Ivo Andric: A Nobel Prize in a Stone City

By Eva Feld

Memorials often serve as masquerades. The beauty of an edifice may overtake the visitor to the point of bringing out certain feelings that bury sorrow and enhance pleasure.

It is dangerous to extrapolate examples from history to prove a point. Even past times may be submitted to variable interpretations, especially when dealing with victims of war and/or terrorism. Should the venues and sites of the battles be reconstructed the exact way they were before, or should there be a major intervention to heighten their significance? Should the names of the anonymous heroes be remembered by carving them in marble or by the generic concept of an unknown soldier?

The old city of Warsaw in Poland was indeed reconstructed with its ancient flair:  little shops, cafes and restaurants to give the passerby a way to visit a site before the Second World War. A different approach than what was done in New York after the 9/11 attack, where a magnificent tower/museum/monument has been raised.

These are two emblematic approaches in two different continents, in two cities highly visited by tourists. Hence, less popular destinations are equally facing similar dilemmas. Such is the case of Višegrad in Bosnia Herzegovina, a multiracial, multicultural, multi-religious region formerly part of Yugoslavia, together with Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Slovenia and Kosovo. Only in Višegrad, more than 3,000 persons were killed during the last Balkan War, circa twenty years ago.

The bucolic layout of the city, by the Drina River, gives the visitor a false illusion. Only poetry and beauty are conceivable under the spring light of early June, maybe comparable to the impressionist heaven of Bougival near Paris. If it weren’t for the presence of a Mosque and of Muslim peasants, Višegrad would also resemble many Austro-Hungarian small cities, as it had been for centuries part of that Christian Monarchy as well. Višegrad had been also submitted to the Ottoman Empire so the people of Višegrad as in most of Bosnia Herzegovina have a syncretic background not without heavy resentment towards invasions. The most recent ones dating only a couple of decades ago, when fellow Yugoslavians, now calling themselves Serbians and Croatians wanted to part  the region among them. Both neighboring countries, which were permanently at war between each other, agreed, nevertheless, upon attacking Bosnia Herzegovina in the name of Religion (besides, of course, political and economic reasons).

Now that the once united Yugoslavia is divided fairly peacefully in seven independent nations and three major religions, there are still some issues of common pride such as the nobility of Ivo Andric, the one and only Yugoslav Literary Nobel Prize Winner (1961) born in Višegrad Oct 9, 1892, who strongly believed in the Yugoslav unity and in Pan-Slavism.

Andric’s omnipresence in Višegrad has been super enhanced by the ruler’s decision of contracting in 2011, the famous and controversial movie director, architect, artist and actor Emir Kusturica, born Muslim in Sarajevo (the capital of Bosnia Herzegovina) in 1954 and becoming Orthodox Christian en 2005, to conceive a stone city within Višegrad as a Memorial to Ivo Andric. The venue chosen was not other than where the 3,000 Bosniaks (Muslims) were executed.

On the 28th of June of this year (2015)  Andricgrad celebrated its first anniversary under severe criticism by the radical conservationists but at the same time it has become a somewhat surreal space where people gather under a different façade in  a scene conceived between marble and minimalism, hedonist and esthetic parameters and a grimace to Greco/Roman background.

Modernism is also present in the new stone city by displaying a diversity of movies from all over the world in an attractive cinema; by offering gastronomic variety together with their traditional food and, last but not least, by holding a small library where many famous writers can be found translated into Serbian along with The Bridge on the Drina, Andric’s winner novel. In there he describes the lives, destinies and relations of the local inhabitants during circa two centuries of Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian administrations.

Nevertheless, there is no Mosque nor is there Catholicism in Andricgrad, there is only a small orthodox altar. There is no Pan-Slavism nor is there Ecumenism where Ivo Andric’s statue stands,in the center of the stone city.

As in many other countries and memorials, the visitors hardly know anything about the writer or his books; he has become an icon to be found on t-shirts and post-cards, a tourist attraction, a Slav Joyce,  and the city dedicated to him,  a masquerade that intends to bury sorrow and enhance pleasure.

Loveland, July 2015