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The Nonconformists

Nick Miller

Chapter 4. Drama and Politics: Mihiz in the Sixties

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  • 1 Laza Čurčić, “Mihiz,” in Janković and Janković, eds., Drugi o Mihizu, 248–49.
  • 2 Borislav Mihajlović, Izdajice (Belgrade: Beogradski izdavačko-grafički zavod, 1986) 5–119.
  • 3 Janković and Janković, eds. Drugi o Mihizu, 490.

1Whereas Ćosić inhabited the upper reaches of power in Yugoslavia, Borislav Mihajlović Mihiz was banished from its margins to its backwoods. Following his flirtations with Djilasism and its namesake, he left his comfortable perch at NIN for the directorship of the Matica Srpska library, which he held from 1956 to 1960. By most accounts, he felt exiled, rather bitter, but nevertheless committed to his new position. He knew nothing about the job, but as a bibliophile and user of libraries, he found his way.1 After 1960, he worked as an artistic advisor to Avala Film, the Belgrade film company. He had long loved the theater, and directed three plays between 1956 and 1963. Then, in February 1963, his own first play was performed. In Banović Strahinja, Mihiz dramatized one of the most well-known poems in the Serbian folk tradition, the story of Strahinić Ban, the lord of the small territory of Banjska, just northwest of modern Mitrovica.2 Mihiz’s interpretation was performed at the Yugoslav Drama Theater as the “first work of a contemporary Serbian writer performed on the main stage of the YDT.”3 The play was handed the prestigious Sterija Prize for Drama in 1963, in a competition that is still held each year.

  • 4 Feliks Pašić, “Da ponovo ne budem imao šta da kažem,” in Borislav Mihajlović Mihiz, Kazivanja i uk (...)
  • 5 Jovan Ćirilov, “Mihizove čudne izdajice,” in Mihiz, Izdajice, 387.
  • 6 Ćirilov, “Mihizove čudne izdajice,” 387.
  • 7 Ćirilov, “Mihizove čudne izdajice,” 388.
  • 8 Pašić, “Da ponovo ne budem imao šta da kažem,” 61.

2Mihiz moved from criticism to drama because of his “innate inclination to the spoken word, to the divine and difficult phenomenon of dialogue which no other style can replace.”4 He was motivated to dramatize the poem “Banović Strahinja” by spite, according to Jovan Ćirilov, Serbia’s preeminent drama critic.5 Mihiz had been told by a friend that it was impossible to produce a good drama based on Serbian epic poetry because not enough was known about the world of medieval Serbia. “Without a realistic setting there is no true drama,” Mihiz was told.6 That did not deter Mihiz, who ignored the realistic setting (when he offered the play to the YDT, he demanded that the main character, Jug Bogdan, be presented as “ordinary, and as visually conventional as possible”7), altered the focus of the poem’s plot, elevated the characters of Strahinić Ban’s wife and her father, Jug Bogdan, and allowed anachronisms to flourish (in a warning to the reader, Mihiz notes that “anachronisms in it are deliberate, even when they are incidental”), all in order to prove that one of Serbia’s bestknown folk epics could be made relevant. Mihiz said that “the possibility of realizing the human behavior and powerful conflict of private (Strahinić Ban’s) and public (Jug Bogdan’s) humanism drew me personally.”8 Also, the woman’s role in the play, and in all of Serbian epic poetry, seemed to him oversimplified.

  • 9 The poem is translated in Milne Holton and Vasa D. Mihailovich, Songs of the Serbian People: From (...)
  • 10 Holton and Mihailovich, Songs, 128.
  • 11 Holton and Mihailovich, Songs, 130.

3The original “Banović Strahinja” tells the story of Strahinić Ban, the ruler of a small territory in Kosovo on the eve of the legendary Battle of Kosovo.9 He has been called to Kruševac to consult with the other lords of the Serbian realm as the Ottoman armies gather on Kosovo plain. While visiting his in-laws, Jug Bogdan and his nine sons, in Kruševac, he gets word that his home has been ransacked, his mother beaten, and his wife kidnapped by the Ottoman vassal Vlah Alija. In the poem, dramatic tension surfaces between Strahinić Ban and Jug Bogdan, his wife’s father. Strahinić Ban wishes to take his nine brothers-in-law to rescue his wife, their sister, but Jug Bogdan will not allow it, as his daughter has already undoubtedly shamed them all by sleeping with Vlah Alija. Strahinić Ban goes alone to Goleč Mountain, where Vlah Alija is camped. In spite of the fact that his wife helps Vlah Alija (giving Strahinić Ban his only injuries), Strahinić Ban conquers Vlah Alija. In the end he goes “straight for the throat of the Turk, seizes that throat, he bites it with his teeth, and he kills him as a wolf kills a lamb.”10 Strahinić Ban returns to Kruševac with his wife, where her brothers are ordered by Jug Bogdan to kill her for her shameful behavior. Strahinić Ban steps in and orders them to cease; he forgives his wife. The original poem indicates that Strahinić Ban did so for mercenary reasons. He did not wish to sever his ties with her family, the Jugović clan: “And then I would have no one with whom to drink. And so it is I forgive my true love.”11

4The original poem focused on the despair of patriarchal values and on individual heroism, with literally no examination of the wife’s motives. In the original, Strahinić Ban’s mother reports the attack of Vlah Alija as follows:

  • 12 Holton and Mihailovich, Songs, 112.

He chased away all of your faithful servants,
and so he brought grief to your old mother,
he broke her bones under his horse’s hooves,
and took away your faithful wife, he did,
and he took her off to Kosovo field.
There he kisses your wife beneath his tent,
and I, my son, wail in the burned-out home,
the while you drink red wine in Kruševac.
May that cursed wine bring the wrath upon you!12

5In the poem, the wife is thus introduced as only the third in a line of material losses to Strahinić Ban, and no more reference is made to her until the very end, when she proves the mother right (she had indeed been kissed “beneath the tent”). In the poem, we know only that the wife eventually takes the side of her captor:

  • 13 Holton and Mihailovich, Songs, 128.

She quickly finds a bit of broken saber,
she wraps it up in an embroidered scarf,
for she would not injure her own white hand.
And she follows this way now and that way,
guarding the head of Turk Vlah Alija.
And then she strikes at her former master,
her own husband, the proud Strahinić Ban,
right on the head, on the turban feather,
and the turban, all wound around the head.
She cuts in half the golden turban feather;
she cuts straight through his own white-wound turban,
makes a slight cut there on the hero’s head.
The blood begins to run down the ban’s face,
and to threaten to blind both of his eyes.13

6Thus the character of the wife, whose act of treason sets in motion the drama of the poem, is a static figure who only appears twice, and in the most formulaic of postures.

7Mihiz’s adaptation shifts the drama from the relationship between Strahinić Ban and Jug Bogdan (where the wife’s fate is decided) to the marriage of Strahinić Ban and his wife, unnamed in poem and play. Mihiz makes the wife’s motivations the key to the plot. Before Strahinić Ban leaves for Kruševac, his wife gives him a letter to give to her mother when he arrives. He reads it and begs her to wait for his return to deliver the letter. She agrees, but only Strahinić Ban and his wife know its contents. Thus he knows the tragic secret of her betrayal of him, which soon follows—for betrayal it is, in the play, without any ambiguity, and by her choice (she is not a captive; rather, she offers herself to Vlah Alija). Strahinić Ban’s motivation for saving her, and then for not allowing her to be killed by her vengeful brothers, is removed from the folk epic’s realm of the inscrutable and becomes part of a modern psychological drama. Near the end of Mihiz’s play, we and the Jugovićes discover the reason for the wife’s betrayal. Her letter to her mother, kept secret till then by Strahinić Ban, reads:

  • 14 Mihajlović, Banović Strahinja, 99.

I am writing you so that you know that I believe I owe nobody anything. I govern my own life, with which I will always do what I wish. Forgotten by my own and living among strangers, I have decided to interrupt this false situation of misunderstanding and to withdraw into a monastery. No, I do not do that out of an exaggerated piety, nor from the desire for peace (what would peace be to me?), nor from a deeply broken heart…I do it in order to inter, better and deeper, my failed and wrongly initiated life.14

  • 15 Mihajlović, Banović Strahinja, 107.

8Strahinić Ban is the only person, aside, perhaps, from Jug Bogdan, who understands his wife’s twentieth-century emotions and motivations. Her brothers, Vojin and Boško certainly do not. Vojin coldly asks his father: “Are you convinced by our investigation to this point that this woman went off with the Turk and became his lover of her own free will? Please answer briefly and clearly.”15 Vojin, Boško, their mother, and Jug Bogdan decide her fate: for adultery, she shall have both nipples cut off; for treason, she shall be drawn and quartered.

  • 16 Holton and Mihailovich, Songs 130.
  • 17 Mihajlović, Banović Strahinja, 115.
  • 18 Mihajlović, Banović Strahinja, 119.

9Mihiz also animated the important but neglected character of Jug Bogdan, primarily with a wry sensibility that was not present in the original poem. In Mihiz’s Jug Bogdan, who spews irony-laced speeches and intellectual asides, one hears the voice of the author. In place of the one dimensional character of the poem, whose only intemperate line comes when he demands that his sons “cut to pieces this vile bitch, your sister,”16 Mihiz offers the viewer a father who follows the rules of a patriarchal society only because his own wife, a tradition-bound woman who never appears on stage, demands it. When Strahinić Ban returns to Kruševac with his wife, Vojin and Boško prepare her fate. Strahinić Ban steps in, proclaims that the decision is not theirs to make (for, by “the customs of our ancestors and the laws of our tsars,” he announces, “this woman is no longer a Jugović”17), and announces that she can return to their modest home in Banjska. Jug Bogdan is asked by his oldest son Vojin, who most believed that his sister should die, whether he is “now happy.” Jug Bogdan responds, “I am not happy, Vojin, no. But less unhappy, by all means. You know, not much remains to me, and to lose more would be hard on me.”18 Jug Bogdan has travelled quite a distance from poem to play.

  • 19 Pašić, “Da ponovo ne budem imao šta da kažem,” 61.
  • 20 Pašić, “Da ponovo ne budem imao šta da kažem,” 62.

10The poem “Banović Strahinja” leaves much to the imagination; it does not provide a clear answer to the question why Strahinić Ban forgave his wife. Mihiz modernized the story by describing a heroism that no longer derived from the hero’s martial qualities and compassion, but from his recognition that individuals do not conform to set patriarchal patterns. He introduced ambiguity into human behavior, and was thus absolved of the need to explain anything absolutely. In writing the play, Mihiz said that the woman’s role in all of Serbian epic poetry seemed to him “totally simplified, vulgar, and fundamentally scornful.” Mihiz felt compelled to show that “such a hero [as Strahinić Ban] would show such understanding for the dark impulse behind the sin of a woman.”19 Mihiz wished to “transform a story about heroism into a drama of treason, forgiveness, sin, prejudice, and the impossibility of judging.”20 The original poem did not attempt to examine the wife’s motivations and therefore allowed only for the odd ritual embedded in Strahinić Ban’s final resolution.

  • 21 Borislav Mihajlović, Komandant Sajler, in Mihajlović, Izdajice, 272.
  • 22 Mihajlović, Komandant Sajler, 233.

11In 1966, Mihiz’s second play, Komandant Sajler, was published. Although the setting was radically different from that of Banović Strahinja, both were historical and both dealt with the individual entrapped by conditions—in Banović Strahinja’s case, social conventions, in Komandant Sajler, ideological commitment. Komandant Sajler was set in a town in the Banat on September 13 and 14, 1941. Wilhelm Sajler, a captain in the SS, was the perfect Nazi specimen (“Height: Tall. Color of Hair: Blond. Color of eyes: dark blue. Nose: straight. Face: Longish. Racial origins checked to the fourth generation.”).21 Sajler also happened to have been born in that same town in the Banat, the son of Volskdeutsch parents. He fell in love with Jelena, a Serbian girl, but then left his home at the age of eighteen to study law in Vienna. He soon joined the National Socialist Party, finding a new love: “it was not a woman, it was love for my German nation. A complete, total love, love without reserve and without exception.”22 When the war began, he fought in Poland and then on the western front. In war-torn Serbia, he came home to head the military administration of his occupied hometown. There his past confronts him.

  • 23 Mihajlović, Komandant Sajler, 240.

12His first test comes in the form of a request from his own brother, Feri, that an old friend of their family, a Jew named Melchior Weiss, be allowed to flee to Switzerland to avoid deportation. Komandant Sajler does not allow Weiss, who had funded his own education, to flee, ordering him arrested immediately. His second test is his old girlfriend Jelena, who is married now to a Serbian doctor who has just been arrested. Jelena approaches him to ask for mercy; Sajler pronounces himself unable and unwilling to help, since her husband is a local communist party leader. “My honor does not allow it,” he tells her.23 Her husband would be shot that night. When Jelena attempts and fails to shoot Sajler in his office, he shows some compassion by telling his assistant that he himself had accidentally fired a shot from his own revolver.

  • 24 Mihajlović, Komandant Sajler, 292.

13Sajler’s final test offers more of a challenge: he discovers that he is actually the son of Melchior Weiss, the Jew he had just ordered arrested. Weiss, Sajler finds out, had gotten his mother pregnant and then asked Sajler’s father, Karl, to marry her and raise the child as his own. After melodramatic, imagined nighttime confrontations with his various interlocutors, Komandant Sajler determines his only possible fate: he will pay, he tells a colleague, “as the fate of blood has ordained. Arrest me, take me to the camp for Jews, and I will enjoy the fate of the Jew.”24 That he is then murdered by the colleague does not change the fact that he had remained loyal to his own convictions, his honor intact. Komandant Sajler did not achieve the same heights as Banović Strahinja, although it, unlike its predecessor, was performed outside of Yugoslavia, in Austria, where it could have been expected to create a stir.

14Mihiz undoubtedly considered Komandant Sajler a frank reckoning with the evil that was Nazism, but it is unsubtle. Willi Sajler is evil, and an ideologue whose behavior consists of the crudest caricatures. Komandant Sajler was written in the full confidence that the (German, Nazi) people described were truly different: Mihiz would never have acknowledged that the sort of evil that he described might be found within himself or his people. He looked at the evil in “others” rather than the evil within us all. Not that Mihiz should at that point have searched his own soul—Komandant Sajler appeared at a point when nationalisms were again on the rise within Yugoslavia. In particular, the Croatian Spring, which began in 1967 and lasted through 1971, was about to arrive, and Serbs would once again perceive themselves to be victims of other people’s nationalism. Mihiz’s written reckoning with the nationalism of others rendered him supremely confident of their grounding when it came time to deal with Croatian nationalism. He soon had his chance.


  • 25 “Postavlja se pitanje konkretne odgovornosti pisaca komunista koji su potpisali‘Predlog za razmišl (...)
  • 26 Along with Ćosić, Isaković had expressed reservations about the way the Ranković affair was handle (...)

15On March 31, 1967, as a member of the communist writers’ aktiv, Antonije Isaković was called before the City Committee of the League of Communists of Belgrade. That committee wished to discuss a recent foray into public life by the Serbian Writers’ Association, in the form of a document that came to be known as the “Proposal for Consideration” (Predlog za razmišljanje).25 Mihiz, the other co-author of the document, but not a member of the League of Communists, would be spared inquisition for a few more days. But Isaković, a member of the party since the Second World War and an acclaimed short story author, was also a member of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Serbia, and the head of the Prosveta publishing house. Until now, the League of Communists had had little cause to question his credentials, loyalty, or adherence to the party line.26 But the Belgrade City Committee had already deemed the Proposal for Consideration an outrageous attack on brotherhood and unity only somewhat less infuriating than its Croatian predecessor, the “Declaration on the Name and Position of the Croatian Literary Language” (Deklaracija o nazivu i položaju hrvatskoga književnog jezika). Since the Proposal was a product of the Serbian milieu, the Belgrade City Committee had to clean up the mess, according to the obdurate logic of Titoism, which dictated that nationalist excesses be addressed by the same national party leadership. Isaković bowed uncomfortably before this authority, although he had some difficulty understanding the uproar.

  • 27 I am using the translation by Spalatin, “Serbo-Croatian or Serbian and Croatian?” 6–9.

16The Declaration, to which the Proposal was a response, was issued by nineteen Croatian institutions and signed by 130 people (80 of them party members, including Miroslav Krleža), on March 15, 1967, and sent to the federal parliament as a petition on the same day.27 The Declaration made two demands of the federal government. First, in place of the usual formulation that held that in Yugoslavia there were three official literary languages (“Serbo-Croatian or Croato-Serbian,” Slovenian, and Macedonian), the constitution should be amended to read that there were four: Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian, and Macedonian. In other words, the practice of considering Serbian and Croatian a single language should be ended, with the status of “literary language” now accorded to both Serbian and Croatian. Second, the Declaration demanded “the consistent use of the Croatian literary language in the schools, the press, the public and political forums, on radio and the television networks whenever the broadcasts are directed to a Croatian audience.” Furthermore, “officials, teachers, and public workers, irrespective of their origin, should use in their official dealings the language of the milieu in which they live.”

  • 28 The Novi Sad Agreement of 1954 is printed in Slavko Vukomanović, Jezik, društvo, nacija (Belgrade: (...)

17These demands broke recently established precedent in Yugoslavia, which held that Serbian and Croatian were the same language, divided only by “stylistic differences” which rendered them, at most, two variants. That precedent was established in 1954 following negotiations between Serbian and Croatian literary figures and linguists, in the so-called Novi Sad Agreement, which gave the language a name, “Serbo-Croatian or Croato-Serbian,” which was designated one language “with two pronunciations, ijekavian and ekavian.”28 Other differences that existed between the two forms of Serbo-Croatian were bartered out of common usage, other negotiations were planned for a common orthography (finally produced in 1960), and “Serbo-Croatian or Croato-Serbian” became a potential living language. The Novi Sad Agreement became state policy, and schooling, publishing, and broadcasting followed its lead. The federal constitution and all documents of state referred consistently to the language in question as “Serbo-Croatian or Croato-Serbian,” which was cumbersome but the only compromise which respected the equality of the two versions of the language, and equality was a fundamental requirement of Tito’s communist governance of Yugoslavia, even at the cost of cultural logic and historical continuity. Authorities in Croatia would use ijekavian, while in Belgrade ekavian would be the official form. The Novi Sad Agreement was an act of human cultural engineering, designed to create a unified language where none previously existed.

  • 29 Miloš Moskovljević, Rečnik srpskohrvatskog književnog jezika s jezičkim savetnikom (Belgrade: Noli (...)

18Engineering or not, the agreement became one of the cultural foundations of Tito’s Yugoslavia. As with most of the cultural engineering projects in Yugoslavia to that point, Serbs were most content with this one because it promised to protect their divided community—as did, for instance, the notion of a supranational socialist Yugoslavism. In this case, they found refuge from one potential form of aggressive assimilation by one of their neighbors, the Croats. The Novi Sad Agreement might have lacked legitimacy, but it did have authority, and it did rather heavy-handedly assure that in Croatia or Bosnia Serbs would never have to learn and/or speak a language called “Croatian,” and this was important to a people who had been subjected to a genocidal policy by a Croatian government during World War II. But the signatories of the Declaration argued that with Belgrade as the center of the federal government, the Serbian form of the language had gained predominance as a de-facto state language: “the Croatian literary language is disregarded and is reduced to the status of a local dialect.” So, according to the Declaration, the Novi Sad Agreement actually had produced an actively anti-Croatian situation—namely, it was “possible in practice to circumvent, distort, and violate these [Novi Sad] principles within the broader distortions of our social and economic reality.” Those “distortions” included the conspiracy headed by Ranković, so recently uncovered by progressive forces: “the circumstances under which statism, unitarism, and hegemony have been revived are well known.” It did not help that in 1966, a dictionary by one Miloš Moskovljević was published in Belgrade entitled Rečnik srpskohrvatskog književnog jezika s jezičkim savetnikom.29 This dictionary offended Croats, with good reason, as it rejected Croatian forms and raised Serbian usages to the level of standards for the entire “Serbo- Croatian” literary language. Then, in 1967, the first two volumes of the dictionary envisioned by the Novi Sad Agreement appeared; they also tended to devalue standard Croatian words and phrases.

19In justifying their demand that the Croatian language be considered a literary language equal to Serbian, the formulators of the Declaration invoked arguments that did not overtly challenge Tito’s national settlement in Yugoslavia but nonetheless portended ill for the future of that settlement: “The principle of national sovereignty and complete equality [which was integral to Tito’s communism] encompasses the right of each of our nations to protect all the attributes of its national identity and to fully develop not only its economy but also its culture,” they wrote.

Among these attributes, the national name of the language spoken by Croats is of paramount importance, because it is the inalienable right of every people to call its language by its own national name [such a right was not integral to Tito’s communism], irrespective of whether in a philological sense this language is shared in its entirety or through a separate variant by another people.

  • 30 The framers of the Declaration tried to reconcile their claims with the Novi Sad Agreement, but co (...)

20These assertions placed the rights of a Croatian nation above those of the collective population of Yugoslavia, whose “brotherhood and unity” should have taken precedence over the needs and desires of individual ethnic groups within the state. Brotherhood and unity were, in turn, conceptually assured by the mechanism of formal equality in Yugoslav law. The Novi Sad Agreement imposed that unity on the linguistic plane. By disingenuously attacking the Novi Sad Agreement, the Declaration stormed one of the cultural foundations of stability in Tito’s Yugoslavia.30 The document was signed by representatives of the Matica hrvatska, the Croatian Writers’ Society, the language and literature departments of the Universities in Zagreb and Zadar and of the Yugoslav Academy of Sciences and Arts, and other organizations, totalling nineteen.

21The sentiments that gave birth to the Declaration were not new or too surprising, and they were not as dangerous as the fact that they were expressed outside the normal channel of party forums. Tito’s Yugoslavia was constructed around a series of self-fulfilling prophecies, and all was well as long as no one questioned them. The crime of the signatories of the Declaration was that they unilaterally repudiated and publicly frustrated one of Tito’s prophecies: in this case, that Serbs and Croats would get along if provided formal equality. The Declaration was therefore greeted by a quick and harsh response across Yugoslavia. The response of the League of Communists was straightforward: it proclaimed the Declaration an attempt to destroy the brotherhood and unity of the Serbs and Croats. The Declaration, however, also moved many of Serbia’s leading literary lights to action, albeit of a different sort. The “Proposal for Consideration,” drawn up during a meeting of the Serbian Writers’ Association, remains somewhat mysterious, largely because it was unofficial and less widely disseminated. But the sentiments that informed its creation were just as deeply felt and potentially destructive as those which led to the issuance of the Declaration. Where the Declaration’s fruits were meant to be enjoyed immediately, however, the Proposal’s warning would take some time to mature.

  • 31 The numbers 42 and 45 were reported in “Rodu o jeziku,” in Književne novine (298) April 1, 1967, 1 (...)
  • 32 Branimir Šćepanović reported that “I signed, but not for cretins, rather for people who would unde (...)

22Of some 300 writers present at the meeting of the Serbian Writers’ Association on March 19 when the Proposal was presented, 42 signed (the authors were known as “a group of writers”). Twenty-one of them were members of the League of Communists.31 Mihiz claimed to have been instrumental in drawing up the response to the Declaration, Isaković is credited with having been another main author, and Zoran Gavrilović, a literary critic, appears to have presented it to the membership of the Serbian Writers’ Association for its consideration. Some have claimed that the Proposal was meant as black humor, but if so, it still included a real warning for the Croats and those who would agree with their position.32 There was no sarcasm in the group’s characterization of the Declaration as a “significant and epoch-making document”; the group of writers concurred that the institutions that issued the Declaration were “competent ones in matters pertaining to the Croatian literary language”; these Serbs therefore declared the Novi Sad Agreement void. But the group’s quick acknowledgement that the Declaration reflected the “legitimate and inalienable right of each nation to make decisions regarding the name and position of its own language” indicated that this group of Serbs, who could not have been expected to acknowledge any such thing in Tito’s Yugoslavia without long and serious discussions, had prepared their own bombshell.

23The Proposal responded to the most ominous attribute of the Declaration, which was not its claim to a separate literary language for Croats, but the assertion that that language should become official on the territory of the Socialist Republic of Croatia; in other words, its linkage of a national attribute to a piece of land. The Serbian response hinted that the equation of nations with territory could establish a messy precedent.

Our Constitution guarantees to all our nationalities and minorities the right to an independent development of language and culture… The group of writers demands that the following regulations be stipulated in the Constitutions of the Socialist Republic of Serbia and the Socialist Republic of Croatia guaranteeing to all Croatians and Serbs: The right to a scholastic education in their own languages and scripts according to their national programs, the right to use their national languages and scripts in their dealings with all authorities, the right to found their cultural societies, local museums, publishing houses and newspapers, in short, the right to cultivate unobstructedly and freely all aspects of their national culture.

24So here was the implicit threat: if Croats were to insist that their nation had the right to define its own language, which then must be used on the territory of Croatia, Serbs could claim the same right, which would result in their linguistic secession from the Croatian republic. Never mind that the Serbs of Croatia largely spoke the same “literary language” (ijekavian) as the Croats. The point that the “group of writers” wished to make was that once national rights were linked with territory in this Yugoslavia, the grotesque logic of secession (whether geopolitical or cultural) could leave the state a tattered patchwork of national sectors, or as they came to be called in actual practice twenty-five years later, cantons.

  • 33 “Pismo Zorana Gavrilovića upućeno upravi udruženja književnika Srbije,” Politika (March 27, 1967) (...)
  • 34 “Pisma Vase Popovića i Žike Lazića,” NIN (April 2, 1967) 8. Vasa Popović and Žika Lazić claimed no (...)
  • 35 “’Deklaracija’ i ‘predlog’ su politički blizanci,” in Politika, April 2, 1967. Aleksandar Petrović (...)
  • 36 “‘Deklaracija’ i ‘predlog’ su politički blizanci,” 9.

25As mentioned earlier, it was not just the substance of the arguments in the Declaration and the Proposal that roused opposition, it was the fact that proper form had not been followed, that unilateral declarations had been offered without consultation, that the Novi Sad Agreement—a foundation of Tito’s ethnic settlement, of brotherhood and unity in Yugoslavia—had been undermined, no matter the truth or logic embodied in the Declaration or the Proposal. After all, the next few years would see the Declaration’s demands become quiet precedents. The whole issue might have been allowed to go away on March 25, when Zoran Gavrilović sent a letter in the name of the “group of writers” who signed the Proposal to the board of the Serbian Writers’ Association, with which the group pronounced its missive “superfluous” following the announcement of the signatory institutions of the Declaration that they withdrew their support from that document.33 Aside from that, a couple of signatories who were employed by the weekly NIN sent letters to the City Committee claiming that they had been hoodwinked into signing the Proposal.34 In spite of the “group’s” retraction (which was not in the least a disavowal of the Proposal’s contents), on March 31, 1967, the Belgrade City Committee met with the communist writers’ aktiv, which included half of the signatories of the Proposal.35 The meeting was opened by Latinka Perović, the chairman of the Executive Committee of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Serbia, who noted that the public uproar over the Declaration and the Proposal had surprised many people, but that nationalist excesses had to be nipped in the bud, as the recent Ranković affair had illustrated. The offensive was taken up by Marko Ristić, who described the Proposal as “a poorly thought-out action,” and Mladen Oljača (a much lesser literary light), who declared that the two proclamations were “political twins…two fingers of the same hand, both of which need to be cut off.”36 Ristić naively thought that the best course of action would be to disseminate the Proposal as widely as possible so that all the public could see just what this “group of writers” was up to.

  • 37 “‘Deklaracija’ i ‘predlog’ su politički blizanci,” 9.
  • 38 “‘Deklaracija’ i ‘predlog’ su politički blizanci,” 9.
  • 39 Antonije Isaković, “Zašto sam potpisao ‘Predlog za razmišljanje,’” inGovori i razgovori (Gornji mi (...)
  • 40 Isaković, “Zašto sam potpisao ‘Predlog za razmišljanje,’” 16.
  • 41 Isaković, “Zašto sam potpisao ‘Predlog za razmišljanje,’” 15–16.

26Others who spoke at this meeting of communists described the strange atmosphere that pervaded the gathering at the Serbian Writers’ Association the week before: Ivan Ivanji portrayed it as a place in which “a person could not get the floor, and if he did, it turned into a burlesque.”37 Vukašin Mićunović shared that judgment, attributing the circus-like atmosphere to Mihiz, whom Mićunović identified as the ringleader of the group of writers. For example, Mićunović described one scene at the UKS meeting: “Turning to some members of the association during a break, Mihiz asked the question: ‘Do you know which is the biggest Serbian city?’ and not waiting for an answer, himself said: Jasenovac.”38 But Mihiz was not a party member, and he could not defend himself (if he wished to) at this meeting. Here, before the City Committee, communists were given the opportunity to justify their acts. Most of them chose contextualization as their main defense. As Isaković put it, “there is one very important detail: that a certain amount of time has passed since then. Thus, if we want to evaluate and see what the ‘Proposal for Consideration’ was, we need to… return to the situation and atmosphere when that project appeared.”39 Isaković meant that, given no warning, and seeing no interpretation of the Declaration in the press for some time, the signatories of the Proposal believed the Declaration to have been approved by the party, and thus deserving the respect of the public and a serious response by Serbian writers. The Proposal was merely the logical “consequence of the aforementioned Declaration.”40 Isaković obviously referred to the Proposal’s demand that Serbs in Croatia receive the same right to choose their language as the Croats claimed. In spite of Isaković’s assertion of propriety, it is difficult to accept that the Proposal’s formulators intended their suggestion to be anything but a direct threat. Nonetheless, this basic defense was put forth by most who felt the need to defend themselves. Isaković also offered a weak second line of defense, intriguing if only because it resembled an argument that would be revived under changed conditions nearly twenty years later regarding another “proposal” put forth by Serbian intellectuals (again led by Isaković), the “Memorandum of the Serbian Academy”: “I insist here that that was a proposal for thought, that it was presented to the organization at its Assembly, that the proposers at that time wanted the Assembly of writers to discuss the Proposal…that was just a suggestion, in no way a definitive text, but a project about which there would have been discussion in two weeks, at the plenum which had then been scheduled.”41 As would be the case two decades later, this defense of the Proposal is no defense at all, because it implies that the basic sentiments embodied in the document were not shared by the signatories, which of course was not the case.

  • 42 “Osuda idejne osnove i sadržine ‘Deklaracije’ i ‘Predloga’,” 5.

27Unlike Isaković, Borislav Mihajlović Mihiz, the other of the Proposal’s coauthors, did not have to prostrate himself before any party committee, as he was not a member of the party. Mihiz understood the uproar over the Proposal, and he probably enjoyed it, as he was untouched by the sensibilities of the League of Communists and had no emotional ties to the policies that the LCY pursued. Along with other signatories, Mihiz was called upon to explain himself when the Serbian Writers’ Association met three days after the City Committee meeting, on April 2, 1967.42 Here the goal of the party, and thus of the leadership of the Writers’ Association, seems to have been to convince or coerce as many signatories as possible to withdraw their signatures. This would be in keeping with the general tendency of Yugoslavia’s communist leaders to demand adherence to the proper forms, even if proper form hid a more frightening reality. Two writers from NIN, as we know, withdrew their signatures immediately, as did several others before the City Committee meeting. Others responded variously, but not all that predictably.

28One party member announced that he had signed “out of Serbian spite,” but he also claimed that as a communist, he followed the lead of Isaković, a member of the Central Committee. Zoran Gavrilović asserted that the public uproar was exaggerated: “We are accused of chauvinism, which is a scandal, because everyone knows what Serbian chauvinism is. Respectable writers are nailed to a pillar of shame. They are identified with the forces defeated at the Brioni plenum, with the signatories of the Declaration.” Gavrilović made an important point: the signatories had carefully distanced themselves from the routine anti-Serbian accusations of “unitarism,” “hegemonism,” “centralism” and the like by matching the Croats blow for particularist blow: demanding that Croatia be cantonized was hardly the typical centralist solution, and not one ever associated with Aleksandar Ranković, the ranking “chauvinist” in Yugoslav iconography in 1967. Two men who often were explicitly linked to Ranković and Serbian nationalist positions, Jež colleagues Matija Bećković and Brana Crnčević, refused to acknowledge the validity of the pursuit of chauvinists; Crnčević was, according to the author of the article, “unable to convince those present of the reasons for his participation in an action which was directed against the brotherhood and unity of our peoples.” Finally, Mihiz, according to this official version of the meeting, conceded that he “actively participated” in the creation of the Proposal. He also rather meekly added that he was “convinced that the right to a mistaken opinion is more important than the right to infallibility.” Mihiz would never again acknowledge that he had held a “mistaken opinion.” Perhaps Politika wrote what the party wanted to hear from Mihiz; perhaps he actually said his opinion was mistaken. In any case, other sources tell us that Mihiz rejected the notion that he represented any sort of chauvinism or unitarism:

  • 43 “Rodu o jeziku”; also in Gligorijević, Slučajna istorija, 78.

In the desire to protect at any cost my dignity as a man and a writer…I announce that I cannot and will not discuss the essence of these problems under such assumptions and in such an atmosphere…. I have never, not once, taken part in any nationalistic or chauvinistic discussion in public. I could list a thousand examples to the contrary. I am not doing that. One will be sufficient, I think: my last drama [Komandant Sajler] was written in fact as a protest against fanatical nationalism.43

  • 44 Mihiz, Autobiografija—o drugima, v. 2, 39.

29Mihiz’s memory of the atmosphere at this meeting: “The customary atmosphere of ideological condemnation, this time raised high because of the meaning of the public scandal, threatens to grow into a pogrom. The true believers attack insolently. The accused, those of weak disposition and little courage, repent and withdraw their signatures.”44 Mihiz did not withdraw his signature. He called on Komandant Sajler as evidence for his ability to recognize nationalism. Thus Willi Sajler insulated Mihiz from introspection—if not from the attacks of others. This was, and would remain, a typical Serbian response to accusations of nationalism through the wars of Yugoslav succession in the 1990s. Others were nationalists; Serbs respond defensively, but never nationalistically.

  • 45 Mihiz, Autobiografija—o drugima, v. 2, 40.

30Mihiz continued his story (twenty years later) with a heroic account of the behavior of his friend Brana Crnčević, this time at the expense of the ubiquitous Marko Ristić. At some point in the meeting at Francuska 7, Mihiz claims that Ristić rose in the first row and pronounced that “this is no proposal, nor is it for consideration. If they knew what they were doing they would never have proposed it. It is a resolution. An open and poisonous, nationalistic, counter-revolutionary resolution.” Crnčević then “looked scornfully at the ‘revolutionary’ and turned to the meeting. ‘You demand of me that I withdraw my signature?! I would do that for you if you really wanted me to. But, good people, if I withdraw my signature, what will I sign with in the future? Not likely with the name Marko Ristić?!’”45 Given that these recollections are pretty heroic, perhaps the words that Mihiz placed in the mouth of Jug Bogdan are appropriate reminders of the dangers of relying on one’s own memory:

  • 46 Mihajlović, Banović Strahinja, 62.

As soon as a man begins to write about himself, even somehow against his own will, it is as if he becomes an iconographer. He begins to deform, corrupt, stylize. All sketches become solemn, each banal sin comes out somehow highlighted, minor virtues become exceptional, and of itself a halo begins to glow around the author’s head.46

  • 47 Isaković, “Zašto sam potpisao ‘Predlog za razmišljanje’,” 18.

31The record shows that the majority of the signatories of the Proposal, whether they rescinded their signatures or not, openly feared, and justifiably resented, being associated with “unitarism” and its variants, all identified with Ranković, whose fall was still quite recent. Two examples stand out from the crowd, though. Mira Alečković, for instance, signed the Proposal, but withdrew her signature when she realized that it would be maliciously taken as support for Rankovićean unitarism. But oddly, Antonije Isaković actually allowed for the possibility that he was a unitarist: “Perhaps, and I recognize this, as a Serb I have tendencies and desires [associated with] a unitaristic complex.” He went on to explain, however, that any sort of subterranean Serbian unitarism would need more than one meeting like this one to be eradicated.47 In Isaković’s case, acceptance of the accusation of unitarism may have been a simple product of the reflex that came with longstanding obedience to the party.

32What ought to be clear enough to any observer whose vision is not clouded by the rigid iconography of the Tito regime is that the Proposal was a direct complement to the Declaration and was in no way unitaristic. Some believe the Proposal to have been an ironic shot across the bow, meant only as a tongue-in-cheek warning. Other investigators do not concede that the Proposal is ironic, however, and for these observers the Proposal represents a real sea-change in the way that Serbian intellectuals approached the national question. There are certainly moments of supreme sarcasm in the Proposal, but they do not render the entire document, or its vital point, irrelevant. That point: that Serbia’s intellectuals might have moved away from support, whether conditional or unconditional, of the Tito regime’s one assurance of their safety in this Yugoslavia, which was support for the noble goal of the creation of a unified culture, a supranational identity that would eventually render republican borders meaningless in national terms. Now, under growing evidence that this noble dream no longer animated Yugoslav political and cultural life, those same Serbs began a great withdrawal, from a form of Yugoslavism to a frantic attempt to rescue that which was Serbian from the wreckage. If so, this was a turning point as important as Ćosić’s abandonment of the party would be, a year later. In fact, the behavior of Serbian writers in 1967 can be seen as a form of acknowledgment of the failure of Ćosić’s proposal for literary reorganization from 1964–65.

  • 48 Mihiz, Autobiografija—o drugima, v. 2, 287. Mihiz claims that his removal was covered by a change (...)
  • 49 Matija Bećković, interviewed by Moma Kapor, “Moj prestpostavljeni je Gete,” in Miodrag Perišić, ed (...)
  • 50 “You know, my father was a Četnik. However, as I have progressed, he too has made for himself an a (...)

33As a result of the Declaration/Proposal crisis, many Croats and not a few Serbs were expelled from the League of Communists, and still more were fired from their jobs. Among them was Miroslav Krleža, who resigned his position as a member of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Croatia, Antonije Isaković, who did the same in Serbia on April 19, 1967. Mihiz, a founding and regular member of a committee of five who decided the NIN award for novel of the year (along with Velibor Gligorić, Milan Bogdanović, Eli Finci, and Zoran Mišić), claimed that he was removed from that committee after the award was given in 1968, allegedly because of his role in the Proposal crisis. (However, this does not appear to be true—NIN itself records that he remained on that jury through the award for 1970, given in 1971.48) Serbia’s two leading satirists, Dušan Radović and Brana Crnčević, were fired by various media employers (Crnčević from Borba, both, plus Matija Bećković, from Večernje novosti). Bećković, whose fame was to grow to astounding proportions in the 1980s, was at this point a young television writer, poet, and humorist for Jež. Long known for his egocentrism, Bećković aggressively defended himself in a 1968 interview in Književne novine.49 This was merely the newest in a line of persecutions suffered by the young writer, however, who had also been fired from an earlier job with Radio-Television Belgrade for allegedly being a supporter of Ranković. Bećković attributed his persecution to the fact that his father had been a Četnik.50 Bećković is an early example of the type of response that many Serbian intellectuals would embrace as they came into ever more conflict with the regime.

  • 51 Perišić, Moj prestpostavljeni je Gete, 25–26.

I do not recognize secret judgments behind upholstered doorways. I do not recognize such policy as legal….I do not agree that I have said what they say I have said. I do not recognize injustice as the final word of justice. I do not recognize blind men as art critics… On the contrary, surrounded by hochstadlers, yellow-bellies, idiots, and cowards, a normal person has to admire himself all the more!51

  • 52 Ante Kadić, Moji izgoni iz Jugoslavije i povratak u Hrvatsku (Split: Književni krug, 1992) 66.
  • 53 Kadić, Moji izgoni, 162.

34There is no question that Bećković, Crnčević, and Mihiz came out of the Declaration/Proposal crisis with blackened reputations as Serbian nationalists. Whereas communists like Gavrilović and Isaković could be easily forgiven (and easily and formulaically punished, as party members) for their desire to remind Croats that Serbs should “enjoy the same rights” as they did, Gavrilović himself was heard to put Bećković, Crnčević, and Mihiz in a separate category, motivated by other, darker, desires, and thus irredeemable.52 But, according to the testimony of one contemporary, the very same Mihiz could also be described for the very same acts as “the pride of Serbia.”53 Surely a divide was growing in Serbian society.

  • 54 Dobrica Ćosić, “Vreme, književnost, jezik…” in Dobrica Ćosić, Stvarno i moguće: Članci i ogledi (R (...)
  • 55 Ćosić, “Vreme, knjizevnost, jezik…,” 42–43.
  • 56 This untranslatable word refers to a Serbianism that focuses on the narrow, Šumadijan region of Se (...)
  • 57 Ćosić, “Vreme, književnost, jezik…,” 43.

35Dobrica Ćosić was still on the state’s side of that divide. Those who have been tempted to group Ćosić with “nationalists” after the mid-1960s—and there have been many—should note that Ćosić rejected the Proposal as representing that which he most despised in Serbian national politics: provincialism. Asked about the Declaration and the Proposal, he reiterated that he was “a follower of humanistic internationalism and socialist Yugoslavism, that Yugoslavism which is described in the Program of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia as a principle and a socialist goal of national politics in the Yugoslav community…” and thus opposed to both proclamations. But Ćosić again asserted that “some who are most responsible for carrying out” that socialist policy “were suppressing it.”54 While Ćosić condemned both documents as “defeats for intellectuals in Croatian and Serbian culture, in complex relations of social forces,” he did come down somewhat harder on the Croats. He recognized that the linguistic issue was less important than the fact that the Declaration “expresses a political conception in the Socialist Republic of Croatia.” The Declaration represented “a political tendency in contemporary Croatian culture, which, among other things, de-facto denies or suppresses the right of Serbs…to call their language Serbian.” Ćosić went on to equate this new type of Croatian nationalism, which “is obviously on the offensive and growing,” with “old, Great Croatian nationalism.”55 Again, Ćosić’s concerns were expressly political and had nothing to do with linguistics. His condemnations of the Proposal, somewhat weaker than of the Declaration, nonetheless cut to the true heart of the matter: “the negative political, non-linguistic, contents of the ‘Proposal’ are in its immediate and easy acceptance of the destruction of the literary agreement between Croats and Serbs…which suggests the old, srbijanski 56 conception of Serbdom, which further supports Serbian nationalism…”57

36That “srbijanski” nationalism, which imagined the Serbian nation in quite narrow terms, was not at all akin to the “unitarism” with which Serbs were normally chastised. As we shall see, Ćosić found this narrow Serbianism limiting, and would spend much of his later career combating it. But, equally important, Ćosić was quite wrong. The Proposal was not in the least srbijanski. What made Mihiz and his Proposal colleagues unique was that they were neither narrowly srbijanski nor idealistically Yugoslav. Sure, they had acted against the principles of the literary agreements at Vienna and Novi Sad, but they had most definitely not restricted themselves to a narrow, srbijanski, national idea. Instead they were proponents of a Serbian idea that was expansive, but not Yugoslav. It would protect all Serbs, but as Serbs, not as members of a supra-nation. This was novel.

37Now, in 1967, when Antonije Isaković, Zoran Gavrilović, and other Serbian party members signed on to the Proposal, they claimed to have done so because they believed that the Declaration was formally approved by the party itself. The fact that the party had not approved the Declaration then left these signatories of the Proposal with a way out, an explanation for their inexplicable behavior. But the ultimate irony, and one that many of the Serbs undoubtedly feared but suspected, was that the Croats, while they did not yet have party approval, would be allowed to continue down the path blazed by the Declaration. Between the 1967 uproar and the 1971 Croatian Spring, Croatian cultural institutions, linguists, and literary figures fulfilled the promise of the Declaration by withdrawing from all of the collaborative enterprises first promised in the Novi Sad Agreement. As in other similar situations—including the Ćosić–Pirjevec debate, the reform of the Serbian Writers’ Association, and the economic reform—what had been the party linija, and not surprisingly was considered the “Serbian side,” had precedent and even implicit promises by the regime to rely on, but now the situation had changed. Serbs could dig in their heels, but Croats merely had to wait for the winds to shift.

  • 58 Greenberg, “The Politics of Dialects,” 402.
  • 59 Greenberg, “The Politics of Dialects,” 404.
  • 60 Pavle Ivić, Srpski narod i njegov jezik (Belgrade: Srpska književna zadruga, 1972).

38In the aftermath of the Declaration/Proposal affair, the third volume of the joint dictionary envisioned by the Novi Sad Agreement appeared. Leading Croatian linguists rejected all of the volumes as giving precedence to Serbian forms, which reflected a “unitaristic viewpoint.” 58 Then, in November 1970, the Matica Hrvatska abandoned collaboration with the Matica Srpska, which proceeded to publish the remaining three volumes on its own. Just as the collapse of the Croatian Spring as an active movement in 1971 would precede the victory of many of its aims in the 1974 constitution, the condemnation of the Declaration in 1967 did not spell the end of a separate Croatian language. As Robert Greenberg has noted, the 1974 constitution codified tolerance of “republican” norms of Serbo-Croatian designated “standard linguistic idioms.”59 Succeeding years were filled with polemics, largely led by Pavle Ivić for the Serbs and Dalibor Brozović for the Croats. Ivić, who was part of the Simina 9a collective, published a controversial study in 1972 entitled The Serbian People and Their Language (Srpski narod i njegov jezik), which embodied his new approach to the language question, post-Declaration.60 Ivić’s attitude reflected that of the signatories of the Proposal for Consideration:

  • 61 Zvonko Simić, “Zatvoreni jezički krug,” in NIN (1121) July 2, 1972, 33.

If one partner does not wish unity, it is upon us to turn his attention to the consequences, but not to forbid it. No matter how much we are convinced that it is harmful, we can only mourn, but not impose ourselves. However, this presupposes one thing: that the confirmation of the right of one nation to its own language, given the eventual split of the association, dare not include the negation of the same right of another nation to its own language. That is all that remains for us to say.61

39Ivić’s withdrawal from universalism—as reflected in his retreat from the Novi Sad Agreement to a narrower Serbianism—fulfilled the prophecies of the Proposal for Consideration and, as we shall see, the development of the ideas of the other Siminovci.


40In 1969, the third of Mihiz’s historical plays, Kraljević Marko, was performed at the Yugoslav Dramatic Theater, to much less fanfare than the earlier Banović Strahinja or even Komandant Sajler. Kraljević Marko is the most popular single figure in the Serbian folk tradition; in fact, however, the historical Marko Mrnjavčević was an Ottoman vassal, hardly the stuff of heroic legend. Mihiz’s version is no more historically accurate than the oral poetry. In his dramatization, Mihiz offered an interpretation of Marko’s life that could explain the Serbian paradox of a heroic servant to the Turk, all the while commenting obliquely on the nature of power—a theme of some topical concern in Yugoslavia at the moment of the play’s staging. That political subtext probably explains the fact that the play came and went without much notice, critical or otherwise.

  • 62 Holton and Mihailovich, Songs, 163–67.

41Kraljević Marko takes place on the eve of the Battle of Rovine in 1394. Unlike Banović Strahinja, the play is not a retelling of one or more of the poems of the oral tradition, although it does include material drawn from “Marko Kraljević Recognizes His Father’s Saber.”62 Marko is an Ottoman vassal who has just returned from reconnoitering the position of the Christian armies in preparation for the coming battle. When he unexpectedly comes into possession of a sword that had belonged to his father, Vukašin, he is jolted out of his twenty-three year slumber: it has been that many years since he last saw his father, who died on the battlefield of Maritsa in 1371. After that disastrous battle, as the only surviving Mrnjavčević, Marko sold his soul to the Ottoman Sultan, whose vassal he became. Upon receiving the heirloom, Marko is compelled to revisit the circumstances surrounding that ill-fated battle. His recollection explains the tragic turn of events: Marko’s father Vukašin and uncle Uglješa had sought to supplant the Serbian king, Stefan Uroš, on the night before the Battle of Maritsa. Vukašin claimed to have received the spoken testament of Uroš’s father, the powerful Stefan Dušan, who before his death sixteen years earlier allegedly told Vukašin to remain close to the weak Stefan Uroš, by implication to replace the king if necessary. Uglješa argued that Vukašin would destroy Serbia in useless warfare and that he, Uglješa, should replace the ineffectual Stefan Uroš. Unbeknownst to either of them, the archpriest Nedeljko has safely hidden away Stefan Dušan’s written testament—which neither of them realize exists. As it turns out, the written testament has been with Vukašin’s son Marko (a “trustworthy person”) for sixteen years, since the death of Stefan Dušan.

  • 63 Borislav Mihajlović, “Kraljević Marko,” in Izdajice, 168.

42Now, on the eve of the Battle of Maritsa, Marko is placed in the unenviable position of having to read this testament aloud before the assembled princes of Serbia. He was prepared for this fateful moment by his mother: “You are preparing for a long trip, son, and it has to do with something vital if archpriest Nedeljko calls you….but your mother has just one thing to tell you, Marko: do not lie…by the justice of God speak the truth. Better that you lose your head than your sinful soul.”63 Marko reads the testament, in which Stefan Dušan names his son Stefan Uroš as his successor and expressly demands that both Vukašin and Uglješa be kept under watchful eye, never to be allowed close to power:

  • 64 Mihajlović, Kraljević Marko, 169.

Were Vukašin to come close to the throne, he would have in his hands enormous power, but I am not certain that he would know to use that power with enough caution. He is too rude and intolerant, and is not loyal. On the other hand, Uglješa, without doubt the most capable man in our empire, is not only adorned by his exceptional capabilities but also by his exaggerated self-confidence.64

  • 65 Mihajlović, Kraljević Marko, 171.
  • 66 Mihajlović, Kraljević Marko, 184.

43For demonstrating the moral courage necessary to denounce his father, Marko is rewarded with Vukašin’s curse: “You will not have children, so that your child will not do to you what you have done to me and to this land today! And may your grave be unknown, so that your descendants cannot curse you above it for the collapse of the Serbian empire! And may your soul not be released until you have served the Turkish emperor!”65 At the battle the following day, all of Marko’s family except for himself and his very young brother Dimitar are slaughtered by the Turks. Marko is left with a fateful choice: to die with his brethren, or to offer his services to the Sultan and to live another day. As if to fulfill his father’s prophecy, he chooses vassalage. And now, twenty-three years later, on the eve of another fateful battle, Marko is reminded of his father’s curse. He decides to fulfill it to the letter, but only after making amends with his people by giving away the Ottoman battle plans to the Christians across the river. “Your curse has arrived, Vukašin, it has arrived. I have no offspring…there I will die such that no one will find a trace of my grave.”66 And so it goes.

44Kraljević Marko, like Banović Strahinja, updates a Serbian historical epic, but beyond that, they share little. In Banović Strahinja, Mihiz humanized and modernized a medieval tragedy. In Kraljević Marko, he merely attempted to provide a logical explanation for the apparent paradox of the extremely flawed hero. But Kraljević Marko is less important as a story, more important as cloaked commentary on modern Yugoslav and politics and the abuses of power of the Tito regime. Stefan Dušan speaks the words of Lenin when uttering his testament: Vukašin and Uglješa are described in precisely the same terms that Lenin used when describing possible successors Stalin and Trotsky. Marko himself suffers ostracism and exile for having uttered the truth in spite of great political and emotional pressure from his uncles. Mihiz’s play comments on the dangers of telling the truth, of moral courage, in a society which rewards duplicity and sycophancy.


  • 67 Nicholas J. Miller, “The Nonconformists: Dobrica Ćosić and Mića Popović Envision Serbia,” Slavic R (...)

45There are no simple conclusions here. Mihiz’s actions and his literary output during the years surrounding the appearance of the Declaration and the Proposal are difficult to place because they diverged from a fairly common pattern of development among Serbian intellectuals, who often responded to real and imagined changes in the way Yugoslavia was ruled after 1966 (and the fall of Aleksandar Ranković) by reducing their own field of vision from universalist concerns to narrowly Serbian ones. Dobrica Ćosić and Mića Popović, two of Mihiz’s closest friends, exemplified that process (reflected in Ćosić’s withdrawal from communist politics and his later focus on Serbia’s tragic history in his literary work, and in Popović’s move from abstract painting to a realism that focused on the degraded fate of Serbs in Tito’s Yugoslavia).67 But Ćosić was a disappointed Titoist and Popović was a disappointed leftist, which meant that their loss of faith in Titoism and/or socialism left them cut off from their previous moorings in ways that Mihiz, who was never a socialist and who never had any faith in Tito, would never know. Mihiz, unlike his two friends, underwent no real transition. Although speculative, there are a few judgments that can be made at this point.

  • 68 Ćosić, “Vreme, književnost, jezik…,” 40–41.

46The first concerns the Proposal itself. Given the events of the 1990s in former Yugoslavia, it may be difficult to imagine an era when Serbs truly were the most dedicated of Yugoslavia’s nations to the success of the Tito regime’s alleged attempts to create a single overarching Yugoslav identity for all of the state’s peoples. Nevertheless, it was indeed Serbs who persevered the longest in the battle against the fragmentation of the state, a battle whose commencement they argue came with the demotion of Ranković in 1966. The Proposal, however, quickly altered the playing field by implicitly arguing that Serbs should give up on Tito’s Yugoslav experiment and focus instead on defending the Serbian regions of the state, wherever they were. Thus, instead of arguing that the “brotherhood and unity” of the Yugoslavs was worth preserving, the authors of the Proposal argued that, with brotherhood and unity already destroyed, the Serbs should save their own particular communities. In taking this position, the Proposal’s authors foreshadowed the response of Serbs to Yugoslavia’s demise twenty-four years later. In 1967, however, it was an unpopular position even among kindred spirits in Serbia, including Dobrica Ćosić, who rejected the Proposal as representing that which he most despised in Serbian national politics: provincialism.68

47A second point to be made is that the Declaration/Proposal crisis revealed a curious element in the self-perception of Serbs, then as now: the inability of most Serbs to contemplate the possibility that they themselves act nationalistically. While the Proposal was deemed an outrageous example of Serbian nationalism by the regime in 1967, Mihiz and his colleagues who produced the Proposal believed that they were drawing attention to the nationalism of others. A look at Mihiz’s plays can help clarify the situation. Komandant Sajler describes a highly idealized, extremely evil nationalist, who is, above all, German. We have already seen that Mihiz waved Wilhelm Sajler before his persecutors as a defense against accusations of nationalism leveled against him. Others are nationalists, but not Mihiz, not Serbs. The Serbian self image in Tito’s Yugoslavia rested on the understanding that Serbs had been the primary victims of nationalist horrors in World War II, the most likely to join the communist movement, and the most revolutionary people among the Yugoslavs. In Komandant Sajler, Mihiz condemned nationalism at a time when Serbs like Mihiz were beginning to fear its reappearance in Yugoslavia, particularly among the Croats. The play was meant as a warning that other nationalisms were rearing their heads in Yugoslavia. For Mihiz, it was beyond belief that he could be accused of nationalism when all he had done was highlight the resurgence of Croatian nationalism, in the form of the Declaration.

  • 69 As was the case with a petition issued by a group of Serbian intellectuals in 1986 bemoaning the f (...)

48Interestingly, Mihiz’s two plays drawn from the Serbian folk tradition, though different, argue that he was not a nationalist. Instead, his primary concern was the lack of freedom in Yugoslavia. If nationalist themes were to be present anywhere, one would expect them in plays that resurrect the folk poetry that served as the foundation of Serbian national identity. But, in each case, Mihiz remains on universalist grounds. For instance, in Banović Strahinja, Mihiz did not romanticize his characters, nor did he propose that they provide models for modern behavior. He modernized Banović Strahinja rather than allowing Banović Strahinja to turn modern Serbs into a didactically useful anachronism. This is a distinction that was lost on other intellectuals of the nationalist revival.69 Banović Strahinja demonstrates that he was not one to weave folklore and history in his work; it is impossible to imagine Mihiz arguing that (to use an invented example) any of his contemporaries was a “modern Strahinić Ban.” He made Strahinić Ban modern, not the reverse. When Mihiz explicitly chose to update Banović Strahinja, he did so to modernize a piece of poetry that was beloved by Serbs, but he did not do so as a way of “nationalizing” moderns in the usual romantic way. He chose instead to impose a modern and universal understanding on that which was ancient. Although less satisfying as literature, Kraljević Marko is even more valid here. The play comments on the nature of power in an authoritarian state at a time when the fear of revived authoritarianism was becoming real for Serbs and other Yugoslavs. Authoritarianism has no necessary national face, and Mihiz has translated his own personal fear of persecution as a Serb into a story with universal applications. As direct evidence of his view of his own behavior in 1967, Kraljević Marko indicates that Mihiz saw the whole crisis as hinging on the nature of the authoritarian Tito regime, which allowed some speech (it was common among Serbs to believe that the Croats actually had regime support) but suppressed other.

49As we have already seen, there were more than artificial parallels between Mihiz’s work as a playwright and his more public and political role in the “Proposal” crisis: Komandant Sajler comments on the evils of nationalism at a time when Serbs like Mihiz were beginning to fear the reappearance of nationalism in Yugoslavia; Kraljević Marko comments on the nature of power in an authoritarian state at a time when the fear of revived authoritarianism was becoming real for Serbs and other Yugoslavs. There are other interesting parallels to be drawn which reveal much about Mihiz’s consistent approach to things Serbian. In his plays drawn from the Serbian folk tradition, Mihiz betrayed qualities not to be found, for instance, in Ćosić’s fiction writing: Mihiz demystified and modernized, made otherwise heroic and unbelievable characters human and understandable. His willingness to poke fun at the sacrosanct (Jug Bogdan, most of the characters in Kraljević Marko) showed that Mihiz could never be too reverent about the myths that underlay most Serbs’ understanding of their place in the world. Ćosić, as we know, was determined in Divisions to reach some sort of understanding of the motivations of people who had become enshrouded in communist mythology, but he, as we have seen, failed: his “demystification” of characters like Mladen Rakić, the Doctor, and Vojvoda Planinski produced people who spoke more like the characters from the original Banović Strahinja: stilted, formal, and symbolic rather than real or ordinary. However, when it came to non-Serbian characters, such as Wili Sajler, Mihiz proved more than willing to engage in the stereotyping of evil. Sajler speaks and acts like a character in Divisions. Mihiz was unwilling to idealize his Serbian characters but felt no compunction against doing so with someone else’s evil. As we shall see, as they continued their work, Mihiz and Ćosić would follow the divergent paths they laid down in the early and middle 1960s: Ćosić would more fully develop a picture of the Serbian people as divisive and divisible; Mihiz would resist the seduction of romanticizing Serbs, remaining for the most part on a more literal level. Just as Mihiz would be willing to mystify the character of Sajler, however, he would continue to be willing to place the bad behavior of other peoples on a more mystical plane.


1 Laza Čurčić, “Mihiz,” in Janković and Janković, eds., Drugi o Mihizu, 248–49.

2 Borislav Mihajlović, Izdajice (Belgrade: Beogradski izdavačko-grafički zavod, 1986) 5–119.

3 Janković and Janković, eds. Drugi o Mihizu, 490.

4 Feliks Pašić, “Da ponovo ne budem imao šta da kažem,” in Borislav Mihajlović Mihiz, Kazivanja i ukazivanja (Belgrade: Beogradski izdavačkografički zavod, 1994) 60. This version is a reprint of an interview published in Borba (Belgrade) on June 30, 1963.

5 Jovan Ćirilov, “Mihizove čudne izdajice,” in Mihiz, Izdajice, 387.

6 Ćirilov, “Mihizove čudne izdajice,” 387.

7 Ćirilov, “Mihizove čudne izdajice,” 388.

8 Pašić, “Da ponovo ne budem imao šta da kažem,” 61.

9 The poem is translated in Milne Holton and Vasa D. Mihailovich, Songs of the Serbian People: From the Collections of Vuk Karadzić (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997) 106–30; see also Svetozar Koljević, The Epic in the Making (Oxford: Clarendon, 1980) 132–38.

10 Holton and Mihailovich, Songs, 128.

11 Holton and Mihailovich, Songs, 130.

12 Holton and Mihailovich, Songs, 112.

13 Holton and Mihailovich, Songs, 128.

14 Mihajlović, Banović Strahinja, 99.

15 Mihajlović, Banović Strahinja, 107.

16 Holton and Mihailovich, Songs 130.

17 Mihajlović, Banović Strahinja, 115.

18 Mihajlović, Banović Strahinja, 119.

19 Pašić, “Da ponovo ne budem imao šta da kažem,” 61.

20 Pašić, “Da ponovo ne budem imao šta da kažem,” 62.

21 Borislav Mihajlović, Komandant Sajler, in Mihajlović, Izdajice, 272.

22 Mihajlović, Komandant Sajler, 233.

23 Mihajlović, Komandant Sajler, 240.

24 Mihajlović, Komandant Sajler, 292.

25 “Postavlja se pitanje konkretne odgovornosti pisaca komunista koji su potpisali‘Predlog za razmišljanje’” in Politika (April 1, 1967) 6; Christopher Spalatin, “Serbo-Croatian or Serbian and Croatian? Considerations on the Croatian Declaration and Serbian Proposal of March 1967,” in Journal of Croatian Studies v. 7-8 (1966–67) 10–11.

26 Along with Ćosić, Isaković had expressed reservations about the way the Ranković affair was handled. Isaković, however, sent no letters to Tito.

27 I am using the translation by Spalatin, “Serbo-Croatian or Serbian and Croatian?” 6–9.

28 The Novi Sad Agreement of 1954 is printed in Slavko Vukomanović, Jezik, društvo, nacija (Belgrade: Juslovenska revija, 1987) 161–63. For an excellent recent summary of linguistic politics in Yugoslavia, see Robert D. Greenberg, “The Politics of Dialects Among Serbs, Croats, and Muslims in the Former Yugoslavia” in East European Politics and Societies v. 10, no. 3 (Fall 1996) 393–415.

29 Miloš Moskovljević, Rečnik srpskohrvatskog književnog jezika s jezičkim savetnikom (Belgrade: Nolit, 1966).

30 The framers of the Declaration tried to reconcile their claims with the Novi Sad Agreement, but could not effectively do so. That agreement expressly stated that Serbian and Croatian were the same language.

31 The numbers 42 and 45 were reported in “Rodu o jeziku,” in Književne novine (298) April 1, 1967, 10–11; “about fifty” comes from Spalatin, “Serbo-Croatian or Serbian and Croatian?” 11. Dennison Rusinow says 45, in The Yugoslav Experiment, 225. The number 300 comes from “Javnost i javna reč,” NIN (April 9, 1967) 8. See also Audrey Helfant Budding, “Serb Intellectuals and the National Question, 1961–1991.” (PhD. Dissertation, Harvard University, Department of History, 1988) 139.

32 Branimir Šćepanović reported that “I signed, but not for cretins, rather for people who would understand that it is irony, that it is black humor”; Milo Gligorijević, Slučajna istorija (Belgrade: Beogradski izdavačko-grafički zavod, 1988) 71.

33 “Pismo Zorana Gavrilovića upućeno upravi udruženja književnika Srbije,” Politika (March 27, 1967) 7.

34 “Pisma Vase Popovića i Žike Lazića,” NIN (April 2, 1967) 8. Vasa Popović and Žika Lazić claimed not to have known that they were on the formal list of signatories until the list was read at a City Committee meeting on March 24.

35 “’Deklaracija’ i ‘predlog’ su politički blizanci,” in Politika, April 2, 1967. Aleksandar Petrović said that he was among thirteen communist signatories to the Proposal. Others have said that half of the signatories were party members. See Petrović’s comments in “Osuda idejne osnove i sadržine ‘Deklaracije’ i ‘Predlog’,” in Politika (April 3, 1967) 5. Budding states that precisely half the signatories were party members; Budding, “Serb Intellectuals,” 139.

36 “‘Deklaracija’ i ‘predlog’ su politički blizanci,” 9.

37 “‘Deklaracija’ i ‘predlog’ su politički blizanci,” 9.

38 “‘Deklaracija’ i ‘predlog’ su politički blizanci,” 9.

39 Antonije Isaković, “Zašto sam potpisao ‘Predlog za razmišljanje,’” inGovori i razgovori (Gornji milanovac: Dečje novine and Jedinstvo: Priština) 15. The italics are in the printed version, although it is difficult to imagine how they were conveyed before the City Committee.

40 Isaković, “Zašto sam potpisao ‘Predlog za razmišljanje,’” 16.

41 Isaković, “Zašto sam potpisao ‘Predlog za razmišljanje,’” 15–16.

42 “Osuda idejne osnove i sadržine ‘Deklaracije’ i ‘Predloga’,” 5.

43 “Rodu o jeziku”; also in Gligorijević, Slučajna istorija, 78.

44 Mihiz, Autobiografija—o drugima, v. 2, 39.

45 Mihiz, Autobiografija—o drugima, v. 2, 40.

46 Mihajlović, Banović Strahinja, 62.

47 Isaković, “Zašto sam potpisao ‘Predlog za razmišljanje’,” 18.

48 Mihiz, Autobiografija—o drugima, v. 2, 287. Mihiz claims that his removal was covered by a change in policy on the jury: “in order to eliminate me, after eighteen years the permanent jury was suspended and an alternating one established.” But the jury which met in 1967 was already altered from that “permanent” jury that Mihiz mentions (which had included Mihiz, Milan Bogdanović, Eli Finci, Velibor Gligorić, and Zoran Mišić). For the first several years of the award, the jury consisted of Stevan Majstorović, Milan Bogdanović, Zoran Mišić, Eli Finci, Velibor Gligorić, and Mihiz. Majstorović left after one year. After Mihiz left, the jury did change more often.

49 Matija Bećković, interviewed by Moma Kapor, “Moj prestpostavljeni je Gete,” in Miodrag Perišić, ed., Moj pretpostavljeni je Gete: Razgovori od 1968–1990 (Belgrade: Knjižarnica Obradović, 1990) 22.

50 “You know, my father was a Četnik. However, as I have progressed, he too has made for himself an after-death career, in the Četniks. If I become a Nobel prize winner, he will become—Hitler!” Perišić, Moj prestpostavljeni je Gete, 26. In 1971, when Bećković was awarded the October Prize for his book of poetry, Reče mi jedan čo’ek (Belgrade: Prosveta, 1970), the City Committee of Belgrade had the award rescinded because the author was the son of a Četnik; Latinka Perović, Zatvaranje kruga: Ishod političkog rascepa u SKJ 1971/1972 (Sarajevo: Svjetlost, 1991) 307.

51 Perišić, Moj prestpostavljeni je Gete, 25–26.

52 Ante Kadić, Moji izgoni iz Jugoslavije i povratak u Hrvatsku (Split: Književni krug, 1992) 66.

53 Kadić, Moji izgoni, 162.

54 Dobrica Ćosić, “Vreme, književnost, jezik…” in Dobrica Ćosić, Stvarno i moguće: Članci i ogledi (Rijeka: Otokar Keršovani, 1982) 40–41. Note that this article did not appear in the later edition of Stvarno i moguće, which is used elsewhere in this book.

55 Ćosić, “Vreme, knjizevnost, jezik…,” 42–43.

56 This untranslatable word refers to a Serbianism that focuses on the narrow, Šumadijan region of Serbia rather than the broader Serbian community. Srbijanci are Serbs from that region, whereas Srbi are from outside of it. Ćosić thus perceived what the thick-headed party bureaucracy could or would not: that the Proposal was the opposite of “unitarist,” it was in fact quite narrowly defined.

57 Ćosić, “Vreme, književnost, jezik…,” 43.

58 Greenberg, “The Politics of Dialects,” 402.

59 Greenberg, “The Politics of Dialects,” 404.

60 Pavle Ivić, Srpski narod i njegov jezik (Belgrade: Srpska književna zadruga, 1972).

61 Zvonko Simić, “Zatvoreni jezički krug,” in NIN (1121) July 2, 1972, 33.

62 Holton and Mihailovich, Songs, 163–67.

63 Borislav Mihajlović, “Kraljević Marko,” in Izdajice, 168.

64 Mihajlović, Kraljević Marko, 169.

65 Mihajlović, Kraljević Marko, 171.

66 Mihajlović, Kraljević Marko, 184.

67 Nicholas J. Miller, “The Nonconformists: Dobrica Ćosić and Mića Popović Envision Serbia,” Slavic Review 58:3 (Fall 1999) 515–36.

68 Ćosić, “Vreme, književnost, jezik…,” 40–41.

69 As was the case with a petition issued by a group of Serbian intellectuals in 1986 bemoaning the fate of the Serbs of Kosovo; one prominent victim of Albanian excesses was memorialized as the new mother of the Jugovićes, another as the new Deacon Avakum.

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