Adresa: Osječka 4, 51000 Rijeka
Adresa: Osječka 4, 51000 Rijeka
Odgojen na vlastitom iskustvu i nabit intezivnim sjećanjem, Davor Velnić se teško mirio sa svijetom i njegovom ponudom. Putovao je po Europi i Aziji, boravio u Londonu, Milanu i živio na Dalekom istoku, Kini i Hong Kongu, a sve kako bi na licu mjesta vidio i opipao što svijet doista nudi. Nepokorena narav i nepomirljiva misao zagledani u ovaj kotao prkosa, laskanja i preklinjanja, u mutne prizore ljudske slabosti, na vrijeme su ga odmakli od pomodnosti književnih trendova te stavili u nezahvalnu, ali dragocijenu poziciju nesvakidašnjeg pripovjedača, romanopisca, esejista, osporavatelja svakako i pomalo ratobornog usamljenika. Već u svojim prvim tekstovima Velnić je naslutio slabost razvikanog i pozlaćenog, tužno sjajilo predrasuda i njegove sljedbe. Postalo mu je jasno da je okružen gomilom i okorjelim oklijevalima, samo mnoštvom šaputavih čestitara i tek ponekim glasom ustrašena ohrabrenja. Velnićevi tekstovi, jednako književna fikcija ili diskurzivna proza, hrabro zahvaćaju neistražene prostore opće prihvaćenih predrasuda; svjedoče nagost svijeta i narcisoidnost preambicioznih, onih bez pokrića, i bijedu razmetljiva intelektualizma te čvrsto savezništvo samodopadnosti i ustrašenosti. Samo ponekad i tek ponešto, njegovo pisanje slijedi hrvatsku književnu tradiciju, ostatak su europski (svjetski) autori i vlastita licenca. Tek povratkom iz Kine 1992. godine, Davor Velnić je odlučio objaviti svoje rukopise, ali prvi naslov Otoci i sjećanja (1998.) nije se odnosio na svježe razdoblje provedeno u Kini i putovanja po Dalekom istoku. Tek poneka pripovijetka, kako bi dao naslutiti koliko toga još ima u rukopisu i kakva mu je namjera. I svi sljedeći naslovi kao da su izbjegavali kineske teme: roman Sveti prah (2000.), pravo je milenijsko djelo: Sveti Gral i sveta krv kao roman, ali objavljen dosta godina prije razvikanog Da Vincijeva koda (2003.)! Esej Čitajući Krležu (2001.) sjajno je napisana polemika s dugo odsutnim hrvatskim klasikom. Rasprava U iskonu glagoljice (2002.) odnosi se na neke teze o nastanku starog hrvatskog pisma glagoljice; s obzirom na Velinićevo otočko podrijetlo (Krk) to je posve razumljivo, svojevrstan dug prema tom prvom hrvatskom pismu. Zbirka pripovijedaka Šest od šest (2004.) tek je uvod u roman Pola suze (2007.) o talijanskim lutanjima triju Hrvatica za vrijeme Domovinskog rata i njihovoj potrazi za boljim životom i nepokorenim ambicijama. Knjiga eseja Nije namjerno (2008.), u kojoj se autor bavi povijesnim osobama i događajima: Noamu Chomskom, Henry Louisu Menckenu, Günteru Grassu, Franju Asiškom, Irini Aleksander, hrvatskim klasicima Vladanu Desnici, Slobodanu Novaku i Miroslavu Krleži... imala je velik odjek. Davno u hrvatskoj književnosti nitko nije tako brutalno iskreno izoštrio sliku drugačijeg pogleda na ljude i događaje. Iz vrlo oštre polemike u Vijencu i dnevnom tisku rodila se nova knjiga eseja, Krajolici zla (2013.) u kojoj se isprapliću žestina i lirski ulomci, sva stilska dorađenost Velnićeva pisanja i složenost njegova fulminantna karaktera. Na osnovu preciznih i iscrpnih bilježaka, nastalih tijekom života u Kini (1988. – 1992.) Davor Velnić oživljava dramatično razdoblje u knjizi Kineski šapat (2013.) Knjiga je čudesna, ali nije putopis već esejizirano promišljanje sudara Istoka i Zapada. Jedan dobro odmjeren pogled izdaleka, iz Kine, na već posustalu judeokršćansku civilizaciju 20. stoljeća i najavu intezivnog 21. stoljeća. U Maloj knjižnici DHK godine 2016. objavio je polemičan naslov Dno je uvijek dublje, esej o književniku Grgi Gamulinu, poglavito o njegovi remek-djelu Ilarijin smiješak. Davor Velnić dugogodišnji je član Matice Hrvatske i Društva hrvatskih književnika. Kao glavni urednik Književne Rijeke (2003. – 2010.) uveo je taj knjiženi časopis u sam vrh hrvatske književne periodike. Za nakladnika Maticu hrvatsku priredio je i uredio Sabrana djela Slobodana Novaka (2008. – 2012.) u osam svezaka. Uredničke poslove radio je kod mnogih nakladnika: DHK, Zagreb; Alfa, Zagreb, Matica hrvatska, Zagreb, Glas Koncila, Zagreb, Rival, Rijeka; Adamić, Rijeka; Rival, Rijeka i drugi. Autor redovito objavljuje u hrvatskoj književnoj periodici: Republici, Književnoj Rijeci, Vijencu, Rivalu, Novoj prisutnosti, Novom Kamovu...
The Biography of a Loner
A writer who had withdrawn himself from the helter-skelter suddenly stepped out into the limelight and started to publish very unusual literary works, becoming our man in Beijing. The post- (Homeland) war period in Croatia was a fairly logical time to make an appearance on the modest Croatian literary stage, except for the fact that the author was already in his fifth decade! For too many, age provides a sound excuse for simply doing nothing, but that was not the case with Davor Velnić (1953). He appeared in public quite late, although not at all unaware of his own strengths and distinctive writing style. That is why his literary firstlings were not simply done to acquire experience or fight off growing pains, but marked instances of masterful and self-aware ventures into literature.Then the author continued to march but with a different step, self-confidently and without any haste. With ease, he left behind many weary and self-satisfied authors, and the growing literary and poetics fads. It was only on his return from China in 1992, with luggage made up of several cardboard boxes full of manuscripts, that Davor Velnić decided to publish them. However, the first published title Island and Memories (1998) did not relate to the fresh period of his stay in China and travels around the Far East. Only an occasional tale gave an inkling of how much there still was in manuscript form and where it was all going. All the following titles, too, seemed to be avoiding Chinese themes: his novel Sacred Dust (2000) is a genuine millennial work, and then The Holy Grail and Holy Blood as a novel, but published quite some years prior to the much-vaunted Da Vinci Code! His essay Reading Krleža (2001) is a beautifully written polemic with that long-departed classic, Miroslav Krleža. The discourse In the Early Beginnings of Glagolitic Script (2002) relates to certain theses on the coming about of the early Croatian Glagolitic script; since Velnić is of Croatian island descent, that is quite understandable, the payment of a debt of sorts towards that first Croatian script. The collection of stories Six of Six (2004) is only an introduction to the novel Half a Tear (2007) about the Italian wanderings of three Croatian women and their search for a better life and fulfilment of unbridled ambitions. His book of essays It’s Not Intentional (2008), in which some thirty texts look at historical personalities and events - Noam Chomsky, Henry Louis Mencken, St Francis of Assisi, Irena Aleksander, the Croatian classics Slobodan Novak and Miroslav Krleža. . . - invoked considerable interest. Years had passed since anyone in Croatian literature had sharpened the focus to take a different look at oustanding people and events with such brutal sincerity. A new book of essays, Landscapes of Evil (2013), emerged from the very incisive polemics in the Vijenac journal and the daily newspapers, intertwining intense and lyrical extracts, showing all the brilliance of Velnić’s writing and revealing the complexity of his character. On the basis of precise and detailed notes made during his bygone stay in China (1988 –1992, Velnić revives that dramatic time in his book The Chinese Whisper (2013). It is a wondrous book, but it is not a travelogue; rather it contemplates in its essays the clash between East and West. It also gives a well-measured look from afar, from China, at the Judeo-Christian civilisation of the 20th century with advance notification of a meaningful 21st century. Davor Velnić is a long-term and highly regarded member of Matrix Croatica in Zagreb and the Croatian Writers Association. As the editor-in-chief of Literary Rijeka (2003 – 2010), he raised that literary journal to the very top of Croatian literary periodicals. He edited the Collected Works (2008 – 2012) in eight volumes of the Croatian classic, Slobodan Novak, for the publisher Matrix Croatica. Reared on his own experience and charged by his intensive memory, Davor Velnić found it hard to reconcile himself to the world and what it had to offer. He travelled around Europe and Asia, he spent time in London and Milan and lived in the Far East, China and Hong Kong, all with the aim of gaining a sense of all that the world really had to offer. His inacquiescent nature and restless line of thought directed at this valley of defiance and beseeching, at the troubled scenes of human weakness, removed him in good time from fashionable literary trends and placed him in the thankless but valuable position of an unusual story-teller, novelist, essayist, and also a somewhat contentious loner. Already in his first texts, Velnić glimpsed the weakness of the much-touted and the glittering impact of prejudice; it became clear to him that he was surrounded by a porous, crumbly host of stubborn fence-sitters, a crowd of whispering well-wishers and only an occasional voice of intimidated encouragement. His texts, whether literary fiction or discursive prose, bravely range over the unexplored region of generally accepted prejudices; bear witness to the nudity of the world and the narcissistic nature of over-ambitious, falsely ostentatious intellectualism in firm alliance with inflated self-importance - and trepidation. Only occasionally and then only partly does his writing follow the Croatian literary tradition; otherwise, it’s that of European authors - in world terms - and his very own licence.
Davor Velnić went to China armed with sufficient curiosity and enthusiasm so that his experiences from his travels around that country and the Far East were immediately noted down there and then in various notebooks and stored in cardboard boxes. He did not anticipate a book, wanting only to be able to return from time to time to those scenes and impressions; when he had verified his literary capacity with other literary titles, he was ready to share his notes and meditation with readers. The unusual nature of The Chinese Whisper lies in the fact that this literary work is an Uroboros of sorts, that snake that devours its own tail. In this book the author pools his pre-literary memories with his multi-layered experiences and creates an opus magnum, a well rounded out and expansive book of 600 pages, proving that only the frighteningly immense land of China was an appropriate challenge, meeting in full measure the author’s ambition and talent. However, he had to expend some twenty years of work in order to achieve his planned objective, that is, so that from his host of noted, by-the-way impressions and experiences he could compile this somewhat unique book. He found China to be really fascinating, but there was always a certain hesitation, a doubt-filled distance on whether that which one was seeing was some sort of ancient tableau, or was it taking place spontaneously. It has to be admitted that many Europeans, as well as people from the remaining continents, are fairly unfamiliar with China’s past and Chinese everyday life. For a while, of course, Chinese life was something completely secret and enclosed and it hardly every crossed over the country’s borders. It happened that foreigners who were fascinated by China remained there enthralled by it, but that did not happen to Velnić. The author is a rare example of a person who lived in China for several years and became familiar with the ins and outs of Chinese life, with a civilisation different from the Judeo-Christian, often incomprehensible and specific in many ways. However, he is also one who managed to return and tell us something about it all. Fused with the clime and the people, Velnić’s Chinese Whisper moves in several directions: sometimes it is travelogue-like, sometime packed with philosophical and spiritual contemplation and Chinese everyday life, while on other occasions it is essayistic and delves into the secrets and riddles of Chinese civilisation. It is not of primary importance that the author was present at the student riots and the infamous bloodshed on Tian An Men Square in 1989, or that he visited Pyongyang a year later, strolled along the ruined and barely accessible remains of the Great Wall and also managed to absorb the colonial spirit of pre-war Shanghai since, without a literary gift, experience is a mere futile straining of memory. Perhaps the most significant ‘discovery’ of this book is the fact that China, its Han nation, do not have their own church, that is, ecclesia, but rather ancestors and the Emperor, and everything that stems from that unusual and long tradition of cult-like veneration of ancestors and cosmology for a period lasting five thousand years. There is no original or copy in Chinese visual art, anything can be a model, a scene or a completed work of art; arts and crafts are in close contact in a manner that has long been lost in the art and craftsmanship of the West. China without ecclesia and Chinese art without originals and copies are two positions upon which China builds its unique tradition and worldview, the way in which pragmatic China conquers the world. Velnić’s Chinese Whisper is the unobtrusive recounting of a man who, penetrating into a world of the great unknown, remained deeply amazed at the words and the scenes he encounters, while all of that made its way into his inner being either by whisper or by shriek, slowly and drop by drop as if all the time in the world was being served by the whiteness of the paper and the author’s lacking for absolutely nothing. It was a long journey that Davor Velnić had to travel from the small town of Krk dating from Antiquity on the north Adriatic island of the same name, to Tibet, where everything assumed a completely new meaning, and the human being becomes small and never tinier. Many people and scenes have passed in review; only few of them have arrived at their literary position as a character or literary foundation. Davor Velnić is one of those few.
Kad se među nas počela uvlačiti šutnja, meni su pred očima počeli sijevati mali, beskrajno mali dijelovi istine.
Grgo Gamulin, Ilarijin smiješak
Svoju sestru nije službeno odžalovala ili odžalovala uopće, nitko od obitelji. U obilju vremena i mučnog iščekivanja nitko nije mogao pronaći početak, prekoračiti vremenski prag tuge i zaplakati. Službena obavijest nije nikad stigla na adresu, nikakva informacija, jednostavno ništa osim sve uzaludnijeg čekanja. Nije primijetila kad se iščekivanje utrnulo, prestalo, a ime se nestale osobe samo od sebe ugasilo i Marija postala pokojnicom. Taj se nedovršeni rastanak i tiho iščekivanje novih vijesti nejasno provlačio mojim djetinjstvom. Svako toliko poveo bi se šaputavi razgovor o zagonetnom putovanju u ratnim vremenima ili bi godišnjica Marijina ukrcaja na brod niz lice moje none potjerala suze pa bi se po tko zna koji put utišanim glasom još jednom prepričavale i odvagivale glasine. Prizori ispraćaja i ukrcaja na brod potpuno su bili već izblijedjeli, otisci mašte i ogorčenosti postajali su dublji od otisaka stvarnih događaja. Ti uvijek slični razgovori ugasle nade i plačljive rezignacije zamrli su tek u mojim školskim godinama. Nakon dvadesetak godina ufanje je gasnulo i sve se rijeđe spominjao nestanak broda, njegovih putnika i posade. Neizvjesnost bilo kakve vijesti sve se više mirila s činjenicom da u posljednje vrijeme nitko ništa pouzdano o nestalim putnicima i posadi nije čuo. Roditelji nestalih bolnu su prazninu punili izmirenjem s dosudom i jecavo se tješili providnošću, boljem životu jednom kada na njih dođe red „tamo gore“. S godinama, već iscrpljeni i pomalo ostarjeli, okrenuli su se drugoj djeci, poslije unucima, svome poslu, brigama i malomišćanskoj svakodnevici. Braća i rođaci nestalih u međuvremenu su postali odrasli ljudi i s godinama slike zajedničkih dana djetinjstva polako su slabile postajući tek izmaglica djetinjstva. Udovice i udovci morali su prihvatiti jeku u srcu, u praznom domu i postelji... i nesreću pripisati velikoj ratoj tragediji, posve legalnom razlogu da s novim životnim partnerima pokušaju okrenuti novi list. Oni koji su u u toj tragediji izgubili svog roditelja, najteže su se oporavljali; njihovoj se obitelji život nepovratno i grubo okrenuo naopak. Ubrzo nakon nesreće gradić Krk poklopili su novi, harmonikaški dani pobjede i poraća, obnove i nijemog straha. Tuga i nemoć iščekivanja bilo kakvih novosti hlapili su uz fijuk bure i bivali ispirani kišnim južinama. Sjećanje na pokojnike s vremenom je gasnulo uz sve pliće i nemoćnije slijeganje ramenima; nestale je pokrilo hladno more i povukla olupina u grotlo vodenog mraka, u sve slabije pamćenje živih, dubinu zaborava. Žive je ipak presjecala neizgovorena tajna; zasjecala neprestana sumnja da se od njih, od svih što čekaju nestale, neprestano krije istina i zauzvrat očekuje krotka tišina, nijemost bez znatiželje i previše pitanja. Nikad ništa nije pronađeno, nikakav trag, ali ponori prošlosti ožalošćene nisu nikad prestali vabiti i dozivati. I nisu se nikad uspjeli oporaviti, prestali igrati s nadom i sumnjati. S prazninom u srcu nastavili živjeti i odrađivati ostatak dosuda. Brod Zrmanja vozio je linijsku plovidbu Punat – Krk – Glavotok – Beli – Sušak i kasne večeri 21. listopada 1944. godine sa sedamnaest putnika te trinaest članova posade isplovio iz krčke luke i nestao na svojoj parobrodskoj liniji, na putu prema Sušaku. Nakon ukrcaja putnika i isplovljenja iz Krka brod nije nikad uplovio u Sušak i ta činjenica jedino je uporište istine. Navodno je zapovjednik želio pobjeći u Italiju te je u blizini Belog na otoku Cresu, skrenuo u minsko polje i naletio na morsku minu te u strahovitoj detonaciji ljude i željezo progutalo je more, nitko nije preživio. I to je bilo uobičajeno papagajsko i nikad demantirano objašnjenje, još manje službeno potvrđeno. Ipak, brod se sve vrijeme službeno vodio kao nestalo plovilo i Vlada FNRJ nije bila potvrdila hipotezu o potonuću zbog nalijetanja na morsku minu. I koliko god je u duhu ondašnje ideološke osvještenosti i okupatorske krivnje za sve nesreće i svako zlo za vrijeme rata bio kriv mrski okupator, to ondašnja Vlada nije željela službeno potvrditi. Priča o pokušaju bjega i nacističkoj mini postala je poželjna i opće prihvaćena, ali ne i službeni stav. Varijacije na zadanu temu nisu se zamjerale, važno je bilo u svakoj prigodi prst krivnje uprijeti u mrskog okupatora zaplotnički pokušaj bijega. Dakle u dogovoru sa zapovjednikom neki su putnici m/b Zrmanje, navodno, željeli pobjeći u Italiju pa su skrenuli s plovnog koridora i kod Belog zalutali u minsko polje. Navodno je minsko polje bilo netočno obilježeno, a zapovjednik neoprezan; navodno je došlo do tuče na komandnom mostu i brod je ostao bez kormilara... I uskoro su se uzroci tragedije počeli množiti s velikim brojem mogućih i nemogućih objašnjenja; svako od njih započinjalo je s obaveznim „navodno“. Nitko se od nestalih nije nikad pojavio da bi potvrdio ili negirao bilo koju od hipoteza i svaka je priča ostala jednako (ne)moguća i nepotvrđena, tek izlizana želja i prst sudbine koji je sa svih skidao bilo kakvu odgovornost i krivicu. Prema posve drugim glasinama iskrcali su se negdje u Istri, u Medulinu, a onda je posada brod digla u zrak, čime i zašto nitkonije imao objašnjenje... prema trećima navodno su uspjeli stićii do Riminija ili Ancone... navodno se prekrcali na saveznički vojni brod iza Unija... navodno ovo i ono... i ostaljalo je na naivnim pretpostavkama i olakim nagađanjima ožalošćenih i malomišćana željnih bilo kakvih novosti. Uglavnom tlapnje dugih zimskih noći i previše loših filmskih scenarija. Malomišćanska mašta godinama je tješila ožalošćene i tlapnjama hranila lokalne sveznalice, a sve kako bi se razrijedila bol i s vremenom što lakše prihvatila težina gubitka. Niti jedna mogućnost nije promakla mašti i uzaludnim kombinacijama; svrha svake bila je podgrijati nadu i nakon nekog vremena nemoćno raširiti ruke kako bi se dao znak pokornosti, uzaludnost otpora usudu i pokušalo tragediju pretvoriti u legendu. U jednakoj se mjeri množila sumnja i zbrajale nelogičnosti: eksplozija mine nije se nikad čula, nitko u Belom, Glavotoku, Šotoventu i Brseču nije to jutro čuo nikakvu detonaciju; okupacione njemačke vojne vlasti tih dana isto nisu zabilježile prasak morske mine i nikakvo tijelo nije pronađeno, nikakva masna mrlja nije isplivala na površinu. Ni savezničke snage na Visu nisu zabilježile potapanje m/b Zrmanje, njihovi torpedni čamci plovili su do obala Istre i Kvarnera... ali ništa, oni tih dana nisu zabilježili nikakvo potopanje broda. Arhivi su odavno otvoreni, a vojna pedantnost Wermachta i Saveznika takvu bi nesreću ili vatreni okršaj svakako zabilježila. Godinama nakon rata, kad se more očistilo od minskih polja, na plovidbenoj ruti brodske linije Zrmanje i šire na Kvarneru, u Velikim i Malim vratima, na istočnoj obali Istre nije pronađena nikakava olupina. Odmah nakon rata moj otac je kao zapovjednik malog minolovca dizao u zrak lutajuće mine i one zaostale nakon čišćenja minskih polja; dobro je bio upućen u minska polja i pomorske nesreće. Godinama su koćarice vukle mreže tim područjem i nisu naišli na podrtinu koja bi odgovarala nestalom brodu. Zapravo do danas nikakva olupina ni približno slična m/b Zrmanji nije pronađena na hrvatskom djelu Jadrana. Ronioci su temeljito preronili Jadran, sve tamo do Otranta, i nađeni su ostaci mnogih, čak i drvenih brodova, pronađeni su i ostaci zrakoplova iz Drugog svjetskog rata, ali Zrmanji se i ovaj put zameo svaki trag. Brod i ljudi su nestali. Nestanak je od prvog jutra bio očit, gotovo sudbonosan i to je na početku silovito podgrijavalo nadu, a onda je, „navodno“ i uvijek nepoznati „netko“ negdje vidio nekoga od putnika ili posade. Negdje u Italiji, Španjolskoj, u izbjegličkim logorima... spominjala se i Južna Amerika, navodno su neki ožalošćenih dobili pisma od putnika ili člana posade i „samo se čeka povoljni trenutak“(?!) i uskoro će se preživjeli javiti dužim pismom i objašnjenjem pa će puna istina izaći na vidjelo?! Godinama se nesreća brodoloma poništavala raznim glasinama, a one su redovito započinjale s onim iritantnim „netko i navodno“. I odmah su se gradile čudovišne konstrukcije i još brže konzumirala tek podgrijana nada. Gradić se igrao i zabavljao prokletstvom. Odmah po ratu u vodama ispred Pule, na otočiću Galioli, pronađen je utopljenik; leš je bio dugo u moru i neprepoznatljiv, ali je pri sebi „navodno“ imao dokumente zapovjednika m/b Zarmanje, Josipa Rendića iz Kostrene. Iščekivanje se pojačalo i ožalošćeni su odmah živnuli pokušavajući potajice potvrditi tezu o uroti i tajanstvenom bijegu, o nepoznatim usmenim porukama preko trećih, opet svima nepoznatih osoba, o pismima koje su neki opet „navodno“ dobili od nepoznata pošiljatelja, diskretnog dobročinitelja, a iz tih se cedulja dalo zaključiti da ih je napisao ili barem diktirao netko od nestalih. Nitko nikada takvo pismo ili cedulju nije pokazao, nitko takvo pismo vidio. I svaka nova pronađena podrtina izazivala je novi šapat i podgrijavala već izlizane kombinacije. Partija se nije miješala, samo je na pristojnoj udaljenosti diskretno pazila da se o brodu Zrmanji ne govori previše naglas ili da netko od ožalošćenih od vlasti ne zatraži službenu istragu. Nalet Zrmanje na minu kod Beloga ili Plavnika vješto je ponuđen zalogajima nesretnih vremena i podglas pripisan pobijeđenom neprijatelju. Dovoljno. A onda sam pred ne mnogo godina slučajno doznao intrigantnu informaciju: od Nives, neumorne i nepomirljive žene koja je izgubila starijeg brata na brodu Zrmanja. Moja majka nije željela ni poslušati što sam to čuo, uopće razmisliti o takvoj jednoj mogućnosti, o bilo čemu izvan one najgore moguće verzije – odavno nestali u nepoznatim morskim dubinama. Za nju je sestra bila sahranjena sve slabijim pamćenjem i nije više željela parati zakrpe tragedije i krpati nove. Za moju majku Nives je bila i ostala samo neurotična babetina i žena sklona intrigama, daleka rođakinja mog oca. Nives je na samrtnoj postelji svog rođaka, inače okorjelog udbaša, opet navodno, čula da je brod Zrmanja skrenuo s rute i zaplovio za otok Molat kako bi ukrcao partizanske ranjenika i produžio plovidbu za Italiju. Nakon malo vremena pristupila mi je Pjerina, Krčanka koja je na Zrmanji izgubila oca i potvrdila mi Nivesine sumnje: činjenicu da je nekim razlogom Zrmanja ipak uplovio u Molat. Dakle odmah po ratu – jedna otočanka, inače partizanska bolničarka – vidjela je brod Zrmanju i Pjerininog oca na palubi broda u luci na Molatu. Drugi dan po isplovljenju iz Krka. Brod je u rano popodne za trenutak bio pristao uz rivu, samo na šprigu uz upaljen stroj, i uspjela je s Pjerininim ocem nakratko popričati. On je ostao na palubi, ne previše zabrinut zbog skretanja broda s rute, i preko brodske ograde izmjenili su nekoliko riječi i pozdrave. Međutim koliko je dugo brod Zrmanja ostao u luci i zašto je skrenuo s rute, bolničarka nije mogla reći; nije znala ni polazišnu ni odredišnu luku. Vratila se na posao k ranjenicima prije nego je brod isplovio. Osobno sam poznavao bolničarku Slavicu; rodom iz Bašćanske Drage kao i moj otac. Znala se ponekad zadržati s njime na ulici u razgovoru, rijetko je navraćala k ocu na razgovor. Neobično svjedočenje nisam nikad bio prije čuo, bio sam siguran da ni moja majka nije o tome ništa znala, jer prilično dobro je poznavala Slavicu. Nikad prije nije čula za mogućnost da je brod viđen na Molatu, bar bi jednom to spomenula. Bilo je previše srdžbe i premalo znatiželje u majčinoj reakciji, paničnog zatvaranja oči pred strahom. Kad sam nakon malo vremena još jednom spomenuo brod Zrmanju i otok Molat, posve neočekivano majka me žestoko napala. Plašila se da u svojoj znatiželji i istraživčkoj neosjetljivosti ne obnovim previše zle sumnje i doznam nikad izgovorene tajne, da ne podignem otrovni mulj davnih događaja. Majka se neprestano plašila, to joj je bilo životno poslanje; dežurala je sa svojim strahovima i bdijela nad svima. Neprestano živjela u iščekivanju kao prenapregnuta struna. Slutila je više nego je znala. Na spomen Slavice podviknula je i naredila da zašutim i ne raznosim dalje takve bedastoće. Vidno uznemirena počela je plakati, prvi put sam vidio kako jadna i sva uplakana, slomljena i ustrašena spominje Mariju, svoju nestalu sestru i nejasno kroz plač izgovara: „oni, oni“. Plač ili mržnju u istoj grimasi nisam mogao razlikovati.
– Kćerka ti je plava na sestru Mariju, a ti stalno kopaš po njezinom vodenom grobu. Ostavi je već jednom na miru, i ne spominji! Pusti Nives i njenoga navodno nestalog brata, vjerojatno je poginuo u švercu, možda se nije ni ukrcao na brod, a njoj je glavno bilo dobiti boračku penziju.
I nikad više nismo spomenuli Nives, Molat i bolničarku. Otac me već sljedeći dan opomenuo, očigledno je bio razgovarao s majkom:
Ozbiljan, pomalo ukočen i strog pogled trebao me obeshrabriti i ušutkati. Nije htio ni započeti ni nastaviti razgovor, samo ga autoritetom oca završiti, a kad sam spomenuo njegovu poznanicu i suseljanku Slavicu, bolničarku na Molatu, samo je rukom odrezao po zraku i izašao na terasu.
Poslije smo otac i ja samo usput znali spomenuti pristajanje broda Zrmanje na Molat, ili je to ipak bilo na Istu, inzistirao je na točnosti podatka. Želio mi je dati do znanja da nešto i on zna, ako ništa drugo, a ono pristaništa na Istu i Molatu; ipak je staru operativu golicalo što sam sve od Slavice saznao. Za uzvrat nije nimalo htio progovoriti o ratnim godinama na našem otoku, a bio je dobro upućena osoba, poznavao je ljude i događaje. Nastavio bi šutjeti, ali način na koji je vukao dim cigarete nije u svim dijelovima razgovora bio isti i znao sam kad sam došao blizu i napipao čvoriće mračnih sumnji. Brod Zrmanja je taj posljednji put isplovio s Molata i nestao na putu za Ankonu ili Bari, možda je njegovo odredište bilo u Brindisiju, strogo povjerljivo i nepoznata luka za sve osim za zapovjednika i neke drugove od povjerenja koji su se ukrcali i preuzeli brod. I onda ruta, vjerojatno prema Otrantskim vratima, preko duboka mora put Sredozemlja gdje koće ne jaruže morsko dno. Prije nekoliko godina tiskana je knjiga Tajne Jadrana u kojoj su temeljito obrađene sve olupine i podrtine hrvatskog djela Jadrana. Broda Zrmanje nema ni u tragovima, ne spominje se, jer nikad ništa od broda nije pronađeno. Jadransko se more odreklo Zrmanje. Na Istu i susjednom Molatu bio je smješten Drugi POS (Pomorski obalni sektor), partizanska diverzantska jedinica za obalno ratovanje i mala ratna bolnica koja je pripremala otpremu ranjenika prema savezničkim bolnicama u Italiji. Najviše je takvih ranjenika zbrinuto u Anconi i Bariju. Brod Zrmanja je vjerojatno trebao za prijevoz ranjenika i to nije tajna, ali što je još brod tebao prevesti i što se na brodu dogodilo da su i putnici i posada likvidiani, i da ih je na koncu sve progutalo modro grotlo, nije se nikad doznalo. Šaputava studen provlačila se kamenim ulicama i nemir se uvlačio u ljude; gradić se plašio izravnog pogleda i mračne bi duplje neprimjetno svoj pogled skrenule ustranu. Glasine je gradić skrivao šaptom i tajna se množila, nagrizala misao i lagano izjedala budućnost. Užas neizgovorenog i drhtaj prišapnutog potkopavali su malomišćanski ritam, srkali spokoj i lizali nesanicu ožalošćenih i obilježenih. Tu se umiješala ona prljava siva boja lica i oronulih fasada, nijansa podnih klesanica, ista boja prljave južine i ona istinska nijansa duhovne zapuštenosti koju još i danas uočavam. Podjela je bila jedva uhvatljiva, neoznačena i teško opipljiva, ničim pokazana, neprimjetna. Samo bi ponekad bljesnula naglom šutnjom i žurnim odlascima, rijetko psovkom ili uvredom, ali dubokom nelagodom što je ostajala iza odlazećeg. Muk je uporno stiskao radost, gnječio smijeh, cijedio svakodnevicu i nelagoda je ostajala pulsirati u pola srdžbe ili šale. Čak i onda kad je sve klizilo bez zastoja i trauma. Ljudi su ljudima kriomice čitali lica i misli, lovili znakove i odmah odgovarali grimasom; tražili odgovor na nikad glasno izrečena pitanja, a onda bi umukli silno se trseći zaustaviti svoju znatiželju. Jer i odgovor može biti kontrolno pitanje i provjera. Poslije su zloduh prljave tajne uzaludno pokušavali bez ostatka vratiti u bocu i živjeti kao da nisu upoznali i pomilovali zloduha, kao da sami iz slične boce nisu izašli. Pokušavam čitati neizgovorene riječi i razumijeti neartikulirane glasove, prisjetiti se lica i njihovih obrazina. Jesu li se baš svi mogli urotnički usložiti pod dirigentskom palicom običnog straha i sveopćeg stida, jedne obične licemjerne suzdržanosti? Likvidatori i ustrašeni svjedoci, nijema publika, zakinuti i ožalošćeni: jesu li baš svi pristali da ih potkupi strah i zarobi šutnja i onda se zavjerenički, i u još strašnijem paklu ravnodušne pomirljivosti, susretati na ulici, u trgovini, na svetkovinama, svadbama i pogrebima? Strepiti da im se jednog dana djeca krvlju pomiješaju?! Jer to ne bi bilo pomirenje nego mutacija uznapredovalog zla. Nevidljivi i (ne)poznati likvidatori godinama su se krajcali sa spuštenim pogledima roditelja, braće i prijatelja nestalih sa fantomskog broda Zrmanje; u dnevnom mimohodu uz pozdrave i svakodnevne ulične razgovore, na plesnjacima i samoupravnim tijelima, roditeljskim sastancima i zborovima birača. Ustrašeni i usiljeno ravnodušni ulovljeni u zamku prljavije uljudnosti i odvratne neiskrenosti. Sjećam se ljudi, neizgovorene mržnje koja je dosezala neljudsku prezrivost, pamtim zasjecanje pogleda i silnog opreza. I sve je to ostalo okovano tjeskobom iščekivanja kao da nestali ne stare i ne idu im godine, nego će se onako svježi i mladi odjednom pojaviti na vratima. Bolničarku Slavicu posljednji put slučajno sam susreo na parkiralištu pred grobljem, srdačno me pozdravila i pitala za mater i oca. Kad sam spomenuo Molat, samo se nasmiješila i raširenim pogledom nemoći poslala mi poruku:
Kimnuh glavom ne bih li produžio razgovor i nešto saznao.
Spominjem se prijekornog pogleda svoje majke: uništeno mržnjom nosi u sebi klice još veće mržnje, a sve započinje s pretjeranim oprezom, zapravo iščekivanjem mlačne plime sluzi; pred zoru na ispraćaju noći, u osvit prvog sivila. Pohađali smo istu školu i dijelili zajedništvo djetinjstva u neposrednoj blizini odvratne tajne, u neznanju i neposrednom susjedstvu, katkad pod istim krovom, u istom razredu: unuci i nećaci nestalih s djecom i nećacima nikad prokazanih lividatora. U suživotu neizgovorljivog i neizrecivog, straha i oklijevanja, sve do danas i još malo godina kad će sve prekriti mladi životi novih naraštaja noseći u sebi nevidljive klice zapisanih nesreća.
Nevoljko i sa zebnjom prepoznajem sitne poruke, nesumnjive znakove, skoro pa diskretne opomene i upozorenja, a zvijezde ponad moje začudnosti kao i uvijek samo sjaje i uporno šute. Obožavamo svoj strah i naš prst uprt u nebo, kao da nam je strah zajamčen obrok. Osjećamo silnu nemoć stvora pod zvjezdanom kupolom i pred sutrašnjim danom. Potomstvo prljavih, okrvavljenih i nikad osuđenih spokojno hoda svijetom; ono niti ne sluti da će malo po malo, a već se zbiva, po kriku žrtava i pamćenju Neba računi biti isporučeni baš njima. Obilježeni i opečaćeni, nevini u događaju i krivi po zločinu svojih predaka, platit će koliko ih je dopalo pa će se tezulja donekle izravnati na naraštajima koji će poslije njih nastaviti hraniti zemlju gladnu ljudskog mesa. Neznanje i nevinost označenog potomstva od male je pomoći. Jednom se zbilo i ulančanost ide sama od sebe, nevidljiva i čvrsta; nesreće i pomor zločinima obilježenog potomstva ne prestaju se preljevati. Samo su malobrojni, jedva i mukotrpno, izbjegli korita svojih dosuda.
U istoj zdjeli malomišćanskog suživota i dalje se pirja još nevino potomstvo obilježeno zločinima svojih predaka i naoko bezbrižno živi s onima koji su osjetili posljedice zločina njihovih očeva i djedova. Moja ustrašena majka i, na primjer, teško oboljela kćerka jednog od egzekutora; ostarjela i nemoćna udovica i unesrećeni nećaci jedne mračne figure; siroče Zrmanje i teško unesrećene obitelji... i sve ono što ni slutnjom ne stignemo doseći. Deseci kozmičkih odvaga na istoj parceli krčkog groblja, a sve kako bi se samo donekle i za jedno vrijeme poravnala vaga pravde i iskupljenja. Počelu toliko bitno poravnanje, ravnodnevnica zločina i kazne toliko rijetka u samo jednom naraštaju.
Rijeka, svibanj, 2011.
Pripovijetka je objavljena 2013. godine u Književnoj Rijeci.
Davor Velnić: Kineski šapat -CRVENE KNJIŽICE
Davor Velnić: The Chinese Whisper – THE LITTLE RED BOOK(S)
Nijedan čovjek nema pravo praviti se predmetom vjere drugom čovjeku.
No man has the right to make himself the subject of another man's religion.
The Little Red Books are the catechism of Maoism. However, I did not see them for the first time in distant China, their native land. That happened much closer to home: in Europe, in my nearest foreign country, in Trieste in the early 1970s when trendy Italian students and idle urban youth, led by the discreet hand of the Italian Communist Party, were loudly protesting in the streets and waving unbelievably tiny red books chanting: Mao-Zedong! – Ho-Chi-Min! – Mao-Zedong! The inducement for the street demonstrations was the intensified American bombing of North Vietnam. The protest was meant to appear quite easy-going and spontaneous, in the best manner of Italian gentlemanly Communism, though it was certainly anti-American. To me, it all looked like a pleasant street party and a senseless disruption of the city's traffic. After the fall of the Soviet Union, it became obvious that the whole thing had been coordinated and funded from Moscow, while it had been no problem to the indulged Italian youth to stroll through the streets, shouting, cursing the authorities, waving their arms about and thoroughly enjoying themselves in doing so.
On that spring day, with aching feet and surrounded by shopping bags as I rested on the Rex terrace, I could not quite fathom how Mao's book and the rowdy street procession would bring down those American bombers and liberate the North Vietnam skies, or help the Vietnamese in any way whatsoever. The young protesters had no idea either, but they were at least able to let off steam. I was more worried about the Customs and whether I would have enough money and patience should matters take an unfavourable turn when I crossed the border with Yugoslavia at Kozina.
When I saw the Little Red Books the second time, they were no longer in the hands of boisterous protesters. Those grossly exploited young Europeans were already focused on other political modishness and their own careers. Nobody was waving those red instructions as a threat anymore; rather they had been carelessly abandoned and were lying in dusty piles in Beijing curiosity shops, waiting for someone to pick them up and buy them for a few pence. As it was, without the clenched fists and strident shouts of callow young people, they looked lost and harmless, almost innocuous. In fact, everything in the curiosity shop seemed disabled and rejected, in the search for a new master and a happy home. What has been discarded assumes the image of innocence and the traders count on that; customers buy the selected ornaments of their past, things that had been overlooked long ago, or things that they had not dared buy until now.
Beijing curiosity shops keep a host of symbols of former masters, yesterday's power-mongers and those from imperial times. They ply their trade at ordinary stands or from dim closets; any space is equally favourable for buying a new past. Once terrifyingly powerful symbols, relics, or their present-day manufactured souvenirs, look pathetic and powerless in the hands of the curious and the tourists, like discarded toys. It is hard to gain even an inkling of the power that they once possessed. Sorted to an extent by size, together with the metal President Mao badges, the Little Red Books wait for customers. The ones with damaged covers are merely thrown into baskets together with copies of traditional amulets from all the regions of China and the great wide world around it.
Most of the books are quite new, the pages squeaking under one's fingers, or have been barely thumbed through, while some are well-read and worn, even with underlining. After the political elimination of the Gang of Four and subsequent to Deng Xiaoping's revival of Chinese pragmatism saying that It doesn't matter whether a cat is black or white. . . . in his controversial statement, they lost their wondrous power of intimidation and became undesirable and even comical goods overnight. Abandoned, worn-out, ideologically rejected and spent – although never officially scorned – they ended up in the curiosity shops as the perished relics of the Cultural Revolution. Now they are looked at indifferently by tourists and rummaged through by the awkward hands of the curious. In huge baskets, discarded like guillotined heads, once vital and unpleasantly powerful, but now nothing more than a tourist snigger and unusual souvenir of the 20th century! Does anyone still remember their creator, Lin Biaoa, their death-dealing quotations or even a sentence or two. . . ?
The great Chairman Mao lives on for the Chinese, his image marks the spot on Tian An Men Square where he proclaimed the People's Republic of China in 1949. That square is the womb and possible tomb of the Chinese State, the once and future Middle Kingdom. What remains are the ineradicable memories of the shouts and moans of the masses, while its sky today is filled by floating paper kites; the tones of the Internationale and The East Is Red reverberate from powerful loud-speakers; people have their photographs taken, while that firm military gait of the ceremonial patrol lets one know that far too much is yet to take place on these granite slabs. The idyllic atmosphere becomes a nation-building ritual and a picture book of the new China, and that show will (successfully?) redeem the millions of Long and Short March victims, the meddling in the Korean and Vietnam wars, the catastrophic Great Leap Forward (into pandemic famine), the skirmishes with the Soviets on Amur, the thousands of dead soldiers, the devastating Cultural Revolution, the millions of death in the punitive rice fields - all with no end in sight and without a morsel of doubt in the right-mindedness, history and necessity of it all. Some distinguished tongzhimeni (comrades) did make mistakes, repented their ways or faced a firing squad, but Mother Party always was and remained in the right. What is the gender of Party in the Chinese language? – The sun in ancient Indo-European languages is usually of feminine gender.
Inurement is the most effective executor, while nations and children are born in pain. Almost no-one mentions that pain later, and after the artillery salutes digest the pain and transform it into defiance, what is born will be defended in eddies of restless and agonised blood. Converted into heroism, blind persistency becomes the indestructible foundation of ideological and State tyranny. Anthems and military marches sow oblivion best and contaminate everything with new assault melodies.
The revolution that brought down the Dragon Throne and abrogated the ancient cosmology and court rituals still did not manage to avoid temptation, but rather created the fanatical Mao cult reign of terror such as not even the Chinese emperors had always been able to enjoy. Since back in the early 1940s, Mao Zedong had been celebrated as the Red Sun, the Giver of Life, or the Great Helmsman, the Redeemer, while he then entrenched the new radical dogmatism, enjoying the fruits of the ancient subservience to imperial power. The aim of permeating all of China with his personage was finally attained. And when he felt that the Party faithful were stealing his lustre and that Soviet revisionism was gaining ground, one word from Mao was enough, a mere by-the-way insinuation, a sigh or an indefinitely weighed thought about enemies in their own ranks, and a red armband became the insignia of fear for all who were not sufficiently acquiescent in their embrace of the all-powerful rigidity of the Cultural Revolution. Just like his imperial predecessors, Mao skilfully separated himself from the people and his (closest) associates so as to take upon himself alone the power of the Heavenly Throne.
Mao’s xenophobia and self-isolation raised an invisible wall and renewed the tradition of court viciousness; with the inspiration of youthful hysteria, the Cultural Revolution could begin, provoking the outcry against the Party and the old culture of the Mandarin tradition. Mao offered change without transformation, and absolute authority hovered at its head – he himself. The devastating romanticism of the Red Guards was soon to transform into a punitive expedition against everyone who did not yield or was suspected of perhaps not yielding. The Cultural Revolution Group and the Red Guards were licensed to carry out Party arbitration, and could attack and even execute the highest Party authorities. Only one star shone in the Party firmament and was and remained sacred and inviolable. And that urban man, Liu Shao Qi, had to withdraw from the Party sky; finally, the Chinese village judged the town. Who knows what Beijing would look like today if Liu had been victorious in his conflict with Mao? To the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, Deng Xiaoping had been on the side of Liu Shiao Qia.
Long ago, when the Qin dynasty usurped or, in fact, created the Dragon Throne (in the year 221 BC), the new blood started to root out the inherited culture of tradition, proclaiming art and philosophy to be poison for the concept of allegiance, so the Imperial Court issued the following edict, its very succinct instructions: Those who serve the past so as to create doubt about the present must be executed together with their immediate and broader families. The official theoretician of the dynasty, the so-called Court Intellectual, used these words to describe the above instructions and their bloody practice: In the State of the wise Emperor there is no literature on scrolls and on bamboo strips – the Law is the only tenet; the sayings of the former rulers no longer exist – duty is the sole paragon. Art and literature are damnation, while the only teachers may be the imperial civil servants! Those who think differently are enemies, new and inherited, there is no neutrality and that is the very beginning of ideological totalitarianism, and that is why Bolshevism is more similar to such despotism than to its Marxist parents, their in-laws and tutors. Art and literature were proclaimed to be damned, knowledge orientated to the past was burnt, and the great bonfire of the scrolls in the year 213 BC delivered a powerful message that, apart from the imperial laws, there was no other literature. The only preserved writings are found on turtle shells and relate to the art of healing, apothecary, tilling of the fields and prophesying. That is why we know little today about pre-Imperial China; the damage would be irreparable except in the governmental and political sense, since it was only from the Qin dynasty on, in fact, that the uninterrupted Chinese Empire and a series of great imperial dynasties commenced. And they have lasted until the present day; integral despite conquests, fragmentation, uprisings and upheavals. For its part, the Judeo-Christian civilisation of the 20th century tried to convert science into pseudo-belief, in the event that pseudo-religion would present it with too great a challenge.
There is nothing new in the innovation of Evil. The lethal dictatorships of the 20th century also had capable teachers in the Chinese past. China maintained its heritage of the unitaristic imperial order embodied in this or that dynasty and never gave up its cultural radicalism. More than two thousand years ago, merchants and people who knew how to write were among the first victims of imperial authority; tens of thousands of family members were exiled to Sichuan and Nanyang to carry out forced agricultural labour and land reclamation. That was probably not for the first time, and certainly not for the last. Agricultural production was given precedence.
Mao began recruiting fresh blood into the Party nomenclature and copying the old and well-tried methods of the emperors. The Cultural Revolution was nothing new, merely a continuance of the tradition of exclusivity that occasionally also employed the language of mythology in order to reinforce its credibility. The Cultural Revolution began with a hue and cry against culture and tradition, while the objective from the very outset had been the elimination of competition (within the Party) using all means, publicly and with the semblance of an absence of sin, of purity.
The Red Guards zealously complied with Mao’s every wish and, without court ceremony, elevated him to the vacant place of the Celestial Son. Their fervent desire for devotion to the Leader was stronger that their devotion to the Bolshevik camarilla from Zhongnahai, the imperial garden leading to Party and Government headquarters. President Mao achieved the status of the Faultless Leader and his whisper from the celestial heights was heard by the militant groups as the words of a prophet. It would seem that of all the 20th century dictators only his myth will endure. Empires are ruled by insinuations, capriciousness and understatement, privileges and corruption, distrust and cruelty; prolonged expectations and brief intervals of celebration at the courts efficaciously cleave off both time and heads. In the end, judgement is based on omission and whim, camarilla combinations and profound mistrust and never healed prejudices. . . the warrior blood of the brutal conqueror of the throne becomes thinner and uncertain through the centuries.
All ideologies have been identical in their deception and exploitation of young people, their rebellious hormones and lack of experience but, for their part, the guardians of Nazism, Fascism and Bolshevism have remained the champions in manipulation. Ideologies have numbed people's minds, while the militant indoctrination of the 20th century has produced planetary anxiety. The old foxes steeped in intrigue and sordid rivalry, completely immune to the quiet voice of conscience, resistant to everything except Party orders, were the very best in manipulating the youth. The young in China never seriously harboured any doubts: they responded eagerly to every nod from Mao and created the rigid Red Guards. Then they whole-heartedly and fanatically swooped down on the (Mandarin) caste tradition and the old practices and struck in equally demolishing fashion at art and literature, at everything that did not celebrate the Workers and the Peasants Revolution. They savagely attacked the corrupt State authorities and those members of the Party leadership foreseen for liquidation. Violence underscored the primary postulate of all ideologies: Those who are not with us are against us, and all those who shrugged that off were proclaimed to be members of the black reactionary band (heibang) and (Khrushchev’s) revisionists.
The inculcated young people pointed their threatening fingers and waved the executioner's axe. For the umpteenth time, they were fundamentally taken advantage of: back from the wards of the Church orphanages embarked on Cortes' fleet and Kim Il Sung’s schools for the rearing of nation-building children, through the Janissaries, the black Balilla, the Hitler-Jugend, or the Bolshevik variant – the children of fallen resistance fighters. . . It’s always the same ideological paedophilia and demonic production of Pretorians and executioners of the Revolution, recruiting children for years so as to transform them into its most devoted killers.
“Yes, it was sufficient to show the badge or just wave the Little Red Book. . . Sometimes we entered even without the red armbands,” said Xiu in the indifferent voice of a disenchanted man. He was a professor of history and philosophy, a distant relative of my translator and had once been a zealous member of the Red Guards; now a prematurely aged fifty-year-old. “We ourselves decided independently on everything, perhaps Comrade Jinxi had direct contact with the Group for the Cultural Revolution, I don’t know. . . Once, at the very entrance to the Zhongnanhai she warmly greeted the First Comrade, as if they were real friends and Jiang Qing (Mao’s wife) invited us for tea that very afternoon. Right throughout, she was the powerful puppeteer, an actress by birth! Mao’s senile satyriasis placed him in a deferential position. There are not many such women, but even one is far too many.”
Xiu loves an audience, and today we are alone in the tea-shop; some have not arrived because of the monsoon downpour and traffic jams. In any case, we will be meeting at Ilario’s this weekend.
“The First Comrade could do literally anything she chose, an authentic empress, but always a harlot nevertheless. Concubines and their power have left a deep stamp on our history, all the dynasties and all the imperial palaces, so not even the Cultural Revolution could be spared female wilfulness and malice. A whole series of concubines preceded Jiang Quing, once known in Shanghai by her artistic name, Lan Ping. Not only Cixi, the Empress of the West, ruler during the dusk of the Qing dynasty, but also Empress Lü Zhi from two centuries before Christ, and the female ruler Wu of the Tang dynasty at the end of the seventh century, AD. of course. . . There were more than enough of them! The whims of dynastic reproduction and camarilla politics sometimes humiliate and deeply offend the Celestial Order. Consumed by debauchery and lack of restraint, emperors seem to forget their duty to the gods and the spirits of their ancestors. They lose their heavenly intercession and Nature turns her back on them - floods, droughts and vermin completely destroy the crops. The history of harlots, nations, generalissimos and aristocracy offers only the lush but nauseous countenance of human depravity. Not even the imperial palace is immune, that least of all in fact. Moreover, whores continue to be the most consummate schemers, their lies and sighs are the most convincing, while everything below the umbilicus is only a great show and diabolical enjoyment of insincerity. Wasn’t it Aristotle who asked: Is there really any difference between government by hen-pecked husbands and the rule of their wives? Western civilisation is in an even worse situation; there, emasculating feminism produces effeminate weaklings and homos. We finished them off as soon as we took over. They were the first to go.”
His memories flare up, he enjoys remembering and renewing the images of those intensive years with a reliable collocutor. Pleasure and loathing. He is not troubled by either the facts or the fixations; skilful melding creates a firm structure of harrowing confessions and their relishment. He was too young to remember so much, but he lived the confessional experience of his friends and comrades in violent tyranny. He would hardly have survived in one piece if he had borne witness to and remembered it all. Perhaps the information on high school students in the Red Guard squads was indeed correct and Xiu had joined the bloody circus while still a schoolboy?
“Yes, just like that; too many facts and too little history. . . and we really were young, desirous of uncertainty and of fear. Other people's fear, of course” – this in a patronising tone, confirming my thought as though it had been spoken aloud. “The oldest was twenty-two, a student of journalism. He spoke well but was even better in action! Resolute, he never looked back, he simply forgot whatever had been carried out. Constantly on the move, we made our way into every small corner of Beijing, throughout all of China, and met no resistance entering State buildings, institutes and ministries, everything was ours, at our finger-tips. . . And we executed insignificant apparatchiks who harboured unclean thoughts.” That is exactly what he said in fluent Russian, proud of his knowledge of the language. “The big fish in the provinces, too, of course, egotistical primitives inclined to their own profit and to Western mentality, to expensive and banal luxury. Nor did the buildings around Tian an Men, quite close to the Zhongnanhai, nor even the presidential offices, manage to escape our curiosity and diligence. That was where the most important ones took refuge, those Khrushchev revisionists, the plump reactionaries and the bourgeois. We even packed Israel Epstein off into prison; he served time here in Beijing, in the Qincheng prison.” Xiu inhaled an enjoyable puff right down to his yellowish fingers, leaving the impression of a man of decision and enjoying my full attention. The wafts of smoke rose to his eyes and Xiu gave a shudder, tears came to his eyes and he cursed the smoke. A reductive image of the world worthy of adolescent haughtiness bore him back into his own past. “Still, our sweetest morsels were the shabby intellectuals and the journalists like them. They suffered the most; humiliated to the point of death, they secretly pointed their fingers at one another. The artists held up better, proud and even a little penitent; they wanted to redeem themselves for the sins they had not committed, or their imagination identified with our wishes and expectations. . . lunatics, real lunatics. . .,” he said, inhaling deeply and blowing out a few puffs. Speaking in sinister tones, he savoured those lost scenes. “The intellectuals dug in their heels in an effort to generate our respect, imagine that, those pitiful clowns only bartered with their remorse and changing sides, hoping to appear courageous and bold or at least dignified. Idiots! They all had to be sent to the countryside to free the state of their infection. That was the right thing to do! If they had remained in the cities, they would have contaminated everyone. And what would we be able to offer the world today? Intellectuals and poets, loafers and usurpers with qualifications! It says in the Qur'an that poets follow the strays and the reckless, and all evil originates from intellectuals.”
The waitress approaches our table wanting to top up our tea, but my companion drives her away with a look. Xiu tells his story with childlike guilelessness; he quietly but passionately hones his memories. He chooses his words with care, playing with his thoughts and with his collocutor. He processes his recollections without undue haste or raised tones. His face, demonically seductive and convincing and submerged in the immediate past, calls up sanctified revulsion. And although Xiu is Chinese, this is a lateral view, testimony that partly explains how the Christian male meekly and without authentic opposition accepted the slaughter-house of the First and Second World War. Europe has written thousands of smart books about that but has never spoken out about how and why it could have charged with such eagerness against its Christian brothers, or how the Holy Alliance of civil democracy and the brotherhood of nations in tribute to science and reason acceded without real resistance to topple into the ideological abyss.
“Their dread made an impression on us and they never gained our respect. Fear always gives off the same odour, and it told us which of them was ready. Some Guards comrades got carried away, they went a step or two further: they personally beat them. They sought new names, hundreds of new names. We deconstructed and burnt the old culture, a work of art had to celebrate the Revolution and speak of the days of its glory; if it did not, it had to be consumed in the fire of our Revolution. . . The birth-place of Confucius was destroyed. Well, alright, maybe that was a bit too much. . . and some of your Catholic churches did not do so well, but that was no great loss; religion is the enemy of reason and is not its torch-bearer. Perhaps Tibet suffered the most. We were planning to burn down the Potala Palace, the whole of Lhasa. . . Zhou En Lai stopped us. But after three to four years we grew weary, although we did not falter in our zeal. And China, too, changed in the meantime, our leader dreamt a different dream. We saw that we were living surrounded by the fear and contempt of our comrades and fellow citizens, by overall silence, the silence of terrified people. Corroded by revolutionary enthusiasm, we lost our sense of proportion and people avoided us; our parents and siblings lowered their eyes in front of us or looked to the side. I grew tired of life in the lunacy of limited omnipotence. Always on the move, at endless meetings, discussions, I lost my feeling for space, for people and for time, I lost weight but did not dare nor was I able to give up. Younger, quite young pupils and students started to arrive, fervent revolutionary apprentices wanting to transform the world into a mandala with Mao's image at its centre. Mao had become and remained the Deity, that's how we spoke of him, and we demanded of others that they thought of him and spoke of him in that way. It was as though he had given birth to himself. We became his priests, his servers of the mass of violence. The Red Guards transformed into the assassin's sword, becoming an end in themselves and in the execution procedure. Even now, I don't think that we were evil or were too oppressive. Death was not the objective, although deaths did occur, with poor conditions in the rice paddies, and in the mines and iron foundries. . . collateral and mass death. If there is no death, then Evil does not exist either, while egoism is merely our natural biological state. There can be no China without harshness, there can be no life for us without a grand and unyielding State. Mao was wise and strong and he paved our way into the future. He gave something back to the Chinese man, something without which no nation can exist: the power of hierarchy and submission to authority. That is our tradition that leads us into a secure future, and not your Christian repentance. For tradition to survive, we had to destroy everything that had been done until then. All that was needed was the renewal and reinforcement of fear. That was enough! China is ruled by fear and vassal-like obedience, and not by rights and freedom; the unitaristic-imperial order holds the proven millenarian prescription”.
Xiu pours himself some more tea, casting a reproving glance at the waitress, and then indicates the shelf with a gesture of his chin, waving a threatening finger at her. That was something he probably learnt in Moscow - the authoritative gesture with the index finger and the discreet smile of an old operative. The waitress brought a bottle of Maotaia and poured it into small porcelain cups. Xiu draws back his lips into a smile and jokingly winks at her. She knows him well and this is not their first time.
“The Han tribe is immeasurably huge, there are enough of us, even a few too many, and
that has always been our blessing and your curse. We have been and are the original tribe of Asia right up to the present day: land-tillers and warriors, obedient and cruel. Democracy is only powerlessness that is beautifully ornamented, a weak gift from false do-gooders, a disease of the indecisive, and that is why we could fail to defeat it, but we will outlive all our opponents, defeat them with our numbers and fertility and survive any barbarous future of the world.”
Inclined to drunkenness and irremediable words, unpleasant and devoted to his own destruction, he took pleasure in his own voice, my attention and the alcohol. He hated any form of love or empathy. His lips formed the words with a certain pleasure. He saw the world through the blurred eye of cynicism. An authentically attractive demon.
“My dear arrogant know-it-all gentleman, let us drink to ancient powers, sleeping forces that
will renew the Dragon Throne and raise up humiliated China! Your democracy is a barren woman, while the bloody ideologies of Nazi-Fascism and Communism are the spawn of ambitious sluggards and permissive rulers. The Middle Kingdom has to be placed in the middle of the world. The West has technology, China has its subjects, half-starved people simply hungry for full stomachs and a slightly better life. The hidden presence of the mythic Yellow Emperor and the Celestial Throne give us courage and impetus. It is important to have such a throne and it is not important who will sit on it, since the throne itself changes people and rulers. And we are not the hungry USSR, or the disease-ridden and indolent Africa. These are dangerous times. China has never been so well-fed or had so many universities. But it's not knowledge that is important, it's people; all that knowledge is written down somewhere, it's carried in a briefcase, stolen and debased, whereas people, billions of them who only want a better life, they remain. If we manage to convince only one of them with our lie, then all our lies become the truth.”
The rhetorical rage had abated and Xiu downed a Maotai with a flick of the wrist, routinely, but with a lot of love. Dedicated to his own destruction, he slowly twirled his flimsy moustache and sought another drink with the fixed stare of a blind man. The conversation sank into an uncomfortable silence, a flood of the unspoken hung in the air, while I kept a tactical silence. Whoever spoke first, would be the loser.
“Just as the Red Eyebrows were destroyed after their job was done, the same thing happened to us. Disbanded and forgotten, a change in course and new directives. Now, we invoke general shame. Everyone wants to forget us, to show us up as criminals. I am disappointed, but like every damned man I wallow in my own torment and humiliation and do not want to save myself in any way. A definite advantage of shame is an absence of scruples. Revolutionaries all over the world understand us better than all the current Party leadership and its flabby protégés”.
Today, Xiu works at a major furrier's, he sits at a large, empty office desk and reads. He is writing something, but does not want to have it published. Or doesn't dare to? On the instructions and in keeping with the design of their Scandinavian customers, he chooses the highest quality mink skins and squirrel bellies and sews samples of luxuriant fur coats for decadent gentlefolk. He is proud of his knowledge of the fur business. “Did you know that the finest brushes were made of squirrel hair? The hair from the belly, yes - pennello di vaio – it was used to paint the most treasured pictures of Western civilisation.”
When he has time for conversation, he puffs on his pipe so as to draw out his sentences to sound more impressive. And he regularly succeeds at that; otherwise, he smokes cigarettes without filters. Ilario Fiore adores him and they are together often, I don't know how long they have been friends but Xiu feels completely at home in Ilario's flat. He shuffles around in slippers, opens the fridge and is constantly messing around in the kitchen. It's unusual and hard to explain, even when the imagination slightly contaminates the incomprehensible machinations of the so-called Leftists.
I suppose that, by chance, Xiu had spared someone during the Cultural reign-of-terror. He had probably skilfully presented his former oversight, the magnanimity of a bully, and was now nibbling away at someone's gratitude. Had he perhaps saved the life of the father of the furrier enterprise's manager, the ambitious Lu Yan, formerly a highly-placed functionary in the Ministry of Culture, today a consultant at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs? On more than one occasion, Ilario had mentioned that Xiu also had a protector on the political editorial board of Jemin Jibao, also a former Red Guard. “Possibly, old fermentations that Xiu is loath to mention. All sorts of stories do the rounds of the plant; new themes, gossip and new names are immediately dealt with by the plant newspaper and the Party censors – but never a word about the manager, Ylu Yuan.
Xiu had been its cutting edge and had enjoyed every moment of Party justice. Now he was looking for ears eager to hear confessions! Enough to make you sick! After the third glass, Xiu reaches for his pipe. He takes out tobacco, fills the pipe, self-confidently lights it and puffs, enjoying the movements of his own hands, the bated silence. . .
“We were on the edge of conquering ourselves with the Cultural Revolution, and then, for
the third time, Deng Xiaoping appeared out of the shadows of treason and then first allayed and then called a halt to the gory feast; we had been consuming too much of our own flesh and striking at the very roots of the Han nation. I hated that traitor Deng as much as I adored him. He destroyed a fine pastime and changed the