John Lennon – lost 1971 interview

Issue 1005 of the Yugoslav informative weekly VUS – Vjesnik u srijedu (Herald on Wednesday) published in Zagreb on 4th August 1971 contained an interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono by the Croatian journalist Konstantin Milles (Miles). This interview has seemingly never been published in English. So, I decided to translate the text as it was printed in VUS. Obviously my translation will not be an exact transcript of the original conversation but I think it provides an interesting insight into Lennon’s thoughts on communism, Yugoslavia, art, politics and of course The Beatles.

Cover inset picture “The Beatles dream was a lie” – pic © Barrie Wentzell

Konstantin Milles interviews John Lennon and his no less famous wife Yoko Ono. Lennon now claims that the “communist press” did not make much of a mistake when it previously wrote that the “Beatles were a weapon of capitalism and imperialism” and that he attacked his former colleague Paul McCartney for being a right-winger (read “conservative”) , that George Harrison immersed himself in religious mysticism, and he says that Ringo Starr never knew or understood anything. “I woke up”, Lennon says about himself.

John Lennon photographed in the park of his county mansion with Yoko Ono. When asked how much this estate cost him, he said: “So much it makes my head spin.” Pic © Barrie Wentzell

“It be must here!” the driver said to me, turning around in his seat. “This wall looks doubtful!” Shortly before that we had rushed out of the centre of Ascot, about an hour’s drive from London, and now we were driving down a narrow road that meandered through an unusually dense and beautiful forest, with only glimpses of old mansions built like former castles and small country houses. Only the richest residents of London live in this blessed corner of England.

The wall was three metres high, made of stone, at least two kilometres long. When we got to the end of it, I spotted a group of American hippies, standing at the gate and staring “lost” inside. At that moment, I realised two things: that we had indeed reached Lennon (which in the given circumstances had only a practical significance) and that the persistent rumours about the decline of the Beatles’ popularity were not in the least bit true – even though they no longer existed as the Beatles but as John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. Later, during the conversation, Lennon gave me a very convincing verification of the financial-statistical type, which surprised me a little… because pop music was always something I had never been “in to” to such an extent that it could satisfy any of its ardent admirers.

About three months ago I had sent Lennon a telegram asking to meet up again. I had been to London a few times in the meantime, but we still hadn’t met. I knew why: he had been travelling unusually a lot again lately, and that, unlike in the past, it was due mostly to “private business.” He had been in New York twice to track down Yoko’s son (sic – daughter) with the help of the local private and official police and fabulously expensive lawyers, and to take the boy (sic – girl) back from his (sic – her) father, Yoko’s first husband through the courts, (Yoko later told me that her “dad” was also involved, and when I asked her if it was true that her “dad” was a rather rich Japanese banker, she burst out laughing and said: “Well you see, John can’t complain that he’s poor, but his money is peanuts compared to what my family has in Tokyo. I know it’s not tasteful to talk about it, but, you see, when I was little, I was told at home that there were only three families in all of Japan, apart from the imperial family: the Mitsui, Mitsubishi and my family.” I said: “Then that means that together with the Mitsuis and Mitsubishis, it was, in fact, your family that prepared Japan to enter the Second World War!” Yoko Ono calmly replied: “Yes, that’s right! These have always been the three most powerful families in Japan… something like the Japanese Krupps or Rockefellers… the owners of real empires of banks, companies, industries. It is natural that my family is connected to them anyway, besides business. Let’s say my brother doesn’t work with his father, he works for Mitsubishi.” I couldn’t resist asking her how she got along with “dad” and “mum,” considering what she had “done” and what she was “doing.” She said: “In the beginning, they simply fainted, figuratively speaking. Then they, at least I think so, found a solution that suited them best: they concluded that we were nevertheless a family who could accept everything!”)

The very same glasses

I had a great, almost three-hour-long interview with Lennon in the spring of 1969 in Amsterdam. However, there then came the famous Beatles’ breakup (something he had hinted to me indirectly back in that first interview) and a series of Lennon interviews, mostly with the American hippy press and the most biting trends of the “new left.” I suddenly found Lennon interesting again. All the more so since in several interviews, he had mentioned his great desire to see what was happening in Yugoslavia. We drove through the gate past that group of American hippies. Suddenly a huge white, snow-white or lime-white house appeared in front of us — painted just like the walls of Apple’s building in London’s Saville Row. (I remembered that Lennon had always been fascinated by white.) I walked up to the door and rang the bell. Two minutes passed, but no one appeared. I peeked through the little window by the door. In the room I looked into all that could be seen was a forest of film cameras, spotlights, power cables, ladders – all in a terrible mess. I pressed the bell again, but I didn’t hear its ring. I began to bang on the door, louder and louder. Still no reply. We walked around the house. Through one window on the ground floor, I spotted Lennon and Yoko Ono. They were sitting at a wooden table in a huge kitchen with some unknown people. Music was playing. I knocked on the window, feeling like Santa Claus. Lennon noticed me, put his hands together jokingly as if praying me to do something, and gestured to me to go to the last, fourth side of the house and enter through the door that came out to the garden. There I was greeted by Diana (Vero?), Lennon’s secretary and runner, an attractive and still quite young girl with the look of a typical London “schizo.” A little later we were sitting at that big wooden table in the kitchen (Lennon explained to me that the house was “a real madhouse” because the whole lower part was being converted into a film studio, whereby three rooms would be arranged as the Yoko Ono Personal Museum. At that moment, I remembered that I had completely forgotten the fact that Yoko was a sculptor, but not only that. But, more about that later).

“One woman couldn’t make four grown men fight,” Lennon says about the rumours that the Beatles broke up because of his relationship with Yoko Ono. Pic © Barrie Wentzell

John Lennon is now 30 years old. Nothing much had changed since our last meeting. This claim categorically warrants an explanation. In Amsterdam he had long hair and a beard. Today’s Lennon only has relatively long hair, he is completely shaved, because his beard has disappeared, and quite thoroughly: today not only does he, let’s say, shave with an electric appliance but shaves to such an extent, probably with two or three shaves, that his face is as smooth as a newborn’s bottom. He maintains his sideburns, “typically English” and ginger. The glasses have stayed the same: the “anarchist’s design” from the last century with a thin, totally round metal frame. Through their lenses, the penetrating gaze of two blue eyes greets the interlocutor. The look is most usually suspicious: suspiciousness has probably, and he has had a reason for it, become Lennon’s “second nature.” Jeans and a plain shirt with an unbuttoned collar, close-fitting to a rather well-built, but nevertheless weak body, which, together with the physiognomy, still acts like a dynamo. Just like that, seemingly weak, but full of some inner dynamics, Lennon is actually the image and figure of a young man who is liked by today’s girls (if you can judge by what kind of young men the most beautiful girls go out with in London, Paris, Stockholm, Copenhagen… in fact, any Western European city – “Tarzans” seem to be simply out of fashion, and the glasses are more of a plus than a minus. Regardless of the fact that in England one of the great “sexual symbols” is Tom Jones, who still, let’s say, looks different, doesn’t he?) Lennon has his own opinion about this, which, admittedly, he expressed indirectly and inadvertently, almost inadvertently in one completely unrelated conversation. When we finished the interview and returned to the mansion from the park that surrounds it (it has the dimensions of Maksimir Park and like Maksimir it has its own large natural lake with reeds), we chatted for a while in the kitchen. Yoko told me how she met the famous Japanese writer who shook the world a few months ago with a failed coup attempt and then his successful hara-kiri. “One evening he was sitting right next to me, but he didn’t say a single word to me, which was just plain rude! He was otherwise a physically very handsome man!” At that moment, Lennon’s voice was heard: “Yeah, he was handsome. He was one of those crazy body-builders. He was in short – a homosexual! A notorious homosexual! I read somewhere that all the forces in the SS troops were like that! The most disgusting reactionaries and fascists were often like that!” Lennon said this calmly, as though the most banal of facts were being stated, but still, I could not escape the impression that not even hara-kiri could have saved the Japanese writer from Lennon’s aversion. An aversion that was not caused by the writer being homosexual, but simply because with his rude behaviour he had neglected the woman Lennon who loved to such an extent that the term “head over heels” is still valid today. It would be difficult for anyone who has not seen Yoko Ono in person to understand that she is actually a very handsome, physically attractive, beautiful young woman, full of that charming kindness that adorns all Japanese women, whether beautiful or ugly. The only misfortune is that – and I told her, and Lennon confirmed it with unusual zeal – that she is simply not photogenic. In every photo, she looks at least ten years older, the glow of her eyes is lost, the colour of her skin is distorted, the refined anatomy of her face is distorted… and millions of readers around the world wonder “what Lennon saw in her.”

Lennon wants to go to Yugoslavia

Whilst Barrie Wentzell arranged his cameras and I slowly set up the tape recorder, we sat and chatted.

“What’s new in Yugoslavia?” Lennon asked me.

“You have no idea how interested we are!” said Yoko.

At first I felt the temptation to simply reply: “Well come, and you’ll see!” Hic Rodhus, hic salta! But at first the main thought that run through my head was that their question was an expression of conventional decency, of attention towards a guest, who is from a small country, to which I am always allergic. Or that their various statements lately about wanting to visit Yugoslavia were in fact just mere affectation. However, I realised that they were both looking at me with serious, calm looks, with the look of someone who has asked an honest and serious question and who wants a serious answer has.

“What’s new, you ask?” Last time, in Amsterdam, I told you about the introduction of self-government in Yugoslavia. This is always new because it’s something in which something new is constantly happening. What is “old”, in a way, is that we want to show that something that no one has achieved so far can be achieved: communism plus personal freedom plus a high standard of living. But, we are not doing it in order to show the world that it is possible. We are doing for ourselves first of all. We’re not asking anyone to learn from us.”

“I have listened and read a lot about what is going on in your country. Yoko and I would be overjoyed if we could visit your country and see everything! So that we can talk to your people, to your students, workers and intellectuals, to tell them about our ideas, to show them our films…”

However later, in a completely different context, I realised that to Lennon some things about Yugoslavia were still not clear, although he sincerely loved Yugoslavia and its efforts (he told me that “strong vibrations” were coming to him from Yugoslavia, which has nothing to do with telepathy, as one might think, but is simply a term used by hippies when talking about someone or something who or what is doing some, most often mental activity that provokes their sympathy. In the broadest sense, “catching someone’s vibrations” means the same thing as “working on the same wavelength” in our jargon) however, some things connected to Yugoslavia are not clear. If everything about Yugoslavia was clear to him, he would certainly not have asked me the absurd question of whether the sale of his record Power to the People was permitted at home!

KM: So, the tape recorder is plugged in, checked and tested. We can start the interview. Please answer me one simple stupid question: “How are you?”

JL: I’m fine. And you?

KM: I’m fine too. However, please explain to me in a little more detail why you are fine.

JL: I understood the essence of your question exactly and I was just kidding. How am I you ask? In the full bliss of creative work! Me and Yoko are working like crazy. I get the impression we don’t have a minute to spare. Well, I just finished a new album (Imagine), which will be released in the autumn, we are finishing a TV film about that album… actually a film about ourselves, about us, Yoko has published a book that we will give you as a gift (Grapefruit) because we care about it a great deal, and two days ago she completed a theatrical piece (Film No. 12 – Up Your Legs Forever?) that will be premièred on Broadway in September. If you come, we’ll get you a ticket, I’m composing, we’re sorting out the house, Yoko’s making statues, which I’m sure you can see…

KM: If we can make an arrangement and you come to Zagreb, perhaps Yoko could organise an exhibition of her works there?

(Afterwards, I toured Yoko’s studio and “museum” in several rooms of the mansion. It is quite certain that an exhibition in Zagreb would be a sensation. And that even visitors who have little to do with art would come too. Due to certain circumstances.)

JL: Absolutely.

YO: Absolutely. Only some of your people might not like some of the exhibits! There might be some misunderstandings…

KM: I don’t believe that would discourage you. After all, you’ve already got used to it, here in London. But, you see, my consciously formulated question had one other subtext, so to speak. How emotional you are after everything that happened after our last meeting, particularly in recent times.

JL: We are in full creative bliss. And that, I think, means we’re emotionally excellent, too. Apart from that, I’m as fit as a fiddle.

KM: In many reports about you, in several interviews that you have given, the thought, like a leitmotif permeates, often highlighted in the title, that “the dream is over”, that “the dream has come to an end”, that you have “woken up”… all along those lines. Does that bother you? It’s almost as if the journalists agreed to point it out!

JL: But, that’s right! What happened before – was a dream! It was a youthful, pubescent dream. But, I’m not young any more: I’m thirty, man!

KM: You seem to be happy to talk about that dream!

JL: People think it that was a magical Hollywood dream. A story of four young men who succeeded fantastically. Yes: we had millions of dollars, millions of girls, at every step, after every performance, fame… but it was still a nightmare. Only we didn’t see it then…

KM: As you talk about it, you speak with bitterness. Everywhere, in every place. And you talk about it with some almost masochistic pleasure…

JL: I want to tell people the truth: that the Beatles’ dream was a mere illusion.

KM: Why do you think that?

JL: I realised that the ruling class was exploiting us, abusing us for its own purposes. You see, back then, at that time, we found it funny when the communist press wrote that we were “the tools of capitalism and imperialism.” I see they weren’t so wrong. We didn’t think we were creating revolution…

“We met conceited people”

KM: … and in fact, those who rule, those who hold the money and power, used you for their own purposes…

JL: It’s not so simple. The Establishment (the ruling class…. ) gave us a high medal, took almost all our money, gave us a medal instead of, let’s say, lowering our taxes… the people who we met on our tours were all just bureaucratic and plutocratic “money men”, police chiefs, diplomats, conceited… not real people. It was all so unreal! In the first ten rows at our concerts, there always sat the “money men”, “the fat cats”, their wives and daughters and they rattled with jewellery. In America, we were invited to a reception at the British Embassy and there we were treated like we were trained circus animals, penguins, even the ladies in gowns and their bastards cut off the hair of poor Ringo so that they could boast about it. Do you think that could happen to us in some working-class family in Liverpool, huh? But, nevertheless, it amused us, it was great for us. Now I’ve finally grown up. Now I will no longer allow anyone to exploit me for their own purposes, to fool me…

KM: You realised something more important. You, with your “Beatlemania”, as it was called then, in a way played the role of an “Establishment” tool because you channelled the amassed energy of the young people, the energy of dissatisfaction and protest, into safe and calm waters: long hair, guitar pounding, revolutionary clothing in place of revolutionary activity… And now you see, as you yourself said, that everything has stayed the same, that the same guys have the money and power, whilst others do not…

JL: In essence you’re right, but it’s not so simple. Maybe the “Establishment” thought so, however, we still played the role of a Trojan horse in some sense of the word. We did – and not only us but others too, nevertheless play a role that must be acknowledged – we helped young people to start thinking differently, to “liberate” themselves from the burden and compulsion of tradition, to start thinking more elastically, to start to see some things… Of course, we did wander ourselves… and that’s where I’m talking about myself first of all. Surely you remember: I was taking drugs, I tried to embrace some oriental religion… don’t you see how unhappy, confused, crushed I was by what had happened to me… and how desperately I tried to free myself, and that means to return to reality. At times it seemed to me that I was riding on an express train that was rushing towards a collision, and I couldn’t jump out of it. So, I repeat: we taught young people to start thinking differently.

Conflict at the end of the road

KM: You said that as a young man you were “class conscious”, and then you simply forgot about it…

JL: And who wouldn’t forget that, man?! Well, I was young, practically still snotty, when all of that fell on us. I completely lost my compass, all touch with reality.

KM: And do you think you have it again today?

JL: I think I do have it. I don’t dream any more. I’m no longer in a dream state. I’ve woken up and I think that’s enough… for a start.

KM: Did Yoko open your eyes, can we say that? I’ll try to remember. You The Beatles were actually Establishment pets, “decent kids”, darlings… whereas the Rolling Stones were persecuted!

JL: If you think that Mick Jagger is interested in politics and if they ever interested him – you’re wrong. He was just “performing”… and it was so brutal and vulgar that the Establishment was appalled. You see, let’s take the question of our medals. Okay, they gave them to us, but that’s why they were ignorant. A few months before that, the book Love Me Do was published, a brilliant book, which went unnoticed at first and only became known later. In that book the author published his conversations with me, in which I said clearly how much I hated the Establishment, the Queen, the palace, aristocrats, the “big money men.” If they had read the book, they would never have given me the medal. This way they just gave me a chance to give it back to them at the most convenient time for me.

KM: Derek Taylor (the Beatles’ former press chief) once told me that you were a communist by conviction. Don’t be offended, but I couldn’t believe my ears. And even after that, I couldn’t believe it.

JL: I don’t belong to any party, not even the communist one, but all my sympathies are on the side of communism. I believe in communism as a system to which the future of humanity belongs. Of course, I believe in that real communism… in the one that I believe that you Yugoslavs are trying to create right now.

KM: But, let’s talk a little about the breakup of the Beatles.

JL: We are talking.

KM: You see, when I heard that you’d broken up, I felt sympathy for you. Suddenly it was as if I realised you were an honest, fair guy. Don’t get me wrong, but to kill a goose that lays golden eggs… you know what I mean… So my question would be: Regardless of what was said and written, regardless of the rumours, there must have been something fundamental in that breakup, something more important than a simple personality conflict between you and Paul, a conflict over whether his brother-in-law would become Apple’s director or your man… that there was something fundamental and serious… something connected to art and something maybe connected to politics.

JL: Yeah, you guessed correctly. That’s right. Yeah, it was about politics and art. You see, Paul is simply right-wing (read “conservative”) and that’s it. I couldn’t take it any more, I couldn’t work with him any more. And as for the music, so art, let’s say…

KM: You came to a dead-end as a group, you came, put more precisely, to the end of the road.

JL: Yes. And that’s right. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that. We came to the end of the road. We couldn’t go any further if we wanted to go forward. But when we talk about politics, then it was a conflict between Paul and me, because he is right-wing (read “conservative”). The other two had nothing to do with that. George was completely immersed in religious mysticism, and as for Ringo… he never knew or understood anything anyway.

KM: Let’s return to the prosaic stuff. How are you doing today – financially? This is about the golden goose, of course!

JL: Believe it or not, I can tell you this: today we, by making records as individuals, when it all adds up… are actually making more than we ever earnt as the Beatles. Think of it: even Ringo’s records sell in their millions!

KM: I will say something about what others are talking about, but also what I also sensed in some unrelated conversations at Apple. The Beatles fell apart when Yoko appeared on the scene. Before that, you were talked about as one body with four heads, that is, four bodies and one head… Lennon’s.

JL: Yes, that is what was meant and in some way it was true.

KM: This other?

JL: Yes. You see, I don’t suffer from false modesty, but maybe from too much honesty… that’s what Yoko has just encouraged in me… which isn’t always healthy… but that’s how it was. Of course, it must have bothered Paul, it must have eaten away, God, it must bite. Whilst we were together, in order it went: me, then Paul, then George a little. Ringo never meant anything, but he’s such a great guy that he never got mad about it. He was always, so to speak, conscious of the limits of his abilities. However, if you think Yoko made us fight, you’re wrong: a woman cannot come between four adult men if they have some strong common interest. Besides, they also, as a matter of fact, had their wives, so that means nothing. We came to an artistic end as a band when we recorded our last double album. Later I broke up with Paul because he is right-wing (read “conservative”). There, so it was that simple!

Perhaps the most valuable thing was that we helped the young people to become mentally free so that they stop thinking in the patterns that tradition has wound them up in. – John Lennon

Lennon insisted that we photograph him in front of this American poster, where it is statistically proven that America’s genocide is greater than any previous one. Pic © Barrie Wentzell – “John specifically requested me to take this picture. At first glance it just appeared to be a mural of the American flag but when I realized what it was really about I became a bit apprehensive. John had mentioned earlier that they were thinking of moving to New York and were planning an anti “Tricky Dicky” (i.e., Nixon) tour. I protested but he insisted. John was inspirational, showing great courage and conviction in his and our pursuit of “Giving Peace a Chance.”
Barrie Wentzell“I visited John and Yoko one afternoon accompanying a foreign news reporter (Konstantin Milles). Yoko had just published a book called Grapefruit and John was standing shoulder to shoulder with her fielding press and publicity duties. We spent a long time in their kitchen during the interview while the laundry was running, the food was cooking, and the kettle was whistling. John and Yoko were exploring ideas and plans for making a better world.” Tittenhurst Park, Espon.

In July 1985 the interviewer Konstantin Milles was interviewed by Denis Kuljiš in Studio magazine:-

DK: Surely your most famous interview was with John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

KM: I had two interviews with them. The first was when I found out through some fellow journalists in London that Lennon was travelling to Amsterdam with his wife. I was just about to buy a Burberry coat, but instead, I spent that money on a plane ticket and went to the Netherlands. I was asked for a visa at the airport there, but I didn’t have one. They took me to a supervisor who was a civilized native of Papua, very kind, who allowed me to stay. I found Lennon in a hotel, through his press manager, who allowed me to stay for ten minutes and talk about the act of lying in bed by which John Lennon and Yoko Ono were protesting for world peace… However, I stayed for three hours. I somehow managed to get a very good vibe from him, he was a very bright, and actually very handsome man. When I told him he was a pantheist, he didn’t hesitate at all to ask what that was. Yoko Ono was lying in her nightgown, and he was in his pyjamas, we were talking, whilst the head of the press kept winking at me to go out… Then Lennon threw him out of the room.

DK: When did you have the next interview?

KM: The Beatles had just split up, and Lennon had bought a house in Epson. In the beautiful ambiance, there was a white piano – Lennon played on it with one finger and sang to me. I intended to go and meet him in New York, for a third interview, but he was murdered in the meantime. He was pleased with our first conversation, he had said that it was one of the best he had given for a newspaper. I did send him a translation of the interview, it was about 40-50 pages long…

DK: Has everything been published?

KM: Only one part.

DK: Did you ever think of publishing a book of your interviews?

KM: Nobody made me an offer, and I didn’t want to. I’m quite lazy.

(Konstantin Milles died in 1989, he had no heirs because his son and daughter died before he did, both committing suicide. Konstantin’s widow died in 2017. Was his 1969 Amsterdam interview with John and Yoko published in VUS magazine – where are those interviews and tape recordings?)

On a lighter note, in 1969 John and Yoko posted 2 acorns to Yugoslavia’s President Tito (1 of 50 world leaders at the time) to be planted as part of their quest for world peace.

The Beatles memorabilia

I’ve been a Beatles fan since I was a boy. I’m always delighted to find Beatles memorabilia here in Croatia. Here are a couple of things I’ve found in Rijeka.

The 2nd Beatles Souvenir Song Book, published in England in 1964. It features the sheet music of 8 songs and many photos. How did it get to Rijeka?
‘Oko’ broadsheet paper dated 8-22 January 1981 (1st of 2 pages) with John Lennon’s obituary by Borivoj Radaković.
‘Oko’ broadsheet paper dated 8-22 January 1981 (2nd of 2 pages) with John Lennon’s lyrics translated by Borivoj Radaković.

Thank you Tomo @ Antikvarijat Mali Neboder, Rijeka

England to India by automobile, via Fiume in 1924

FROM ENGLAND TO INDIA BY AUTOMOBILE
An 8,527-mile Trip Through Ten Countries, from London to Quetta, Requires Five and a Half Months
BY MAJOR F.A.C. FORBES-LEITH

extract: THE FIUME “LIONS” OF ITALY’S POET SOLDIER

Our next stop was at Fiume (Rijeka), the scene of the coup of Gabriele d’Annunzio, Italy’s poet patriot. It is also a fine port, but a mean city in comparison with Trieste. A narrow river separates it from Susak, the Yugoslavian frontier town.

An impressive sight in the city was the great number of apparently idle young men with shock heads of hair fluffed out like a lion’s mane. We thought this must be the latest thing in Fiume masculine styles until an English-speaking friend explained that this is the hall mark of d’Annunzio’s “lions,” who, with him, captured the city.

We were warned not to upset any of them, as they have the reputation of being excessively irascible and a law unto themselves.

After a night in Fiume, we crossed the frontier bridge to Yugoslavia. The incredible change made by those few yards is impossible to imagine – a jump from stagnation and slackness to hurry and bustle.

The only place into which the general energy had not penetrated was the customhouse. We had a letter of introduction to the chief revenue officer, who told us that, as a great favour, they would rush us through the formalities. The “rush” required six hours to deal with our small outfit!

The officials seemed to like our company. As soon as the papers were passed to a fresh clerk, he would come and have a friendly chat with us on European politics, our trip, and, in fact, anything but the business concerned. They were so cheery and genial that we could not take offense; so we smoked endless cigarettes and waited.

Overland from England to India in late 1924 by Major Forbes-Leith. Here seen in Baghdad on 20th August 1924.

EVERY VILLAGE CAFE IN YUGOSLAVIA HAS ITS ORCHESTRA

We were now in a new kingdom, a charming country of delightful, music-loving people. Every little village café has its orchestra of young men playing the guitar and mandolin, and accompanied by a trio or quartette of girl singers. The former stand and play; the latter sit in a row in front and sing national songs from dusk to midnight.

The Croats and Serbs are fine fellows of good physique, very hard workers, great patriots, and among the finest soldiers in the world. Serbia, before the World War, was spoken of as a little Balkan state; now she must be reckoned as a power in Europe.

English police uniforms used in Zagreb in the 1920s.

At Agram (Zagreb), the capital of Croatia, formerly part of the old Austrian Empire, we had a shock that made us rub our eyes. In front of us at the first crossroad, was the embodiment of an English policeman, with helmet, uniform, and baton complete. We heard afterward that the whole police force of the city was modeled and trained on British lines, even uniforms being supplied by outfitters in England.

In atmosphere, architecture, and general plan, Agram is a miniature Vienna. It has a fine opera house, and the architecture is for the most part typically Austrian.

Living is very cheap here for the man who carries either the pound sterling or the dollar.

*******

The trip was made in 1924 and published by The National Geographic Magazine August 1925.

There was even a cameraman on the trip and there exists footage – called ‘Lure of the East’ of some of the trip available here on the British Pathe archives website. And on Vimeo – watch at 1:00 and you’ll see a Zagreb copper: https://vimeo.com/45439980

Thanks to Saša Dmitrović for the source material.

Feral Tribune – book summary

Boris Pavelić Smijeh SlobodeThe book ‘Smijeh slobode – uvod u Feral Tribune’ (‘The Laughter of Freedom – an introduction to the Feral Tribune’) by Boris Pavelić describes and explains the 25 year old cult political-satirical newspaper the ‘Feral Tribune’, based in Split. It was published from 1983-2008 in various forms and billed itself as a “weekly magazine for Croatian anarchists, protesters and heretics.”

feral tribune

A typical front page of the Feral Tribune

The publication won international awards in the 1990s but slowly went out of circulation – this book studies the history and value that it had and still has in modern-day journalism.

The book is only available in Croatian and I translated the summary into English. It is hardback, has 688 pages and its ISBN: 978-953-219-492-0.

It is published by Adamić d.o.o. and is available in shops and via the publisher’s website here: http://shop.adamic.hr/index.php

Antun Barac – ‘Fiume’ in English

01_korzo

‘Fiume’

(passing impressions, July 1919)
by Antun Barac – translated for the first time by Martin Mayhew

Three beautiful, sunny, autumnal days. I don’t know what happened. In a single morning all the ties snapped, that were holding the voice in the throat, that loosened the links, that were chaining the feet, the heavy and rigid mask fell, that was hiding the face. A quiet whisper, which spoke curses and revealed a howl, scattered itself like a wild, holy cry of joy, whilst a hand, a pathetic hand, taught to give a servile and official greeting, extended for the first time in a bold gesture of belief and confidence in itself.

We went onto the streets, in processions, assemblies, groups and we sang and cheered. And everything was so sunny, bright and light. And everything was clear and cheerful and happy in the beautiful, clear autumnal day.

In the barracks there were soldiers, and they were cheering. In the hospitals there were wounded, and they were singing. The soldiers came out onto the streets and were firing their guns. After four blurry years it was the first time that the firing meant joy, after four sombre summers it was the first time that a bullet didn’t mean death, but life. And it was as though that shot, which was now rising into the air, was a symbol, as it rises and as it falls.

On the chests flowers and tricolours. In the windows flowers and tricolours. On the streetlamps, on the telephone poles, on the makeshift stands flowers and tricolours.

In a red, white, blue, green colour, in the grey colours of joy, ecstasy, hope and belief, on each flag, that flutters, of elation, love, sympathy and adoration, which the flag as a symbol means. In the red glow of love and brotherhood towards everything and everyone, in the whiteness of the cleanliness and sublimeness of ecstasy, hope in the new world, that was being created.

We went out onto the streets and sang. We welcomed the foreign troops and sang. We threw flowers and sang. We welcomed ships from foreign countries and sang. “Call out, just call out… Viva la France! Allons enfants de la Patrie!…” And the children of the homeland arrived, and laughed, and danced, and cheered.

Here people just walk around and cheer and sing” – they say, wrote home one French sailor. “Viva la Yugoslavie!” His compatriots cheered – and in their scepticism and in their laughter for the sake of laughing and joy for the sake of joy we felt the first stab of disappointment and misunderstanding.

In an isolated corner an old hunched over woman was sobbing. “Woman, why are you crying?” – asked a voice – I don’t know whose, and I don’t know where from. “In every joy there is a note of pain, in every laugh a seed of sorrow”, as though replying to somebody’s voice – who knows whose, who knows where from?

Three beautiful, clear, sunny, autumnal days. Three days of song and clamour and ecstasy. And then – armoured cars, machine guns and horses on the cobblestones and pikes, stretching up high, rigidly, arrogantly. In the port heavy ships with cannons aimed at the city, on the street assault troops with helmets, rifles, knapsacks and ammunition belts.

Three beautiful, clear, sunny, days passed. And nothing to show for them. Only a difficult, long winter with clouds. Just a cold summer with raindrops, that with the ‘bura’ and rain even the tears froze. Just a gloomy spring without light or sun.

Maybe a time will come, when all the ecstasy and elation will seem ridiculous to us. Maybe a period will come, when every sense will be reduced to a mathematical or chemical formula. I only know, that even then, when I was in the height of national fervour, I felt no desire for revenge or hatred or malice – the days of the greatest joy were days of forgiveness for everything, to all who had oppressed us, days of national liberty, a time when love for everyone was the most lively, the most conscious. And in those days of intoxicated delight and love, that had boiled over, the clenched fists, clashes and attacks were the end of everything.

I don’t know what happened. In just one day with a wild roar they began to tear down the tricolours of red and white and blue, and in the windows, on the streetlamps, the houses, the buildings, the churches suddenly others appeared – red and white and green, with a star and a coat of arms. Everywhere the coat of arms and everywhere the star, and everywhere fanatic hatred in the faces and fury and poison in the looks. “Italia o morte! Fuori il straniero!” Whilst the straniero thoughtfully stops and thinks: “Who in fact is the stranger?

In these sombre days of waiting and incertitude, desperation and zeal, it is so difficult to be alive and carry all the heavy burden of the present; however it is hardest to be human. So many times I have felt the pain and burden of life, but the worst thing was when I felt the aching shame, I didn’t feel fear for myself, but for those who persecuted us, the shame of man, that chaotic, disproportionate mixture of beast and god. The beast, wild, brutal, vicious, kicking and rearing up, and the god, sublime, the ashen sceptic levelling with it, taming or incensing it. And in the battle of animal with god like the battle of a bull with a toreador – the white, red, blue, green colours, that they have signifying a symbol, they stimulate it, intoxicate it, they extol it, bring it to an ecstasy of madness and rage. Fiume, the yellowish-grey, deceitful animal, from the eyes of which peer the envy and intoxication of excessive enthusiasm, throws itself, snapping, howling and moaning into exhaustion, until it falls bewildered, unconscious to the ground.

Therein the roar is so quiet! Therein the crowd is so uneasy and lonely. In this racket our steps reverberate so eerily. Oh, the whole of this city, whose number of inhabitants doubled in a few months, as it turned into a huge, grey, isolated monastery, where the shadows succumb to the wolf, hollow songs reverberate and the voices of muffled prayers drone. And thus it is miraculously quiet and in the murmur, so terribly calm in the constant throng.

Why call this city Rieka, when it is – Fiume. Reka, Rika, Rieka – that sounds so sweet, placid and childlike like the nostalgic “ca” and “ča” of the people of Drenova, Plase, Trsat, reminiscent of the sunny gleam of the stone walls and enclosures scattered with rocks and brambles, amongst which, in spring, blossom such beautiful and fragrant violas, a modest and shy flower. It is a city with a filthy physiognomy and with an inner self bland and murky, like the murky Fiumare canal, the dead water that cries for it. The Fiuman is a separate race, not belonging to any one nation. It is a mixture of everything that has come to this merchant city to trade – of everything, of many things. The Fiuman is both an Italian and a Yugoslav – an Italian, born of Yugoslavs and brought up as a Yugoslav, who cheers at the top of his voice: “O Italia o morte!, the Yugoslav is a quiet and timid beast, hiding because of his interests of his national origin with a neutral, inexpressible, merchant’s sneer. Whilst the Riečanin, Recan, Ričanin – they are the masses – they are the nameless mass, who don’t ask, quantité négligeable, they are the inhabitants of the workers’ houses, basements and attics, the servants and labourers, small artisans and assistants, the masses, who have only one head, and who would, maybe, with just a single blow fall. And that is the characteristic, external image of the city – Fiume, Fiuman. And in this fatal exchange is the source of all the illusions, all the efforts and all the miserable disappointments.

Years and years of timid and quivering yearnings for the city of Kvarner and in that name I will stop with everything, that was the dearest and utmost in life – but then the bloody realisation, that it was all just a yearning for childhood, for the sea, for the days that had gone forever. Yet there is no city, there is no childhood and there is no sea. There is only Fiume and Gomila and Fiumara – a murky, stagnant mire, like a feeble residue of exacerbated human passions, without the strength that it vanishes, without the strength that it stirs up, rises, moves.

Corso. An evening stroll. In the looks a glow and depth, in the gestures a yearning and yielding to love. Yet the whole city seems to shiver from one single deep gaze, which rises from the bottom of the soul and seeps into the bottom of the soul, and the whole city seems to twinkle from love, that is only the soul, only the soul. Whilst down, in the depths, inside – ah, there is no soul and there is nothing, the base and desolation and emptiness. And the whole of this city and all these people who rousingly speak and shout and wave – the whole of this city has no soul, and everything, that moves it, is the basic animal life. And its voice is not the sublimeness of ecstasy nor the size of reproach – everything is just a roar, clamour and mania. And the moment will come and everything will boil over and everything will disappear, what froths up and what rises up – on the empty bottom will remain just Fiume, a city without a soul and without physiognomy and a notion without features.

Over five bloody years ten times in the memory of the sparseness and irritation of the nerves the city howled and ten times they changed the inscriptions and ten times in a fanatical irritation the masses passed over their old idols. Today on the ruins of everything, a fiery rage triumphs in the proud satisfaction, that with the greatest lie it refuted thousands of its little lies and that in the deafening cry it suppressed everything, that protests, that rebels. Because that cry is not a lie, because this fire of enthusiasm isn’t hypocrisy. It is Fiume and everything is Fiume. And to whomsoever this Città di San Vito belongs; whosoever flag will flutter next to the double-headed eagle with the yellow-blue symbol – will win, I’m afraid of Fiume, and with a shout of honest enthusiasm the malicious cry of a lazy and cunning animal will intervene. And that is my fear and it will be a drop of bitterness in that moment, which we will surely never live to see.

What can enthral a man in this city, in which culture and supremacy are denoted by the black marks on the walls and the holes in broken inscribed tiles? In our weakness for it there is a weakness towards one’s own past, which is contained in these pavements, street corners and quays, a weakness towards the whistle of departing steamships and the whiteness of unfurled sails, that awoke our childlike imagination and tied it to this place, that doesn’t love us. In our trepidation towards its destiny there is only the fear for those miserable, unknown, oppressed thousands, who just silently accept the blows and ridicule and the stamp of inferiority. We understand that the sinful must repent the sins and perform penance those, who have deserved it. However what did the little pale children commit that they must suppress their voices in their throats, the only one with which they are able to express the feeling of happiness in the joy and drive of wickedness in the game?

Our feeling of attachment with this city isn’t a feeling of love, but a feeling of pain, and fear, and hopelessness in the sense of a wounded animal and disgust and revulsion. Because it is just Fiume – and Fiume is not an organism, not a concept, not a soul, but something colourless and tepid and tensile, that with its odour tears at the nostrils and throat, and intoxicates and commits evil. And here nothing enthrals and here nothing is attractive. The love of this city – ah, it is an illusion, it isn’t love, but an escape from it, an escape to the blueness of the sea, the sigh of Trsat, the greenery of Opatija and Volosko and the serene vistas towards Kostrena, Omišalj, Cres and Ika. Everything that nature has warm and soothing and soft, is gathered around this city, to shield it, to protect it, to conceal it. And the reason why its poison didn’t act. In the moment when the heavy shackles fall from the chests and from the legs and from the hands and from the tongues, from all sides pale children will rush and shower it with flowers of love, forgiveness and it will forget all the insults, all the blows and all the threats.

From Školjić to Kantrida – one and the same street and one and the same image: houses without expression, without style, stores, shop windows, markets. In the place where there is only trade, all the houses are built on clear commercial principles: with the least expenses – the highest rents. Houses without physiognomy, without souls. In the city, where everything is measured purely in monetary measures, the friars had also taken advantage of the few metres of free space around the church and built umpteen little rooms for shops. Trade is not permitted in the temple, however it is better in front of and around the temple. The city of fifty thousand inhabitants did not give up one single man, whose name would be recorded in the history of culture and art, and wishing to somehow christen their streets, the fathers of the city were having to reach back for names from the mother countries: of Hungary and Italy. In a city of fifty thousand souls there is not one monument, and the only highpoints on the streets are advertising posts and lavatories – as unintentional symbols of it, as if it is the only purpose in this place. I love and appreciate trade as a means, but as soon as it becomes the meaning of life, it becomes both the negation and profanation of all higher values. And that which people would have to make them happy, to lead them ever upwards, throws them ever lower. And Fiume is deep, so deep.

Amongst its great evidence for being Italian the supremacy of Italian culture is prominent in Rijeka, the culture of the Italian is greater than that of the Yugoslav. Whilst the first glance at this city shows that it has, in general, no culture, not only of its own, but no culture of any kind, and that, which in the moment could deceive the eyes, is just glued on, that is easily washed-off by the rain or over night, when the city’s new generation is over-patriotically disposed.

The fun fairs, public houses, buffet bars, cafés, cinemas. All dirty, all abandoned, all in disarray. The dirt of the port as though it passes into the city itself, into every corner, every alleyway. This relatively large city is not capable of supporting a permanent theatre, whilst the companies, which are hosted here for a month, twice a year, can only be supported by the subscriptions of Yugoslav misers. In the place, where all the sights are just negative assets, such are the values and the two most important characteristics: Rijeka’s Gomila and Rijeka’s street gangs. The heart, the centre of the city, consisting of ancient ruins, disgusting mansions with narrow and winding streets, where the sun never reaches and where streams of undignified liquids flow freely; dangerous, dark corners, smelly inns, and women, and beggars, and drunks. While Rijeka’s street gangs they are a mighty gutter army, an abandoned mob that attacks the schiavi, that fights selflessly and fervidly for the lofty goals of the city’s fathers and less selflessly, for the needs of life. And that is – Fiume.

In the days of liberty, in the days of the universal love of forgiveness, a grey monster howled, that calls itself Fiume, with a howl of hatred and revenge. In the days, when kisses and expressions of brotherhood should have rained down, it prepared itself for secretive bites, punches and stabs. And why wasn’t the punch stronger, that is just the deceitful cunningness and feeling of weakness alongside all the abundance of gesticulation.

Fiume November 1918Is this city ours? Ours are those thousands and thousands of silent beings, who resignedly just wait, eternally waiting, thousands unarmed and unlawful, who upon the punch and the bite correspond with a speechless look, who upon an energetic nod from their masters sign up dutifully and without opposition, not asking: “Where to?” – It doesn’t matter, what they’re called. In the ascertainment of their anguish there was the justification of a love for them, from their speechless mouths comes a call for resistance, for rebellion, for liberation. And that is why, as their national consciousness is not strong, as the term of Yugoslavism has not developed in them yet, their pain is even stronger: it is the consciousness, that despises them, that brands them without reason, without cause, that they oppress the concept of man in them. Yet theirs is the main feeling, the feeling of shame, that they belong to a common creed unlawful, powerless, weak – and with the sense of the joy of life is mixed some dreary feeling of their own inferiority, a state of neglect before the mighty.

Whatever happened, whatever the fate of this city, I will not complain and I will not pity those, to whom the street corners, the banks, the ships and the warehouses belong. Alongside all of their Yugoslav tricolours, were also the Fiumani, and in their pre-war silence and chivalrousness were hidden the subterfuge and calculating attitude of the merchant, who goes just for the money. I won’t grieve for them nor for the legion of those, who over three lovely autumnal days cheered, sang and carried banners. I will only grieve for the pale little people, as their half-spoken “ča” chokes in the instinctive fear before the sharp glance of contempt and superiority…

Long, difficult months of waiting. Events, attacks, parades. Soldiers, soldiers, soldiers. Italians, French, Americans, English, Indo-Chinese. Ships, automobiles, aeroplanes. Carabinieri, bersaglieri, granatieri. Infantry, sailors, lancers, gunners. Crowded and mixed and multi-coloured. Smugglers, detainees, fugitives. And the inns and basements reverberate and glass shatters and girls scream, and blood, wine and champagne flow. Fiume goes crazy and howls and rages.

Yet that’s what it wanted and so sullenly and so sombrely. Like the shadows we loiter only around the corners and we disappear in the corners. Whilst the sun stings and the truth stings. However, the shame against man stings the most of all, for man, as he oppresses his own brother. Of all these people of various colours and uniforms the most likeable are the Annamese (Vietnamese from the French peacekeeping forces), yellow, silent, mysterious, calm creatures with a sick nostalgia for the East and a blunt lack of understanding for all of this colourful, noisiness and craziness. Why are they here and for what use is the secret, eternal pain for the motherland? The same feeling in them, that they protect us, and in us, that they protect. A feeling of pain, shame, submissiveness, disgrace.

Mornings and afternoons and evenings pass. And nights fall, long nights without sleep, when below the windows the hooves of horses clatter as they pass by, heavy cannons boom, the steps of soldiers reverberate. And the city stays silent and the river stays silent, and the sea, in a troubled uncertainty. Just above the houses glimmer the large, light letters: Viva Fiume italiana! And the shining sign and the shining star, so that the brothers can see on the other bank. And they in despair and hopeless expectancy hide their heads amongst the pillows, so they see nothing, so they hear nothing, so they feel nothing. And everything is dead, rigid, uneasy. And everything is sleepless yet in a dream, without a break, without rest, without peace, without joy.

It just sleeps like a fatigued beast, dreaming maliciously and in that sleep of new bites and stabs, the grey formless masses, Fiume sleeps, a city without soul and without physiognomy.

*******

Sva prava pridržana / All rights reserved.

antun baracAntun Barac (1894 Kamenjak near Crikvenica – Zagreb 1955) was an important literary historian and writer, who was an advocate for the publication of Janko Polić Kamov’s works. In 1917 he established the influential publishing institute ‘Jug’ in Zagreb with other writers. Amongst the books they planned to published was Kamov’s only novel Isušena Kaljuža written from 1906-1909, but this never happened.

Barac spent the unsettled period after the First World War from 1918-1924 in Sušak (the eastern part of today’s Rijeka) working as a professor at the secondary school. During this period he wrote this short, stark, even poetic essay Fiume, in which he describes the unpleasant events and experiences in the city of Rijeka at the time of the arrival of foreign peace-keeping troops whilst the city’s fate was being decided in post-war negotiations, and just upon the eve of the arrival of D’Annunzio and his soldiers. It is interesting to note that Barac was most likely reading the still as yet unpublished manuscript of Kamov’s Isušena Kaljuža during this period and that it may have influenced his writing of Fiume. This text was first published in the journal Njiva in 1919.

Barac was also the originator of the idea to publish a collection of the complete works of Janko Polić Kamov, which finally saw the light of day from 1956-1958, amongst which the novel Isušena Kaljuža was printed for the first time almost 50 years after Kamov wrote it.

Thanks to Igor Žic