I have just returned from a ten-day trip to Serbia. I was the guest of Uroš Dojcinovic´, one of former-Yugoslavia’s most prominent guitarists. He is also a composer, publisher and musicologist. Uroš (Urosh) lives in Belgrade and was, as usual, in the middle of a concert tour when I arrived. He gave his first concert when he was 12 and has continued almost non-stop giving concerts in former-Yugoslavia and many other countries for 30 years. We became very good friends during my stay, which was a whirlwind adventure orchestrated by Uroš. I played duets with him in concert in a total of seven Serbian cities, played with him on national TV three times, local TV twice, local radio twice, and was interviewed several times by TV, radio and newspaper journalists. Of course, I never wanted to be on national TV, but it was impossible to refuse. On these long drives all over Serbia, I had a chance to talk to Uroš and we laughed heartily many times. He is very funny. He has toured in America with a guitarist friend in Texas, James Bogle. One of his delights on that tour was those big fat dill pickles – ”a pickle for a nickle.” (The price has surely gone up now.) I got up early to do tai chi in Belgrade, and he asked, ”Theo, what on earth are you doink?” He meant that it wasn't the safest city in which to be in the park at early hours.
Uroš taught me how to say in Serbian, ”Good evening, I don’t speak much Serbian, but it is a pleasure to be with you” at each concert. The public applauded. At the last concert in Sremska Mitrovica, Uroš left me alone in front of the bright lights and cameras of national Yugoslav TV to play one solo piece. I had refused several times before, but I was unable to that last time. He is a great virtuoso and has helped me on the way to getting over my stage-fright. The concert tour promoted our collaboration in the publishing of sheet music for guitar music in Yugoslavia. We played two ”kolos” (Serbian dances) that I have just published, as well as Swedish folk music.
Now I begin work type-setting volume one of a collection of guitar music from Yugoslavia, collected and researched by Uroš. I could not have had a better introduction to Serbia, visiting small provincial towns like Pirot, 60 kilometers from the border with Bulgaria (where Uroš has also given concerts). What follows is a list of the cities where we played. (I say ”we” a bit shamelessly, because Uroš’s masterful solo performances of very difficult pieces was of course the main item in the concerts.)
July 4: Novi Knezevac
July 5: Smederevo
July 6: Zrenjanin
July 7: Kragujevac
July 8: Prokuplje
July 9: Pirot
July 10: Sremska Mitrovica
The last city is an ancient Roman capital with many Roman ruins. We played outdoors in the museum courtyard, tormented by mosquitoes from the nearby Danube. (Belgrade lies at the convergance of the Danube and Sava rivers.) Sremska Mitrovica is one of the oldest cities in Europe, an important industrial center of the Yugoslav region of Vojvodina. It was originally called Sirmi or Sedmi (said to mean ”wisdom”) in the time of Alexander the Great. The Slavs called it Srem until the 14th century, when it was renamed Dimitrovica, "the city of Saint Demetrius." Dimitrovica became Mitrovica, and finally the ancient name was added, to become the modern Sremska Mitrovica.
In Pirot (see poster left), the vice-mayor got stinking drunk and was talking loudly on his cell phone during Uroš’s performance. I was the "special ghost" (gost=guest). After this performance, Uroš was taking his family to the Adriatic coast for summer vacation, so at 2 AM he dropped me off at the impoverished home of my relatives, Milan and Malina Bukvic, in a suburb of Belgrade. They were forewarned, but I was not able to get there earlier. Bodo (short for Slobodan), their son, led me sleepily into their flat. Bodo is 64 and lives in Mostar (very distant), but is staying with his parents helping them until August first. I could not communicate with them other than by sign language and clumsy attempts at Serbian with my dictionary. They live in their own apartment, but it is misery nonetheless. They were very grateful to my mother for her financial help, and said hello to her and the rest of my family in California. Milan is 87 and Malina is 86. She broke her hip a while ago and has trouble walking. They are refugees from the war in Bosnia who had to flee their home in Mostar in 1992 with only the clothes on their backs. I stayed two nights with them. I last saw them 29 years ago in Mostar. They live in poverty. It is sad to see them. I gave them money when I first saw them, with Uroš as interpretor. I gave them and additional $50 in Yugoslav money before I left. They almost wept with gratitude. I should have given them all the Yugoslav money I had left, because it is totally worthless outside of Yugoslavia. When I tried to buy a bottle of whiskey at the Belgrade airport duty-free shop, THEY DID NOT ACCEPT YUGOSLAV MONEY!
During my visit to Serbia I learned that the title of a book I carried with me – Teach Yourself Serbo-Croat – is no longer politically correct. The people in Serbia today do not like this term, and insist that their language is ”Serbian”, period. People in Bosnia who earned a diploma in Serbo-Croat now say that they speak “Bosnian”. Not being a linguist, I can’t comment on what name is more accurate. But I can comment on the tragic and bitter mood which I encountered in Serbia. After horrifying conflagrations for almost ten years, the political Yugoslavia today has been reduced to Serbia and Montenegro, when once upon a time it comprised six republics and two autonomous regions. (NOTE: Now, in 2010, Yugoslavia is non-existent after Montenegro became independent.) Guitar Compostions from Yugoslavia expresses a wish on the part of the editors to keep alive the originl idea of Yugoslavia (an idea conceived by 19th-century poets and linguists), as well as the harmony intrinsic to music, and the joy and friendship it brings human beings. It is the result of many years of research into the guitar music of his homeland by the master guitarist, composer, musicologist and writer, Uroš Dojcinovic. I am indeed grateful to Uroš for being my gracious host, guide, chauffeur, translator, guitar duo partner and friend during my visit to Serbia.
Now it was time to return to the EU-part of Europe, my home for decades: Sweden. After going through two metal detectors at the Belgrade airport for my flight back to Stockholm (via London), I was physically searched by a scowling Serb in uniform with a long black club. What on earth was he looking for? As he searched me, I wondered just what circumstance would oblige him to begin beating me with his club, drag me off to a concentration camp, where I would be tortured and summarily executed? It is not unheard of, you know, for Serbian military to do such things. Radic is just as much a Croatian name as a Serbian one. Only a few years ago in this fairytale Balkan land, being a Croat in custody of a Serb soldier could mean a beating, a trip to a concentration camp, torture and/or murder. Serbia is a violent nation, for centuries on good terms with war. With their heavy, dark, orthodox religion, their aberrant patriotism and their refusal to acknowledge their collective crimes, they relive their past centuries of calamities… like clockwork.
Update February 22, 2008
Yesterday a crowd of hundreds of thousands of Serbs gathered in Belgrade to protest the declaration of the independent nation of Kosovo. The protest turned violent, the American embassy was set on fire, and one demonstrator was burned alive inside. As a Serbian American* with a Serbian father who only brought misfortune to our family, disowning all six of his children before committing suicide, I have my own personal view of the situation in Serbia. I scarcely dare reveal it... Like my father, the Serbs are very good at feeling sorry for themselves. The violence the Serbs indulge in now is an echo of the mindless violence they inflicted in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, violence that was the worst Europe has witnessed since World War II. We shudder today when we hear the name “Srebrenica” as we do when we hear the name “Auschwitz”, an obscene war crime committed by Serbs who still go free today, 13 years after the mass murder of 8,000 men and boys.
The Serbs are unwilling to accept that Kosovo is the homeland of 90% non-Serbs. They are unwilling to see that the independent nation of Kosovo is a direct result of a chain of Serbian actions. Let us recall that in 1989, exactly 600 years to the day after the Serbian defeat at the battle of Kosovo Polje on June 23, 1389 – Vidovdan – Milosevic annulled the autonomy of the Yugoslav province of Kosovo, established by Tito to insure peace in the region. Milosevic, fueled by the same ultra-nationalist fervor which set fire to the American embassy yesterday, dreamed of a “Greater Serbia” comprising Bosnia, Hercegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo. A decade after Milosevic's speech, Serbian military began a rampage in Kosovo, killing, terrorizing, torturing, raping, pillaging and plundering the non-Serb inhabitants whose families had lived in Kosovo for centuries. As the Serbian violence escalated, pandemonium was let loose in Kosovo, and the Serbs expelled 900,000 people from their homeland.
The first stage of the dream of a Greater Serbia had been realized, the same dream shared by the violent protestors in Belgrade yesterday. Kosovo had been “ethnically cleansed”. Sharing the same demented stubborness of my Serbian father, the ultra-nationalist Serbs were ready for suicide rather than to yield to the requests of the rest of Europe to – if possible – behave in a civilized manner. It was too much to ask of them. What followed was eleven weeks of bombing by NATO – every single day – until the Serbs were forced to withdraw from Kosovo, and the 900,000 non-Serb refugees allowed to return. Had the autonomous province of Kosovo established by Tito been left untouched, the Serbs today would not be protesting an independent Kosovo. Kosovo's independence is a direct result of Serbian actions. The fixation is on defeat:Religious fervor glorifies Defeat
politics annexes it to the state
and poets eulogize it in epic song.
At the dreadful core – that name: Kosovo,
holy land on the pilgrimage to Defeat
sweetly cherished like a sweetheart’s kiss.
from The Ballad of Blackbird Field
(as published in the volume A Few Odd Millennia)
* December 10, 2008: The Serbian American governor of Illinois, Milorad (Rod) Blagojevich, certainly has not improved the bad image the rest of the world has of Serbs. He was roused from bed and arrested yesterday after being caught on wiretaps deviously scheming to sell Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat for cash or a lucrative job for himself and/or his wife in the new administration. FBI agents arrested the governor before daybreak at his Chicago home and took him away while his family was still asleep, saying the wiretaps convinced them that Blagojevich's “political corruption crime spree” had to be stopped before it was too late. Blagojevich was charged with two counts: conspiracy to commit fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, and solicitation to commit bribery, which is punishable by up 10 years.
January 29, 2009: Blagojevich was impeached as Illinois governor with the entire state congress voting in favor of impeachment. There was only one “no” vote. Confirming the universal condemnation of his bad character, he used his last day in office to grant clemency to a prominent Chicago real estate developer and a former drug dealer, just hours before the vote to impeach him. “He failed the test of character. He is beneath the dignity of the state of Illinois. He is no longer worthy to be our governor,” said Sen. Matt Murphy, a Republican from suburban Chicago.
When I read the first line of a short article in today’s Dagens Nyheter about the remains of 250 people found in a drained Bosnian lake, my gut reaction was, “Can it be? More Serb atrocities?” Alas, my gut reaction was the correct one. This area in eastern Bosnia has been the focus of the Institute for Missing Persons' search for people murdered and buried in mass graves during the war in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995. When picturesque lake Perucac, surrounded by mountains and lush green hills, was investigated by boat this summer, the Institute’s experts were shot at by unknown assailants who wanted to stop the investigation, but no one was hurt. In late August the lake was partially drained and the team discovered the first remains of war victims, skulls and bones submerged in mud. They have now found the remains of about 250 people, and there may be more remains in the mud. At the beginning of the war, several thousand Bosnian Muslims were murdered by Serbs in the nearby town of Višegrad in what became known as the Višegrad massacres. The remains been transferred to the Institute's laboratory, where they will be tested for DNA to be able to establish identities, so that the Muslim families may bury their relatives.
Update September 9, 2010
birthplace of my Serbian grandmother Tamara Bukvic
More on my Serbian background...
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