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Remembering Predrag Matvejević | Boris A. Novak

Tuesday 7 February 2017 - 11:17am

predragThe news of Predrag Matvejević ‘s death has touched me deeply.

Predrag was a great soul, sensitive, brave and generous. A writer, an intellectual and a Vice-President of PEN International, with wide horizons and an amazing knowledge about different cultures. He was personally anchored to different traditions; from his father's Ukraine and his native Bosnia and Hercegovina to the variety of Mediterranean shores immortalized in his opus magnum The Mediterranean Breviary. He was a Croatian writer and a cosmopolitan, a Professor in Paris and in Rome, an expert for Slav, Romanic and Central European literatures.

Modest as he was, he never boasted the fact that already in his youth he was a member of the Partisan resistance against the Nazi and Fascist occupation of Yugoslavia, as a "courier". In the times of the communist totalitarianism, he acted as a dissident and demanded the resignation of the life-long Yugoslav President Tito - a bold and dangerous act at the time. It is characteristic that the same opportunists who were silent in those times of political repression accused him later of being a "traitor" of the national cause - which, unfortunately, was sealed by the Croatian courts forcing Predrag into the long years of "comfortable exile", as he self-ironically defined it, in France and Italy.

In those times of nationalistic frenzy and tragic conflicts, causing the fall of Yugoslavia, Predrag was one of the rare voices of reason and humanity defending the need to maintain cultural and human ties. In this bloody period, the two of us - belonging to different generations - started cooperating; he supported fully the humanitarian help for refugees and writers from the besieged city of Sarajevo, which I organized with PEN International. It was a great honour for me to address with "Ti (tutoyer)" the personality whom I have been admiring from my student years.

In the best possible way, Predrag personified the universal role of literature and the spirit of PEN International.

Even under the dangerous political pressure, Predrag maintained his faith, humour and charms. Until the end of my days I will cherish memories of our passionate discussions - and long coffees and drinks and dinners - in Zagreb, in Ljubljana, in Rome...

When he was nominated for the Nobel Prize for literature by a group of Italian writers, including Umberto Eco, Predrag was deeply moved, but commented that he had not deserved it.

Predrag's work and human values deserve our highest respect. This loss is irreplaceable.

Dear friends, let us be worth of the heritage of Predrag Matvejević and let us do everything we possibly can to defend the freedom of expression and help those who are the victims of these terrible times - refugees!

Boris A. Novak, PEN International Vice-President