My grandfather was not as tall although he was Montenegrin, but he was a strong man, with thick white mustache yellowed with cigarette smoking, and he smoked cigarettes like his life depended on them. He smoked all kinds, from “Sarajevo Drina” to “HB,” but he also bought tobacco from the village, kept it in jars and wrapped cigarettes from it. The drawers were full of cigarette packs and lighters that were given to him by his fellow fighters from the National Liberation Army Club in the center of Sarajevo, near the “Sarajka” department store, surrounded by a large park and trees, where as children we descended the slopes with our poems and be-em-iks, inspired by films like “E.T. the Extraterrestrial”. But my grandfather did not care about this American influence, because he was a hardcore socialist, just as he was a hardcore smoker.
Judging by the number of cigarette lighters in the drawers, he did not succed to repair them, and it was even more strange that he lighted his hand-wrapped cigarettes with a flint stone that he kept in a small leather case along with a piece of special mushroom. He would take the stone, put the mushroom on it and hit several times with a piece of metal, after which the mushroom began to smoke from the spark of the stone. So cigarettes burned, and I sat next to him surrounded by cigarette smoke and together we watched Yugoslav films and series, and he told me about the Second World War.
“It was 1943 on Neretva,” I try to remember the conversations that, like in the mist, reverberate in the memories. My grandfather was a Montenegrin partisan who fought in the official battles in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and who knows the history of the Second World War knows that the bloodiest battles were taking place there. “Give me your hand,” he took my little hand with his hairy and aging hands, with the yellowed fingers of tobacco, and with my two fingers pressed on his leg, where I could clearly feel something hard. “It’s a bullet,” he told me, and then continued to tell me how he was wounded in the war, no less or no more, but – 12 times! He was operated without anestesia multiple times, and those bullets that could not be removed were left in his leg, his hand and who knows where else. In the community was considered some kind of a human phenomenon, and not just because he was a medical miracle that walks on two legs, but he was also a kind of mathematical wunderkind who could randomly calculate large numbers for which others needed a calculator.
… looked from another perspective, there was another Yugoslavia …
With his warrior-friends they gathered in the Club of Fighters, a magical place for me, where there was a playground covered with sand. They teamed up there, those war veterans in the fight against the Nazi occupier, and now took put stone balls instead of machine guns and bombs and threw them in the air, trying to strike other stone balls and get as close as possible to the little ball. When they did not compete in this game, another war started on the tables covered with green material, where they made machine gun nests from queens and kings, and instead of ammunition they threw money. My grandfather, although he was a good mathematician, often lost in these games, at least that is how I remember things, because they spied on his cards in his thick dark glasses. Maybe he was losing because he did not see good anymore, he walked with a cane and had constant pain in his legs, but mostly because after my grandmother died, his partisan love, he was half of my old grandfather as I knew him.
“Young Partisan Girl”, a famous song to all who grew up in Yugoslavia, but for me also the concept of my grandmother. Bosnian woman, who, like my grandfather, participated in the same battles, but on the other side of the trenches, as a nurse, she met him there, after which an “instant classic” from Yugoslav partisan films arose. But before that, her adventures meant hunger, a great hunger from which comrades died, hiding from the Germans for days on the mountains, in the snow, in the holes in the earth covered with branches, and from this she got rheumatism and twisted fingers. But she never complained, on the contrary, she gave commands and led the whole family, until her death, when the command was dissolved, my family collapsed, and in parallel my country.
However, looked from another perspective, there was another Yugoslavia, which did not imply partisans and socialism, but also kingdom, aristocracy and private property. It was Yugoslavia before the Second World War, long before I was born, but my ancestors, my other grandfather and grandmother, were part of it, and as young capitalists in Skopje (Macedonia) in the 1920s, in the era of the birth of SHS, they built houses, factories and bought property that will be taken away, and they themselves will be called “rotten capitalists”. That is my Yugoslavia, contradictory, romantic and tragic, and paradoxical.
When we were children, in the 80s of the 20th century, I did not know another nation except Yugoslav, my friends, now I know, most were Muslims and Croats, some a Serb, but all were the same for me and such a spirit was built in Yugoslavia, especially in Bosnia where they swore in everything with “My dear Tito!”. I loved Tito, because we all loved him, we glued stickers with his face at home, we had him on the notebooks and every day we watched him on the wall of the classroom. But my grandfather did not love Tito. Why? Because my grandfather loved Stalin, and Tito betrayed Stalin. But why would anyone like a mass killer? To understand this, you need to imagine a young man who fought for the socialist ideal in the war and could not give up that for what he received 12 bullets. But he did not talk about it, except when he was provoked by the spies of the system in the National Liberation Army Club, so he could not refrain himself. And then they reported him and he ended up on Goli Otok, twice in two and a half years.
…in the tragedy hides the joy of living…
My grandmother waited for him, the first and second time. In Yugoslavia there were no divorces, at least not as much as today, there was no internet, there were no hundreds of channels on TV, there were no mobile phones and no one did selfies, the cult of the person was dedicated to one and only character – Tito, but we had everything we need, freedom, parents returning from work by 3 o’clock PM, birthday parties with Coca-Cola and chios, playing outside, endlessly playing outside on the street when the dense Sarajevo smog, from which the snow turned black, was a normal part of everyday life, and the children were calling each-other going from door to door instead on the mobile phone. I’m not saying that everything was better, but it was certainly different.
This is Yugoslavia for me, my country that no longer exists, my childhood and friends from all nations and religions, the Kingdom of SHS and the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia, the King, Tito and Stalin, the Brotherhood and Unity and Goli Otok, capitalism and Coca-Cola Socialism, freedom, disintegration, war, death and the loss of all my friends from childhood … a story that has been told many times, but who has not survived it will never find out that in the tragedy hides the joy of living.
Dec 11, 2018