difficult to deal with my own memories, and as time goes by, other people’s memories pile up as well. You can get used to anything but tragedies. Tragedies are not something you get used to, you can only put up with them or escape them, if you can. Anyway, once you face a tragedy, you have to choose sides, there being two in everything. You have to choose between man and “man”. The good old spirit S. Isakov has decided, before his last voyage, ill and old as he is, to visit Dachau one more time. Write down the impressions with his trembling hand, and big letters because his sight is getting weaker every day…

“Dear friend,
A cold and gloomy morning in Munich. I’m waiting for a taxi. It finally arrives and a young man gets off looking for my luggage with his eyes. I have nothing except for this little piece of soul I’ve got left. Luckily, he doesn’t see it. The remains of the soul. I tell him in German to take me to Dachau. He gives me a strange look but makes no comments. He’s silent. I look at the fields around Dachau dappled with melting snow, they seem so innocent. The same fields on which the ashes from the nearby crematorium had been settling down for days, months, years. The snow wasn’t white in those years. No matter how heavily it snowed. Memories creep up. I see a sticky smoke spiraling to the sky, taking thousands of Evelinas, Natashas, Anas, Radmilas… The clouds had a peculiar uniform grey color, with no nuances, something I have never seen afterwards. Even when it was sunny, those clouds stood between us and the sky, tinted with that strange color. It was because of the smoke. Even the rains were grey. It rained on the grass, wetting the flowers around the camp… bringing down in its drops the Evelinas, Natashas… On those wet field they wedded the earth… Birds sang on their weddings and mice and ants prepared their first nights…
Even today, after so many decades, there’s the same breeze over those fields, singing the songs that had never been sung, disturbing this holy silence. There are no more horrible screams… Just an echo in my head. I’m having a hard time making out the noises. Those from the outside from the ones inside my head.
I’m standing on the gate of the camp. Closed. No more guards. The barbed wire is still there, as well as the watch towers now empty. I pay the taxi. He grabs the money and hurries away, somehow disturbed. Why? What is this young man afraid of? I wait for the official opening at 10. A man comes out of a red Opel and looks at me as if I were from another planet. His eyes wonder what I am doing here. Revisiting my youth, I explain. He doesn’t understand. At least he doesn’t show it. I shrug my shoulders and slowly enter the main building of the museum. Desert. Only huge photographs hanging on the walls, full of striped uniforms and spent eyes… People without names. People with numbers.
“The world is fierce and sad” rings Nabokov in my head. I walk through the empty halls of the ex concentration camp. Ex? I can’t stand it. I suddenly feel sick and try to get out as fast as I can. Outside, on a sod of yellow grass, a small sparrow is looking at me. Staring at me. Waiting for me? As if he wanted to tell me something. My God, whose spirit is there in that small body? Perhaps that of Anne Frank. Perhaps she is flying from camp to camp in search of her stolen childhood… It must be her, so small, unprotected and innocent. Eyes wide open. Only children have such eyes. For both tragedy and happiness. I get closer, it’s not afraid. I sit by it and start telling it my story. Telling her. Everything that has happened since I left here. Everything and nothing. Many things in fact. Too many bad things and some good. I’m trying to remember the good things and tell her about it. I can’t. Somebody else inside me starts telling her that kids get killed today, too. All over the world, they are meeting death with wide open hearts. Even worse. Kids have started killing, too. In the name of those who need concentration camps, ghettos, walls, isolations…
I’m walking down the old poplar alley. The trees still have the rusty nails on which they used to hang people… One can make even the poplars remember, but not himself. Man has taken the right to forget for himself. And is using that right selectively. Following the line of least resistance. A method so loved by the great leaders.
What is Dachau for today? Nobody goes there any more. The memory is alive as long as there is conscience. Dachau has been forgotten. It is dying too. Disappearing from reality. Maybe it will come to life once again. Perhaps in this very moment some new leader is thinking about it in a bar… Perhaps the snows are again going to lose their whiteness. When you forget, everything is possible, isn’t it?
If the leaders don’t talk about it, it has never happened. What they talk about, had to happen. Read their memoirs, the worst literature man has ever written, and you’ll see.
My dear young friend, I don’t know what you are going to do with these confused thoughts, but I know you won’t forget them. Sorry for the smudged letters… They say there is no ink resistant to tears…

Yours, S. Isakov


INTELLIGENT BOMBS

I live in a country that's recently been through a five-year-long war. It is almost like a natural cycle which, for reasons incomprehensible to normal people, keeps repeating itself with a rhythm that does not let any single generation, not even mine, go by without having to go through this extraordinary experience. Time goes by, consciences mature and democracy develops without any influence on the periodic exchange of opinions through the rifle scopes. I live in a country where referendums, for example, as the oldest civilized way of expressing the opinion of the people, are organized only for issues that are bound to bring new conflicts. Of any kind. There are always enemies somewhere, aren't they? If not, all the worse for them. We'll make them up.
I forgot to mention: I love my country. for as much as it may be imperfect. After all, nothing is perfect, is it?
Nevertheless, I must admit that it's sometimes difficult to live in a country where the loudness of the national anthem is more important than a full stomach. All right, some are more musical than others, it's only a question of ear. So you can hear it on time. It's a matter of practice. Habits are our second nature, right? Honestly speaking, it is a bit irritating to be living in a country where the past is more important than the present and nobody thinks about the future since it is so insecure that it's pointless. Placing your bets on the future that has already been gambled away by somebody else is not a sensible reason to wait for tomorrow. If these wannabe gamblers had only known the main gambling rules, let alone the shades on which the outcome sometimes depends, we would have probably stood a better chance. You just learn to accept it with time.
It is in human nature to hope even when there's no point. And there are different hopes. The big ones, important, that keep haunting you, and those secondary ones, in case the big ones fail or somebody prohibits them by accident. And so from time to time, just like the rest of the world, lead by my own anxieties and fears, I make an irrevocable decision to abandon this vale of tears and find a new one, a substitute valley in a different corner of the world, full of flowers and beauty. A valley that buried its past with dignity and opened its doors to the future. These last few days, a similar decision is coming up uncalled for.
Since you cannot change your country from one day to another, and since the whole world has become a global village, I started looking for the promised land. I turned on the satellite TV, my window to the world, and started looking. A shock. Instead of the magic valley, all kinds of bombs came at me from the screen: stupid, intelligent big, small, short range, international range, guided, unguided, highly destructive, a bit less destructive, and then the mother of all bombs, with her innumerable offspring… Among all those shooting stars you catch just a glimpse of the terrorized eyes of a survived child, whose house has just been reduced to ashes because one of the bombs has had a bad day. Then you see the eyes full of horror of a young Texan who has suddenly, thousands of miles from home, become somebody's prisoner of war… Refugees, exiles, people of good will, many others in a bad mood… In the parks of some beautiful cities, there are serious men in uniforms walking, with dogs trained to bark at the smell of trouble. What do they need the dogs for? People were howling up to the heavens here, but nobody was listening.
Oh my God, is there any hope? By any chance? Only when the time comes in which no one, absolutely no one, will get the idea to call a bomb "intelligent".

IT’S CALLED WAR

So you get caught in a sort of lethargy, an incomprehensible tiredness, and you wait for something to give you a start from that sleepiness. Possibly something nice. It’s only human to hope even when there’s no point, isn’t it?
The other day I started writing an essay about globalization and I gave up. Really, there’s nothing to say that hasn’t already been said. You can only take some old themes and elaborate them in a new way. I had no desire to do that. And then some bad things happened… Actually, these are always the same bad things that keep happening over and over again, just in new ways. Maybe there is some point in writing about them after all, to adjust to their new modalities.
Anyway, moved by these ugly events, I gave up the essay and against my will, I got back to my most hated theme – the war. But then, since we mentioned globalization, let’s start from there. If everything has been globalized, and it has, why do the majority of people think that the wars have been left out? That they haven’t become ours, the “heritage” of all of us. Why do we always treat them as somebody else’s, until they knock on our door? To be more precise, why do we pretend not to hear them knocking stubbornly at our door? Do we think that hurriedly installed locks or sophisticated security systems will keep the unwanted guests outside our doors? Let’s switch to singular, because all the wars have so many things in common that there’s simply no point in using the plural. There, we do not realize that the war is not knocking at the door because the locks are preventing it from entering, it plays with our ingenuousness. The war is a curious creature. It’s interested in knowing the limits of human blindness. And when it realizes that it has no limits it gets sick and tired of its elementary decency (which it always respects in the beginning) and it goes back to its original nature.
To get one thing straight, it’s not pretending to be something else in the beginning. On the contrary! But it’s probably a little amused by the fact that people call it all sorts of names except the right one. And its name is war. Nothing especially difficult to remember or understand. At least it seems so. And when we finally call it the right name, and we have to sooner or later, it’s already too late for some people.
On the other hand, if we want to be honest with it and ourselves, we have to admit that its reaction is quite logical. Namely, utter underestimation that is close to provocation of something so powerful, impetuous and arrogant has to end badly. And naturally, annoyed by such an amount of absurd ignorance, it oozes into our small world with unbearable easiness, becoming its master. First it breaks all the locks, turns off all the security systems, and then exposes our helplessness to the point that our lives become reduced to a moment. It can last an hour, a day, a year… Depending on the mood of the new master of our lives. And the war is certainly the worst of all masters. And why should it be any better with so many subjects humbly waiting for its arrival.
They say that the war also has its masters. I doubt that. Who are they? Simple yes men cold-heartedly used just like the innocent victims of these yes men themselves. Let us just remember for a moment some of the greatest “masters” of war. For example Attila or Hitler, all the same. Let us remember how they ended. That is not the way masters end, only servants. After all, if we think for a minute, where those masters came from, who created them … We did. With our behaviour described earlier. It is unbelievable how much can be done by not doing anything, isn’t it?
I went off topic. After all, I did not have any particular theme or intention, I just wanted to say by the way that the war will always be, whenever it likes, the absolute master of our lives, until we are courageous enough to call it the right name on time.


PROMISES

I hate promises. Anybody's. I've simply filled my glass of illusions a long time ago and I have nowhere to put them any more. I especially can't stand the so called great promises. I guess I must have grown old inside by at least a hundred years during the last five-year war that rumbled through these territories. And promises do not mean much to old men. Somewhere in my books I wrote that for your spirit, a year of war equals twenty years of peace. All the worse since only after the war I realized that it doesn't end when the rifles go silent, but only when it is repressed enough in the heads of the survivors.
When did promises start making me sick? When the same persons first tried to convince the people that there would be no war, then that there might be one, to reach the point at which in just a few months that war which did not exist became a crying need we invoked for centuries, a natural way to freedom… Who gave them the right to liberate me after all? Do not listen to promises of those who recognize life as the greatest value only when it is sacrificed on the altar of homeland. And dead as you are, they still try to convince you that you're not. If only the dead could hear… or judge…
After the war, various scoundrels and profiteers of all kinds try to explain to the survived why they think they have liberated us. And by the way they reproach us of not being grateful to those they sent to their deaths. To those they sacrificed for us and because of us.
The world. My greatest and most painful illusion. Not only mine. The war is, among other things, an intensive period of negating everything that is unacceptable. It took me years to realize that many world leaders needed this war of ours. Why? I don't know. And if I do, I don't have the courage to say it aloud. Not because of fear, fear killed me a long time ago, but because of dignity for what's left of me. I want to preserve at least that, whatever it is.
Iraq. The war there ended for some people but it has just begun for others. With other means. War is an extremely adjustable phenomenon. There is nothing it couldn't use to survive. This way or another. This morning I met a fellow officer (I forgot to mention that I used to be an army officer a long time ago…) who is trying passionately to convince me that the Americans started poisoning their own soldiers to prove that chemical weapons exist after all. This colleague of mine belongs to those special services… I told him he was crazy, that he kept the uniform for too long. He just waved his hand treating me like a lost case made into a typical "lost civilian" by the last years of legal practice and then writing. I have no comment on that. I just kept helplessly repeating that I don't believe this, that it isn't true, that nobody could do such a thing to those poor guys dying under the tents on the hot desert sand… He just commented that I'd forgot how to analyze things in the military way. He sneeringly asked me if I remembered someone's promises about certain evidence on the existence of these chemicals… I remember many things, too many…
I really hate great promises. In the end, do you know how to tell a great from an ordinary promise? By the number of victims.

TRAINS WITH NO TIMETABLE


To write or not to write? To watch or not to watch? To see or not to see? To tell or not to tell? At first sight these are capital questions, but actually quite trivial, because when something happens, the fact that we don’t speak about it does not mean that it didn’t happen. After all, when someone doesn’t want to see or hear something, all the images and sounds in this world are in vane.
After the recent five-year-long war that has temporarily moved elsewhere, and the postwar survival that follows inevitably, many dear friends have moved in search of a promised land, a land with no wars or tears, sad faces and spent eyes. One of them moved to Spain. He fell in love with the country. A musician. I used to play guitar once, but he… his music… a therapy for the soul. I missed him so much from time to time, in the evenings, when the sun would disappear tired below the horizon leaving me with my memories. It took me years to realize what it meant to be condemned to memories.
Shortly after he left, he sent me a photograph of him, barely recognizable, suntanned, somehow reborn, playing on a terrace full of tourists who were literally absorbing his music with open hearts. Lucky them. The tourists
Every year, around this time, he’d call asking me to visit him in his valley of peace in order to share at least part of his newly found enthusiasm. He’d pay for the airline tickets, organize everything, has got a friend in Munich who’d help transfer to a plane to Spain… I plan on going every year and haven’t yet managed to go. And not only there.
He called me this year too. A few days ago. He didn’t mention any airline tickets, nor his friend in Munich… only panic in his voice, desperation… Sounds so familiar. He mentioned his daughter who had gone to Madrid a couple of days earlier. No news of her. No idea where she might be. He asked me if I’d seen that train station. I did, who knows how many times, and now again. Images with the same prevailing colour. In the background there’s fear mixed with incredulity, dazed looks; an image of a shattered life in blurred eyes. He’s completely freaked out. How, why? Why here? The questions come one after another. I’m silent. Can’t answer. I forgot how to comfort other people a long time ago. I just listen. I haven’t forgotten that. On the contrary.
The line went dead. I don’t know what he said last. I think I heard him mention moving again. Where to? What country? Which train to catch? How can you tell ordinary trains from the ones with no timetable to respect. It doesn’t depend on them anyway.
I turned on the TV later to see millions of people demonstrating against those who don’t care for timetables. A magnificent image of human impotence. Everybody said everything they had to say. Each one in their own way. Everybody knows everything. Except the people on those trains… Somebody told them that all trains respect a timetable. And instead of going to work, visit friends or simply for a walk, they’ve gone to history. Who cares if they had no interest in history? History had its interest in them. Who knows why? And who cares any more, anyway? Only those “making” history. For them and for us. Nobody told them that there is not a single human error that has not been recognized by the future, for as much as they might call it a sacred and only truth.
Oh, yes. The last thing I managed to tell my friend was not to stop playing the guitar. Not ever and at no price. As long as he’s playing there’s a chance for those who’ll keep coming in the same trains.