"Sarajevo Notebook" magazine

Vojka Smiljanić-Đikić & Velimir Visković


One morning we woke up and we didn't have a country anymore. We suspected that it might happen, but you always hope that the worst won't happen. When it happened, when the war and general chaos started, we were paralyzed. It was a strange feeling, you might imagine what it would be like to wake up one morning and find that France, Italy or England didn't exist anymore. It was difficult to believe that Yugoslavia didn't exist anymore.

Our generation grew up with that country and we didn't know any other. We travelled from one part to the other with a feeling of security. We always loved Bled, Ohrid and Dubrovnik more than our own dark great cities full of snow, rain and noise. Suddenly there was a border on the road to Dubrovnik, with a grim policeman who examined us carefully, and a visa for travel to our beloved Slovenia. And when the shock passed, when the reality became all too visible, we took solace in the Arab proverb that came back to us like a prayer: „Lord, give me the strength to change what I can change, to accept what I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.

As soon as the war ended the group of people around Sarajevo Notebooks bravely started a dialog, reviving old contacts and building new ones. Before the war most of us knew one another. We were friends, colleagues, connected by intellectual love, maybe even the real kind, and that helped us to find a common language, because how could a project like this happen without love? After the war we began to call each other, to write letters. At first it was to see if we were still alive, and then we carefully listened, to hear if we were ready to start talking about what had happened in these last ten years in the literature of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Kosovo.

The connections were dramatically broken in the war, but also after the war. At first we thought that we should organize some kind of roundtable to talk about the situation in the region. As Borges said in his poem Dialog, „On the banks of the Euphrates two men sat and talked, neither one trying to persuade the other of anything, they just sat and talked, and that is the most important event in our history.“

An unbelievable experience was behind us. All of the telephone calls, all of the letters brought forth results. We all wanted to see each other, to start something together, and slowly the idea crystalized that a magazine would be the best answer.

With the help of the French and Swedish embassies in Sarajevo and their ambassdaors (Bernard Bazole and Nils Eliasson), the Soros Open Society Institute and the Andre Malraux Cultural Center we organized the first meeting of the „virtual editorial board“ – as we called it then – which was attended by all of the ambassadors of European countries accredited in Sarajevo in 2000. We presented the idea and almost all of the European ambassadors supported us, and so we got the task of making the project happen.

Here are the names of the people who gathered around this idea: Milica Nikolić, Drinka Gojković, Mihajlo Pantić, Jovica Aćin, Gojko Tešić, Zoran Hamović, Ljubica Arsić, Miško Šuvaković, Tatjana Rosić (Serbia), Boris A. Novak, Aleš Debeljak, Mitja Čander (Slovenia), Ljiljana Dirjan, Elizabeta Šeleva (Macedonia), Basri Capriqi (Priština), Zdravko Grebo, Nikola Kovač, Zoran Mutić, Marko Vešović, Enver Kazaz, Dževad Karahasan, Senadin Musabegović, Alma Lazarevska (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Slobodan Šnajder, Ivo Banac, Miljenko Jergović, Julijana Matanović, Sibila Petlevski, Daša Drndić, Ana Brnardić (Croatia) and the authors of these lines (Vojka Đikić-Smiljanić i Velimir Visković).

We were called to a meeting of the ambassadors of the European Union at the embassy of Sweden, which at the time held the Presidency of the European Union. It wasn't common for someone from outside the EU to attend such a meeting, but we were given the opportunity for fifteen minutes to present our idea. We think that that meeting was extremely important, and that the Europena ambassadors understood the importance of working together to show others, as well as ourselves, that cooperation wasn't just possible, it was absolutely necessary.

Many people in the region were skeptical about the idea and didn't believe that we would succeed. At the start, part of the media wasn't on our side. But many important personalities from the former Yugoslavia and the rest of the world gave us strong support.

The first time we came to Ljubljana to present an issue of the magazine, all four Scandinavian ambassadors travelled with us and spoke at the presentation. It was an unbelievable trip and an amazing effort on the part of a large number of people all gathered around a noble idea. They also came with us to our presentations in Banja Luka, Mostar and Belgrade, as if to say „Our countries have all strongly supported this magazine financially, but we, by our presence, want to show our personal support.“

The first issue of Sarajevo Notebooks was presented in Sarajevo on 27 September 2002, during the third literary conference organized by the Andre Malraux Cultural Center. It had taken us almost two years to prepare and publish the first issue.

And then the issues came one after another, as if an invisible dam had burst. Putting the issues together was easy, the reaction of the authors was outstanding, and there wasn't a single case where we wrote to someone and they refused us; on the contrary, there were cases where writers called us because they thought we were ignoring them, and sent us their texts.

Issues of the magazine have been dedicated to women's writing, war writing, the national literary canon, and the most recent issues to drama, the novel, short stories, Criticism, Film, City/Town, Nomadisam, Young writers in the region, Transition and Culture ,Melancholy and Nostalgia, Intercultural study of literature, Best of All 2 , Anatomy of Swearing , Classics of others ,Experiencing the boarders, the Echoes of the FWW in literature, Literature in exile, banishment and emigration, Bioethics and finally the Act(s) of the body . We now have a unique, comprehensive encyclopedia of the last fifteen years.

So far we have published fifty volumes and have presented them in all capital cities of the region, as well as in Europe: Leipzig, Gothenburg, Amsterdam, Brusseles, Tirana and Munich.

We would like to give special recognition to the Slovenian government, which has supported us from the very beginning, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Dimitrij Rupel, who encouraged us to publish an issue in English.

The city of Zagreb has also supported this magazine from the beginning. We have also received symbolic one-time support from the governments of Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Unfortunately, the other countries of the region have not yet recognized that Sarajevo Notebooks presents an opportunity to open up a great cultural dialog in the region.

We would also like to give special recognition to all of the European countries that have supported us, particularly the governments and ambassadors of Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. The Soros Foundation and its Executive Director Dobrila Govedarica deserve to be specially mentioned. We can never adequately thank Carl Bildt and Martti Ahtisaari for their help and support. A few other names deserve to be mentioned: Luis Barreira de Sousa,. Birgitta Steinus-Mladenov, Johannes Dahl- Hansen , Henrik Ofstad, Anders Mollander, Lars Erik Wingern,Jan Braathu, Mats Staffanson, Bert Braun, Alan Le Roy, Charles Forrest, Francis Bueb, Ziba Galijašević and Fletcher Burton .Obviously this list of supporters is not exhaustive.

We express our thanks to the Media Center and its director Boro Kontic, who welcomed us and became our publishers at a moment when others hesistated.

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