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February 21, 1994
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 126
A Letter by Stevan Tontic

History's Lost Soul

I wish to thank you for the award which the Matica Srpska and its jury have given to my book ``Sarajevski rukopis.'' I would have been a lot more happier if it hadn't been written at all. But, there we are. I have great respect for the Matica and the poet Jovan Jovanovic Zmaj, and the poets among you. Novi Sad has always had a special place in my heart. I am grateful to Novi Sad for its role in preserving literary memories.

It was Rimbaud who said that he had enough memories to last a millennium.

Today, however, dear friends, I find this impossible. It is forbidden me to think of literary awards and the pleasant hours spent in Novi Sad or any other city of our broken up and humiliated country, torn apart by war, violence, political insanity and misery. If an attempt at poetry from the hell of Sarajevo is being awarded and recognized, then the author, and who I ask, is the Author in this case?cannot accept such an award without the deepest dejection in the face of the unimaginable tragedy which has befallen his city, and the whole of the now ``former'' Bosnia-Herzegovina. The award cannot be accepted without a public, and an impossible protest against all those who decide on the life and the death of men and nations. Absurd destruction and terrible crimes against the civilian population which have been done there, scream to the sky, but the sky is deaf to the shriek of people devastated by pain. This is the failure of civilization in Yugoslavia, the surrender of the domestic, the European and the world political mind! What satanic production is this, what horrible spectacle of ruin!

In Sarajevo, in Mostar, in a thousand places in Bosnia, in the cities, the towns and villages, Christ has been nailed to the cross many times in the past two years. They are still crucifying Him, day and night, and as the poet watched, he felt shame at belonging to the homo sapiens, and envied plants and minerals. He cared not for poetry, but just prayed, with the just sound and sense of his mother tongue, defending himself thus from insanity, and fratricide, the crime which saturated the land with blood and destroyed the skies.

He defended himself, but did not do so the end. He did not take his life out of Sarajevo, but his death. And this is a lot. He was given hope that he would be able to die without violence, with dignity, in the lost image of a man at peace with himself and others. And let it be known that it was poetry which helped him achieve this! Only the language of poetry, its gift, could not, dared not falsify and lie. Poetry spoke with the absent God and offered spiritual protection from the world's horror and insanity, from an incomprehensible hubris, protecting the poet from himself, too! He who turned to poetry, cast in the testimony of expression, horror for himself and those closest to him. Poetry safeguarded him who believed in it, from falling, from the knife, from hatred, from the grave, while he, fearful and shuddering, was just the instrument of its orders. In these orders, in these currents of the inexpressible towards expression, into language and statement, there, in the midst of Hell, strength arises, strength which gives hope, and hope is represented in Christ's image and that of spiritual teachers. It seemed, or perhaps it is just my imagination, my hallucinations, that these infusions of the transcendental, this support of the weaker ones, the desperate ones, came from the hidden depths and the peaceful and tragic surges in the tradition of the Serbian language of poetry (and this is where we come across Zmaj), and not from the foaming whirlpools and shallows of contemporary history, political and poetical thought.

The ethos of poetry has proved to be, for me, the only road to redemption.

Ariadne's thread of poetry, thrown into the darkness, threaded through the eye of a needle.

Will we thread our way through the Last Judgement? Will there be redemption?

Can poetry save, or at least atone for the lost soul of History?

Oh, if it would but see that the soul of the martyrs in Sarajevo were not to die!

And know this, gentlemen! All who have managed, by some miracle to leave Sarajevo, are haunted by the same feeling: is he not guilty for staying alive! (Langenbroich, February 11, 1994)

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