01 January 2021

Dušan Jovanović (1939-2021)

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The great Yugoslav and Slovenian playwright and theatre director Dušan Jovanović died today, 1st January, 2021 in Slovenia. Jovanović was born in Belgrade in 1939. In 1952, he moved to Slovenia with his mother and stepfather where he obtained a university degree in English and French, followed by a degree in theatre direction from the Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television in Ljubljana.

His art and life were a constant source of creative energy and they left an indelible mark not only on the cultural scene in Slovenia but also on the whole of former Yugoslavia. He directed a number of theatre productions in all the important theatre centres which, in return, won him a number of festival awards. Jovanović also founded and managed new, avant-garde theatres, served as the artistic director of the Mladinsko theatre in Slovenia, taught theatre direction at the Theatre Academy in Ljubljana, wrote prose, essays and articles. The most precious part of his legacy, however, are close to thirty plays he left behind, including Madmen (1968), Play a Tumour in the Head and Air Pollution (1971), The Life of Provincial Playboys After the Second World War (1972), The Liberation of Skopje (1977), The Karamazovs (1980), Top Secret (1983), Victor or Youth Day (1989), Antigone (1996), The Exhibitionist (2001).

Dušan Jovanović directed a total of three productions for the Yugoslav Drama Theatre: the première of The Balkan Spy by Dušan Kovačević (1983); Molière – Another Life by Bulgakov, Molière and Jovanović (2003) and Hamlet by William Shakespeare (2005).

One of the fragments of the Yugoslav Drama Theatre production of Born in YU (2010) was entitled ‘The Story of Dušan or What Am I Now?’ – an adaptation of an essay written by Jovanović in 1990s, Kaj sem zdaj? – Skica za avtobiografijo.

In 2015, he gave a master class on Studio YDT stage under the name of Majstorsko Pismo (Masters’ letter – certificate of completion): An Evening with Dušan Jovanović.

It is with a heavy heart that we at the Yugoslav Drama Theatre say goodbye to Dušan Jovanović, one of the last of the truly great figures of our culture.


Early on in Season 2010/11, as part of the preparations for the production of Born in YU at the Yugoslav Drama Theatre, the director Dino Mustafić asked some of the most prominent playwrights in the country to send in short scenes or monologues based on their memories, which would subsequently become parts of the text and fragments of the production itself. Instead, what we got from Dušan Jovanović was his essay published in 1993 under the title of Kaj sem zdaj? – Skica za avtobiografijo (Who am I now? – Draft for an autobiography). Excerpts from this essay by Jovanović were collected under the title of The Story of Dušan, translated by Maja Đukanović, and performed on stage with the participation of all ten actors as part of the production of Born in YU.

 

THE STORY OF DUŠAN

The Story of Dušan, or ….

… What Am I Now?

Ana Chrisafidou, a Greek woman from Athens, and her husband Rista Jovanović, a Serb from the village of Skulanovo near Lipljan in Kosovo, official translator at the Serbian consulate in Istanbul, have just become parents of twin boys – Svetozar and Ljubomir….

In 1939, shortly before the beginning of the Second World War, Ljubomir marries Emilija Gebor, daughter of Ferdinand, engine driver from Osijek, and Marija Zelenko of mixed German-Croatian descent, maiden name Schtickle…

The young couple, now living in Pašino Brdo in Belgrade, become parents of a male child by the name of Dušan. Shortly after the occupation of Belgrade, the German army arrests the entire staff of Avala news agency and some of them are sent to Thessaloniki. Ljubomir, a telegraphist, is ordered to accompany them.

The family falls apart and Dušan spends most of the war with his Grannny Ana in various shelters and basements. Certain periods are spent with his aunt Zora, married to Georgi Potevski, a man from Macedonia. Years later, Dušan will write a play about his experiences of the time.

In 1945, Dušan’s parents separate. His mother Emilia marries Mr Petrović, a rich merchant from Macedonia. Unfortunately, he is also a passionate gambler (who later on goes bankrupt and subsequently hangs himself). His father Ljubomir miarries Pavla Traven, a Slovene woman from Ljubljana, Trnovo. In 1948,

 

Pavla’s brother Ciril is arrested (cominform!) whereupon he is sent to Goli Otok, a notorious labour camp for political dissidents. Dušan wrote a play about this too. And this is how Dušan got his two sisters: Marta (a blond, born in Belgrade in 1950, baptised in the Orthodox Church), and Darinka (dark haired, born in Ljubljana in 1952, baptised in the Roman Catholic Church.

Dušan’s first love was Elizabeth Taylor (his maternal grandmother owned a tailors shop in the city of Osijek), his second was Majda Ažman and finally he falls in love with Vida Zei. Vida’s mother Cveta (of mixed Czech-Slovene descent, maiden name Pivko), was born in Maribor, and her father Miroslav was born in Trieste.

On 30 th December, 1964, Vida and Dušan are married in Ljubljana. On 16 th January 1965, their son Saša is born, two months premature. Spring 1965. Dušan and his family are living in Rovinj, a small seaside town in Istria. Dr Zei owns a small stone cottage there, built on the very promontory below the church, right by the sea, where Dušan is busy writing his novel.

In autumn 1965, Dušan has to travel to Banja Luka, the capital of Bosanska Krajina for his national service. During that time, Saša and Vida are staying with Vida’s parents in Africa. Dr Zei sends Dušan photos of naked African women. He exchanges them with other soldiers in return for small favours: Cleaning rifles, shoes, night duties….

Because of these photographs and a number of letters from abroad, but most probably because of his file with the State Security Administration, he is called in for questioning by an officer of the KOS (Counter-intelligence service), is constantly assailed by provocateurs, but somehow manages to avoid all complications, except those caused by excessive drinking. He becomes well acquainted with the historical background of the conflict between the Muslims, the Serbs and the Croats, becomes a blood donor and returns home safe and sound.

In Ljubljana, Vida, Dušan and Saša sleep in one room in Nr 3, Stare Pravde Street. Next to them are Vida’s sister Lada and her husband Lado (whose mother Hilda is also German). The house is constantly besieged by guests. They listen to the Beatles, talk about art, sing….

That flat becomes somehow crucial for the lives of all those who made love in it. All the couples who spent a night there divorced later on. Miro and Cveta (Vida’s parents), Lado and Lada, Višnja (a painter who said: Dubrovnik is full of husbands and faggots!?) and Ljubiša (who at the time was directing a play by Mirko Kovač, drove a pumped-up abarth and collected information about the secret life of Josip Broz Tito, Milena and Radko (actors), Vida and Dušan…

Unlike the flat, the new house in Bohinjska Bela (very close to the lake of Bled), can lay no claim to anything similar. It was built by Milena (her mother Elizabeth was a partisan, a church going communist, born in Bohinjska Bela and her father Milenko was born in Doboj in Bosnia). Many a couple spent the night at that house. Some of them divorced, some did not. It was in this house that, right up to Elizabeth’s death in 1991, you could taste home-made fruit raki made by Elizabeth herself. Many friends and visitors can vouch for the medicinal properties of this brew.

The house in Bohinjska Bela, number 103A, surrounded by clean fresh air, on 6 th May 1981, becomes a mostly peaceful residence of Maša Jovanović, Saša’s half sister, daughter of Milena and Dušan. One day, face smeared with tears, she returned home from school only to ask Milena if it was true that her father was a Serb. It is true, Milena said, and not only, I am half Bosnian myself. Oh, said Maša, that on top of everything! As if she had a premonition of what was to come!

—————–

Dušan worked in Ljubljana, Maribor, Celje, Nova Gorica (Slovenia), but also in Zagreb, Dubrovnik (Croatia), Sarajevo, Zenica (Bosnia), Belgrade, Subotica and Novi Sad (Serbia). The country where all this took place does not exist any more and one where such things could happen may never exist again.

Dušan wonders now…

Dušan wonders…

What am I?

What am I now?

What am….

….. I now?

What….

….am I now?

What am….

…I now?

..

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