Friday, July 27, 2012

Returning home

Yugoslavia is dead as a state structure, but not forgotten as an idea. 

In the forthcoming Serbo-Croatian translation of The Last Exile, I write this epitaph as its Prologue:

“It was a lamentable fact that virtually no supplies had been conveyed by sea to the 222,000 followers of Tito. (...) These stalwarts were holding as many Germans in Yugoslavia as the combined Anglo-American forces were holding in Italy south of Rome. The Germans had been thrown into some confusion after the collapse of Italy and the Patriots had gained control of large stretches of the coast. We had not, however, seized the opportunity. The Germans had recovered and were driving the Partisans out bit by bit. The main reason for this was the artificial line of responsibility which ran through the Balkans. (...) Considering that the Partisans had given us such a generous measure of assistance at almost no cost to ourselves, it was of high importance to ensure that their resistance was maintained and not allowed to flag”.
Winston Churchill, 24 November 1943
It seems only fitting to start the introduction to this edition with this quotation from the leader of Western European resistance to Hitler.
Its date coincides with the time Mussolini fell in Italy, and I was fleeing Asolo, where we were confined as enemy civilians since November 1941. By the time I reached Rome, to hide in it for another 9 months from the Nazi’s and Black Shirts, the Allies have established a beachhead at Anzio and were  fighting to break through the Gustav Line at Monte Cassino.
Thanks to Churchill’s change of heart and his decision to finally acknowledge the realities on the Yugoslav battleground, Tito’s recruiting station was established in Rome as soon as the Allies liberated it. I joined to restore the opportunity which, in Churchill’s own words, they missed in Dalmatia. 
Thus, this most apt of quotations marks the two crucial parts of my life: survival as a Jew in WWII Italy, and my journey into the building of the new Yugoslavia. My new, optimistic life, lasted 10 years before -- disillusioned in false promises of democracy -- I disassociated myself with the country of my dreams.
I wanted to be a writer since the early days of my youth in Sarajevo in the ‘salon” we held on banks of the Miljacka. I studied architecture in Belgrade because, as a Jew in Hitler’s Europe, I had to make a compromise between my love of art and a more practical way of making a living. 
I never became an architect. The Germans make sure of that when they attacked Yugoslavia in April 1941. As to writing, I experienced a meteoric rise as a newsman in Borba, where they had no openings, but admitted me in bookkeeping. I started free-lancing and became famous as a newsman, in good part owing to my knowledge of languages.
In 1944-45, I had participated in the ground thrust for Trieste when I fell to typhoid fever at its doors, and my first journalistic passion was the diplomatic fight for that city. This led to my being blacklisted by Her Majesty’s postwar Government, which, for reasons of their own, championed the cause of a war-enemy against their war-ally. So much for the Paris Peace conference in 1946, where I was further shocked to hear that my mother died at 46. I barely made it to her funeral in Sarajevo, the last time I set foot in it.
I had other passions: the fight against Stalin’s attempts at Soviet supremacy, rejected by Tito and championed by a special center spread in Borba which I edited. Here is where I had daily meetings with Milovan Djilas, who was the government pinpoint person in charge of Cominform relations. Both he and I got labeled by Moscow as “well-known Great Serbian Supremacists”. A badge of honor at the time.
Traveling the world as far as Panmunjom Peace Talks in Korea, most of Asia and the UN, I wrote mostly polemic reportage and several books on foreign policy. After staying in America in 1956, I retired from preaching politics and, once happily “defrocked” took two jobs leading national non-profit volunteer organizations; retiring thirty years later, I finally took to writing again, but this time in English.
The books, The Last Exile - Tapestry of a life, and Requiem for a Country - A history lesson, are both n print and on digital platforms. Translated editions are available in Italy and Belgrade, and will also appear on Amazon and other international listings.
In addition to all the credits I give to people who helped me with writing, editing and improving my books, I want to add special thanks to my Serbo-Croatian translator, Nada Donati. I know I am opening myself to criticism for using this designation of our language, ignoring all attempts at splitting it apart the way the country was split by the inept and corrupt lilliputan heirs to Tito. But language lives in books, and our literature speaks for itself, in spite of attempts at nationalistic distinctions. Let it be known that, in the world of our diaspora, the Jews seem to be the only ones carrying the torch of Yugoslav unity, not so fashionable today, but perhaps a nod to the saner future of the South Slavs.

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