Vladimir Nazor was a poet, Partisan, and politician. His greatness and popularity endured through five regimes/countries. Who was Croatia’s greatest children’s writer and first president? How did he, author of many a Croatian classic, turn into Tito’s adulator? How come he remains a popular figure in today’s anti-communist Croatia?
With Martin Mayhew and Marijan Lipovac. Featuring select poetry and prose of Vladimir Nazor (lots more in the extended version).
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PETER KORCHNAK: This is Remembering Yugoslavia, the show exploring the memory of a country that no longer exists. I’m your guide Peter Korchnak.
This podcast takes me to many places. You may recall episodes covering the Days of AVNOJ in Jajce or a tour of Mini Yugoslavia in Subotica, for example. Today I’m in the village of Postira, on the island of Brač, off the coast of Split, speaking to you from the birthplace of Vladimir Nazor.
A friend of the show invited me to stay here, in what’s now an apartment that she rents out and that you can find on AirBnB as the Poet’s House.
Say the name Vladimir Nazor to a Croat and they’ll know he was a poet, Partisan, and politician.There are many ways to look at Nazor’s life. What fascinates me is how the author of many a Croatian classic turned into Tito’s adulator and lieutenant; how he remains a popular figure in today’s anti-communist Croatia; and ultimately how different regimes appropriate cultural figures for their own purposes.
But before we get to all that, let me acknowledge with great gratitude new supporters of Remembering Yugoslavia. Thank you, hvala, kiitos, tack, Ivan Mirko, Janne, and Sebastjan.
Like all other supporters of Remembering Yugoslavia, Ivan Mirko, Janne, and Sebastjan have access to the extended version of this episode, and all other extended and bonus episodes. Join them in their generosity, visit Remembering Yugoslavia.com/Donate or follow the link in your podcast listening app, you don’t even have to pause the show.
Vladimir Nazor was born in this house, at Kogule 32, in Postira, on the 30th of May 1876. I’ve been working and sleeping in the very space he took his first breath and his first steps; where his sickly mother, who was from the Tommasseo family that owned the building, taught him to read before he even went to school; where his father, a clerk, told him and his siblings many folk tales.
In 1951, proud Postirans placed a posthumous plaque above the south entrance, honoring, quote, “the great poet, fighter, and first president of the Presidium of the Croatian People’s Republic Parliament, Vladimir Nazor, born in this house in 1876.”
Next to the south door, outfitted with green double shutters, is another plaque, proof that the building is on the Croatian government’s cultural heritage list.
And finally, on the other side of the entrance, hangs an information panel with Nazor’s photo and the description of the building itself, using the text from the registry of cultural heritage.
“The two-story stone house with a high attic and tower to the east was originally the late Renaissance castle Lazaneo, the oldest building in Postira built for the defense of the harbor.”
High up on the southern facade is a stone relief depicting the Lazaneo family crest, with a snake swallowing a bird as well as the inscription of the family motto, IN UTRUMQUE PARATUS (Ready, Come What May). Even higher up, is the engraved inscription LAUS DEO (Praise Be to God). Remains of corner guardhouses are still visible as well.
The building backs up on the Postira riva, or seafront. Postira itself is a village, or as Nazor liked to call it, a small town, gradić, “on the strand of a wide sea channel.” It’s located 7 kilometers as the crow flies east from Supetar where the ferry from Split docks today.
Outside the village is, Nazor wrote,, “the sea with sailboats and steamboats that pass by without even docking at the pier. On the other side of the always blue waters, purple mainland with long mountain hair; behind the town, a rugged island landscape dotted with the green of vineyards and olive trees.”
That multi-story stone house too sports a plaque, which was unveiled on the 90th anniversary of Nazor’s birthday, commemorating the poet’s and fighter’s life and work here. Nazor spent most of his childhood here and returned here in his later years, in the mid-1930s. This early 19th century building too is a protected national and cultural heritage site.
In 1937 Nazor built above the village a stone tower and a monument consisting of three columns connected with friezes. Both are dedicated to his three sisters, Irma, Olga, and Amalija, whose initials are carved into the pillars.
Nazor attended elementary school up the hill, in Ložišća.
Both villages have a Nazor Street, and in both they still commemorate the People’s Liberation Struggle. The smaller village has a plaque on the wall of a building next to Nazor’s house, the bigger one a monument with a carved relief and a five-pointed star, presumably made from Brač stone.
On the shelf here in the Poet’s House is a handful of Nazor’s many books. Published in 1952, Priče i pripovjedke za djecu i omladinu (Stories and Tales for Children and Youth) is a collection of works for that demographic. In the text about Nazor, teacher and children’s book author, Ljudevit Krajačić, describes how already in an early age, Nazor liked solitude, spending time in nature, and inquiring about the world. His mother is said to have later described him as “a strange child. He wants to see everything and know everything. He doesn’t play like other children. I’m afraid that one day he will go astray. They say such children take a wrong turn in life.”
Nazor did end up being different, wrote Krajačić, “he just rose high above human average.”
Part of Nazor’s opus are autobiographical tales about his childhood.
In the introduction to the slender volume, Priče iz djetinstva (Stories from Childhood), a 1963 reprint by the Sarajevo publishing house Svjetlost of Nazor’s 1924 collection, editor and translator Milica Grabovac quotes Nazor discussing the origin of these stories, with his father.
“I want to sit again in the old house, huddled with my brothers and sisters next to a book, lit by a candle, while the autumn evening darkens the harbor, where all the houses are empty. And I want, father, for the crickets to chirp again in the summer noon, while the village mischiefs come down the hill, eager to fight, singing to the sea, and your little David takes out from his bosom the slingshot with which he will knock down Goliath—one of Nazor’s famous stories is titled “David and Goliath”—“And I want, most of all, to hear the sound of the stone under the mason’s chisel again, because it is the real voice of our island’s treasure. And I want, father, to hear from your mouth again the story of the Man who Lost His Button.”
That famous tale is about a man who always looked at the sky, the stars, the sun, not caring about his neighbors or earthly affairs. One day he lost a button on his shirt. When the man who lost his button went looking for it around the island, for the first time he looked down at the ground, discovering plants and insects and birds, and when he couldn’t find the small gray button in nature he went looking at people’s houses. This way, he got to know them, their plight. Finally he decided the button must be in an abyss high up on the island. And when he descended into it, he found his button sitting on a sack full of gold. Once the man who found his button climbed out again, he shared his new riches with his neighbors.
You can see why Nazor’s work later played well with the communists.
Judging from the houses Nazor lived in, the family wasn’t poor (I’m told the Split and Brač Tommasseos were in fact reasonably well-off and locally prominent). Now Grabovac highlights how the story of the man who lost his button is that of the poet himself. Quote, “he traveled looking for the meaning of his life and the most essential value of his work, and found it when he discovered that the path of the man and artist merges with that of the people.”
These childhood stories are part of what the Norwegian scholar Svein Mønnesland dubbed the Brač Cycle, which includes 37 autobiographical pieces about his native island Nazor wrote between 1924 and 1949. Whereas the earlier works in the cycle were styled as lyrical prose or poetic realism, the later works from after World War II, or from the communist period, carried a distinct social element. As Nazor himself put it, in the early works he, as the writer, “talks more simply and naively about his little joys and sorrows in his father’s house, in the first school, in the narrow harbor, in the vineyard and the quarry. A narrow view but also intelligent and sensitive while written in a childish way.” Later, “the narrator has grown old and managed to discover in these small local events something that could get out of that narrow frame, find a connection with our rich present, and arouse general interest.”
The significance of this memoir prose is in its portrayal of Dalmatian island life at the end of the 19th century. Poverty, emigration, and survival on the rugged island are some of the core themes, tackled in both a realistic and lyrical language, the Brač version of Croatian to boot, “imbued with humanity and idealism,” as Mønnesland put it. He wrote about the kindness of the people and gave impressionistic views of picturesque nature on the sunny island, its sea treasures, coves, fields, olive groves, vineyards, quarries, and so on, depicting “a Mediterranean world full of smells, colors, and sounds.”
Those chisels Nazor heard across the island were working the Brač stone. This is the limestone or marble quarried from the island that’s widely used in Dalmatian architecture, from the Diocletian’s Palace in Split to churches, palaces, and homes up and down the coast and the islands. It was also used in the decoration of the lobby of the United Nations building in New York, the Pope’s altar in the Vatican, or the Parliaments in Vienna and Budapest; legend has it parts of the White House in Washington, D.C. were built with it as well.
The island’s other main product is olive oil. In fact, as of last year, olive oil from Brač boasts the European protected designation of origin.
There’s a sign along the road to Postira that calls Nazor’s birth village the “Oil Queen of Dalmatia.”
[SOUNDBITE ”Allegro Nostalgico” by Dee Yan-Key]
PETER KORCHNAK: Nazor attended high school in Split and went on to study natural sciences at the university in Graz. He spent many years as a science teacher, and later director, in secondary schools in Split and Zadar as well as Kastva, Koper, and Pazin on the Istrian Peninsula.
Writer Tugomil Ujčić reported in his 1969 memoir the recollections of Nazor’s former students. Nazor was remembered as a very good lecturer but also a very strict, unapproachable, and, what we might today call physically abusive, teacher, for which the students didn’t like him much.
Nazor then lived in Zagreb for a spell but returned to manage schools on the coast, in Sušak and Crikvenica, near Rijeka. In 1931 he returned to Zagreb where he retired.
Nazor’s oeuvre, totaling over a 1,000 bibliographic entries, is thematically and stylistically diverse, spanning more than five decades from 1892. There’s memoir prose you heard about earlier. He also wrote poetry, both lyrical and epic, a lot of the latter patriotic, featuring, to quote the Croatian Biographic Lexicon, “a synthesis of the historical, mythical, and fictional with patriotic inspiration and epic breadth in the presentation of events and characters of Croatian history.”
Novellas and novels. Travelogues and literary criticism. School textbooks and readers. He also translated works from English (including Shakespeare’s Macbeth), German (Goethe and Heine), French, as well as Italian, into which he also translated his own works and which was the first language he had started writing in.
But Nazor is best known for fairy tales, or rather his takes on folk legends, which became the cannon of children’s literature in Croatia.
In the afterword about Priče i pripovjedke za djecu i omladinu, Ljudevit Krajačić included a letter Nazor had written in 1936 to the editor of Mali Istranin, a children’s magazine. In the letter, Nazor discusses reasons he wrote so many works for children that got published in the magazine in its early years, some two decades prior. First, he needed reading material for Croatian textbooks he was creating. And secondly, he was surrounded by children in his family, nieces and nephews, and so he wrote stories for them. When the textbooks were finished and the children left, his, quote, “uneventful career of a children’s poet ended.” Nazor drew two lessons from that uneventful career. It’s one thing to write about children, and it’s a whole another to write for them. And secondly, he wrote, “I learned to write more shortly, more simply, and more clearly, while not shying away from humor.” I might have to get into children’s writing myself.
Nazor may have been a Dalmatian at birth and at heart, but some of his greatest works were about Istria.
The greatest Istrian fairy tale of all is Veli Jože, which Nazor wrote in 1908. It’s about a giant named Jože who lives near Motovun doing menial work and after a series of adventures and misadventures decides to become a free man. Nazor based Jože’s story on old folk tales, though the character himself is completely made up, and told it as an allegory of the nation’s history.
It’s also the only prose of Nazor’s translated into English.
Vladimir Nazor’s Veli Jože in Translation
MARTIN MAYHEW: It’s the first time that it’s been fully translated into English and it’s part of Croatia’s cultural literary history, too.
PETER KORCHNAK: Martin Mayhew is a translator of Croatian to English from Brighton, England living in Rijeka since 2010. He works with cultural institutions, museums, book publishers, and music bands, and about a quarter of his work is literary translations.
MARTIN MAYHEW: It’s quite a niche market. There aren’t actually many Croatian to English translators in the literary industry because there’s not really much of a market for it. But the things that I do, hopefully are turning the tide a little bit.
PETER KORCHNAK: Mayhew is the author of the first and to both our knowledge only translation of Vladimir Nazor’s prose into English.
PETER KORCHNAK: There’s no market or there’s very little market for it, and then you decide to translate Vladimir Nazor’s Veli Jože.
MARTIN MAYHEW: When I first came to Croatia, I was impressed with the amount of literature that exists. There isn’t much English translation, there aren’t many translations. And after a few years of living here, I heard this name Vladimir Nazor appeared, on street signs, it’s the name of schools, it’s the name of institutions, associations, societies. And I started thinking, Who is this guy? Who is this figure? And the more I investigated, obviously, people were telling me about his part in Croatian literature, as being a great figure in literature. And also his part in the push for independence for Croatia.
And Veli Jože was the name of this book that kept popping up. People kept telling me oh, you should read this book. It’s about the struggle for independence and freedom from slavery, etc. So I found that I found a copy that was printed in the 1950s. Obviously, I couldn’t read it, it was impenetrable for me. The language is so diverse and archaic and also complicated that I just, I thought, well, this could be a challenge for me to translate something like this.
I like a challenge. So I thought, well, I’ll have a go at this, I’ll see how far I can get with it. And it was quite difficult.
PETER KORCHNAK: A publisher from Rijeka approached Mayhew to translate Veli Jože.
MARTIN MAYHEW: And I thought, well, this is an honor for me to do this. And when I started to seriously looking at it, I thought to myself, This is impossible, I don’t understand 40 percent of the language, because it’s such a mix of dialects. That was in 2015. It was published in a very small addition, and the publisher didn’t promote it, it wasn’t publicized, and basically, it’s disappeared.
PETER KORCHNAK: The publisher had a five-year copyright on the translation, which was based on a 1930 edition of Veli Jože.
MARTIN MAYHEW: In 2019 and 2020, I thought I’ll revisit that book and translate it for myself to prove myself as an excellent translator, and by improving my first translation of it.
I always like to go back to the original editions, because over time, things get changed, things get edited, things get manipulated by politics for whatever reasons, and language changes.
So I tracked down an original copy, which was published in 1908, from an auction house. The original copy is quite rare now, you have maybe only 100 copies in existence, and they’re all owned by collectors. You might find a copy come up for sale once a year at some auction house.
PETER KORCHNAK: These days, according to Mayhew, an original Nazor copy of Veli Jože, if you can find it, would set you back three to four hundred euros.
Now what happened next gets at the core of our story today.
MARTIN MAYHEW: As I started to re-translate it— this was during the COVID pandemic —after five years of more experience in the translation in language, I realized that the original edition is very different to every edition that was published later. There’re extra characters, extra scenes, the language has changed, it was just a new story to me.
PETER KORCHNAK: Mayhew self-published the translation of the original version of Veli Jože, auspiciously on May 25th, 2022.
The link to purchase the book in both paperback and ebook formats is in the episode transcript at RememberingYugoslavia.com/Podcast.
PETER KORCHNAK: Now about those differences between the first and subsequent editions…
MARTIN MAYHEW: When I talked to people about it, they’d say, Oh, really, we didn’t know that it was a different edit. Because of over the decades Nazor himself actually edited the original copy to make it more of a children’s story. But the original story is not for children, I would not say, there are scenes in there, which are quite brutal.
The publishers who re-edited or manipulated the text, obviously they were under pressure from whatever corner of politics or educational institutions to tone down some of the language or to remove some parts text to make it more of a, let’s say, fairy tale, maybe a kind of wistful nice, packaged thing for children to read in school.
I’ve found some editions from the 1950s, where the story is actually continued into this extra paragraphs which are not in the original.
Nazor probably didn’t approve of those parts, because he died in 1949, I think. So anything that was done after his death would have been editorial reasons for who knows what kind of reasons.
Because I believe that Nazor’s other works, although there’s still some political elements in there, he is considered to be a kind of children’s writer. I know Veli Jože is still used in schools as reading literature, as part of the curriculum.
PETER KORCHNAK: There are different versions of Veli Jože floating out there, just as there are different versions of Nazor.
Identifying editions of Veli Jože has become almost a game for Mayhew.
MARTIN MAYHEW: Every time I go to a bookshop at secondhand bookshop, I always look for a copy of Veli Jože and I’ll pick it up and I know which parts I’m looking for. And I can see where they’ve changed it. Some parts are very different, some parts are the same, but it’s interesting.
PETER KORCHNAK: That original, 1908 copy of Veli Jože Mayhew used for his translation features illustrations not used in any other subsequent editions. Mayhew adopted and reproduced these works by Saša Šantel for the translation.
That part of the story too is in the extended version of this episode. Follow the donation link in your podcast listening app, or go to RememberingYugoslavia.com/Donate and make a contribution to get access now.
PETER KORCHNAK: So here you are in the pandemic and the lockdowns, translating this work in its original form, as you said, more difficult than others that came later. So You’re hanging out with Vladimir Nazor, you’re hanging out with his work. What did you learn about the work? What did you learn about the man as such? What kind of friends are you?
MARTIN MAYHEW: He was obviously—I don’t know what he would call him today—he was obviously a humanist, if that could be applied to him.
In the book, there are very— references to nature and Mother Earth and healing and the medicinal qualities of plants and the ambience that I haven’t experienced any other books, that I haven’t experienced in other literature, let’s say. Which is unusual when you consider what was at that period of time, just before the First World War and political things were— there were upheavals and on the horizon with quite some horrific changes in Europe and crashing of empires. He was slightly more advanced than other writers of that period, in that respect.
The humanist aspect it’s quite interesting because it’s very kind of gentle and very kind of caring, and you can see how it turned into more of a children’s story when you read the some parts of it, then it’s not just brutal and violent.
Veli Jože’s relationship with Earth, let’s say, with Mother Earth is quite accentuated quite upfront in the story, which is nice.
PETER KORCHNAK: Why do you think it took this long to translate one of the better writers from the Croatian canon?
MARTIN MAYHEW: That’s something that I don’t understand. It should be available to people in the English speaking world. It’s a great story.
I haven’t found any definitive translations into English of his work. They may have appeared in some collections of short stories or fairy tales.
PETER KORCHNAK: Mayhew has read the first paragraphs of his translation on YouTube. Here it is:
PETER KORCHNAK: In the extended version of this episode Mayhew also reads another passage from his English version of Veli Jože, exclusively for Remembering Yugoslavia. You can hear that on Remembering Yugoslavia’s Patreon page.
MARTIN MAYHEW: More of his work has been translated into German, I believe, than into any English. So there’s a whole body of work that now I could translate, because I now have knowledge of his lexicon, his vocabulary, glossary, the way he talks, the way he writes. I would like to dig deeper into his work. If a publisher would like to contact me, I would love to do that.
There is so much work by Croatian artists, writers that could be translated and published in English. And I would like to be involved in that.
PETER KORCHNAK: Awesome. Hire this guy.
One major late-period poem of Nazor’s that has been translated into English is “Uz Maršala Tita” (With Marshal Tito). More on it later in the show.
PETER KORCHNAK: I found a few additional poems of Nazor’s translated into English as well. The translations by K. Przerwa-Tetmajer and Frances Notley were published in the journal Slavonic and East European Review before the end of the war, in 1945.
Vladimir Nazor, Tito’s Partisan
PETER KORCHNAK: Nazor was living in Zagreb when World War II broke out and the Independent State of Croatia was established.
MARIJAN LIPOVAC: At the age of 66, at the end of 1942, Vladimir Nazor defected from Zagreb, which was the capital of the puppet Independent State of Croatia, the Ustaša regime, he defected to the Partisans by boat across the Kupa River, and this had a great effect on the morale of the Partisans who knew Nazor as a writer from school reading books, who was also one of the most prominent Croatian writers of that time with a very strong patriotic orientation, in Yugoslav, in Croatian, but also in Yugoslav spirit.
PETER KORCHNAK: Marijan Lipovac is a historian in Zagreb. He works at the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts (his views here are his own). He is the president of the Croatian-Czech Society and he studied Nazor’s political career in his early days as a historian. I found Lipovac via his big piece on T-Portal on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of Nazor’s death.
Nazor left Zagreb with the poet Ivan Goran Kovačić. Radio London reported the escape as well.
“[W]hen an uprising broke out in our country and our peoples led the fight for freedom, the old poet knew where he belonged,” wrote the editor Milica Grabovac in the 60s. “He crossed…from the occupied to the free territory in a small boat that seemed to him like a beautiful galley that sails to the Island of Salvation, and he begs it to transport all those who suffer to the other side of the water, to the difficult but sacred paths of honesty and freedom.” End quote.
Nazor’s stock biography states he left Zagreb because he was disappointed with the Independent State of Croatia. There is another version of the escape. That story is coming up later in the show.
MARIJAN LIPOVAC: Nazor joined the Supreme Staff of Yugoslav Partisans, led by Josip Broz Tito, who were then in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And Nazor went through difficult times, for example the legendary battles on rivers Neretva and Sutjeska. Of course, he did not fight with weapons, but he was worthy because of his texts published in Partisan newspapers, leaflets, and speeches. He also wrote a diary, which was later published.
PETER KORCHNAK: A few months after his escape, while he was in Herzegovina, Nazor called in an open letter on Dalmatians to join the Partisans. “I escaped from the slavery and shame of the so-called Independent State of Croatia, to breathe freedom here and to be imbued with a sense of national honor and human dignity. (…) May every Dalmatian mountain be turned into a Partisan fortress, every bay into a pirate’s nest against the robbers of our sea, every island into a canyon that smashes the predatory occupier’s ships.” End quote. Even in propaganda materials Nazor remained true to his literary self.
In the Partisans, Nazor became politically active, ending up during the Battle of Sutjeska elected as president of ZAVNOH, Zemaljsko antifašističko vijeće narodnog oslobođenja Hrvatske (Land Anti-fascist Council for the People’s Liberation of Croatia), the Croatian proto-parliament that after the war was transformed into the national Sabor.
MARIJAN LIPOVAC: And it happened without his knowledge. As Vladimir Bakarić, who was the leading Croatian politician after 1945, said in an interview in 1976, Partisans sent a telegram to Nazor and asked him to accept, and he did, but the answer came after he had already been elected. And Bakarić in the interview said: “We were so sure that he would accept that we dared to take this step.”
When the war ended with the victory of [the] Partisans, Nazor came to Zagreb, magnificently welcomed, like the president, and continued to hold his office even after ZAVNOH was turned into Sabor, into parliament of Croatia.
PETER KORCHNAK: In the war, continues the editor Grabovac, Nazor rode “an exhausted horse that kept stumbling, and himself weak and sick, the old poet bravely took a long journey through Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sandžak, and Montenegro. During all that time, he kept the strength of steadfastness and cheerfulness of spirit and passed them on to others.”
Nazor also expressed strong support for women. In January 1944 he gave a speech at Otočac announcing the birth of a new type of woman. “Above all of those women about whom the history of our peoples speaks and our folk poems sing…the most radiant is the character of the Partisan woman. (…) When a man of today says to a woman, “Comrade!” it is not a conventional word, used customarily or out of courtesy; it is the word whereby the Partisan man admits that the Partisan woman is his equal in everything. For us, the woman question has been solved. And we can be proud that in these difficult but also great days, we gave to the world a new type of woman—the Partisan woman.”
The speech, which was later widely quoted in socialist Yugoslavia, signaled the elevation of the female Partisan to the status of a revolutionary icon in postwar Yugoslav culture, writes Jelena Batinić in a book about Partizankas.
Nazor also kept writing, penning works capturing his experience among the Partisans and praising them and their leader: Partisan Poems, With the Partisans, and Legends about Comrade Tito. He wrote a preface to Ivan Goran Kovačić’s edition of “Jama,” hailed as the Croatian “Guernica.”
The author Ljudevit Krajačić again: “Among the Partisans, under the most difficult circumstances and under enemy fire, Nazor does not put down his pen. The artist-poet draws from the People’s Liberation Struggle, creating a series of poems dedicated to the struggle, the people, the leader, and the national heroes, with heroic efforts invested in destroying the enemies of national freedom. He is loved among the Partisans; wherever he goes, they welcome him with enthusiasm, and he reciprocates with fiery speeches, wonderful poems encouraging and calling to arms and raising a never dimmed faith in the victory of the people.”
Nazor, continues Krajačić, “was a friend of the people, an excellent friend and father to every child, a proud fighter for the freedom of the people, an angry hater of our enemies, and an endless admirer of his friend, our celebrated leader Marshal Tito. He proved this with the poem “Our Leader” which he wrote on the liberated lands when the fiercest fighting was raging.” End quote.
The poem is but one example of how much Nazor glorified Tito in his works. To me, raised behind the Iron Curtain, this smells like cult of personality spirit. The unpoetic translation is mine.
[SOUNDBITE ”Allegro Nostalgico” by Dee Yan-Key]
“He is made of iron, but in that iron beats a warm heart. When he raises his arms, a ray of light rises into the dark clouds. When he walks, ice cracks under his heels. This is how he leads us. We know not if he is the son of today or a character from an ancient story. We follow him ever more firmly and further and further, and in us faith springs up even more strongly.”
This was not an isolated verse. His text for Oskar Danon’s tune that became the song, “Uz Maršala Tita” (With Marshal Tito) is equally idolatrous. In the interview Lipovac mentioned earlier, Vladimir Bakarić also said that Nazor had spent quite a bit of time with Tito, formed a friendship with him, and grew to respect him so much he wrote poems about him and the Partisans.
Stalin was still a friend of Yugoslavia’s at the time as well; the original version of the poem slash song opened with the line “With Tito and Stalin, two heroic sons.” In true Stalinist fashion, the lyric was changed after the 1948 split, into “With Marshal Tito, the heroic son.” You heard the English version earlier, here’s the original.
Vladimir Nazor After the World War
PETER KORCHNAK: Nazor returned to Zagreb on May 16th, 1945, triumphant and indeed magnificently welcomed. Period footage shows him in a convertible car, shaking the hands of elated Zagrebans who shower him with flowers while two soldiers support him on each side.
One of the hands he shook was that of a soldier named Većeslav Holjevac, the future two-term mayor of Zagreb responsible for the creation of Novi Zagreb across the river Sava.
At the end of the parade, Nazor addressed the packed Ban Jelačić Square with poetic and patriotic words, announcing the creation of a new more humane social order, bringing love “not only for every Croat and our close and distant Slavic brothers, but also for Man in general, regardless of language, religion, occupation, and social class, and even regardless of the color of his skin.” Nazor denounced Pavelić, hailed Tito, and called on people to work hard to rebuild the country into a socialist republic for all.
Nazor was quickly confirmed as Croatia’s leader.
MARIJAN LIPOVAC: From July 1945 until his death in June 1949, Vladimir Nazor was the president of the Presidium of Sabor, Sabor is the Parliament in Croatia, of the People’s Republic of Croatia, as Croatia was officially called back then, so the president of collective leadership of Croatia, was Nazor. So, Nazor held the highest political position in Croatia, he was addressed to as president, and in that sense he can be considered the first president of Croatia.
PETER KORCHNAK: That is, the Republic of Croatia which was part of federal Yugoslavia but which did not have the office of the president, as that existed only on the all-Yugoslav level and a few years after Nazor’s death (it only belonged to Josip Broz Tito, from 1953 to 1980, with the presidency being collective outside this period). Those who say Croatia’s first president was Franjo Tudjman are of course also right, as he was the first to hold the title of the president of the Republic of Croatia, that is, the independent, post-Yugoslav one.
MARIJAN LIPOVAC: If you ask an average Croat who is the first Croatian president, they will mostly spontaneously say Franjo Tuđman. Somebody will maybe say Tito, which is not so wrong because Tito was a Croat and he was the first person in Croatian history who held the title president of republic, not Croatia but Yugoslavia. So, Nazor as a first Croatian president, this is more like fun fact. In [the] conscience of an average Croat, he at the first place was a writer.
I mean there’s dispute only on some maybe intellectual level, it’s not a question which is occupying a big part of Croatian society. Although we have enough historic questions about Ustaše, Partizani, and the Second World War this is not such an important. It is more like a fun fact.
There is one testimony that Nazor called himself the president of the Croatian state. Nazor showed that he saw himself as a ruler in 1944 with his epic poem, which is named “Nova Avisaga” (New Abishag), which he dedicated to Sida Montilija, a Jewish woman from Sarajevo, the nurse who cared for him during his treatment in Italy. According to the Bible, Abishag was the servant of old King David, so Nazor obviously identified himself with David. He calls himself in this epic poem “the grayhaired ruler.” It can also be understood as poetic freedom, but in any case, Nazor was aware that he was formally of the highest position in Croatia, even though he was not really in charge, he was not a real ruler, maybe in just protocolar sense.
PETER KORCHNAK: What wasn’t so fun was Nazor’s job.
MARIJAN LIPOVAC: As President of the Presidium of Sabor, Nazor mainly had protocolar duties, but he also led the parliamentary sessions until November 1946, when the function of the President of Sabor, or speaker of Sabor, let’s say, and the President of the Presidium of Sabor were separated, and Nazor was able to devote himself to the duties of the head of the Croatian state, let’s say. He had to sign laws and various decisions, regardless of whether he agreed with them or not, such as those on nationalization, and critics will hold against him that he also signed death sentences.
Nazor was also the president of the People’s Front of Croatia, which was a mass organization that the Communist Party used in the first year[s] after 1946 to consolidate its dictatorship. But he also write [sic] that many people considered he was powerful and influential, so they turned to him for help. Nazor wrote in the diary: “Those who come guided by a true sense of friendship are very rare. In the end, almost everyone asks for some kind of intervention, mostly for thing[s] in which I cannot and should not interfere. Nevertheless, I intervened in several cases, and often succeeded. I prefer to receive youth, Pioneers, and sometimes children from orphanages. (…) But, some people don’t visit so often any more. Finally, people saw that power is not in my hands, that I do not authoritatively decide anything, that the President of the Presidium is not what they thought, so it is better for them to go to the regular way. I still receive afflicted righteous people and sinners worthy of help, and, as I help them as much as I can, sometimes even they don’t find out about it themselves.”
Nazor also wrote in his diary that he lives as in a golden cage. He wrote: “I can’t walk in the streets and parks. Wherever I go, there is some escort. I’m too bored with this “golden cage” of mine. Even though I hide, people recognize me from the pictures in the newspaper. They surround me quickly.”
PETER KORCHNAK: As Croatia’s president, Nazor also had diplomatic duties.
MARIJAN LIPOVAC: In diplomacy Nazor exclusively performed protocolar duties, so he welcomed various delegations and high-ranking guests from abroad, such as the first people of then still fraternal Bulgaria and Albania, Georgi Dimitrov and Enver Hoxha, when they visited Zagreb. And the impressions of this part of the work he kept only in his diary. In the diary he writes: “Visits, frequent visits, and with the exception of my comrades in various stages of the Storm”—Storm is like a war, he meant—“mostly “from people in front of whom I must be careful what and how to speak. Insincerity, personal egoistic aspirations, “groping”. It is easiest with representatives of foreign authorities who came on diplomatic duty. To speak without saying anything. There is always a subject (literature, tourism, public works, folklore, etcetera) which provides material for longer, harmless, and sometimes pleasant conversation. I’ve gotten pretty good at it. For them, it is the most important form of welcome.”
By the way, Nazor died in June 1949, right at the time of the final break of Yugoslavia with the Soviet Union and its satellites, and he was outraged by Stalin’s behavior, which he showed as he best knew, through his verses. He wrote the poem, “Russia, Mother,” with the first verses: “Russia, mother, are you going to drown your beautiful child.” And the day before his death he wrote the poem “Lonely Oak” in which he defiantly says: “We are alone. Let it be. We always raged alone.”
PETER KORCHNAK: In 1946, a Croatian publishing house launched a 15-volume collection of Nazor’s works. He did not live to see the final three volumes.
Even in death Nazor remained poetic. He died on June 19th, 1949, at about 2 am, likely in his sleep, in his residence at Ivan Goran Kovačić Street. His embalmed corpse was displayed in the Parliament building and he received a state funeral on June 21st, the June solstice, near the Tomb of the Fallen Heroes at the Mirogoj Cemetery. A choir named after him sang over the open grave.
PETER KORCHNAK: The author Krajačić concluded his text by saying, Nazor “carried deeply rooted love for his native land and a strong faith in its resurrection and complete liberation. (…) He did not despair, but was strengthened by faith in the glorious days of our nation’s past and faith in the nation’s even more beautiful future. He was “our great poet, storyteller, Partisan fighter, not with a gun but with a pen and words, who (…) instilled faith in everyone that victory is certain and that every sacrifice offered for that victory is sublime and immortal.” End quote.
Which is to say, Nazor was posthumously praised with words resembling those he himself had used to praise Tito.
Another example, just to underscore the point. The editor Milica Grabovac summarized the reasons for Nazor’s fame and favor with the regime thusly:
“The entire life of our people is reflected in the works of Vladimir Nazor. From the ancient days of its history to the famous epic of the Partisan war, everything that was significant in the life of the people, all aspects of the struggle for preservation, the era of freedom and slavery, power and misery, victory and defeat, is reflected in the poet’s pages. With a lot of human warmth and genuine enthusiasm, Nazor sang about our aspirations for freedom and progress.”
MARIJAN LIPOVAC: The communists celebrated Vladimir Nazor because they were aware of how much prestige the fact that he joined them brought to them. And even during the war a certain personality cult of Nazor was developing. For example his portrait stood out, of course along with the portraits of Tito, and other Partisans and later communist leaders; Nazor was given a street in Zagreb during his lifetime; and when he died he was buried with the greatest honors. Since 1961, Nazor’s name has been given to the highest award that Croatia gives to the artists every year, which also symbolically showed the place Nazor had in the communist interpretation of history.
[SOUNDBITE ”Allegro Nostalgico” by Dee Yan-Key]
PETER KORCHNAK: The plaques remain on Nazor’s birth home in Postira though they’re easy to miss as the house is a little set back from the street and faces a back yard from a facade that’s partly separated from Kogule by another stone structure. You also couldn’t find the house on Google Maps—until a certain podcast host added it on there.
There’s a bust of Nazor down Porat, the seaside promenade street, facing a bar from a tiny triangular park. Otherwise no signs, no information plaques, nothing to link Nazor to the place.
That said, since 1996, the [Vladimir] Nazor School and volunteer groups in Postira have been organizing an educational and cultural festival called Nazor Days. The multiday event held around Nazor’s birthday, 17th thru 20th of May this year, features performances by children’s choirs, theater plays, presentations, discussions, exhibitions, an award ceremony, laying of flowers and wreaths at Nazor’s bust as well as a special mass in the Postira church.
In Bobovišća na moru, where Nazor spent his childhood as well as some later years, there is in a tiny park at the end of the bay a life-size statue of a seated Nazor writing notes, made by fellow Postiran Mirko Ostoja.
A few steps away on a squat stone building is a newish information board informing that the fishing and agricultural village of Bobovišća na moru is quote, “also known as the Poet’s Harbor, thanks to the Nazor family house and its most prominent occupant—Croatian literature’s laureate, Vladimir Nazor. The three-house complex consists of the ground floor, main first floor, and the attic. The latter features dormers which align with the windows on the first floor of the house. The sides of the building can be reached by two symmetrically positioned stone staircases, one on each side. Besides its value as an example of early 19th century architecture. Vladimir Nazor home is a protected national and cultural heritage site of the Republic of Croatia. The Nazor family house is home to a small memorial collection of Vladimir Nazor’s original writings, items and photographs, and his monument can be found at the bottom of the Bobovišća bay.” End quote.
As you heard earlier, the Nazor family home bears a plaque dating back to socialist Yugoslavia.
Reporting on her trip to Bobovišće in 2021, Helena Puljiz said a local resident told her the house is closed most of the year, except a few days in August when the elderly woman who owns it comes for vacation. Few people ask about it or Nazor anyway.
And by the way Slovenia’s former prime minister, Janez Janša is rumored to have a villa in Bobovišća and president Milan Kučan has been spotted vacationing there too.
Now, there is also Vladimir Nazor Street in Bobovišća, leading up to the Three Sisters monument, and on the Brač island also in Selca, Supetar, and Sutivan. In Postira there isn’t a Nazor Street but, as you heard, the elementary school there bears his name.
Some 302 additional streets around Croatia, including the capital, bear Nazor’s name, second only after the 16th century revolutionary Matija Gubec.
The tourist agency Nazor, established in 1962 for the recreation of children and youth, is still in operation, now under the umbrella of Zagreb Holding. A reading room in the Zagreb City Library bears his name.
His likeness appeared on postage stamps of the old country, in 1976, and the new, in 1999.
In addition to Brač island, sculptures or busts of his are in Zagreb, at the Croatian Academic Society and the Parliament as well as the Tuškanac park where the 3.5 meter tall, Saruman-like Nazor, made by Stjepan Gračan in 1971, is wearing a Partisan cap; there are statues of his also in Crikvenica, Otočac, and Topusko.
In November 2021, reporters from Plus Portal, an online publication in Slavonski Brod, sent requests to all eight Vladimir Nazor schools in the two counties in northeastern Croatia they cover for information about their Vladimir Nazor-related activities, displays, anything. One school ignored their request; another told them the bust of Nazor wearing a Partisan cap was moved in 1992 from the front of the school to archival storage, where has been since. This by the way was in a town that had a street named after the Ustaša ideologue, Mile Budak, until April of last year.
PETER KORCHNAK: Nazor’s birthday, May 30th, is marked in the media as such, with obligatory bios from the files reciting the basic facts of his biography. That day is a holiday but because it’s the Day of Croatian statehood.
The bigger occasion where his name gets mentioned is the Vladimir Nazor Award, Established in 1959, it is given nowadays by the Republic of Croatia as an annual award and as a lifetime award for the best artistic achievements in the fields of literature, music, film, fine and applied arts, theater arts, architecture, and urban planning.
Recipients include the past guest on the show, author and university professor Maša Kolanović, as well as others mentioned on the show, like the architect Vjenceslav Richter; authors Miroslav Krleža and Goran Tribuson; film directors Vinko Brečan, Veljko Bulajić, Rajko Grlić, and Branko Schmidt; theater director Izet Hajdarhozić; and fine artists Antun Augustinčić, Dušan Džamonja, and Alfred Pal.
And also one Rade Šerbedžija, best known in the West for being typecast as an Eastern European villain.
MARIJAN LIPOVAC: During the 1990s, there were proposals from the political right to change the name of the Vladimir Nazor Award. It was not accepted.
It is generally accepted that Nazor was actually used by the communists and that he is not guilty of what communists are usually blamed for, especially the terror after they came to power.
The Vladimir Nazor Award is awarded every year on June 19, on the anniversary of Nazor’s death, and this is how official Croatia still remembers its, so to speak, first president.
PETER KORCHNAK: In any case, it is the winners of the award not the namesake that get the most or in fact any attention in connection with it.
Nazor’s pre-World War II works remain on compulsory reading lists in Croatia. Veli Jože remains a classic here.
[SOUNDBITE – “Mitraljeza” by Uknown Choir]
PETER KORCHNAK: That was another Nazor poem put into song about love—for a faithful, fascist-slaying machine gun.
There was a reason some wanted to erase Vladimir Nazor’s name from the country’s chief cultural award: the seven years he spent at Tito’s side. Croatia remains the least pro-Yugoslav former republic, and on balance anti-communism still seems strong here. Even anecdotally, I’ve heard all kinds of comments from passersby when I photograph Yugoslav-era plaques or statues around Zagreb.
So how come Nazor remains on the pedestal…and in street and school and statue names?
Cognitive dissonance, is a psychological state or perception you get when you encounter information that in some way opposes or counters or is inconsistent with your own beliefs and values. Proposed as a psychological theory by Leon Festinger in 1957, cognitive dissonance introduces negative emotional reactions which in turn generate the need to reduce them in some way. The greater the dissonance, the stronger the urge to lessen the emotional distress that comes with it. Festinger described the attempt to reduce cognitive dissonance as natural a human tendency as, quote, “as hunger impels a person to eat.”
There are multiple ways to combat cognitive dissonance.
One of those is to minimize the importance of conflicting information. One strategy is what I might call Yes But: you admit that whatever counters your beliefs does exist or did happen but additional information, perhaps a lesser known fact, lowers the importance of it or even disqualifies it altogether. This way, whatever you believe or know can be left unaffected.
Again, the major events in Nazor’s biography that go squarely against his status as a Croatian great are his joining the Partisans during the war, when he also wrote some pro-Partisan works, and then after the war being the head of socialist Croatia.
People experiencing dissonance about Nazor as Partisan, who are mostly on the political right, promote an alternative narrative of why Nazor joined the Partisans.
In 2014, the late Nedjeljko Mihanović, a historian, Nazor scholar, and one-time Speaker of Parliament, dropped a bombshell: Nazor had been blackmailed and kidnapped into the Partisans. Mihanović based his claim on a conversation in 1952 with Nazor’s sister Irma. In that conversation, again 62 years before, Irma Nazor told Mihanović that two Partisans, Ivan Goran Kovačić, whom you already know, and Ivo Marinković, who by the way was also from Brač and was later proclaimed a Yugoslav People’s Hero, visited Nazor to get him to join the Partisans. If he didn’t, they said, when they came to power after the war they would confiscate the Nazor family properties because, as a recipient of an NDH state prize earlier that year, he would be considered a collaborator.
Nazor could not make up his mind. On December 29th, 1942, Marinković visited Nazor again, alone this time, and told him it wasn’t safe to talk in the house so he should come outside. Nazor, a sick old man by then, didn’t even kiss his sister goodbye, as he normally would when leaving the house. A car waiting outside then whisked Nazor away.
The story actually dates back to 1943. The Independent State of Croatia (NDH) had a PR problem.
MARIJAN LIPOVAC: For Ustaše, it was difficult for them to accept that Nazor had gone over to the other side, especially since he enjoyed well-deserved honors in NDH, in Croatia under Ustaša control.
In 1942 he received a state award, he was a member of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts.
In 1944, a critical text was published in the Ustaša newspaper about Nazor, in which he was criticized for his earlier political deviousness and claimed that he became an agent of Bolshevik imperialism, that he went over to the side of the destroyers of Croatia, and actually stood up against the ideas he promoted in his works.
In this article it was written: “The fate of Vladimir Nazor is sad. In his gray years, he decided to be a mean of destruction of what he had ecstatically hoped for in his young days and to which he dedicated his verses, which still affect single Croat today. There is a fight for the survival of Croatian people and the state. And this fight will be fought and finished in spite of all those who want to hinder that fight. It will also be completed without and against Vladimir Nazor. (…) For what Vladimir Nazor is doing today, there is no forgiveness. The poet of the Croatian kings is dead for us. Only a senile old man remains, powerlessly standing up against his own literary heritage. That heritage remains a national value for us, regardless of Vladimir Nazor’s politics.”
Ustaše even published in their newspaper that Partisans shot Vladimir Nazor, but in any case, Nazor was not shot.
PETER KORCHNAK: Even some writers on the right admit the abduction story is implausible but it took hold in those circles and remains in circulation the way Pizzagate does.
Similarly, Nazor allegedly agreed to lead the postwar Croatian parliament under pressure and unwillingly. The Communists held him in isolation from outside influences, under guard of an illiterate Serb, and treated him like a puppet.
Nazor also disliked the job inside the golden cage.
MARIJAN LIPOVAC: In his diary, Nazor wrote that he did not get power but honor—power in Croatian is vlast and honor is čast, so he got čast not vlast, it’s a rhyme in Croatian.
PETER KORCHNAK: All of this has the additional benefit of underscoring the evil nature of the communists, their party, and their regime (and by the way, the Communists also poisoned Nazor and denied him his wish to have a religious funeral, according to Irma Nazor). See? Those komunjari forced the national literary great into doing their bidding and used him for their propaganda.
As for his work: at the time of this writing, Nazor’s Croatian Wikipedia page contains a section that concedes he wrote pro-Partisan works but that they contain, quote “quite a few pathetic verses that cannot withstand more serious criticism,” that is, they’re of lesser quality than his nationally-oriented output. Moreover, they are in any case, quote, “an outpouring of Nazor’s exuberant Mediterranean temperament and vitalistic enthusiasm, and not programmatic blathering on the orders of the communist rulers.” And finally, quote, “this is also the period in which Nazor wrote some of his best verses on national themes without falling into melodramatic pathos.”
So it’s all good in the Nazor narrative neighborhood.
A variation of minimizing conflicting information is to ignore it altogether. Silence is indicative of this strategy. Strategic silence about Nazor as a Partisan (sidenote, as well as about Franjo Tudjman having been a Partisan), silence about Nazor as an opponent of the Ustaše and supporter of Tito. With the tiny exception of those information boards I mentioned, there is no cultural tourism related to Nazor and his life and works, and I haven’t found any mentions or attempts to do so.
The next method of combatting cognitive dissonance is to seek out and highlight information that supports your beliefs.
Here, Nazor did indeed join the Partisans and led the Croatian nation on behalf of Tito’s communists, but he never joined the Communist Party so he wasn’t too deeply into the whole commie thing. On the contrary, according to a former OZNA leader in Croatia, Nazor was known to the secret police to only have mild sympathies to the communist ideas. Instead, he was motivated in his actions by his fear of the authorities for his activities before he joined the Partisans. Oh, and by the way, OZNA “knew” Nazor was bisexual.
Nazor also stayed true both to his literary qualities and the Croatian language. In other words, what redeems Nazor is the fact that, especially with everything he had written prior to World War II, meaning his best work, he was a great Croatian writer and a great defender of Croatian as a language. MARIJAN LIPOVAC: There is one episode from 1944 concerning Nazor’s attitude towards the independence of the Croatian language and the imposition of Serbian as an informal common language in Yugoslavia (it was a frequent practice in the period from 1945 to 1990, since the capital of the state was in Belgrade, in Serbia).
In the letter sent by Milovan Đilas to Aleksandar Ranković, who was the head of OZNA, the communist secret police, in this letter Đilas informs Ranković about his meeting with the head of the Press Bureau of the Partisan government, Prvoslav Vasiljević, who was invited by Nazor and criticized for imposing the Serbian language in his reports from Croatia.
According to this Vasiljević, during the meeting on the island of Vis, Nazor told him, among other things: “I invited you to talk about a very important issue, which I, as a Croat and the president of [the] Croatian state, cannot pass over in silence. You have introduced the language of Belgrade streets in your Bulletin. You are imposing it despite the fact that you are on the territory of the Croatian state. It offends us Croats, and we do not want the language of Belgrade streets. When you go to Serbia, write and speak however you want. While you are here on the territory of Croatia, you have to write Croatian. (…).”
Đilas forwarded Vasiljević’s letter to Aleksandar Ranković, with the remark, “Put an end to these outbursts and find an inspirer – that’s my opinion”, but the communists, who still had to struggle for power, still needed Nazor, so nothing happened to him.
As far as I know, this is the only case where Nazor showed disagreement with the future communist regime, although we know about this case indirectly.
There are also various oral testimonies, for example that Nazor after 1945 told a friend, “This is not what we fought for.” But we don’t have that in documents that Nazor was really in disagreement with the communist regime.
PETER KORCHNAK: What’s also less known is that Nazor was a man of faith. According to this school of thought, Nazor was a Christian poet.
In 2015, the Croatian Catholic weekly Glas koncila published the collection, I Believe: Poetry of Religious Inspiration. In the afterword, the aforementioned Nedjeljko Mihanović describes Nazor not only as a writer preoccupied with myths and mythology but also as a “deeply religious poet,” and removes from Nazor the aura of a Partisan writer, mostly using the kidnapping story.
In her review of the collection in Matica Hrvatska’s magazine Vijenac, titled “Vladimir Nazor: From Pagan to Christian,” Lada Žigo claims that early in his career Nazor considered himself a “pagan, a nationalist and a mystic,” a contradiction he resolved in works where expressing his Christian faith and faith in the Bible. “The book I Believe,” writes Žigo, is a selection of poems that, “proves that in Nazor’s world, reality, imagination, and hedonism, there was also a believer, sometimes deeply subtle and vague, but often prayerfully obedient, restless, crucified, and lifted up in faith.”
The collection highlights three kinds of religious sentiment in Nazor’s quote unquote “religious poetry.” One, epic and prophetic. Two, contemplative, highlighting the intimate connection between Man and God. And three, astral, with the poet floating in space, above nature, the world, ever ethereal.
Either way, “There are few collections in Croatian literature as completely devoted to mystical-religious themes as this one,” writes Žigo, and concludes her review with an appropriate, albeit a bit confusing anecdote.
On November 28th, 1940, Nazor jumped out of bed in the middle of the night and started writing an obituary to his friend, the writer Milan Marjanović, who actually died 15 years later. The ghost of Marjanović appeared to Nazor to tell him the truth about God and say quote, “I died suddenly, almost on my feet, a few minutes ago. There is God and there is life beyond the grave. To clear all doubts, here I am contacting you…”
The third method of reducing cognitive dissonance is to fight the inconsistent information, chiefly by dimissing it and its sources as faulty, unreliable, immoral, and so on. This narrative strategy aims to discredit Nazor altogether (I’ve noticed this kind of strategy employed by the Croatian right in other contexts; of course, discrediting witnesses is a classic legal strategy).
For example, an article on a Croatian veterans web portal rejects Nazor as a “Partisan poet,” who praised the big criminal Tito. And it rejects Nazor as a Communist sympathizer and collaborator, someone who knew but said nothing about the murders of Croats at Bleiburg or Goli Otok. This is why it’s so scandalous so many streets and schools and even a state award are named after Nazor.
Similarly, in 2008 a long article in Glas koncila titled, “Nazor’s Goat,” that shows how the Independent State of Croatia handled the great Croatian poet’s defection to the enemy (hint: clumsily), uses choice language to highlight Nazor as an immoral, weak old man who was in it for fame and who disagreed with the enemy’s ideology.
During the war, a goat accompanied Nazor everywhere, fulfilling the Communist Party’s assignment to feed him, an old man who was suffering from dysentery, that is the shits, with milk, thus improving the poet’s diet and relieving him of unpleasant unwarriorly ailments. The great Miroslav Krleža shunned him because one, Nazor had called on boycotting him, two, because he won the NDH prize, and three, NDH published Nazor’s works. Nazor is even said to have written the unsigned paean to NDH’s leader Ante Pavelić titled eponymously with his title, “Poglavnik,” though his authorship was never actually confirmed.
What’s more, the elderly Nazor returned to Zagreb accompanied by a Bosnian Jewess assigned to be his caregiver as well as a political and security minder (that’s the Sida Montilija Lipovac talked about earlier). Then he occupied a villa formerly occupied by Mile Budak, the Ustaša ideologist. And finally, concludes the article, Nazor’s poems praising Tito demonstrate that by then he had become creatively impotent and withered.
And finally finally there’s also the rumor that Vladimir Nazor was gay and that Ivan Goran Kovačić was actually his lover. This story, also originating from the Ustaše as an alternative explanation of Nazor’s desertion, is circulated as a fact that is somehow bad and diminishes if not dismisses his literary greatness or political achievements. LGBTQ activists have placed a plaque at his statue in Zagreb’s Tuškanac park hailing his friendship with Kovačić; a biography of Nazor’s life in the 1920s claims he had a relationship with three different married women in that time period, one of whom hung herself because she found out he loved someone else.
[SOUNDBITE ”Allegro Nostalgico” by Dee Yan-Key]
So long story short, Nazor remains a Croatian great regardless of who’s in power. To quote the weekly of Croats in Serbia, Hrvatska riječ, Nazor’s “poetic greatness transcends ideological oppositions.” In other words, regardless of what he wrote and when and who ruled the country at the time or how his work is interpreted or used, at the core the quality of the work contains an essential, universal quality, both in form and content, in its language and its themes.
As the Krleža Publishing House put it, “due to its aesthetic refinement, above all formal excellence, lyrical expression, freshness of inspiration, breadth of modern incentives and the revival of the Chakavian heritage, [Nazor’s work] has a lasting value and an exceptional artistic and national cultural contribution to Croatian literature.”
As a child of the Enlightenment (or socialism, pick your poison), I have nothing but admiration for the Universal. It takes a special person to persist in their creativity through the changing times and a special skill to appeal that way. The regimes and countries—five during Nazor’s life alone—may appropriate the persistent, universal greatness to serve their needs, to reward it, to promote it, to highlight the same things from their own perspective and with their own words. But the Universal just keeps being great itself regardless, on its own and in and of itself, and it will never die.
“Hrvatski jezik” (Croatian Language) is one of Nazor’s poems about his mother tongue, dating to the 1940s during his time with the Partisans. Again, in my inexpert and unpoetic, meaning-focused translation:
I’ve lived my life in you, Ancient and beautiful language of the Croats; Born on the sea threshold of your door I slowly, with effort, adopted you.
Take me where I haven’t been. At the top of the mountain and the end of the jetty At a mountain hut, at a house of gold Your voice murmured to me everywhere. I wanted to be an instrument That sounds like strings And smells like flowers Swarms of words in all you say. So lifted up above the cradle and the grave To breathe with you and to live with you Even when I’m no longer there.
Vladimir Nazor rests in peace at the Mirogoj Cemetery in Zagreb. There under the trees, every now and then he can again hear the sound of chisels in the marble he had longed for so deeply, when the cemetery stonecutters play the headstones like instruments for the ears of giants returned to Mother Earth.
[BACKGROUND MUSIC – “Rainmaker” by Petar Alargić]
PETER KORCHNAK: Next on the show:
SNJEŽANA PRUGINIĆ: Dealing with the trauma of who am I—I came when it was Yugoslavia and now, here in the diaspora I’m forced to kind of look at different identities and try and find new identities.
PETER KORCHNAK: Few people in Europe know intergenerational trauma like the people of the former Yugoslavia. What is trauma? What does it do to you? And how can you cope? On the next episode of Remembering Yugoslavia, shit’ll get real and we’ll try to heal.
Tune in wherever you listen to podcasts, follow to make sure you don’t miss out, and subscribe to support us.
[OUTRO MUSIC – “Jugoslavijo / Od Vardara pa do Triglava” by Horn Orchestra]
PETER KORCHNAK: That’s all for this episode of Remembering Yugoslavia, thank you for listening. Find additional information, photos, embeds, and the transcript of this episode at RememberingYugoslavia.com/Podcast.
While you’re there and before you go, take a moment to back the show and get access to the extended version of this episode, featuring extra interviews, poetry, and more, as well as all other extended and bonus content. Navigate to RememberingYugoslavia.com/Donate and get poetic with your wallet.
Outro music courtesy of Robert Petrić.
Special thanks to Pavle “Paja” Fukarek, Valery Perry, Dean Rahan, and Adrijana Vidić.
I am Peter Korchňak.
- Batinić, Jelena. Women and Yugoslav Partisans: A History of World War II Resistance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015
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