| Diwan Special issue|

Čedo Prica Plitvički

Born in 1931 in Plitvice (Croatia), lives in Zagreb (Croatia).

VLADO GOTOVAC a human destiny in the fire-swept zone of the homeland

Ever since his high school days, Vlado Gotovac has constantly been surrounded by people with a provincial mentality who, because of their existential anxieties, would faithfully and without any shame serve each one of the rotating, ideologically different authorities. It is the very same type of people who, according to Franc Werfel’s belief and intellectual experience, simply despise and fear the word intellectual. So, is everything that happened to the poet and intellectual Vlado Gotovac in such surroundings any wonder at all? And it is certainly no wonder that it was the poet and intellectual Vlado Gotovac, a former prisoner and sufferer for the independent Republic of Croatia, who asked publicly: ’Croatia, yes, but what kind of Croatia?’

The authorities that ruled the independent and law-respecting Croatia were concerned about this question. However, their concerns were somewhat different and subtler than those of the former ideological authorities, who had ended up in the rubbish bin of history. But in this new, nationally free and law-respecting country no one could be put on trial for the issue of nationalism anymore. Responding to the ’provocative’ question raised by Vlado Gotovac had to be done in accordance with the times and current events: perhaps by eliminating him in one of the fire-swept zones of the homeland, so as not to let this ’Croatian Havel’ direct Croatia towards Western Europe, where its natural and geopolitical place is. Vlado Gotovac, however, had predicted this method of their rule. He often boldly fought for the freedom of the individual, which is the metaphor for the freedom of any community, society or nation; he fought for it and almost sensed new threats not only for his personal freedom, but also for the freedom of the individual in general. Can one of the darkest images of political crime, the attempted murder of the poet and humanist Vlado Gotovac in Pula, ever be forgotten?

Questions about a free and honourable existence of each individual as well as questions about freedom as a first and foremost condition for bare existence, living and working have always been out in the fire-swept zone of the Homeland. They have been neither rhetorical nor metaphoric questions so as to pleasingly stylise the phrase as a question about freedom. That question was built into his Kantian categorical, moral and contemplative system, aimed at unambiguous criticism of those authorities who use their power only as a means to an end: usurpation, obtaining possessions at the expense of the whole community, even bringing poverty upon it if necessary, so that they can satisfy their immoral greediness. Having been surrounded by irrational ugliness, and an everlasting and growing appetite for social and political immorality, Gotovac developed his poetical, essayistic, philosophical and polemical works, knowing that the world of such ’virtues’ would not be changed, yet never ceasing to oppose it as such and never accepting its offers. It is quite enough to name just a few of the titles from his rich bibliography, or even some titles of certain collected poems and essays, in order to recognise his human principle of living and creating.

’Dangerous Space’, ’And To Be Justified’, ’Forbidden Eternity’, ’The Black Clock-Hand’, ’Black Sails’, ’My Case’…and hundreds of titles of other essays and polemics, collections of poems testify in favour of his constant preoccupation with the concepts of existence and freedom. It is thus even when he writes a poem while listening to his favourite composer Johann Sebastian Bach; when he dedicates titles to Croatia: ’The Traps of Our Path’, ’Freedom and Loyalty to the Truth’, ’Croatia as an Alarm’; when he discusses the reality of everyday life: ’Towards the Everyday’, ’The Scene of Our World’, ’I Try to Get the Life’, ’Free Loneliness’; and when he, in a prison cell, creates a unique manuscript of Croatian literature, which was usually silent on ideological crimes committed by power-holders, hoping that one day it would regain its innocence and rehabilitate the days of its futile sufferings. To put it simply: Vlado Gotovac creates all of his essay and polemics chapters, diary units and fragments, ethical and other philosophical thinking about ’crime and punishment’, under the motto from his ’Stellar Plague’: WHEN JUSTICE IS SILENT, YOU MUST REPRESENT THE TRUTH YOURSELF.

Gotovac’s poetic and essayistic spirit, adequately paired with his liberal political commitment and, especially, his tribunal rhetoric are, as a whole, situated in the second half of the 20th century, in the central and avant-garde part of Croatian literature, from the beginning of the fifties until the very end of the century. According to the scheme of a short-term literary history, such as Croatian literary history, written in the scholastic and educational manner, Gotovac is a prominent representative of the so-called ’circle’ generation. Taken literally, it is not the incorrect term, but at the same time it is a huge limitation for the width and depth of his poetic and essayistic spirit. Namely, his poetics, both in lyrics and in essays, outgrow Matošević-Ujević’s themes and syntax, and widen the boundaries of their Western European circle until the appearance of the new Italian, Spanish and English poetry. Not only did he discover Eliot, but he also adopted his contemplative, metaphysical reflexivity, giving fresh impetus to his talent in a poem called ’Echo’, for example, so that many poets and, especially, critics (even today) have been surprised by his talent. Naturally, it would be an exaggeration to say that they were also confused, still doubtful and, just in case, kept their distance. There is nothing unusual about it: it happens, as always, with the coming of those who have been invited to elevate the quality of the world of literature, poetics and contemplation to the higher level, the level of new creative possibilities without which the new door of literature cannot be opened.

And through Gotovac’s door of literature, a new generation of writers and poets is entering the new age of creation. Among them are, undoubtedly, his followers who will, unlike his contemporaries, know how to speak wisely, boldly and critically about the work of their predecessor and teacher.

Written in Zagreb, read in Tuzla, on September 27, 2002, at the promotion of the ’Vlado Gotovac’ Institute

Translated by Mirza Džanić


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