Serbia’s Greatest Living Poet

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[photo courtesy of the Momo Kapor Foundation]

He told me that while on the houseboat on the Sava River, during the course(s) of the 5-hour meal, while Zarko was translating for Peter and the Serbian journalist, he approached Matija Beckovic and through the translation of Mladen Materic, told him that Zarko had said he was Serbia’s greatest living poet.

Thank you, he said, in Mladen’s translation.

You’re welcome, he replied. But you should know, in my experience Zarko is a notorious liar.

Mladen looked up at him suddenly, he said. When Mladen saw that he was smiling, he translated the comment.

Beckovic nodded, pursed his thin lips, and said, in Mladen’s translation, He’s well known as a liar, but not in this case.

As his photo indicates, Beckovic is a good-natured man. He wore a Sherlock-Holmes hat as he approached the houseboat.

When he returned home, he told me, he found and ordered two works by Beckovic in translation: a play called “CHE: A Permanent Tragedy,” written with Duzan Radovic, and a set of satyrical essays called “Random  Targets.” The book, which the bookseller classified as in “good condition,” arrived in less-than-good condition.

Harcourt Brace Jovanovich originally charged $5.75 for the 1970 hardcover, translated by Drenka Willen. The tattered book jacket has three price tags that offer the book for $3.95, for ??? (the red tag that has been partially ripped off), and at the Community Thrift Store for $1.00.Image

The essay “On the Abuse of Democracy” reads as follows:

There’s a new catchword: the “abuse” of democracy.

In spite of all my efforts to solve this riddle, I have been unsuccessful.

How can democracy be abused?

Killing a man is not an abuse of democracy, but a criminal act. The same goes for stealing. An antistate act is not an abuse of democracy, but, rather, a crime with known legal consequences.

What, then, could the “abuse” of democracy mean?

Walking in the rain without an umbrella, being a vegetarian, a miser, being illiterate, hungry, moody, irritable? Every human has a right to be these. They can’t be called an abuse of democracy.

Standing on one foot, talking nonsense, being without talent, writing bad books, writing bad poems — all these are the prerogatives of a free man. No, they’re not an abuse of democracy, either.

What sort of democracy is it that no one can abuse?

Some believe democracy to be a “void” between two clear conditions.

In that void one can smoke, think of something else, write poems, make love.

Is there too much smoking, too much thinking, too much writing, and too much love-making? Are these an abuse of democracy?

There are people who can do without democracy altogether. They believe democracy to be a luxury, affectation, fad, the right of every nonentity to think, desire, and love. As they see it, the current democracy has nothing to do with that great democracy of the remote future. No all are entitled to democracy yet. Real democracy is anarchy. Democracy is not for everyone.

Democracy should be kept for holidays, anniversaries, and special achievements.

We must be sparing with democracy. So as not to use it up.

Democracy is for books, programs, shopwindows, and museums.

Each use of democracy is an abuse.

Democracy should not be sullied by hands or dragged along in the streets. It should not be introduced in substandard flats and underdeveloped areas. It’s a sacred word, an abstract noun — no man is worthy of democracy.

Or freedom, for that matter.

The people were so eager for freedom that they wanted to eat it, to satisfy their individual appetites. They celebrated it, loved it, hated it, flirted with it, and played with it. They gave it the most unusual names.

And then came the grave pronouncement: Democracy is being abused.

Democracy exists, and it has laws to protect it. Everyone can distinguish between freedom and crime. It’s easy to tell where freedom stops and crime begins.

Outside the law, democracy needs no keepers. Laws do no dictate freedom and democracy; they make it possible.

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The privilege of some has become the right of all. The old cliches — the voice of the people, the will of the people, the interests of the people — have become real.

Democracy is chaste. Healthy. Innocent. It serves nothing but democracy. Thus it is impossible to abuse democracy.

The abuse of democracy is the favorite topic of those who would abuse it most gladly. Of those who do not recognize views, tastes, moods, and interests outside their own.

Can there be too much democracy?

Well, there are people who still think that too much democracy inevitably leads to catastrophe. Which can be delayed by the old injustice, by crime, by wars, and by bombs. All this — for the good of humanity.

About Scott Abbott

I received my Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University in 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I directed the Program in Integrated Studies for its initial 13 years and was also Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy for three years. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (REPETITIONS and VAMPIRES & A REASONABLE DICTIONARY, published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade and in English with Punctum Books), a book with Sam Rushforth (WILD RIDES AND WILDFLOWERS, Torrey House Press), a "fraternal meditation" called IMMORTAL FOR QUITE SOME TIME (University of Utah Press), and translations of three books by Austrian author Peter Handke, of an exhibition catalogue called "The German Army and Genocide," and, with Dan Fairbanks, of Gregor Mendel's important paper on hybridity in peas. More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and dance/yoga studio manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as an ecologist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a parole officer, as a contractor, as a seasonal worker (Alaska and Park City, Utah), and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett, with whom I have written a cultural history of barbed wire -- THE PERFECT FENCE (Texas A&M University Press). Some publications at http://works.bepress.com/scott_abbott/
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