- Mrena [The Cataract] by Milica Micić Dimovska
Named for both the literal medical condition suffered by a main character and a figurative blindness affecting the other characters, Micić Dimovska's novel examines the societal blindness and complacency in Serbia that contributed to the most recent mass tragedy of former Yugoslavia: the NATO bombardment of Serbia from March 24 to June 10, 1999.
To say that the story focuses on the bombardment would be false. The Western threat is barely in the background of the characters' minds—yet that is precisely the point Micić Dimovska is making. Preoccupied with their local political and economic happenings, the characters are largely unaware of the larger crisis facing the country. When the situation in Kosovo is mentioned, it is brushed off as an empty threat or disregarded because Bill Clinton's sex scandal had come to light just the previous year. Not to mention, the novel is set in Novi Sad, located in northern Serbia; the southern positon of Kosovo is quite literally far from their minds.
The characters of the novel span three generations, but all are interconnected by their position as the intellectual elite of the city. The middle generation make up the largest percentage of the characters, and the majority of those are directly involved with the central cultural institution of the novel, the Serbian Forum. These are the people that are in charge of the production of culture and art in Serbia. Yet they are all too preoccupied with blossoming relationships, personal career advancements, failing marriages, leadership changes, resistance movements, and their own conflicting political ideologies to notice the large-scale happenings—namely those exacted under the rule of Slobodan Milošević—and the reactions from the rest of the world. Some members of the Serbian Forum want to use their positions to actively further their political agendas. Other characters, such as children and in-laws of the members, represent the complacency that also allowed for such horrors to happen. [End Page 175]
Micić Dimovska's personal stance against nationalism and its manipulation of art as propaganda is evident, and her long history at Matica srpska (what is assumed to be the inspiration for the Serbian Forum) in Novi Sad attributes to her a level of expertise. The individual voices of her characters offer a realistic, albeit fictional, snapshot of life in the middle of crisis. While it may be fair to say that hindsight is 20/20 and that leaders are only human, Micić Dimovska does not mean to criticize plain humanity. It is the deliberate behaviors that contribute to the overall blindness, the ones that form the cataract, so to speak, over society's eyes. It is the behaviors of those such as Jovan Žarković and his family, who didn't want to go to the bomb shelter of their building on the ninth day of the bombardment because "they were bothered by the lack of discretion of the gathered residents, the atmosphere of confidentiality and cooperation under the motto 'misfortune has brought us together'" (265). This novel examines a small section of the Serbian case, but it is an example to all of the mechanisms which we allow ourselves to be blinded by daily. [End Page 176]