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IN SEARCH OF HOMELAND
- Ivo Tasovac -
It's agreed among historians that their purpose of studying history is to detect a historical event. By historical event they mean any occurrence strong enough toinfluence the course of human history. The Croatian hijacking may not be a historical event of that magnitude, yet no one can say it passed unnoticed. In fact, it shook a good number of people, including those who heretofore never heard of the Croats. Most of them were angry, but some of them (mostly those whose countries were under communism) were elated. Even the haughty and unsympathetic to Croats andtheir causes, The New York Times, grudgingly though, published the whole page, as requested by the hijackers, of the Croatian complaints, not only against communism but against Yugoslavia as well.
Personally, the event touched me very deeply. That fateful day I was in my office at the University of Utah, pondering over Salvador Dali's picture "Autumn Cannibalism". The picture hung there for some time, but today something, some dark premonition, made me to take a closer look at it. It seemed to have sprung into life. The creatures in it were devouring each other ferociously. The blood spattered and dripped fromtheir forks and knives and the entire picture became stained with the dark-red color. The world gone mad, I thought. Who knows were my thoughts would've taken me, had my friend not appeared at the door.
Hey, what's the hell is matter with you damn Croats ? - he started...Do you want turn the world upside down...? What are you talking about ? - I asked. Actually, I thought he was joking, as he usually did whenever he came to see me. Then he became serious and told me what had really happened. All I remember was that the news exploded in my head with an intensity of a small bomb. Paralyzed by sudden anxiety mixed with an acute sense of helplessness, I wished to disappear into thin air or turn into a stone, without any emotions. I was seized by fright akin to aninexperienced actor on stage, watched by millions of critical human eyes which rendered me speechless, as if someone's hand had severed my vocal cords with a razor blade. Except this was not a stage, nor a make-believe world . This was a real world, a real human drama, actually a human tragedy of which, by virtue of being a Croat, l wascondemned to feel its emotional intensity and its frightful entanglement.
In the meantime, my friend tried his best to put me at ease and make me relaxed. He talked very calmly about causes and consequences of this and any similar acts in the world devided by trenches of hostility and paranoia. Whoever crosses those trenches, and for whatever reasons...The last word I heard was the reason and thereafter I watched his lipsmoving but heard no sound coming out of his mouth. I managed to escape into the world of my own. After the initial stage of fright and grief, I took the refuge into the kingdom of our Croatian despair. How many times have Itraveled similar desolate roads so far upon which one hears nothing but wailing and howling of theunmitigated human loneliness. Morbid thoughts kept leaping out of my brain. I saw a huge arena with naked people in it, waiting like gladiators for the snarling beasts to come out of their cages to sink their hungry and glistening teeth into their flesh...All the brave and dead people of our past paraded before me, taking a bow, like good actors in a gruesome Shakespearean play, after thecurtain fall.
The entire history of our people, in sequence, flashed in my mind. Each sequence ending with corpses in a pools of blood. Most likely because of my tragic sense of history I recalled the ritual death practices by Aztecs. Those familiar with the story of the Aztecs will recall the sacrifices of the young and radiant people, every night, to assure the rise of their sun-god from the womb of darkness every morning. History in general, andours in particular, seemed to be filled with cruel gods who took pleasure in devouring their victims. But whereas the old ones, with all of their cruelties, had some compassion left, contemporary ones have none. The cruel Yugoslav sun-god mocks and jeers our blood tributes, because, as the poet said (Father Dante):" We are without the Heaven and the Hell - a swampy/ Valley where we push and gnaw / The epic horrors without your Inferno."* Indeed, we don't have Dante's Inferno, we have Yugoslavia instead, a baren land with gray waters and gray sky and no soul and therefore no Hell and no Heaven.
An unexpected surge of wrath rose within me, directed mostly against my own impotence and wallowing in self-pity. I returned to the stark naked reality. His lips were still moving but the sound was coming out now and I could hear it, loud and clear. He was still talking of crime and punishment and of Yugoslavia's valuable position on both sides of the trenches... I'm trying to be reasonable and realistic...Of course, he was right, but I wasn't in the mood to listen to any rational explanation, particularly at times when the so called Reason with the capital "R" is reduced to a subservient role of a common executioner. I stood up and left the office. He ran after me and grabbed me by my left arm, trying to calm me down. We walked together out of the building without saying a word to each other, but I sensed his sympathy and concerns.
Outside, I felt a profound anguish and vacuity of my whole being. People, newscommentators, the news headlines, all of them I experienced like a gladiator the spectators with their "pollice verso" in a Roman arena, refusing mercy to the beaten slave, who had fought for his life and had lost. I was in my car, driving, without beingconscious of my motion or destination . After a while, I realized that I'd entered into one of the canyons and drove winding and twisting road towards the top of the Wasatch Mountains. The peaks and the valleys of the Mountains were majestic and soothing. There was a string of of clear lakes dug into the stone, reflecting on the surface the shadow of silvery Aspen trees. I came out of the car and took a deep breath of freshmountain air. The breeze frolicked in my hair and on my face, leaving on my lips the taste of thedistant sea. Exhausted, I lay on the ground under the nearby tree. Above me, silvery leaves of Aspen moved by the playful breeze, rang like thousands of silvery chimes. The earth smelt rich and my nostrils were filled with the smell of sage and the pines from the shores of the distant sea.
Someone's unseen hand softly fell upon my shoulders and unexpected calm rushed though my soul. When in turmoil and mental anguish, the Ancients sought peace and tranquility from the nature, I remembered. In the midst of my solitude, I longed for the times and the people whose search for justice was a way of life. As a most welcomed messenger of that forgotten but sane world, Pindar came to my mind: "Hope", he said," cherishes the soul of he who lives in justice". But what happens when one is not allowed to live in justice ? One is deprived of one's humanity. In that case, I was told, justice was like an animal living in the forest, an like any other animal, it has to be hunted down. Again I looked around me. Nothing moved this time. As though the moving wave of life, suddenly stood still. How tempting it was to shut the door behind and stay here in this timeless stillness and forget all about the trenches and the modern gods. But that would precisely be what the gods want me to do - to do nothing and die by means of inertness. Even if I had a choice, I thought, I would still go back, knowing full well that the moment Ire-entered the world of man, someone's teeth would sink into my heart. It didn't matter any more. The purity and richness of pain, born out of human tragedy, finally seemed to me by far more important and bigger then life itself.
Coming home that evening, my six year old son ran towards me with excitement, shouting: Dad, everybody is talking about us Croats and they were telling me in school that there wasn't such a thing as Croatia. He was beaming with pride, as if he was vindicated for the insults inflicted upon him for much too long. Now, he had the proof. I pulled him against my chest and we stood like that, feeling each other's heartbeat. I watched the news. Again I watched the lips moving and heard no sound coming out from the mouths of the reporters. I forgot to count how many hijackers came out of the plane in Paris, one, two,... five, six...I had no idea. I did notice a young American woman among them and her long hair streaming down her cheeks. They all appeared to me, like all prisoners, small and vulnerable. Yet, they were not ordinary prisoners. They were each and everyone extraordinary actors in a human tragedy which the whims of historyupon the world stage. One could feel the hope in their hearts because their act ofsacrifice demonstrated their passionate love for justice of which they were deprived by the gods and wished to restore. They all knew that man may fly through space and walk upon the strangest of planets, but he is most secure down on earth. They knew, from their experience, a life cannot have any significance, nor indeed any meaning unless a man belongs somewhere . As some philosopher remarked, without roots, without belonging, he would turn into a particle of dust and would be overcome by his individual insignificance. In the midst of tragedy, the seed of Hope, with the capital H, was sown in our hearts, in our Croatian hearts.
* Stihovi su Vladimira Nazora, koje je posvetio Danteu prilikom izdanja Pakla u Hrvatskoj 1920.
Ivo Tasovac s Irskim pjesnikom Desmondom Eganom