Dragi Mihailovski–Pismoto, Macedonia
OUR DIFFERENCES SHOULD MAKE US STRONGER
When looking back, can you clearly see the importance of the Macedonian and Bulgarian book for you?
Good books are always important. That is the best way to talk to people whom you never had a chance to talk to. Great minds can talk through centuries. The walls of time are never an obstacle for them. I have fortunately found some good writers to talk to both in Macedonian and in Bulgarian literatures. Prlichev, Cepenkov, Yovkov, or Anton Donchev, for instance, are of great significance as authors contributing to my writing experience.
Which books have given you the most, and from which books have you been able to take more than you believed it possible?
I have been trying hard to make a list of indispensable books for somebody’s decent education but once I say this is it, some other books come up and make me think of changing the list. Anyway, since I have graduated in English language and literature, I would certainly insist on Shakespeare, Milton, Swift, Wilde, Hemingway; then the Bible, the Koran, the Talmud, the Greek Myths, Plutarch’s Lives, the Russian classics, Ivo Andric, Toni Morrison and all other Nobel Prize winners…Of course, one can be extremely surprised how huge the benefit is from reading some so-called minor authors from the so-called minor literatures. It is just a matter of knowing the language or having a good translation. Balkan literatures might be a huge surprise to the world. It is only a question of translating them (good selection, of course) in the so-called important European languages…
What is the destiny of fine letters now and what could this destiny be in the near and the more distant future?
I only know that people have always posed the question about the future of literature, art, what will happen, will they survive these times of accelerated way of living. The answer is obvious. They still exist and I’m certain they will continue to exist as one of the major activities of human mind.
The cultural crisis of today has its causes and its signs, but it also has a remedy that is basically universal. Perhaps the purely Macedonian specifics of this remedy remain out of focus?
Macedonia, though presently facing some economic difficulties, difficulties of security and other aspects, has always been and still is, and will remain part of the European culture. Whatever problems exist on a wider level, they have their reflections in Macedonia. The remedy, consequently, should be universal.
There are many secrets to a book and the author’s mastership tends to be among the most mysterious. Have you reached a conscious explanation for yourself of everything you have created – as creative art, besides a pure will, is also the product of the artist’s instincts, of the artist’s enigmatic and mysterious self that he deciphers only partially in his text to the reader?
No writer has ever been able to „reveal“ themselves completely to the reader in spite even of their good intention to do so. It is because of the very nature of writing or naming: whenever you try to express your thought, at least three verbal solutions begin to fight to be chosen. The writer chooses one but since that very moment the other two or the possible hundreds of other solutions start to cry for the light in the text. That is why no story can be finished; no writer can stop writing. The more he writes, the bigger the hunger for expression. The fight for naming thoughts and ideas has no end…
What has been the major source of hope and belief for you through the years?
My family and the idea to face death with possibly immortal deeds.
What is your vision of Macedonia at the end of 21st century? What does Time mean to you?
A modern, multiethnic, rich, highly civilized country of strong, intellectually independent individuals. Time is the best remedy for all sorts of wounds and sufferings.
What is the weight of values created over the last 100 years and what is the burden that these years have placed on us?
The weight of values created over the last hundred years is immeasurable. The highest one is the overcoming of the crises that had to do with the very survival of humankind. That critical point fortunately, is behind us. Culture and art contributed a lot to this.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the destiny of the Balkans and mankind? And why?
Of course I am optimistic about the destiny of mankind and the Balkans, especially. The dissolution of former Yugoslavia is behind us. Once the status of Kosovo is definitely defined, I cannot see further obstacles for the common development in all spheres of all Balkan states. Differences must make us stronger. Similarities, which are plenty, should be the starting point.
Is there a peculiarity of your character that you freely joke about in public? And does it happen frequently?
People say I’m very modest. I always say even if it is so (personally I do not think so) please do not consider me stupid. Modesty is a good value for a writer, but Middle Ages are history.
What would you choose – if you had to choose today – between a bag of gold and an eternal book? And what would have your choice been thirty years ago?
Eternal book, definitely. My choice would have been the same even thirty years ago. Although a bag of gold nowadays…
Do you think that in these times when the part of the reader is difficult and uncertain, new names could emerge? Could the experience with your own public recognition be useful today? How did you gain recognition, was it easy?
Recognition is an ever-ending process. Hard work is one of the conditions for participation in this process after you are sure (another problem) you have some talent. I do not think this process of affirmation of new authors differs very much in different countries. Nobody can stop their emergence and their fight for affirmation. Those that are talented and persistent in their work, they succeed. Always. My experience confirms this.
Would you disclose your own anthology or collection of names of masters of the prose whom you hold in highest esteem – names from Macedonia and the world, including Balkan literature?
Shakespeare, Milton, Wilde, Carver, Tolstoy, Dostoevski, Chekhov, Andrich, Danilo Kis, Crnjanski, Kadare, Selimovich, Yovkov, Donchev, Kazantzakis, Stanesku, Prlichev, Koneski, Andreevski…
The same questions were answered by some of Bulgaria’s greatest writers, the so-called living classics, who participated in another book series „The White Series – an Autographed Book“ in April 1999. You have been able to read their answers – what is your comment?
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to read their answers.
Is there a refuge from the monologism and masochism of the Balkan people? What is it?
Of course there is. The answer is more travelling; acquisition of more knowledge about the culture of other nations; getting rid of the need of underestimation of other nations’ intelligence, and other appropriate measures for healing the unique Balkan complex of both inferiority and superiority at the same time.
Which authors – Macedonian, Balkan and world – would be essential for an imagined anthology of chauvinism?
I cannot think of a particular author. There are chauvinistic elements in many works that I have read, but with good authors it is always very difficult to say that they are only chauvinistic, because they are many things at the same time. Can you call, for instance, Dostoevski a chauvinist for his attitude on some issues?
What cultural and literary complexes can you discern in Macedonians and their neighboring Balkan people? To what extent is that the result of the fact that the Balkan people missed the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Great Geographical Discoveries? How long will we continue to live as if we were alone in the wold, as if nobody else existed but us?
I think I have already answered this question. It is true that we, Balkan peoples, because of the historical circumstances have missed some crucial processes in the European cultural and social development. I agree we should learn that we are not the only clever living beings in the world. That is possible and we are slowly but surely doing it. On the other hand, the continuity of Balkan cultures and literatures in particular, has been marvelously maintained via folk and ecclesiastical writings. We should be able to turn the discontinuity in our authentic cultural development to our advantage. But always with respect for the others. Always.
How do you assess the role of Balkani, the private publishing house, for the Balkan literary and cultural cooperation, especially the role of the Balkan Library Series? Such a comprehensive series of all Balkan authors has not been published in Bulgaria since 1878. What hatred, prejudice and ideological taboos, what loss of time…
It is a big, huge, immense plus for the Balkans on their way to a cultural unification with the rest of Europe. Just do not stop. Go on, please, and may God help you!
What do you think the Balkan people cannot divide?
What bigger opportunities do you see in this initiative and what new partners and participants, besides your highly respected involvement?
I have always been dreaming of a project like yours that will, hopefully, repeat the big success of the Latin Americans. After you include enough, to your opinion, authors from all Balkan countries, you should, I believe, try to translate them into, at least English and French and offer their works to the world. Who knows! Maybe we have capacity to succeed!