"Our Yugoslavia", crossed-interview between Enki Bilal and Emir Kusturica, in French magazine L'Express, september 1992

Enki Bilal, finishes on September 24th, his « Nikopol Trilogy » with « Cold Equator »1). Emir Kusturica, twice crowned in Cannes (When father was away on business, Time of the Gypsies), completes the editing of his first American film, ”Arizona Eskimo” (which will be released in January 1993 under the name of ”Arizona Dream”). Cousin titles for two brothers. The first one, son of a Bosnian and a Czechoslovakian, arrived in France at the age of 9. The second, Bosnian Moslem, has crossed the world for seven years. When we proposed them to meet and speak about their native land, ex-Yugoslavia, they immediately agreed. It was undoubtedly their way to rebuild the country.

  • L’Express : Enki, tell us about Emir.
    • Enki Bilal : We share an imaginary, but he adds blazing lyricism to it. Emir is a volcano which spouts out of the Balkans.
  • And you, Emir, tell us about Enki.
    • Emir Kusturica : We have in common a sensitivity, something inside which comes from our mothers, our fathers, our genes. The same blood, emerged from the irrational and tragic understanding of the world.
  • Does exile gather you too ?
    • EB : Yes, I have the impression to trail a luggage permanently. To sow my stories as traveller in transit. But my exile is older, less brutal than Emir's.
    • EK : I feel myself a gypsy. Wherever I go, I try to adapt myself. I don't succeed every time, but I try. Of course, at the beginning of the conflict, I spent ten hours a day on the telephone…
  • You could have met in a school playground ?
    • EK : We could have. I went to a school, with Catholics, orthodoxes and Muslims. At the time, Yugoslavia looked like a deep forest. You could find there the most beautiful flowers of the world. And they took advantage at the same time from the sun and moisture. It produced beautiful things, you know.
    • EB : Now, we have to define ourselves. Let me tell you that my father was born in this small part of Bosnia we call Herzegovina. That he joined Belgrade, the capital of ex-Yugoslavia. And that we could already feel the mixing Emir tells. At the time, Croats married Serbs. Serbs fell in love with Bosnians. It was beautiful, it was… normal.
  • What do you think of the treatment of the conflict by the media and the silence of the intellectuals ?
    • EK : On TV, I only see propaganda and simplification. Mothers crying their sons and commentators who repeat : “Once again, the Muslims suffer”. Whereas everything is much more complicated. can we remain objective ? Neutral, unpassionated ? If I was there, if bombs wounded my family, I would take the weapons and I would defend myself. Because to that, the values do not resist.
    • EB : This war, finally, started to interest the media only at the moment of the massacres of the civilians and the discovery of the camps. Before, it was little covered or very badly. Anne Sinclair - qualified journalist - has for a long time asked no question to her political guests about the Yugoslav problem. Yet I was waiting for the reaction of tenors such as Raymond Barre. Regarding the intellectuals, Finkielkraut was the first to express his views, but he defended a black and white vision while choosing for the Croats. All that shows quite well the general distress. Distress before the end of the blocks, the ideologies, the century. Even my father feels helpless. One day, he joins the pro-Serb camp, the other day, he claims to be pro-Croatian.
  • How did you feel about the trip of Mitterrand in Sarajevo ?
    • EK : It was a historical moment because he testified French courage. But if, today, you evoke it there, you will be told that France betrayed Yugoslavia. The United States too. The Bosnians have always believed that somebody would come. But nobody will come, since nobody has interests in the area.
    • EB : I also found this poker trick very brilliant. But I thought it would start a chain reaction of greater solidarity, of greater effectiveness. In short, of greater intelligence. What a disappointment ! I'm afraid that our politicians, and I don't speak about Mitterrand, are inefficient because of their lack of culture and understanding.
  • Do we really have, to clarify this drama, to return up to Tito ?
    • EB : Tito is the cover which was above everything, in lethargy. While giving to the Yugoslavian the illusion of a small pleasant life, he plunged in hibernation the nationalist and religious tensions. Under Tito, there was no shortage, there was tourism. A tradition of overture. Perverse effect: the population built no antibody to support the collapse of the regime.
    • EK : Enki is right. Yugoslavia seemed to be the good pupil in the cold war, but what occurs today was deeply rooted in Titoism. Nationalisms grew up on the ashes that Tito had left.
  • They were hibernating for a long time ?
    • EB : I arrived in Paris during the war in Algeria. At the time, strangers were suspect and I wanted to integrate myself as quick as possible. When - on the shooting of “Bunker Palace Hotel”, in Belgrade - I saw my compatriots again, they didn't perceive me like one of theirs. I spoke to them and they replied : “OK, You are Yugoslav, but of which ethnic group ?”
    • EK : Today, you're obliged to choose a camp. If you remain in Bosnia, you are inevitably pro-Serb. If you leave Yugoslavia - and I still say Yugoslavia - you become a war criminal. This sounds like a Shakespeare drama. Serbs and Croats made the same horrors, but the Croats made them with white gloves. Truly, for 200 years, nobody has never been able to initiate the country politically. All the evil roots have proliferated. Each time there was a new world order Utopia - Napoleon, Hitler - Yugoslavia paid the full price. The Muslims of Bosnia pay because nobody got allied with them.
  • Did Europe fail in its mission ?
    • EB : It could have save the country, integrate Yugoslavia within its economy. But nothing happened. I'm astonished.
    • EK : I knew that Europe wouldn't move. I met somebody of the Badinter commission. he lowered his arms while sighing : “What can we make ?”. However, it was enough to intimate to the Slovenians, the Croats, the Serbs, in short to everyone : “Remain within the frame of your republics, we will let to you enter the EEC”. But Europe, too afraid, didn't want to share the cake with such an unpredictable partner.
  • How do you see the future ?
    • EB : Without any future. We must hope a return to the reason. A big sweep of History to clean all that. Safety, unfortunately, will not come from the young people. They are as intolerant as their parents. I heard that, on both sides, they had released prisoners, who now compose most of the militia. Prisoners who become heroes, this is enough for strip books and scenarii.
    • EK : I have a project, but I won't be allowed to carry it out, since there, like many other exiled, I'm considered as an enemy. Everything turns into chaos. Values, strong men. We see the birth in London, in Paris, of small Jesus-Christ, small intellectuals who turn to be big patriots. History looses its compass. During the Second World war, the Serb teachers went down in the court with their pupils to be shot by the Germans. Today, in the mountains, the teachers launch grenades on their students.
  • Enki, why did you locate your story in Africa ?
    • EB : I wanted to break with this journalist playground that has become the East and Europe. Maybe I felt we entered an era of acceleration and distress, I know, I repeat it once again. The world goes too quickly for the strip books, which take a very long time to make. So, I hung up on the conclusion of “the woman trap”, with its opening on the South In “Cold Equator”. We distinguish some small traces of the crisis like a scale of the Serbo-croat hate. I regret it a little bit. I couldn't help it.
  • In your work, the topic of the lapse of memory is omnipresent…
    • EB : Emir takes refuge in the dream. Me, in erasing. My characters have the faculty to erase. I do have it too. At least, I try. How to erase Bosnia… What haunts you…
  • Do you believe in the American dream ?
    • EB : When I arrived in France, my friends were only talking about America. In reaction, I developed a fascination for the East, for the USSR, which was not very well seen.
    • EK : For me, America represented an huge metaphor. It mixed the cars, John Wayne, Hollywood, the jeans and Jerry Lewis, which is present in ”Arizona Eskimo” (ex “American dreamers”). By touching the dream, I lost the metaphor. I found there an economic crisis and a bunch of imbeciles. There are so many imbeciles in the industry of film who only think of killing you morally. America that I like looks like the cinema that it does not create any more.
  • If you had to keep one image of Yugoslavia ?
    • EB : It would be the inclined pavements of Belgrade, the Kalemegdan park. We could set a camera and we would see the seasons and the trams passing by. At least if the bombs can save them.
    • EK : The small apartment of one room and a half, where we lived at three. There would be a tree, and my mother would put the clothes on it. It would be at the end of the winter, we would feel happy. But is there still a tree standing in Sarajevo ?

Translation by Matthieu Dhennin

1) published by Les Humanoïdes Associés
en/itv_92-09_lexpress.txt · Last modified: 2008/02/17 18:47 by matthieu1