Ivo Andric's writer's block


Fifty years after he became a Nobel laureate, countries in the Balkans maintain very different attitudes towards a native son.

Text and photos by Jusuf Ramadanovic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 04/04/11


Nobel laureate Ivo Andric.

Ivo Andric, the celebrated novelist and story teller, spent various chapters of his own life in Sarajevo, Belgrade and Zagreb. And despite ties to each of these places, attitudes towards him remain sharply divided throughout the region, even 36 years since his death.

Andric is much more present in schoolbooks in Republika Srpska than in the other entity, the Federation of BiH (FBiH). "Undoubtedly, Ivo Andric is a great author, but we Bosniaks have a little bit more of reserve," Behija Devic, 55, an educator at a Sarajevo public kindergarten institution, tells SETimes.

Born in the small Bosnian town of Travnik in 1892, Andric spent the majority of his life in the eastern town of Visegrad, through which the Drina River flows. In Visegrad, he completed primary school, then graduated from secondary school in Sarajevo. He was admitted to philosophy studies in Zagreb, and in 1924 in Graz, he received his PhD.

During WWI, as a member of Young Bosnia -- the pro-Serbian nationalist organisation whose members assassinated Austrian Prince Ferdinand in Sarajevo -- he was arrested and detained by the Austro-Hungarian authorities.

From 1920, Andric lived in Belgrade, and spent years in the diplomatic service of the then Kingdom of Yugoslavia, at consulates in Rome, Bucharest, Madrid, Geneva, and Berlin.

Throughout WWII, Andric lived in Belgrade. This is the period from which three of his most significant novels come: The Bridge on the Drina (Na Drini ćuprija), Travnik Chronicles (Travnička hronika), and The Woman from Sarajevo (Gospođica).


The house where Andric was born in 1892.

In Tito's Yugoslavia, he won the 1961 Nobel Prize for Literature for Bridge on the Drina. Eight years later, he became a member of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia.

In one sense, he is every novelist's dream, a complicated mixture of professions and cultures: writer, academician, diplomat, Nobel laureate. A Croat Catholic by birth, he was a Serb in his writing -- favouring the "ekavian" dialect and the Cyrillic script, both predominantly used by Serbs. He was Bosnian by the topics he most frequently picked, including the one that won him the Nobel.

He has been, and still is, commended, shared, claimed and rejected in Bosnia. When the conflict began in 1992, his monument in Visegrad was pulled down.

Even now, Zagreb has not fully determined its position on him, and Andric himself was prone to say that the Croatian capital never received him well -- likely due to his courting of Belgrade. Zagreb viewed his success in light of his openly pro-Serbian orientation.

Belgrade recognised the values of Andric very early on, and in 1926, at the age of 34, he became an associate member of the Serb Academy of Sciences and Arts. In Belgrade, they proudly emphasise that they gave Andric everything and indeed, Andric was connected to Belgrade for a large part of his life, where he is today considered a Serb writer.

In Sarajevo, until 1992, no one had criticised Andric until the destruction of his monument. After that came a stream of open condemnations regarding Andric's description of Bosniaks in his works.

Andric painted Bosnia as a country of compulsive hatred, whose people espouse the ideas of destruction and self-destruction, but he also always said that the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Bosnia was an occupier more civilised than Ottoman Empire, which had ruled Bosnia for several centuries.


Inside the house in Travnik.

He noted he had sadly watched Austro-Hungarian authorities pulling down examples of early Islamic architecture in central Sarajevo, forever removing a beautiful part of the city.

"The writing of Ivo Andric caused more damage [to] the Bosniaks than all of the armies that have ravaged Bosnia," Academician Muhamed Filipovic said.

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Another Bosniak intellectual, former prominent literary critic Muhsin Rizvic, agrees. "Andric identified himself with all of the executioners of Bosnia, by writing about Bosniaks in a pejorative sense. Bosniaks in Andric's works are crooks, castaways, perverts of all kinds, and negative characters." Rizvic penned an entire book, published in 1995, under the title "Bosnian Muslims in Andric's World".

Indeed, today in FBiH, there is no longer a single school, street or library named after Andric.

Even during the January 5th ceremony in Visegrad -- observing the 50th anniversary of his Nobel Prize for Literature -- ambivalence reigned. Initially, FBiH Minister of Culture Gavrilo Grahovac announced he would attend, but ended up cancelling.

On hand however was movie director Emir Kusturica, who announced plans to start shooting a movie based on The Bridge on the Drina.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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