The Specter of Cyrillic Script

/ by Srđan Srdić

There are few more poignant things than the day when a newly-established parliamentary majority in the Republic of Serbia starts sending out signals, on the basis of which common folk are supposed to learn which unforgettable personalities will perform the roles of ministers in the new government. In those days, the media are obsessed with the role of the ministers of police, of foreign and similar affairs, but two ministries forever stay in some kind of para-political vacuum, and there’s never much of a fight over them. It seems, at least at first glance, that the Ministries of Education and Culture will be left to whoever wants to head them, if anyone wants that at all.


Hence, in 27 years of parliamentary life in Serbia, so many bizarre psycho-physiognomies have followed, one after the other, in the positions of the Ministers of Education and Culture, that it’s almost tragic to forget someone like Danilo Ž. Marković (author of the sentence “Social ecology is ecological sociology”), or the superior Ljiljana Čolić, who made Charles Darwin her most bitter enemy. Later, things got more complex, and the Ministry of Education has frequently been haunted by some exponents of different interest lobbies, most often from the publishing sector, those who come from dubiously-accredited private universities, or non-governmental organizations pretending to be governmental. In such a division, culture has widely been ignored.


However, things aren’t that bad. This is the second term (in the last five years in Serbia, a term the governments lasted less than a year) that a certain Mr. Vukosavljević can be heard in the position of the Minister of Culture and Information, a personage more or less unknown to anybody and anything, least of all to those involved in culture. As soon as he assumed office for the second time, Vukosavljević informed the obviously interested public that the Republic of Serbia’s Culture Development Strategy had been drafted in his department. He didn’t explain who the author of the strategy was, where it came from, how we’d lived without it up till then, but he didn’t have to do this at all. The brave, sufficiently-motivated and analytical realized that the text was so unambiguous, so brilliant, that no further interpretations would be needed.


Still, in a series of theses, the nature of which is Dadaistic at times, social-realistic at others, often in a complete clash with the laws of elementary logic and literacy, one triumphs over the others in its absurd hopelessness such that only monstrously-comprehended politics can produce. Namely, when it deals with the obligatory purchase of books performed by the Ministry of Culture and Information for all libraries in Serbia, the Strategy gives priority to those books that were printed in the Cyrillic script. Here, my soul aches: I’m so sorry I’ll never find out what the expression was on the face of the individual who spelled out this sentence in the rarified air of his/her skull, and neatly bequeathed it to the significant Strategy. It would be even more interesting to hear the comments of the other authors (if there was more than one), and why not Vukosavljević himself, whoever he is, on such a recommendation.


Quite a lot of things were somehow lost on the splendid mind that thought of this fabulous idea of making everything Cyrillic. For instance, he/she thinks that the value of any literary text, including translations, is absolutely the same. Our elementary differentiation and evaluation of literary texts is based on whether they are written in the Cyrillic or Latin script. In practice, this means the following: You have, in front of you, an excellent translation of Pynchon in the Latin script, or a new novel by Albahari in the Latin script, and right beside them the book Русија је мама од Србије (Russia is Serbia’s Mummy). The Strategy doesn’t give you the right to choose. Who cares about Pynchon and Albahari, all we want is Cyrillic! Or, you choose between an unproofread Cyrillic book of poetry by a local poet from Bašaid, and a capital edition of Joyce’s Ulysses, accompanied by a load of critical comments, sadly written in the Latin script. What would you do? It’s obvious, there’s no headache as long as there’s the Strategy.


It’s a pity that the two largest Serbian commercial publishers, known for the fact that they publish books in the Latin script, still haven’t said a word on this issue. In those companies, they probably hope that this folly will go to hell with the devil, as happened to that minister who took up the crusade against Darwin, so they sip drinks in peace, hiding from the heat. Probably, they themselves don’t believe that the hundreds of books they publish annually will lose the battle against the latest Cyrillic edition of Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion, published by a semi-legal Cyrillic publisher functioning on the basis of one employed person, who is neither a proofreader nor a translator nor a designer, let alone an editor, not to mention the fact that he has no idea of this institutional trend of paying royalties to an author.


Zaum is always at the heart of the state institutions, when a country looks like the Republic of Serbia, and there’s no surrealist like Bulgakov who could cope with such a truth. Only God knows how to cope with the Cyrillic script and its promoters. They probably think that, in this way, they protect the mother script from the stubborn Latin monster.


May they protect it, may they live long. Who will protect our sound mind from them, I really don’t know.

Srđan Srdić

is a novelist, short-story writer, editor, essayist and creative reading/writing teacher. He has published two novels, two short story collections and a book of essays. From 2008 to 2011 he served as the editor of the international short story festival Kikinda Short. He returned to this position in September 2015.