Renate Hansen-Kokoruš (ed.): Facing the Present. Transition in Post-Yugoslavia. The Artists' View

Renate Hansen-Kokoruš (ed.): Facing the Present. Transition in Post-Yugoslavia. The Artists' View

Hamburg: Verlag Dr. Kovač, 2014, ISBN 978-3-8300-7380-2, 268 pp.

Rastislava Mirković
Divna Mrdeža Antonina; Adisa Bašić; Olga Dimitrijević; Ivan Lovrenović; Elena Popovska; Olja Savićević; Ognjen Svilčić; Nenad Veličković; Tobias Träger; the Balkans; Yugoslavia; Post-Yugoslavia; film; literature; drama.

Facing the Present is a compilation of essays presented at an international conference of the same name, which took place in Graz, Austria from 20 to 22 March 2013. The fifteen pieces in the collection address the particularities of artistic creation in the 21st century in post-Yugoslav countries, with seven papers focusing on film, six on literature, two on anthropology, and one on drama.

This bilingual publication, written in English and in BCS (Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian), includes five chapters. The first elaborates filmic and literary representations of war and postwar trauma. The second focuses on art and the critique of the war and of post-war ideology. Here the authors analyse (competing) memories, interpretations of reality and kitsch, and the role of religion as one of the instruments to examine post-Yugoslav ideologies. The third section offers an ideological analysis of Yugoslav cultural space based on personal experiences and historical sources. The fourth chapter investigates the treatment of borders – both physical and mental – in film and literature, focusing on themes of migration. The last chapter highlights changes in the treatment of gender and in the roles of minorities in post-Yugoslav literature and drama.

The volume is based on an assumption that alternative artistic production – which the ruling establishment always actively tried to suppress – and post-Yugoslav literature and film in particular found ways to (re)create bonds and (re)establish communication in former Yugoslavia at time when war as well as mental and physical barriers were standing in the way of connection (Hansen-Kokoruš 2014: 8). The articles demonstrate that the evolution from strongly nationalistic postwar societies to post-Yugoslav states has been widely reflected in film and literature. The artists challenged many taboos from both political and aesthetic perspectives, demonstrating various ways to work through war trauma.

It is important to highlight that any analysis of the post-Yugoslav transition must address the impact of globalisation, and can therefore not simply be confined to local conditions. Some articles therefore focus on revealing the amalgam of neoliberal and nationalistic dogmata present in literature during this transitional period (i.e Davor Beganović on To the Unknown Hero or Olga Dimitrijević’s The Folk’s Play and Workers Die Singing). Ivan Lovrenović offers an excellent analysis of our inner exile and pervasive alienation as a result of profound changes during and after the wars. The essays by Ivan Lovrenović, Magdalena  Byma, and Tobias Träger draw attention to the ways in which the (ab)use of the concepts of faith and nation in post-Yugoslav ideologies contributed to the extent of self-victimisation in the 90s and to the slow pace of normalisation during the new millennium. Nikica Gilić, Krunoslav Lučić, Divna Mrdeža Antonina and Olga Dimitrijević analyse film genres (war movies, comedies, and road movies) and particular narratives in literature, film, and drama that underscore social taboos. Thus, comedy appears as an important film genre for offering an alternative, or a corrective, to ideological intrusiveness: see i.e Nikica Gilić on Kako je počeo rat na mom otoku / How the War started on my Island (Vinko Brešan, 1996, Croatia), Magdalena  Byma on Podzemlje / Underground (Emir Kusturica, 1995, Yugoslavia, France, Germany, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary), Lepa sela lepo gore / Pretty Village, Pretty Flame (Srđan Dragojević, 1996, FR Yugoslavia) and Parada / Parade (Srđan Dragojević, 2011, Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, France, Republic of Macedonia, UK), or Elena Popovska on Bal-can-can (Darko Mitrevski, 2005, Italy, Republic of Macedonia, UK). The use of “self-balkanisation” as an aesthetic model in post-Yugoslav films (i.e. Magdalena Byma, Elena Popovska) emerges as a typical technique to probe into the imposed ethnonational stereotypes. Both authors claim that overcoming this balkanising approach showed the maturation of the film in most of the post-Yugoslav states. The paper by Renata Hansen-Kokoruš, the book’s editor, focuses on collective and individual identities. By analysing films made in both centuries, she demonstrates that it is possible to oppose collective stereotypes and create a multi-layered hybrid identity, as can be seen in such films as Armin (Ognjen Sviličić, 2007, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany), Put lubenica / The Melon Route (Branko Schmidt, 2006, Croatia) or films by Jasmila Žbanić.

Several essays stand out within the collection. One such piece is Adisa Bašić’s paper on the role of poetry in the context of Dubravka Ugrešić’s critical stance on the contemporary tension between the “terror of remembering” and the “terror of forgetting” (both terms coined by D. Ugrešić). This essay is particularly compelling because of its excellent comparison of Polish poetry after the Second World War with Bosnian-Herzegovinian poetry after the Yugoslav wars. Adisa Bašić offers ample evidence that poetry (still) has the power to “contribute to the honouring of the victims but also to their desacralisation and to our critical dealing with the past” (ibid.: 71). She also argues, that by transmitting the essence of the moment the poets directly confront us with trauma and challenge our mindset. Adisa Bašić shows us that poetry is painfully real and will never become obsolete.

Another noteworthy text is Nenad Veličković’s meticulous analysis of the prize winning novel Top je bio vreo (2008) by Vladimir Kecmanović. Veličković brilliantly succeeds in making use of literary critical apparatuses – in this case, focalisation – to “dissect” the novel, revealing it as a locus where the “author uses fiction as an argument in the ideological and political discussion of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which represents the interest of Serbian nationalism.“ (ibid.: 49)

Divna Mrdeža Antonina’s article on the novel Adio Kauboju (2010) by Olja Savićević is another excellent read. By juggling opposing genres (i.e. western and chick literature) in an ironic manner, the author confronts the central theme of identity, subversively refusing to embrace the traditional and often oppressive components of identity: family, church, and state.

Since the aim of the book is “to provide an insight into the discussion and found future debates” (ibid.: 8), I would have appreciated reading more on other writers who were only been briefly mentioned but who, however, could possibly give a new post-Yugoslav response to the problem of relocating identity within the displaced framework of a post-conflict society, for example Ildiko Lovaš, David Albahari, Melinda Nadj Aboni, Adriana Altaras, Saša Stanišić, or Tea Obrecht. Such films as Tilva Roš / Tilva Ros (Nikola Ležaić, 2010, Serbia) or Klip / Clip (Maja Miloš, 2012, Serbia), which demystify the elitist concepts of culture and art, would also have fit well with the scope of the present book.

A more comprehensive introduction would have laid a more solid theoretical foundation for the volume by, for example, including references to writings that foreground the role of artistic and cultural production in opposing nationalism and war at the end of the last and at the beginning of this century (i.e. by Eric Gordy, Chip Gagnon or Gordana P. Crnković) Moreover, presenting opposing views on the continuity of post-Yugoslav literature and cinema within the context of art production economy, state subsidies, and changing patterns of political control would have provided more insight into the topic under discussion. Finally, it would have been useful if the book had included short biographies of the participating authors.

Nevertheless, Facing the Present represents valuable assessments of the 21st century film and literature production in post-Yugoslavia. This collection is an important contribution in the field of conflict and cultural memory studies of South-Eastern Europe, as well as in the study of film, literature, and media of the 20th and 21st century in (post-)Yugoslavia.

Rastislava Mirković

Independent Scholar


Gagnon Jr., V. P. 2006. The Myth of Ethnic War: Serbia and Croatia in the 1990s. Ithaca, NY.

Gordy, Eric D. 1999. The Culture of Power in Serbia. Nationalism and the Destruction of Alternatives. Penn State University Press.

Dević, Ana. 2012. “Fringe Antinationalisms: Hegemony and Counter-Hegemony in Cinema.” In Towards Open Regionalism in South East Europe, edited by Paul Stubbs and Christophe Solioz, 191-209. Baden-Baden.

Pavičić, Jurica. 2011. Postjugoslovenski film: Stil i ideologija. Zagreb.


Brešan, Vinko 1996. Kako je počeo rat na mom otoku / How the War started on my Island. Hrvatska Radiotelevizija (HRT).

Dragojević, Srđan 1996. Lepa sela lepo gore / Pretty Village, Pretty Flame. Cobra Films; MCRS; Radio Televizija Srbije (RTS).

Dragojević, Srđan 2011. Parada / Parade. Delirium; Eurimages; Film and Music Entertainment (F&ME); Forum Ljubljana; Mainframe Productions.

Kusturica, Emir 1995. Podzemlje / Underground. CiBy 2000; Pandora Filmproduktion; Novofilm; Barrandov Studios et al.

Ležaić, Nikola 2010. Tilva Roš / Tilva Ros. Filmhouse Kiselo Dete.

Miloš, Maja 2012. Klip/ Clip. Film House Bas Celik.

Mitrevski, Darko 2005. Bal-can-can. Partysans Film; Veradia Film; Minerva Pictures; Aria Films; Verdecchi Film.

Schmidt, Branko 2006. Put lubenica / The Melon Route. Hrvatska Radiotelevizija (HRT).

Sviličić, Ognjen 2007. Armin. Busse & Halberschmidt; Hrvatska Radiotelevizija (HRT); Maxima Film; Refresh Production.

Žbanić, Jasmila 2006. Grbavica / The Land of My Dreams. Coop 99; Deblokada; Noirfilm Filmproduktion; Jadran Film.

Žbanić, Jasmila 2006. Na putu / On the Path. Deblokada; Coop99; Filmproduktion; Pandora Filmproduktion; Ziva Produkcija.

Suggested Citation

Mirković, Rastislava. 2017. Review: “Renate Hansen-Kokoruš (ed.). Facing the Present. Transition in Post-Yugoslavia. The Artists' View.Apparatus. Film, Media and Digital Cultures in Central and Eastern Europe 4. DOI:


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Apparatus. ISSN 2365-7758