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Centennial of Meša Selimović’s birth

The City of Tuzla, together with the City of Sarajevo, the Academy of Science and Art of B&H, PEN Center of B&H and the Museum of Literature and Theatrical Arts of B&H, celebrated the centennial of birth of Meša Selimović, a writer from Bosnia and Herzegovina, in April 2010.

Mehmed Meša Selimović was born on April 26,1910 in Tuzla. He finished primary school and general program secondary school in his home town. In 1930 he enrolled at the Department of Serbo-Croatian Language and Yugoslavian Literature of the faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade. He graduated in 1934. He was a teacher in Civic-education school and an assistant teacher in Real Gymnasium in Tuzla. During the first two years of war he lived in Tuzla where he was arrested for collaboration with the National Liberation Movement. In May 1943 he crossed to

Eastern Bosnia and latter on a commissioner of Tuzla’s unit. In 1944 he went to Belgrade where he performed political and cultural duties. He lived in Sarajevo from 1947 where he worked as a teacher in Higher Pedagogical School, an assistant professor at the Faculty of Philosophy, an art director of “Bosna-film”, a drama director of the National Theatre, the main editor of Publishing Company “Svjetlost”. He was retired in 1971 and he moved to Belgrade. He was chosen for a Chairman of Association of Writers of Yugoslavia; he was an honored doctor of the University of Sarajevo (1971); he was a full time member of the Academy of Science and Arts of B&H and the Serbian Academy of Science and Art. He received many awards and the most significant are: NIN award (1967), Goran’s award (1967), Njegoš’s award (1967), 27th July award of the Socialist Republic of B&H, AVNOJ (Anti fascist Council for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia) award.
Meša Selimović died on July 11, 1982 in Belgrade.

Meša Selimović for sure is one of the greatest writers of Bosnia and Herzegovina. His status of a great writer in a rank of a European classic writers is indisputable. The status is mostly based on his two novels: “Death and the Dervish” and “The Fortress”. The writer refers to the Central European narrative tradition, to Dostoevsky and to a general stream of Modernism in literature of the 20th century. But driven by temperament characteristics and a special creative vision, Selimović created his own expression which may not be grouped into any regular category. Regarding his narrative techniques, he inherited and expanded the novel of personal confession or stream of consciousness of the Realism, which best examples are short novels by Dostoevsky “The Meek One” and “Notes from Underground”. Selimović understood that techniques of noting of fluctuation of consciousness are not adequate (such we find in works of Jamesa Joyce or Hermanna Broch) for a picturesque illustration of an inner struggle because in those works there is dilution of consciousness of a protagonist, who, as a passive receptor, may not be a participant in a moral and a metaphysical drama.

His first novel, “Death and the Dervish”, was written in a vivid style with mixture of introspection, judgments about life and human drama od dervish Nuruddin. It is a work of a universal value which attracted attention of international readers, partially due to its magnetic mixture of an existential drama and an intoxicating resignation which radiates from the Islamic and Oriental background. The novel is not a realistic illustration of dervishes, Sufism or Islamic mysticism because Nurudin’s dilemmas become senseless if we assess them in the context of firmly rooted religious consciousness. This is not a critic of the value of this work of art, which intention anyway was not to genuinely and documentary illustrate mystical trances or attitudes of a Sufi; its intention was – and it succeeded- to set general human dilemmas and pains in a Bosnian- Islamic context and to put universal issues to a local level.

 The following great novel, “The Fortress”, is a description of Sarajevo after the Battle of Khotyn (also described by Gundulić in his “Osman”) and it contains a wide range of characters and a huger number of lyrical passages than the “Dervish”, which is strongly focused on the unforgettable character Nurudin. Both works of art are characterized by a restrained emotionality, dark descriptions of human destiny, the atmosphere which may not be described in one tone and which oscillates from calmness in accepting one’s destiny to a rebellion against inhuman circumstances and references to the historical destiny of Bosniaks (especially in “the Fortress”). The main Selimović’s novels are great works of a mature author who harmonically joined modernist discourse and techniques of narrative tradition of “narrative Bosnia” and the Oriental and Islamic sensibility.
Other narrative works of the same author do not reach the peak reached by “the Fortress” and  the “Dervish”, except in details. Selimović’s essays and memoirs are interesting, but they also are not works of the European and the world’s rank as his great novels. Maybe the most interesting non-fictional book written by Selimović is “For and Against Vuk” where the author discusses the role of Vuk Karadžić in the reform of the Serbian language. Besides its indisputable critical and analytical value, the work is interesting because it illustrates the writer’s controversial national choices, for his contemporary and future generations. Shortly, “For and Against Vuk” is a book which deals in the problem of creation of  modern standard Serbian language, with protagonists Vuk Karadžić and his opponents and weak supporters among the bourgeois layers of Vojvodina’s and Serbia’s citizens and with thoroughly described phases of struggle. A reader immediately notes that the work indirectly busters the myth about “Serbo-Croatian” language because it is limited to circumstances related to Serbia while it does not mention Croatian history or language tradition (Illyrian movement) at all. It also does not mention any creation in mother tongue of Bosniaks (literature in Bosnian language written in Arabic scripture) at all. In this work Selimović is a Serbian language historian and a propagandist of ideas of Great Serbia, who does not even mention Croatian and Illyrian supporters. National and political comments being put aside, the writer’s main attitude is based on the following: he holds Vuk Karadžić for an uncompromising revolutionary who totally rejected older Serbian language heritage ruining Serbian language reducing it to the rural idiom and depriving it from intellectual vocabulary. But it was a necessary phase which was improved latter on with development of Serbian literature.