Tag Archive | voting

A Vote for the Blind Bards

Up until a few years ago, grandpa-Mijat, as the whole village and all the neighbouring villages had called him, was still alive. And it had amazed me even when I was little – even grey-haired old men called him grandpa-Mijat, saying that for as long as they could remember grandpa-Mijat was an old man. I remember him from when I was little and attended the village primary school. His house was near the school and I feel as if I were looking at him right now, strolling gently down the road by the school. Tall, stout, with long grey moustache, longish grey hair, nearly at shoulder length, beard neatly shaved, and long grey eyebrows that almost covered his eyes. He walked at a slow pace, in long strides, and always upright. He smoked a long chibouk[1] made from cherry wood, and a firesteel was always hanging at his hip; across his chest he always carried an old leather pouch, and in it a tobacco pouch made of dried sheep’s bladder, a flint stone, and a few more necessities. His household was a strong, big zadruga[2] with over fifty members. It was probably only due to respect towards grandpa-Mijat that they stayed together, because almost immediately after his death their zadruga split into several households.

Although illiterate, grandpa-Mijat still held school and science in high esteem as if it were sacred, and he rejoiced seeing any child that could read books and write letters, which was a rarity in his youth. He always advised the younger folk to send their children to school to receive education. Sometimes he would sit by the hearth, light his chibouk, letting thick wisps of smoke through his grey moustache that was slightly yellowed around the lips, and the children would read epic poetry to him, or he would tell them about the battles and the heroes of the uprising. When the first uprising erupted he was five years of age, and by the time of the second uprising[3] he was already on the battlefield. Often when telling the stories about those harrowing days, slain heroes, and devastating adversities, a tear would roll down his wrinkled cheeks and he would take the gusle[4], pull the bow over the string – the mournful sound shimmered in the air – and the sombre old voice sounded:

Dear God, a mighty marvel, such portents in the skies
Across the realm were seen, to herald Turks’ demise…
[5]

Once, some two or three years before his death, in a conversation with the teacher, grandpa-Mijat said,

– It makes one wonder, teacher, today we have liberty and literate men and schools and everything, and yet men are only becoming worse!… – and saying that, grandpa-Mijat sank deep in thought, sadly shook his head, and sighed.

Teacher said nothing.

After a short silence, grandpa-Mijat spoke again.

– My child, I will die soon, and would really love to see the children learning in school, and watch what is going on in there.

– School exams are in three days, grandpa-Mijat, you can come to the exams! – teacher invited him wholeheartedly.

And grandpa-Mijat promised he would come.

The exams were like any other: children with their faces freshly washed, dressed better than usual, sitting stiffly on their seats with a terrified look on their faces because the school inspector, that “monster” that teacher had used to scare them throughout the year, had come. The inspector, serious, frowning, sat at the table with an important air. Specially for him they put a clean cloth over the table and a bouquet of flowers in the glass. His face was dignified as if he were preparing to hold a lecture at the University, and when he browsed through the report cards, he did it with such an important and pensive expression that one would think he was in the process of solving some serious scientific problem. Children stared at him, their eyes bulging out, frightened, and from each of their expressions one could read, “Oh, my, how scary he is!”

The teacher also looked scared and changed, as if he were expecting a verdict on which his life depends. There is also another important question tormenting him: “Is the inspector a philologist or naturalist?” The answer will determine how he will proceed with the examination, and, of course, determine its success. The school board, consisting of five townsmen, sat there in all seriousness and pretended to observe and appraise the teacher’s efforts. Pupils’ parents sat at the end of the room and listened to their children’s achievements.

The exam was proceeding as it should.

Grandpa-Mijat came in. Both children and adults stood up. Inspector fretted and waved at the children to sit down and not interrupt the exam. Grandpa-Mijat was given the best seat. He sat and observed with reverence the multicoloured pictures of snakes, cows, birds and other God’s creatures on the walls, and then the abacus, blackboard, maps. On one table he noticed a lump of salt, a small bar of sulphur, a piece of iron, a steel rod, some stones, and dozens of other common items.

All these things around the school impressed grandpa-Mijat as much as the first time he saw the railroad.

And once grandpa-Mijat sat down, inspector called a pupil.

– Ask him the same topic – inspector told the teacher with dignity, assuming a position and expression of deep, solemn attention.

– Tell us, Milan, what you know about sheep. Careful, slowly, don’t be afraid, you know it well.

The child’s eyes bulged, He extended his neck a little, swallowed nervously, looked in fear at the inspector and shouted in a resonant voice,

– Sheep!… (there he swallowed again, stood on his toes a little, and shouted further) Sheep, it has a head…

– Very good! – said the teacher.

Inspector nodded approvingly.

Not knowing what the inspector’s gesture meant, the child became a bit confused, and continued:

– It has a head, neck, body and limbs; on its neck it has long hair that is called mane…

– Careful, don’t talk nonsense! – said the teacher with a slightly stricter tone.

– Have you never seen a sheep, you fool! – the child’s father shouted angrily from his seat and the other guests laughed.

– The guests will kindly not interfere! – remarked the inspector.

– But, Sir, this is my boy, he’s been herding sheep for days on end, and now he’s saying it has a mane. What did you to my child in school?!

The child started crying.

– Be careful, what’s upsetting you, you can do this well – said the teacher and patted the child’s head, although he would have rather slapped him with an open hand.

The child became even more bewildered and proceeded to mix up all the subjects:

– Sheep, it is our domestic animal, it has a head and on it the post office, telegraph and the district court.

– Think carefully. Sheep! Understand: sheep! – said the teacher, all trembling. – What post office are you gibbering about?!

– It has a head, and the national assembly convenes therein!

– Careful! Or I will send to your seat!

– It is a predator; it has two sources, one on the Golija mountain, and other… and they merge into one near Stalać and flow northward…

– Have you lost your mind today?! – the teacher shouted.

– It is our useful plant which ripens in the autumn and gives us a sweet thick-skinned fruit, its young are born blind, and it sheds its fur every year.

– Sit down! – shouted the teacher angrily and wiped large beads of sweat from his brow.

The exam continued with the other pupils.

Grandpa-Mijat was all ears and listened with amazement at the questions the children were being asked, while he knew it all as well as any child, even without any schooling.

He heard that pigs love to eat acorns, that they have a head and four legs, that the young pig is called a piglet, female is a sow, and male is a boar. He also heard that the ox has a head, four legs and a tail, it ruminates, eats grass and pulls a cart, and the cow gives us tasty milk. The ox meat is eaten, and ox hide used for shoemaking. He heard then also that salt is salty, white, and it can dampen; that steel is unyielding and used for making knives, scythes etc.

And there were some children who were unable to say all that. One child even said that horses nest in high trees and eat bugs, and another child raised their hand and said that a horse eats hay, grass and oats, and it does not ruminate; the child also guessed that horse draws a cart and can be used for riding as well.

– There you see who pays attention in class, doesn’t dawdle about, learns all lessons and knows his subjects! – added the teacher, satisfied.

Next grandpa-Mijat listened to the children talk about pears, cherries, apples, plums, and different trees. Where each one of them grows, what kind of fruit it bears, and what it is used for: grandpa-Mijat listened, and he started wondering why he knew all that better than the children without having gone to school.

Then they moved on to fourth grade Serbian language.

Inspector called one of the better students.

– Let him read, or if he knows any song by heart, recite it!

– A song? Alright.

– Which song do you know?

– I know “Departure for Kosovo”.

– Let’s hear it then!

Now when the gates were opened, what time the morning shone,
Then forth unto the gateway Queen Milica came down,
And stood beneath the portal in the shadow of the arch,
What time unto the muster the host began to march.
The spears shone over the chargers…
[6]

– Enough! – the inspector interrupted.

Grandpa-Mijat had just warmed up to it a bit and he liked the song, but frowned when the inspector interrupted it.

– Tell me now, what type of word is spears? – asked the inspector.

Spears, it is a common noun.

– Very good!

–Which grammatical case is it in?

Spears, it is the first case plural, the first case singular is spear, and it is declined by the second pattern.[7]

– Nice, and now tell me what is that word when? “Now when the gates were opened”, that’s how you started the song. So, the when?

When, it is an adverb.

– And what are adverbs?

– Adverbs are words added to verbs to show place, time and method, where, when and how the action of the verb is performed.

– Very nice! And are there any verbs in that sentence?

– Yes, verb shone, from the verb to shine.

– Very good, sit down, you passed.

– Let Milivoje Tomić continue the song! – inspector called out.

The spears shone over the chargers, before them Boško rode
On a bay steed, and his rich weed with shining goldwork glowed.

– Hold it: “and his rich weed”. What type of word is that his?

His, it is a pronoun.

– Carry on!

And the standard that he carried swept round him fold on fold;
Over the steed it bellied; thereon was an apple of gold;
From the apple rose gilded crosses, and tassels from them did hang,
And brushed against his shoulders as in the wind they swang.

– Enough! – said the teacher. – Tell me now what type of word is brushed?

Brushed, it is a verb, from the verb to brush.

– What tense is it? – asked the inspector.

Brushed – past tense.

Grandpa-Mijat started grumbling sullenly because they interrupted the song. This was the only thing he liked from all the subjects that children were taught, and even then they would not allow people to enjoy the whole song.

The next pupil they called continued:

Queen Milica sprang forward to the bay stallion’s head,
And she clasped arms round her brother, and unto him she said:
“My brother Boško, thou art become the tsar his gift to me.
Thou shalt not go to Kosovo; he gives his blessing to thee;
Thou shalt give the golden banner to the hero of thy will,
And be my brother in Kruševac, that I may have thee still.”
Boško answered her straightway: “Get back to thy hall this tide!
I would not turn nor give up the flag with the great cross glorified,
Though the tsar should give me…

– Stop! – the teacher interrupted. – What type of word is me? “Though the tsar should give me…”

Grandpa-Mijat jumped up from his seat, his grey hair shaking violently, eyes shining angrily under his bushy eyebrows, and he shouted,

– You scoundrel, why don’t you let children recite this beautiful song, but keep distracting them with that nonsense?

Teacher smiled at grandpa-Mijat’s remark, whispered something in the inspector’s ear, and the other said:

– We have to, old man, that is the curriculum.

– If you have to, then throw your curricula away, and close down all the schools so that children would not sit there in vain. That curriculum of yours baffled the children with nonsense so that after all this schooling they don’t know what a horse eats, even though they knew it all before coming to school. If your curriculum is like that, then they would be better without it and without schools. Let the blind bards roam the world, sing our old songs and praise our heroes, as it was in my youth, and we were no worse men back then!

Thus spoke grandpa-Mijat with a deep sorrow, his voice trembling. He wanted to say something more, but instead he shook off his hands, sighed deeply, turned towards the door, and sadly shaking his head walked out of the school while the guests, teacher, and children remained inside in silence, taken aback.

– By God, grandpa-Mijat is talking sense, a wise, old-fashioned man! I, too, vote for the blind bards! – a low voice came through from one of the peasants, for whom voting has already become a habit, and thus broke the gloomy, deep silence.

 

In Belgrade, 1902.

For the “Radoje Domanović” Project translated by Vladimir Živanović, proofread by Hannah J. Shipp.

English translation of the Serbian epic poem “Departure for Kosovo” (“Tsar Lazar and tsáritsa Mílitsa”) taken from: Heroic Ballads of Serbia, Sherman, French & Company, Boston 1913, translated by George Rapall Noyes and Leonard Bacon.

 

[1] Chibouk (Turk. çıbık, Serb. чибук) is a long-stemmed Turkish tobacco pipe.

[2] Zadruga (Serb. задруга) refers to a type of rural community historically common among South Slavs. Generally it was formed of one extended family or a clan of related families; the zadruga held its property, herds and money in common, with usually the oldest member (patriarch) ruling and making decisions for the family.

[3] First and Second Serbian Uprising are a part of the XIX century Serbian Revolution, during which Serbia evolved from a province of the Ottoman Empire into an autonomous state. First Uprising lasted from 1804 to 1813, and the Second from 1815 to 1817, after which the semi-independent Principality of Serbia was established.

[4] Gusle (Serb. гусле) is a traditional single-stringed musical instrument used in the Balkans; it is always accompanied by singing, mostly of epic poetry.

[5] First verses of “The Start of the Revolt against the Dahijas”, epic song created and performed by the famous Serbian blind bard (guslar i.e. gusle player) Filip Višnjić (1767–1834). The song recounts the events that lead to the beginning of the First Serbian Uprising, and it was first recorded by Vuk Karadžić in 1815.

[6] Serbian epic poem which tells the story about the departure of the Serbian army to the battle of Kosovo in 1389. The poem was first recorded by Vuk Karadžić from the famous bard (guslar) and storyteller Tešan Podrugović (1783–1815). It was titled “Tsar Lazar and tsaritsa Milica” by Vuk, but it is also known simply as “Departure for Kosovo”.

[7] Serbian nouns have three declensional types, which are further divided into different patterns.

Abolition of Passions

We Serbs, praise be to the merciful Lord, have settled all of our affairs, and now we can, just like that, in leisure, yawn to our hearts’ content. We can doze, lounge about and sleep, and once we are bored even of that, we can, just for a lark, drop by to see what’s going on in other unfortunate countries. They say – deliver us, God, from all misery and temptation, and keep them away from us! – that there are countries where people still bicker and quarrel about some rights, about some freedom and personal safety. It makes one’s hair stand on end to think about such poor folk that still haven’t dealt with their internal affairs, while we already had the time to set China and Japan in order. Each day we go further and further from our country, and if it goes on like this, our journalists will start bringing reports from Mars, Mercury, or, at the very least, from the Moon.

I am also a member of this fortunate nation, so, in order to go with the fad, I wish to tell you about what happened in a far, very far away non-European land, a long, very long time ago.

It is not known exactly where this country was, what was the name of its people, but in all likelihood, it was not in Europe, and the name of the people could have been anything whatsoever, just not Serbs. All earlier historians agree upon this, and modern ones will maybe claim the opposite. Anyway, that is not really our job, so I will leave it at that, even if I have to run afoul to the custom that one must speak even about the things one does not understand, and do the job for which one is not suited.

It is known for certain that these people were very corrupt and wicked, hearts packed with vices and filthy passions, so I will entertain you with all that in this little story.

Of course, my dear readers, you cannot even believe at first that such corrupt people could ever have existed, but you must know that I wrote all this based on ancient manuscripts which I have on me.

Here are, accurately translated, a couple of tip-offs sent to different ministers:

Today, after ploughing, husbandman N. N. from Kar dropped by the tavern, where he drank coffee and passionately read the newspaper which attack incumbent ministers…

Teacher T. from Borak, the moment he leaves school, gathers the peasants around him and tries to persuade them to form a singing band. Other than that, this teacher plays tip-cat[1] with apprentices and tossing buttons with his students, which makes him very harmful and dangerous. He had read books to some peasants and offered them to buy the books. This evil can no longer be tolerated, as he debauches the whole county and incites peaceful and honest citizens to ask for freedom; while in fact it is only he himself who keeps saying that freedom is sweeter than anything else. He is a passionate smoker, and spits while he smokes.

After church service, priest Đ. from Sor went to a political rally in the nearby town.

There, you see, what disgrace occurred in the world!

Look here:

Judge S. cast his vote today in the municipal elections. This disgraceful judge is subscribed to an opposition newspaper, which he reads passionately. He dared telling the court that a peasant who had been accused of slander and defiance to the government was not guilty for saying in front of witnesses that he will not buy anything from magistrate[2] Gabor’s shop. Apart from that, the same judge always looks pensive, which clearly proves that his mind is packed with vices, and must be plotting some major conspiracy against the current regime. He must be accused of lèse-majesté, because he couldn’t possibly be a friend of the dynasty, since he drinks coffee in Mor’s tavern, and Mor’s grandfather was a good friend with Leon’s blood brother[3], who incited that turmoil in Yamb against the aide-the-camp on the court of current ruler’s grandfather!

There were even worse people in this misfortunate land. Have a look at these reports:

Barrister from Tul represented some poor soul whose father had been murdered last year. That barrister passionately drinks beer and goes hunting, and, worst of all, he founded some society for helping poor people in our district. This impertinent degenerate, who says that government spies are the worst of men!

Professor T. was running around town with all sorts of kids stealing pears from the grocer, and yesterday he shot at pigeons with a slingshot and broke a window on a public building. This could still be forgiven to him, but he also attends political rallies, votes in elections, speaks with citizens, reads the newspaper, discusses the state loan, and what other disgrace does he not do to the detriment of education!

Peasants from Var started building a new school, and, it would seem, this vice will infect the whole county. This nasty trend which is detrimental for the country must be suppressed as soon as possible!

Craftsmen from Var have established a reading room and gather therein every night. This passion has become very deeply rooted, especially among younger folk, and the older ones are considering to establish also, besides a reading room, a retirement fund for craftsmen! This cannot be tolerated in our district, as it leads astray all the decent people who do not bad-mouth ministers!… One craftsman is even advocating for division of labour!… Horrendous passions!…

Peasants from Pado are demanding municipal self-government!

Citizens of Troy want free elections.

Multiple local clerks perform their work conscientiously, and besides that one of them plays a flute and knows how to read sheet music!

Scribe Miron passionately dances at parties and eats salted nuts with his beer. He must be sacked so that he could be cured of these passions.

Teacher Hela buys flowers each morning and scandalises the neighbourhood. She can no longer be tolerated, because she will spoil our youth.

Who could enumerate all the disgusting passions of these poor people? Suffice to say that there were only ten decent and honest people in the whole land, and the remainder, both male and female, both old and young, corrupt, as they say, to the marrow.

What do you think, how could these ten good and decent people feel in this rotten land?… Difficult, very difficult, especially because they were forced to watch their own country, which they loved so dearly, go to ruin. Worries kept them up on days and nights on end: how can they rectify their sinful compatriots, how to save the country from demise?

Filled with ardent patriotism, virtues and nobility, they were ready to suffer all and any sacrifice for the fortune of their homeland. So, one day they clenched their heroic hearts, bowed their heads before the will of the bitter Fate which imposed such a heavy burden on them, and became ministers, to undertake the noble task of cleansing the country of sins and passions.

All of them were learned men, but still, it was not easy to accomplish such a difficult undertaking.

In the end, the dumbest (which among those people meant wittiest) of them, came to the idea to convene the National Assembly, but to have foreigners make decisions in it. Everybody accepted this wonderful idea, so they rented, at state cost, two hundred people, and they rounded up the same number of foreigners who happened to be in that country by accident, on business. They pleaded and protested, but might makes right!

Thus, they gathered four hundred foreigners to be members of parliament and solve various issues for the fortune of the country, and to express people’s wishes.

Once they have finished this and found a sufficient number of people whom they appointed as members of parliament, they called an election for parliament immediately afterwards. Don’t be amazed at it, since such was the custom of that country.

Parliamentary sessions started. – Decisions, speeches, debates… it is not easy to complete such an important undertaking. Everything went smooth and quickly, but the moment it came to passions, difficulties arose immediately. Right up until someone came up with a suggestion to make a decision to abolish all passions in the country.

– Long live the speaker! Long live! – joyous shouts from all present echoed throughout the hall of parliament.

Everybody accepted the proposal with elation, and the decision was made:

People’s Assembly, seeing as passions hinder popular progress, finds itself prompted to introduce also the following point in the new law, which will read:

„Starting today passions are to cease, and are abolished as perilous for the people and for the country.“

Only five minutes had passed since the law on abolition of passions was enacted, and only the parliamentarians had known about it, but lo and behold what occurred among the people in all counties equally.

Suffice just to relate just a translated segment of one person’s diary.

Here is the diary verbatim:

…I used to be a passionate smoker. The moment I opened my eyes, I would reach for a cigarette immediately. One day I woke up, took the snuff box and (as usual) rolled a cigarette. I felt somewhat uneasy (that was the moment when the MP was putting forward the motion), until I suddenly felt my hand shaking all by itself, and the cigarette dropped to the floor; I glanced at it, and spat with repulsion… “I will never smoke again” – I thought to myself, and tobacco looked so disgusting to me, I could not even look at it. I was astonished what happened and I went out into the yard. And there was a sight to behold! There stood my neighbour, an old drunkard who could not keep away from wine even for one instant, standing there sober, with a blank stare, scratching his head.

– Here’s the wine – said the servant and passed him the bottle, as usual.

My neighbour grabbed the bottle and smashed it into the ground, breaking it into a hundred pieces.

– Bah, nasty thing! – shouted he in disgust, looking at the spilled wine.

He stood for a long while in silence, and then asked for slatko[4] and water.

Servants brought it, he took a spoonful, and went to work.

His wife cried tears of joy seeing her husband’s sudden change for the better.

Another one of my neighbours who passionately read newspapers was sitting by the open window, and he also seemed somewhat transformed, with a strange look on his face.

– Did your newspaper arrive? – I asked him.

– I’d never look at a newspaper again, I’m so disgusted by them! I was just thinking to myself to take up archaeology or Greek grammar!… – he replied, so I passed him by and went into the streets.

The entire town was transformed. One passionate politician had set off to a political rally. He was walking down the street and then all of a sudden, he turned round and ran back, as if he were being chased.

I was surprised at his change, so I asked him what made him go back so abruptly.

– I was heading for a rally, and all of a sudden it came to my mind that it would be better to return home and order a book on agriculture or cottage industry, read it and develop my skills. What is there for me at a rally? – he said, and ran home to study crop farming.

I could not stop wandering to all these strange and sudden occurrences, so I went back home and started browsing through a book on psychology. I wanted to read the part about passions.

I reached the page titled “Passions”. Only the headline could still be seen, and the remainder had paled away, as if nothing had ever been written there!…

– Oh, what is all this, in the name of God?!

Not a single person that was wicked or passionate about anything could be found anywhere about town, even the livestock had become smarter!

Only tomorrow did we read in the newspaper about the act of Parliament on the abolition of all passions.

– A-ha, that’s what it was! – everyone shouted. – We were all wandering what had happened to us, and, there you see, Parliament abolished passions!

This diary is sufficient to show what had happened among the people at the time when Parliament was enacting the law on abolition of passions.

Later it had become known to one and all, so there was no more amazement, and when it came to passions, teachers taught their students like this:

Once upon a time, passions also inhabited human souls, and that was one of the most intricate and most difficult aspects of psychology; but, by an act of Parliament, passions have been abolished, and thus they became absent from psychology, as they are from human souls. Passions were abolished on such-and-such date, such-and-such year.

– Thank God we don’t have to learn these! – students whispered, happy with this act of Parliament, because for the next lesson they only needed to learn:

On such-and-such date, such-and-such year, an act of parliament abolished all passions, thus they no longer exist among the people!…

Once a student recites this unerringly, he gets a top mark.

There you go, thus were these folk abruptly saved from passions. They changed for the better, and, some legends say, it was these people that became angels!…

 

In Belgrade, 1898.
For the “Radoje Domanović” Project translated by Vladimir Živanović, proofread by Adam Levon Brown.

 

Remark: In the last decades of the XIX century, Serbia was in political turmoil. After the abdication of king Milan Obrenović in 1889 and fall of the Radical Party-led government in 1892, the reactionary Liberal Party came into power again, cancelling the otherwise few steps towards democratisation that were taken by the previous government, which eventually lead to Goračići uprising in 1893. Due to the uprising, sixteen-year-old prince Alexander proclaimed himself to be of age, abolishing the Regency and taking authority into his own hands. This was followed by a new, “neutral” government, whose main purpose was “to appease passions”. Appeasing of passions has become a motto of the reactionary forces, and it was invoked regularly while in the background regime persecuted opposition politicians, shut down opposition-leaning newspapers and disbanded political parties.

At the time when this short story was written, another “neutral” government by Vladan Đorđević was propped up by the regime in 1897 with the same goal of “appeasing passions”, and, due to his open allegiance to the People’s Radical Party, Domanović himself was targeted by the government, firstly by transferring him from one city to another, and eventually discharging him from public service in 1898. After his discharge, Domanović moved with his family to Belgrade, quickly becoming one of the leading voices of the opposition in literary circles.

 

 

[1] Tip-cat (Serb. клиса/клисе) is a traditional pastime (or folk sport) which consists of tapping a short billet of wood with a larger stick; the shorter piece is tapered or sharpened on both ends so that it can be “tipped up” into the air when struck by the larger, at which point the player attempts to swing or hit it a distance with the larger stick while it is still in the air. There are numerous local variations of the game in Serbia and worldwide.

[2] In XIX century Serbia, a magistrate (Serb. кмет) was usually a rich, reputable villager who was elected or appointed by the government to arbitrate legal disputes among the peasants in the county. Magistrates were abolished in 1934.

[3] Blood brothers (Serb. побратим) here stands for men that are not related by birth, but have sworn loyalty to each other.

[4] Slatko (Serb. слатко) is a thin fruit preserve made of fruit or rose petals. Traditionally, all guests are greeted with a spoonful of slatko and a cup of water as soon as they are seated.