Due to its past defeats politics deals with Croatian people more than is desirable. This happens on both sides of the border, except that on this, i.e. the Bosnian-Herzegovinian, side it is far more pronounced. Literature or art in general cannot escape the influence of all these events, regardless of the extent to which its representatives sometimes pretend to be independent.
Last year's Šimić Encounters could not avoid getting involved in political skirmishes. Mile Pešorda, a member of the Croatian Writers' Association of Herzeg-Bosnia (CWA HB) — the organizer of the Encounters together with the District of Grude — called another writer a Matvejevićian and provoked an unpleasant reaction. Continuing on what they had started earlier, the media came down hard on Pešorda, while later the court in Zagreb passed a sentence in his favour in his legal dispute with the real Matvejević. And as far as CWA HB is concerned, it should be noted that it has been barely managing to survive. In contrast, the Association of Writers in Bosnia and Herzegovina (AWBH), as well as the Writers' Association of the Republic Srpska (WARS), have both been officially supported. Obviously, being able to write requires an appropriate political framework. Unfortunately, the Croatians of Bosnia and Herzegovina still do not have such a framework and it is still difficult to say when they would.
Today many contemporary Croatian writers coming from Bosnia and Herzegovina either work on both sides of the border or have moved to the side where life is somewhat easier. If nothing else, at least the Constitution of that side of the border states that the Croatian language is called Croatian. Still, writers do not surrender. As far back as 1997, a project on Croatian literature in Bosnia and Herzegovina (entitled Hrvatska književnost BiH u 100 knjiga / Croatian Literature of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 100 Books) was initiated. The editor-in-chief of the series is the reputable writer Mirko Marijanović. The project encompasses Croatian literature from the time of Humačka ploča (the Tablet of Humac, lOth-llth century) to date. Over this long period of time Croatian literature has been written in three scripts: the Croatian Glagolithic script, the Bosnian Cyrillic and the Latin Script. This is a tribute to the political changes in the region in which it emerged.
In spite of this evident historical truth, the Croatian people of Bosnia and Herzegovina are still unable to have news media in the Croatian language. After their political frame, i.e. Herzeg Bosnia (while others were allowed to have their own political frame), and their economic frame, i.e. Hercegovačka banka (while others were again allowed to have their own economic frame), were shattered, finally their national language came under attack, something that — yet again — others were allowed to have. All argumentations proving them wrong, showing that even minorities — let alone constituent ethnicities — have the right to news media in their own tongue were in vain. Once Croatians stopped paying the TV subscription subscribing them to a television they did not want to watch, the TV subscription bill was integrated with their telephone bill. In other words, if you decided not to pay your TV subscription, your telephone line also got cut off regardless of the fact that you had paid all your telephone bills to date. The Office of the High Representative (OHR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a number of other international institutions and organizations are fully aware of this, and yet they claim that there is no other way. Is that so? What about justice, democracy, the UN and various other resolutions?! Pardon me for having deviated from the politically correct. I seem to have forgotten that even after the fall of communism in this region one is to act only according to strictly established rules and regulations. This is our kob, udes or kismet1 — I believe this is how it is expressed in the respective languages of the three constitutive ethnicities of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
On 27th and 28th October 2005 in Neum a scientific symposium entitled Ustavno-pravni položaj Hrvata u BiH (The Constitutional-Legal Position of Croatians in Bosnia and Herzegovina) was held. Its subtitle was: Pravni status, jezik, mediji, obrazovanje, kultura (Legal Status, Language, Media, Education, Culture). Many thought it the voice of the crying in the desert. It was an attempt to draw the attention of Bosnia and Herzegovina itself and the world to that which has been befalling one of Bosnia's constituent and sovereign nations. It is now obvious that those in positions of authority either simply did not hear or refused to hear the »cry«, as they have tirelessly continued with what they call constitutional changes. They have already set deadlines and outcomes, and all they need to do is find compliant players to implement them. By hook or by crook. Due to all of the above, the Croatian Cultural Council from Zagreb has been warning of the intentions to fully abolish the constitutive role of the Croatian people in Bosnia and Herzegovina, their language and schooling system, and has accordingly been adopting and proclaiming various declarations. The bells of politics should have tolled, but either did not toll or were not heard for some reason or other. This did not seem to be particularly upsetting to either men/women of letters or those engaged in culture, except those involved in the Croatian Cultural Council. The installed framework of »having to be politically-correct« has achieved its task. Well done!
The Croatian schooling system in Bosnia and Herzegovina still bears the brunt. This equally applies to the only institution of tertiary education in the Croatian language, and all the secondary and primary schools with a Croatian curriculum. They have managed to survive so far in spite of the intolerable pressures. I must correct myself — yet again. Closing them down was never the issue — what the issue is about are changes, progress, our path to Europe, and so on and so forth. Tremendous amounts of money were spent on persuasions, but the Croatian people again failed to understand that shutting down their schools was not the issue. What they have concluded and understand is that they need to build and open schools wherever they used to previously live regardless of the fact that they are being prevented from being there in every possible way. At the end of October 2005 a Catholic grammar school opened in Banja Luka. It is yet another school in a whole series of Catholic schools in various towns of Bosnia and Herzegovina. These schools are attended not only by Catholics but also by children of other nations and religions. This is a beautiful example of knowing how to be your own master, yet at the same time of knowing how to be open to others. It seems to me that this ought to be the guiding light of today's Europe. Am I being politically correct now or have I said something inappropriate again? Those who today protest within the schooling system could answer my question. All the games concerning the political framework of the Croatian people in Bosnia and Herzegovina have reduced them to poverty. They need to protect their rights, but those who are actually entitled to these rights are the children, parents and society as a whole. The certainty of the school year is being questioned. No one knows who is capable of solving the problems that continue to pile up and of setting the world to rights. Croatian politicians are obviously not. They too have been prescribed rules of proper conduct, i.e. what they should be doing. A melting pot — rather than a Bosnian pot2 — is threateningly simmering.
Slowly but persistently the Croatian people of Bosnia and Herzegovina have been trying to institute their own academy of sciences and arts. Needles to say, the other constitutive ethnicities already have their own. Whenever the Croatian people attempted to found their academy, they would regularly stand accused of separatism or similar intentions. And they could never understand this at all. Rather recently they have set to work again. Let us hope they will succeed. After all, hope is the only and most life-giving concept in this region. One who loses it will not have a chance to write the history of one's literature in this region, or the history of anything else for that matter, within a few decades or centuries. It will be written by the winners, whatever this may mean. It is thrilling to be different — this is shouted from the rooftops all the time. Yet, what does it mean under these conditions? I do not have the faintest idea!
And before I forget, Dani Matice hrvatske (Days of Matica hrvatska) are about to open in Mostar in April. The event used to be called Uskrs s Maticom (Easter with Matica), but the idea of Mostarsko proljeće (The Spring of Mostar) has slowly been taking root. Within the scope of these Days Mostarsko književno proljeće (The Literary Spring of Mostar) will also be held. They claim that it is to be an international evening of literature in collaboration with AWBH, the Croatian Writers' Association and CWA HB. Things are not all that clear, but let us wait and see. Making friends is great, but being and remaining master of your own fate is just as great. Only that is fullness, i.e. being politically correct. Let us look forward to the spring!
1Translator’s note: the three words in italics – kob, udes, kismet – are not translated but are left in the original because of the sentence that follows. Once translated though, all three words mean the same thing – i.e. fate, destiny and/or kismet – in the three respective languages of Bosnia and Herzegovina (i.e. Croatian, Serbian and Bosnian).
2Translator’s note: »Bosnian pot« is the literal rendition of »bosanski lonac«, which is the name of an actual Bosnian meat and vegetable casserole.
Most (The Bridge), 1-2, Društvo hrvatskih književnika / The Croatian writers’ association, Zagreb, June 2006, pages 70 – 71