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An excerpt from Inspector Voland by Aleksandar GatalicaSie benötigen den Flashplayer, um dieses MP3 zu hören.
An essay by serbian author Aleksandar Gatalica, translated by Randall A. Major
It would be naïve to claim that the Devil has appeared in the Balkans.
Let's imagine: he’s having coffee at the Dubrovnik café in Zagreb, pretending he's the great writer Miroslav Krleža and he's even disguised himself as the man; he's sitting there with his elbows on the table, two young waitresses are whispering to each other, and one says: “Hey, that rascal really looks like Krleža”. Or this: he’s eating a double cheeseburger in Belgrade in the McDonald's at Terazije and pretending to be a high school student who skipped class in the nearby Philological High School by slipping over the hill at Terazije. Or this: he’s opening an account at a local branch of a fancy Turkish bank in Sarajevo, depositing 107,000 counterfeit dollars, that are so carefully falsified that the bank clerk doesn’t stand a chance of uncovering them...
No, the Devil cannot be imagined in such surroundings. However, if we were to write: the Devil has appeared in Moscow, everything would be different. For example, like this: the Devil has shown up in Moscow. It is summer and the red dust from the Patriarch’s fishery is roiling along the ground and around his feet. Woland managed to come out on the surface of the earth through the labyrinths of hell and a subterranean tunnel that he recently opened up on the surface. He appears under the rust-colored sky. He looks around and realizes that he is in the streets of Moscow. Without saying a word, he heads from Nikitinska Street to Prechistenska, then turns down Lyevivshki alley and enters the house where Varvara Arkadyevna Satin lives.
Such a devil would completely capture the attention of the reader, but that’s not what happened. The Devil appeared in the Balkans. At first he really did intend to pretend to be Miroslav Krleža, to eat a double cheeseburger in Belgrade and to open an account under someone else's name with counterfeit money in Sarajevo, but first he decided to go to Macedonia. Did he take the train, did he stop off in Kosovo, did he arrive in Skopje by plane – none of that is important. He just showed up by the River Vardar and, as a refined guest dressed in a perfectly tailored tweed suit, checked in at the Tomce Sofka Hotel. He did not want to cross the river and stay at one of the luxurious hotels there. The old building with its large rooms, high ceilings and intricately carved doors was more in line with his character.
He approached the receptionist and, in some sort of Serbian-Macedonian-Russian (“a convincing Babylonian mixture”, he thought), said that he was a foreigner and that his name was Woland Razumovich. His language portrayed him perfectly as a veteran traveler of Eastern Europe and the receptionist never had an inkling that the Devil himself was standing there, the Prince of Hell, the lord of sulfuric vapors. The newcomer handed him a Ukrainian passport and said that he intended to stay for several days.
“Just several days,” the receptionist echoed, and Woland realized immediately that this man did not believe in God, and therefore not in his fallen angel either, the Devil. “Why don’t we ‘doctor’ the bill? You put a few denars in my pocket, I give you a receipt for the room at double the price. Then you refund yourself double with your company.”
“No need for that,” said Woland, perhaps a bit too curtly. “At the place I’m going back to, I ask for refunds from myself."
“Oh, a private business owner!”
“Yes, yes, private practice. My own bookkeeping. Small company,” the Devil responded self-confidently.
“Whatever you say, sir, whatever you say.”
So it was that Woland checked into the hotel. But why was he there? Why had he come from the heart of the earth, across the lake of fire where the unfortunates have been agonizing for eons, then through the damp clay, the moldy reservoirs of dirty gas and that little bit of remaining crude oil, then through the stench of peat and past the bones of the departed but unmourned in shallow graves, then just like a mole, through a hole in the earth, to appear right there in Skopje, marvelously groomed, not at all caked with layers of earth, but dressed in a proper double-breasted English suit?
The Balkans were the purulent umbilicus of Europe, a poorly dressed wound from which the puss had not been released, the place from where the screams of agony could still be heard from the underground caves and the strange paths of the subterranean rivers. The wars which were being fought in the hills were over, and Woland believed that he had to show up and once again heat up the old points of contention and make the parting insults unforgivable. He saw nothing bad in that. People were the ones who cocked the pistol and pulled the trigger; people kill – the Devil has always just made suggestions. They could say “no”; they were gifted with free will, but the bullet still went into the barrel, the weapon was cocked and “fire” was heard, but none of that was done either by the Devil or by any of his fifty dark apprentices who could always depend on human bellicosity, evil nature and vengefulness.
Now, however, peacetime had come and things had to be done differently with people. No one knew like the Devil that there is a time when everything goes wrong and there is no amount of sanity that can stop the wheel of history in its misfortunate rush backwards, but that there is also a time when everything goes and turns out well – to the Devil a hardly bearable time of prosperity when people are no longer easily turned against each other and when the old quarrelsome lot, the recent defenders and profiteers of war, are driven to the utmost reaches of town so that, with broken bottles in their hands in the local taverns, they can go on fighting some of their wars which have largely become comedies instead of tragedies.
But whether it is wartime or peacetime, people simply have to fight. That was why he came here personally. When the situation was festering, when things were gangrenous, he sent Valafar, a powerful duke who entices people to steal, Laraje who appears in the form of a sharpshooter, causing battles and not allowing wounds to heal, Morax who appears in the form of a bull with a human head and goads people to superstition, Raum who lands on the earth like a raven and destroys cities, Vlam, Furcas, Murmur or any of the others. They executed their jobs with ease in those times. Now he had arrived on the proving ground to make the Balkan peoples fight once again at a time when it never would have crossed their minds. In doing so, he wanted to show his authority to the underworld – where his every step is carefully followed – his ruling dignity and authoritarian nature which was still unrelenting, even though the Devil had already encroached on his three billionth year of angelic being, so it could be said that he was already time-worn, but only in slightly faded.
He intended to prove that he was still on top of his game. This time with a completely different method. He had decided to pretend to be a peacemaker. He, the Devil, Woland, Beelzebub, Ariel – these were just a few of the names he had been called in the past few millennia. Yes, that was it, the Prince of Darkness needed to be the harbinger of peace. Yet, it wasn’t that he did not have his own hellish calculations. He needed to make peace among people on the surface, to seek solidarity and remorse from them, but it had to be done so deceptively that those appeals produced spite in them, quite the opposite reaction.
That was why he showed up in Skopje first. He went walking along the Vardar and openly changed characters. He started off as a refined gentleman with a cane looking from the old bridge into the river rapids, then at Goca Delčeva Boulevard he turned into a short Albanian match-girl, and then, just around the corner on Krsta Misirkova Boulevard, he became a geeky student. Tall and lanky, feigning that the world was mostly boring to him, he stepped onto the campus of the Cyril and Methodius University. The year was 2009 and Macedonia was having presidential elections, so the Devil decided to look in on Professor Frčoski, one of the candidates who thought he would win those elections.
“Mr. Frčoski, I am just a student but I know what the people of Macedonia know,” Woland actually began unannounced. “Macedonia is ready to have an Albanian as president.”
“An Albanian?” the professor was taken aback.
“Yes, you see, that would resound not only on the road to Ohrid which Macedonia actually doesn’t control, but also in Albania and Turkey; not to mention it would capitalize on America’s eternal loyalty to the Albanian question. Only your stubbornness, it seems, stands in the way of all that. Join forces with one of the five Albanian candidates, ask your constituents to vote for him and he will win.”
“Please leave my office. I see students on Tuesdays and Thursdays. And go suggest this to Gjorge Ivanov, he’s going to win the elections anyway, so he can also give them away if he wants.”
And that was how it ended. If he intended to work with someone, the professor was no longer prepared for that. It was strange how much could be achieved with goodness in these new circumstances. Did I say that, or was it one of my earthly apprentices, Inspector Woland thought as he rode in a van down the dusty road toward Ohrid. Almost immediately after the toll booth they entered Albanian territory. Dubious characters crossed the road, and some children shouted and waved at the van as if, just this once, they wouldn’t throw stones at it. That was a land where the burdock clung to weeds, the weeds to the mosques, the mosques to their minarets, and they, pointing into the sky, were constantly ready to launch like rockets aimed at Jannah (paradise).
In one such mosque, Woland was received by Agron Budzaku, candidate of the Democratic Union for Integration party. Woland presented himself as a Turk, speaking to Budzaku in perfect Turkish, Istanbul style. That brought them together. They both did evening prayers; Woland had his own prayer mat with him, which impressed his host, but at his suggestion that all five Albanian candidates unify around the only female candidate, Mirushe Hodza, the division among the Albanians solidified, and Woland returned satisfied to Skopje. No need to drag things out. He met with the future election winner Gjorge Ivanov. With syrupy words he reinforced all the future troubles of Macedonia, and then he simply relocated to Brioni. He didn’t travel by train, nor did he take a plane. He disappeared from one place to reappear in the other, and all he left behind was an empty bed smelling of smoke.
In any case, he had to hurry because the very next day the president of Croatia, Stipe Mesić, and of Slovenia, Danilo Tirk, intended to meet on the Brioni Isles. There was a lot of work to be done by Woland before that malicious little summit took place. He did not want, as it were, to enjoy the winter sun on the Adriatic, or to walk through the groves of fig and olive trees, and through the smell of fields of the heavy Mediterranean undergrowth – he actually disliked all of that intensely, as he did when all of his deceptions were carried out too easily. It only took him a few hours to convince the people from the cabinets of both presidents that he was the best translator from Slovene into Croatian, to falsify an impressive work history and convince them that he should be the one to sit between Mesić and Tirk and – how else could he achieve the mischievous and underhanded – start translating their intricate negotiations.
All of that was almost comical, even though the territorial dispute of the two countries was not funny in the least. Mesić had come to not give an inch of the Gulf of Piran, nor a foot of the red earth of Istria; Tirk was there to demand Buje and its environs and the Ankaran side of the Gulf, and nothing less. But when the negotiations began? Mesić realized that Tirk had backed off from Slovenia's determined intention to take from Croatia the other side of the Gulf of Piran as well, with its littoral all the way to the old Istrian town of Buje and its environs, while Tirk became aware that Mesić was practically offering him Buje and the Gulf on a platter. Perhaps it occurred to them that the translator was tricking them, but... An agreement was almost reached. Woland had overlooked just one detail (amazing, even he neglects a thing or two). Both presidents realized that their partner in conversation was agreeing to everything too easily, so they stopped and agreed to consult with their cabinets. They both parted practically singing, and Woland wasn’t sad either. The fact that they were not arguing now because of his sweet words would soon bear poisonous fruit, when the bad translations began to create new confusion in the relations between these good neighbors who had a common enemy – Serbia.
And in Serbia? Yes, Woland intended to go there as well, there was still plenty of work to do there, but before Serbia he needed to go to Sarajevo to make that deposit of 107,000 counterfeit dollars. He watched the poor clerk at the Ziraat Bank: she examined the bills, several times she put them through the machine which happily beeped that the bills were real and in the end she issued Woland a receipt that he signed with the name Ibrahim Hadžihafizkapičić. So it was that 107,000 new counterfeit dollars were put into circulation, but that was not Woland’s goal. Once again he had his local pets he intended to offer the poisonous fruits of his peacemaking. Bakir Izetbegović, the son of Alija, known as the “Lord of Sarajevo”, was the most nervous man he met during this sojourn on earth.
“You are, at least, a good Moslem, efendi Hadžihafizkapičić,” Izetbegović told him in the building of the town hall. “I asked about you among our people who told me that you are a believer dedicated to Allah and a life of purity.”
“I’ve lived my whole life that way,” Woland responded confidently.
“Then you certainly know that the Serbs, the Serbs are to be blamed for everything. It would be better if the international community did something and didn’t allow us to solve this problem in our own way.”
“That ‘our way’ cost us all these pockmarks of shrapnel on the Town Hall and the high-rises of Sarajevo that still look like a beast bit into them and tore away floors and corners, reinforcement and concrete all together. Should we try an alternative?”
“What is it?”
“Let’s say, to offer the construction of an Orthodox cathedral in Sarajevo in exchange for the construction of the Bajrakli mosque, together with a Moslem school, in Banja Luka?”
“I would only agree to that if the minaret in Banja Luka cast a shadow long enough to cover the Orthodox cross of the church in Sarajevo, and Dodik would agree if the main dome was high enough that one could see the church of St. Sava in Vračar in Belgrade.”
“You’ll be surprised, efendi Izetbegoviću, if I tell you that Dodik has already agreed.”
At the word “agreed” the conversation ended suddenly. Like one of the old gentlefolk of Sarajevo, Bakir just waved his hand and turned his head to the side like a Turk, from which Woland realized that he, Woland, needed to head off to Banja Luka. Naturally, he was received there by Milorad Dodik. He was smiling, twisting his heavy face as if it were of modeling clay and pretending that the two of them had known each other for years.
“You are, at least, a good Orthodox Christian, Brother Lipovac,” Dodik told him in the building of the town hall. “I asked about you among our people who told me that you are a believer dedicated to the one true God."
“I’ve lived my whole life that way,” Woland responded confidently.
“Then you certainly know that the ‘Foreigners’, those Moslems who are ‘milking’ other people’s money, are to be blamed for everything. It would be better if the international community did something and didn’t allow us to solve this problem in our own way.”
“That ‘our own way’ cost us the cleansing of Serbs from Mostar, Tuzla, Sarajevo... Should we try an alternative?”
“What is it?”
“For instance, we could offer the construction of the Bajrakli mosque, together with a Moslem school here in Banja Luka, in exchange for the construction of an Orthodox cathedral in Sarajevo?”
“I would agree to that only if the church was so big that its southeastern wall was in Sarajevo and the northwestern in Banja Luka, and so big that their Bajrakli mosque and its school could be fit into one of the apses of our magnificent cathedral church. But I don’t have to agree or disagree. I know Bakir, he will agree only if the minaret of the mosque is so tall that airplanes over Bosnia have to change their flight plans.”
“You’ll be surprised, Mr. Dodik , if I tell you that efendi Izetbegović has already agreed...”
At the word “agreed” the conversation ended suddenly. Woland was already in Kosovo when the telephone lines between Banja Luka and Sarajevo began to hum, Bakir Izetbegović and Milorad Dodik were cursing the secretaries and both of them to damn that stranger with the surnames Hadžihafizkapičić and Lipovac who had gotten them into the whole affair, and was even audacious enough to announce their agreement in the newspapers of Bosnia and Herzgovina and in the Republic of Srpska. But Woland was no longer interested in Bosnia. He now had new politicians before him, loyal to the truth, and some of them were also doctors.
When he showed up in the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica, the Devil saw that it was noon. He had just taken off his watch in the hospital and put on a greenish-blue surgical uniform. He washed his hands thoroughly, and then headed down the corridors out of pure fun and made himself seem to be familiar to everyone he met. It made him happy that everyone called out to him: “Good afternoon, doctor,” and that Dr. Ivanović, who was already in the operating theater, immediately offered him a scalpel.
“Dear colleague, I had lost all hope that you would come,” said Dr. Ivanović who, outside the hospital, was one of the leaders of the Serbs in Kosovska Mitrovica. Dr. Ivanović himself didn’t know why he said that, nor why he immediately offered his place at the patient’s side to his respected colleague.
But Woland, of course, was not confused. He had all knowledge and skill at his disposal, so the view of the open left side of the torso on the operating table was not unfamiliar.
“What have we got here, colleague?” the Devil began as if he were a professor of surgery. “The spleen is normal in size, it has a homogenous exostructure. Most of the upper part of the spleen is occupied, however, with a formation some 53 millimeters in size. This is likely a cystic change, but I’m in a dilemma over whether it is a lymphatic cist, or if it's echinococcus. Dr. Ivanović, would you say it’s lymphatic?”
The nod of his head was a sign that the newly arrived surgeon had given a proper diagnosis.
“Let’s remove that cyst,” the Devil said then as he made several confident incisions. Everything was finished in a few minutes and the new doctor Jovanović was sitting in the office filling out a hospital report where he noted with confidence: Cystis splenis, Spleen cist, Diagnosis D735.
But the new surgeon had not come to help Dr. Milorad Ivanović in the practice of surgery. He had something else in mind, but that business could more easily be called the business of a doctor of the soul, not of a doctor of the body.
“My brother, my colleague, it’s not easy to live and work here. On the Island we remove such cysts using the methods of laparoscopy, you now, ‘through the keyhole’ as they say, and you here just keep cutting the patients."
“Huh, we cut up a lot of stuff around here, Doctor Jovanović, but tell me how is over there in... in...”
“In Brighton? Well, it’s not bad, but it’s a foreign country, cold, comfortable, but sterile. At least you’re at home here. Listen... You’re awfully inflexible outside the hospital. You never give in, man. You’ve tightened up the crossing on the bridge over the Ibar, and like some sort of Charon you won’t let the people go back and forth. Open the road, man, let the Serbs cross over to the south and the Albanians to the north. What do you say?”
The Devil knew that such a suggestion was truly a demonic deed, no matter to what extent it was wrapped in the colorful paper of tolerance, because the bridge on the Ibar between the fighting parts of Kosovska Mitrovica had been the neuralgic navel of Europe for years, the place where once again, after Berlin and Sarajevo, a city was divided. That was why Dr. Ivanović’s answer didn’t surprise him.
“Listen, man, don’t ever mention that to me again. The border will be at the Ibar and Koštunica will open the first check point.”
"Who knows, who knows,” said the Devil somewhat reflectively and then he left.
That very night Milorad Ivanović dreamed a strange dream. He easily passed the check point and with a crowd of Serbs – apparently on Orthodox Easter – he passed over to the south side. He goaded some of the older ones, skillfully convincing them that there was nothing left of the Serbian graveyard on the Albanian side of Mitrovica. However, when they got there, they found a completely modern cemetery. The gate had been changed, painted black in three coats, the paths covered with reddish colored gravel, all the gravesites had been reconstructed and cleaned, they were shining brightly in the spring sun...
He jumped out of bed and said to himself: “bad dream”, and then he shuddered. Why a bad dream? Didn’t he himself gripe every day about the Albanian vandals to whom not even Serbian graves were sacred? But still, it made him shudder. If they became the good guys, how could someone like him muster the strength to take vengeance on them? He headed to the hospital and there he came upon the same scene. Again that Dr. Jovanović from Brighton was operating, again he was trying to convince him to open the bridge on the Ibar, again he had a dream that night...
Now, he was standing on the Serbian side and cutting a ribbon, but with whom: with an Albanian politician in person. There was no checkpoint, no border, Koštunica was not there, just one Albanian politician he didn’t know. The bridge was completely open for the normal passage of people and Dr. Ivanović shuddered again. Now he was bathed in sweat, but he wasn’t the only one sweating.
The student leader, or more properly “student leader”, Rahman Berisa was also sleeping restlessly on the south side of Kosovska Mitrovica that night. He was one of those who had been a local leader of the UÇK in 1999. He had promised back in 1999 “protests”, “marches” and “the liberation of the north side of Mitrovica in seven to ten days”. And then time began to rush madly through the hourglass and the years passed. Affairs had pushed him aside and he remained just a commander of the bridge on the south side. He took part in guard duty and even learned a little French from the French soldiers of KFOR, when he was visited one rainy night on duty by a young man he didn’t know. The face of the young man – pale, with thick dark eyebrows and restless eyes – came out of Rahman's deepest memory, so it wasn’t strange when the bridge commander stopped as if a cold hand grabbed him by the throat.
“Sadiq,” he stuttered, “I was sure that the Serbian bastards killed you, back then... back there.”
“Rachman, comrade, they did kill me, with a trap around my neck like a boar. They didn’t even let me turn around to see their faces. But, I’m doing marvelously well now. I came to see how poorly you’re doing. You’re standing here, guarding. What are you guarding, my poor Rahman? The bridge, from whom? Let the people go, let them trade, let them spend time together. The Serbs won’t harm you, nor will you harm them.”
“Don’t ever mention that to me again, comrade. If that’s why you rose from the dead, you’re on the wrong side. Go over to the other side and punish your murderers, better that than bothering me.”
“But see how the cold rain is trickling down your poncho. You’re cold. Your boots are full of water, Rahman. Go home. You’re sleepy. You’re tired...”
And Rahman did go home. He left his guard post for the first time in ten years – and he had a dream. On the south side, it seemed to him, he was standing with Milorad Ivanović, but there was not a single living Albanian near him. There was just a fat Albanian socialist leader in a blue pinstripe suit with a red carnation in his lapel. The fat politician was applauding and goading them on with vulgar movements as if he was at a football match. The Serb Ivanović was holding scissors and as if he was threatening him, then he gave him a pair. Rahman looked around. He thought that his sniper would take him out before he cut the ribbon and opened the bridge, but then he cut it anyway and screamed.
He was in bed alone, but that was just the beginning. The dream on the north side of Kosovska Mitrovica corresponded to the dream on the south side. On Monday it was the graveyard, on Tuesday cutting the tape on the bridge over the Ibar, on Wednesday they were sitting together in a café and laughing at the same jokes, on Thursday it was even worse, but better than on Friday; the dream on Friday was still better than the one on Saturday; the one on Saturday could not really be called a nightmare, considered in the light of what the two dreamers dreamed on Sunday...
On Sunday evening, when the Devil was already preparing for his return into the dark depths of the Earth, two miserable men were hanging around the bridge, not knowing why they were there or what they wanted to do. The Devil watched them for a while and at one moment, as if turning the dial on a lot of radios, he let all the voices go at once. Someone made a call on a secure line from Banja Luka to Belgrade; a courier took a private message from someone to someone; cabinet secretaries worked late into the night; journalists were speculating; young press attachés at many ministries were preparing false press releases; those two in Kosovska Mitrovica were still waiting for the chance to raise the gates on both sides of the bridge over the Ibar; but the birds were flying west, an omen of nothing good.
The red sky was the last sign Inspector Woland saw on Earth. He remembered: he was supposed to go eat a double cheeseburger in Belgrade at the McDonald's at Terazije and pretend to be a high school student who was skipping class in the nearby Philological High School by slipping over the hill at Terazije. There, too, he had clients among the counselors of the president who he could feed various “disturbing good ideas”, but he had already done enough. The fuga idearum he heard for a while longer was the last thing he heard in the Balkan lands.
And then he simply disappeared into the ground. As if he were going to rest in his dark hollow, he sighed and wasn’t sorry that he would soon be breathing only toxic vapors. Peace – like a white sacred cow – could no longer be displaced. Now in the regions of the formerly bloody Yugoslavia, tragedy was no longer being played out, but rather a comedy. Through laughter, still, an occasional tear does fall, and to Woland that was no small thing. To ruin things at least a little when they are going well is sometimes sweeter than to cast something into the abyss that was already falling in anyway.
Now even he felt a little tired. He would send his dark dukes Valafar, Laraje, Morax, Raum, Vlam, Furcas, and Murmur to infect the wounds he had opened. The peoples of the Balkans were only dedicated to peace on the surface, and they could still be turned bad and ruined. If not with evil proposals, then, like now – with good ones. Could the people of the Balkans refuse the Devil’s proposals? Most certainly. They had all the faculties of reason but, as it happens with people, they always choose to do the opposite of it. When he tried to convince them to do evil deeds, they accepted it; now when he tried to get them to do the right thing, they refused.
“People are just common gnats,” was the last thing Inspector Woland said with his human lips which he had made for himself. As he descended through the layers of loam and clay, past the Turkish graves, he was suddenly frightened by the idea that people might finally become conscious and start depending on their ability to make the right choice.