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  • Literary Disputes of the 1950s and the Demise of Socialist Realism
  • Radmila J. Gorup

This article focuses on the literary debates between the “modernists” and the “realists” which inaugurated the transition from the socialist realism of the late 1940s to the new wave of modernism in Serbian and Yugoslav literature in the mid-1950s and beyond. According to the critic Sveta Lukić, the literary debates of the early 1950s were “the battle cry in the fight for normal cultural relations between Yugoslavia and the world, and for stylistic and critical freedom, as well as the broader question of political democratization in socialism.”1

In his 1994 book Prošlost i poluprošlost (Past and Half-Past), Predrag Protić states that three distinct orientations characterize Serbian spiritual life and define the relationship of the Serbian cultural elite to the civilized world. The first is a feeling of self-contentment, i.e., the idea that every departure from tradition unavoidably works against the vital interest not only of the national culture, but of the nation as a whole. It is therefore imperative to stay within the parameters left to the nation by ancestors. The second is the diametrically opposed idea that Serbian culture must turn to foreign sources. Namely, during the long Ottoman occupation, Serbian culture was excluded from the main currents of Western civilization. To make up for that loss, Serbia has to follow the same or similar path of other nations in order to reach the same level of accomplishment. The third, a compromise orientation, acknowledges that while Serbian culture may lag behind some other cultures, it has something authentic and unique to offer to the rest of the world as an equal partner in cultural dialogues with others.2 [End Page 25]

This three-way orientation is usually collapsed into a two-way division, namely, an opposition between “traditionalists,” or “nationalists,” that is, those content with their own identity, who do not readily welcome changes from abroad, and the “internationalists,” or “mondialists,” who are more open to the new, primarily Western currents. While there are other terms used to name this opposition, none represents a perfect fit because historical conditions change and, with them, the composition of the opposing camps.3

This binary pattern can be followed throughout Serbian cultural history. The national movements of the 19th century took two major forms in Eastern Europe: nations that did not have established states yet fought against their oppressors and nations that had already achieved their statehood—Serbs among them—attempted to strengthen their cultural identity. Both forms of nationalism were hostile to cosmopolitanism and tended to look inward. The national myths they created in order to forge their cultural identity continue to influence cultural trends to this day.

The opposition of “traditionalists” and “modernists” was the crossroads at which Serbs halted periodically while their leading intellectuals debated passionately which direction their culture should take. With time this opposition acquired different forms. In the 19th century it reflected the gap between the primarily patriarchal Serbs and their more cosmopolitan co-nationals who grew up outside of Serbia and who were exposed to foreign cultures. Prečani, i.e., Serbs living in Austria-Hungary, many of whom were educated abroad, found themselves in a rather difficult position as their ideas and practices were seen as alien by the Serbs south of the Sava and Danube, who treated them with mistrust and resentment.

The opposition between “nationalists” and “internationalists” was firmly established in the post-Ottoman period of Serbian culture and was reflected in the positions and personalities of the two key figures of the Serbian national rebirth: Dositej Obradović (1742–1811), who was an Austrian Serb, and Vuk Stefanović Karadžić (1787–1864), who was born in the Ottoman Serbia south of the Sava and Danube.4 Even though there was an overlap in the interests of the two men, Obradović is generally seen in hindsight as the champion of a [End Page 26] pro-Western cultural orientation—a man who encouraged his nation to borrow freely from the cultural pool of more developed nations. Conversely, and even paradoxically given his major role in the introduction of Serbian culture to Europe, Karad...


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