Unfortunately, it’s a fate of writers coming from so-called small literatures. I deleted my ethnic, national and state identity because there was nothing much to delete there. But I found myself in a very ironic position: in Croatia I am not a Croatian writer anymore, but abroad I am always identified as a Croatian writer. That means that I became what I didn’t want to be and what I am not. Still, what I can’t delete as easily is my experience. Even if I could, I would not erase it or exchange it for a less traumatic one. That experience is rich and enriching, as well as pretty unique. Not so many people in the world were born in a country that doesn’t exist anymore. ... I experienced the taste of life under communism. Later I experienced a war and fascism, because it was fascism. The word nationalism is just a euphemism. I also experienced life in Western Europe and the United States. ... I have had the experience of dislocation, call it exile or something else. I have had the experience of the disappearance of one’s own environment, the destruction of the basic values of human life. I also experienced the process of reinventing and reconstructing one’s own life in a new environment.
By the way, it is interesting how people in power, Western European and American politicians, the media and even academics accepted a brutal ethnic divorce between the former Yugoslav republic as “unavoidable,” almost as a “natural” end to the “communist federal state.” At the same time nobody noticed that a whole population—of a million Yugoslavs either ethnically indifferent or with multiple identities or from mixed marriages—silently disappeared. Nobody offered them any rights or supported their voice in the least.
-- Dubravka Ugrešić, speaking in a 2002 interview with BOMB magazine
Dubravka Ugrešić is a novelist, short story writer, and essayist; see, for example, Karaoke Culture and Nobody's Home, published by Open Letter Books. (See the Los Angeles Times review of the Karaoke Culture here, and Jessa Crispin's interview with the author in Kirkus Reviews here.) Born in the former Yugoslavia, in the part that became Croatia, she studied comparative literature and Russian at the University of Zagreb, and has been a translator from Croatian to Russian. Ugrešić learned the Bulgarian language from her mother and summers on the Black Sea. When she took an anti-nationalist stance after war broke out in the early 1990s, she faced a media backlash that was part of why she left Croatia in 1993. Among many other honors, Ugrešić won the Austrian State Prize for European Literature, and the James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award for her novel, Baba Yaga Laid an Egg. That is the novel that inspired Mary Gaitskill to write a hagiography in Bookforum about how the author "finds feminist mettle in an Eastern European witch." Ugrešić now writes from Amsterdam.
Image Credit: Kultura.