Karneval, mesopust – commentary

The carnival in Rijeka is over for another year, which for some has come way too soon and for others has come way too late. It really seems to stir up much the same reaction as marmite – people either love the carnival or hate it. Although the main procession on the last Sunday during the carnival is the most visible and most widely promoted feature during carnival time, throughout the whole period there are all sorts of activities going on: bell ringers, carnival parties every Saturday night, the city ball attended by various dignitaries, special carnival plays, exhibitions and concerts. One such carnival activity is the trial of the pust. If you were to drive through any of the smaller towns and villages around Rijeka during carnival time, particularly in the villages around Opatija, you would more than likely spot the rather macabre sight of a human effigy, or pust, hanging from a post.

Every year, each village or town’s carnival society chooses a figure, who is held to blame for all the problems that have occurred during the previous year. In 2002, when I spent a lot of time going from village to village to look at the different pusts, a very popular figure was Osama bin Laden, but pusts can be an effigy of someone in the village [like a notorious womaniser or gossip], a local firm or state company, or even a concept [like suspicion]. Throughout the carnival period, the pust hangs on its post in shame until Shrove Tuesday when a court case is held to determine its fate. In front of the whole village the pust is put before the judge, where the charges that have been made against it are read out. Just as in a real trial, defence and prosecution lawyers present their cases. All the villages have their own way of carrying out the trial, but a shared feature in all them is the merciless humour and wise-cracks directed at the powers-that-be, and topical issues of the day . The pust is almost always found guilty as charged and is then sentenced to death, whereupon it is taken in a solemn funeral procession, with people dressed up as a priest and funeral mourners, to a funeral pyre to be burnt. Again, the burning of the pust takes many forms – but perhaps the most interesting [and most well-known] burning of the pust happens in Mošćenička Draga, where the pust is tied onto a make shift rocket facing the sea and burnt. With its burning, all of the problems of the previous year go up in smoke.

There has been some debate in recent years about the direction the carnival is taking. Some people feel it is becoming too commercial, too geared towards being a tourist attraction and that as a result the traditions that lie behind the carnival are taking second place. When I was speaking to one bell ringer, he told me that he is not happy with coming to the city to parade in the main procession. He said ‘we are not doing this because of the tourists, we are doing this because it is a part of our tradition’. His argument was that bell ringing is carried out in the villages to chase out the winter and to welcome in the spring, and that if people wanted to see this tradition they should come to the villages and not the other way around. The thing about pusts and the burning of the pust is they are one such tradition that cannot be brought into the city.

Original post by Sarah Czerny 🙂