Freedom

Dubravka Ugresic's new essay collection Nobody's Home will be published in August 2007 by Telegram.

Leaving it to Lolita

Tito and the Partisans laid the groundwork for a new Yugoslavia on 29 November 1943 at a clandestine meeting in Jajce, in Bosnia, right in the middle of the most gruelling part of World War II. Thanks to their boldness (at that point they had no idea how the war was going to play out), their courage, and the overall outcome of World War II, the people of Yugoslavia got a new state. For years Yugoslavs celebrated 29 November as Yugoslavia's birthday. Until it collapsed. Now each of the five (soon to be six, and perhaps, indeed, seven) little states hatched out of the ex-Yugoslavia, celebrates its own birthday.

A few years ago several of us thought we'd get together at an Amsterdam bar to celebrate the birthday of the no longer existing state. Whether as a joke, or out of nostalgia, or out of a need to get together and sniff at each other, the stuff emigration is made of! Yugo-emigrants began drifting into the bar at the agreed time: Croats, Bosnians, Serbs, Slovenes, Albanians, all of whom had turned up in Amsterdam as a result of the war.

There were two Bosnians sitting at one end of the counter. One of them made a pretence of grumbling angrily.

"Screw you, Tito, you creep!"

"Why?"

"Who ever heard of starting a country in November?"

"What's wrong with November?"

"Well, if it were May, right now we would be sizzling up something tasty on the grill."

The bartender – who was probably seeing a gathering of these proportions for the first time in his bartending career – asked:

"So what are you people celebrating, anyway?"

"A birthday."

"Whose?"

"The birthday of ex-Yugoslavia."

"Tito's dictatorship?"

"Yes, that's the one, the ex..."

"Wait a minute, does that mean that all of you are pro-dictatorship?" the bartender squinted, suspicious.

"No, we are pro-democracy," the Bosnian replied calmly.

"Then why are you celebrating the day a dictator came to power?"

"Because democracy came hand in hand with dictatorship."

"You must be crazy," muttered the bartender.

"We sure are," replied the Bosnian calmly.

Continues in the print edition. Order now.

Translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac.

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