Straight to the bottom: a short history of Prijedor’s dishonesty

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Straight to the bottom: a short history of Prijedor’s dishonesty

(Darko Cvijetić: Schindler’s Lift, Buybook, Sarajevo/Zagreb, 2018)

Although a passionate “bookworm”, I must admit that in the summer I usually hang out less with my paper “friends”. Because then everything distracts me: on vacation, new places and people, meetings and situations that you longed for the rest of the year. And the an abundance of food and drink… Besides, sweat and mosquitoes are not exactly the best stimulant for “deep” reading, right?

It was the same this summer. After a three-year absence, everything in my homeland passed too quickly and lasted too short. Admittedly, I tried – usually before going to bed – to pick up a book, but it didn’t work. Everything was lukewarm, drawn out, watered down. It had to be a good, real book.

And I found it. Indeed, after a lot of searching and at the very end of the vacation, but…

And in fact, I had already been warned about “Schindler’s Lift” by Darko Cvijetić from Prijedor – because this is about that work – by at least two people whose literary taste I almost blindly trust. They told me that it is one of the best anti-war books in our recent, that is, post-war literature.

After some hesitation – does it even work: sweat, mosquitoes and anti-war literature?! – I sat down on the shady terrace and took the small (only 91 pages) book in my hands. If it’s so good, I’ll “swallow” it in no time, or if that’s not the case, holding it in my lap, I’ll take a sweet nap.

And indeed: it immediately “caught” me. You really can’t let it go.

Comprised of about thirty short chapters, this book brings the war and (to a lesser extent) post-war life stories of the inhabitants of two Prijedor solitaires, the Red and the Blue. The third silent “hero” is Taib’s house. This “dwarf” is located right next to the colourful “giants”. Its owner, Taib, despite many persuasions from the people from the Municipality, stubbornly refuses to sell his house and the small yard belonging to it. Because there, on the street, a neighbour carelessly killed his only daughter hitting her with the car. Thus, Taib is a mute witness and chronicler of the evil that happened in and around the Red and Blue Solitaire in the first half of the 1990ies. When many, intoxicated by the Drina vigils and freed from all the restraints of civilization, “heroically” strike at – the weaker ones.

The fourth important “character” is the one who had the honour of entering the book title. So that’s Schindler’s lift. With the fact that it’s, in a way, an active participant. Actually, a criminal. It’s broken glass, namely, kills (decapitates) the unfortunate girl Stojanka Stoja Kobas.

This is how it went down, according to Cvijetić: 1992. There has been no electricity in Prijedor for days, and everyone has already gotten used to it. However, “Tesla’s child” comes at the exact moment when the little girl peeks into the elevator shaft through the broken door from below, calling her friend from the sixth floor. Afterwards everything is like in a Hitchcock movie: someone calls the lift at that very moment. And the head flies off! Cvijetić makes this masterfully awful point: “Since then, it’s no longer a lift (of the Schindler brand). It’s a moving guillotine basket that goes up and down full of straw, like the Bethlehem manger.” Pure Edgar Alan Poe!

This short novel is full of striking – sometimes terrible, sometimes absurd, sometimes “just” funny – episodes. Thus, “Schindler’s Lift” can be read as a novel, but it can also be read as a series of more or less independent images, connected by the time and place of action. These are carefully “polished”, masterfully told short stories about evil. Human evil, then – our own, over the Others and the Different – and yet the damn same! – knowingly and intentionally committed evil.

And no, these are not just the crimes of crazed psychopaths, “some people over there” criminals from the dark and mud, from somewhere else. No. Crimes are often committed by our own people, those with whom until yesterday we greeted politely on the staircase, maybe even socialized, went to their parties and children’s birthdays…

Apart from being against these “heroes” of the foul trail – and Bosnia and Herzegovina was full of them, back then – “Schindler’s Lift” by Darko Cvijetić is also a clear and loud protest against the “silent crowd” as understood by Hannah Arendt. Those who see and hear everything, are interested in everything and would secretly “poke their nose” into everything. But they are silent. They remain silent persistently and stubbornly. And when needed, readily and as if on command – they turn their heads away. Because, for God’s sake, this is not their war.

“The army (Serbian – note by GS) removed all the corpses from the streets in a couple of days and took them to Tomašica, to freshly excavated mass graves. Primary, mass graves. Everyone knew it, everyone was silent about it, everyone swallowed the missery and death, and became dumb with their mouths full. Only Šime, being drunk once, having come from the battlefield shouted tearing his tonsils in front of the solitary: ‘You neighbors, you people, you are ordinary cunts… you killed your born neighbours, you communist idiots!’”

Reading this account, one would surely think that this book – with its enormous pain and absurdity, death, madness and general decay – is difficult to “digest”. And yet it is not so. The writer’s mastery is also reflected in the fact that, writing precisely, with juicy language, in short, perfectly “polished” sentences, he injects small doses, “drops” of humour in the right places, which change the tone and flow of the reading material in a minute. So this booklet, despite the multitude of tragic “miniatures”, is read in one breath, from cover to cover.

However, what elevates “Schindler’s Lift” to an (even) higher level is its actuality. Because, talking about the unfortunate fate of the inhabitants of the Blue and the Red Solitaire, Darko Cvijetić does not dwell only on the war. He also very clearly depicts the post-war situation of Prijedor, as well as the whole of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He sometimes does this by comparing it with the previous system, when everything was completely different. This gives the whole book not only a broader but also a deeper, even more tragic tone. That is why, to illustrate this, I would use the following quote to end the presentation of this small, but truly extraordinary book in terms of style, content and message. A work that should find its place in the libraries of all those who really hold on to the precious culture of memory, which has been suppressed by all means in our country by all ruling policies:

“Thousands of workers daily rumbled in front of the solitaire rushing to their shifts. At 10 p.m., the second shift leaves Celuloza and is replaced by the third, in the morning everyone gets mixed up going to the first, and everyone knows everyone and everyone knows someone who works at Celuloza or Rudnik or Bosnamontaža…

Now everything is desolate, overgrown, without life, without people. Nothing has worked for decades. Where are all those lines of smiling people rushing in the morning, buying newspapers, cigarettes and carrying sandwiches? Everything fell apart, like the cardboard Tito from Taib’s garden, everything melted like Vijeka’s Snowman, to whom so many working women secretly winked.

There are no more workers. Only Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks and others. The workers sank into the nation and remained with lungs full of water, at the bottom.”

Yes, my ladies and gentlemen, former comrades, that’s right. At the bottom of the bottom.

Goran Sarić

2022-07-12T07:26:49+00:00 July 11th, 2022|Categories: Reviews, Literature, Blesok no. 144|Comments Off on Straight to the bottom: a short history of Prijedor’s dishonesty