This was one of those men common in those parts. Self-indulgent, narcissistic, witty but actually cruel, chasing after the hallowed glow of shadows past, like his entire ilk does.

But could he reach it? No. Because Miroslav Pritvornikov never actually loved people. And I couldn’t understand why he wished to love them so much.

Ah, our poor little man! Pritvornikov would say. Politics, and poverty…but, Pritvornikov didn’t really like our common fellow, and neither did I. Reader, understand this: most of Slavic authors lie. Of course we lie, it is necessary and good to lie. These are no men with a moral core, all us moderns. We went beyond that. I don’t know what we are, but I know what we aren’t. We most certainly aren’t Dostoevsky. And Miroslav Pritvornikov has been feigning that sentiment.

Compassionate navel-gazing I call it. In truth, it is immensely difficult, when you hear the shouts of drunken Gypsies having a brawl, or disgusting, nasal screeching of some elderly granny to go, ah, there it is, that little piece of Christ…honestly?

Most of my countrymen are idiots.

Look at it, he would say. Ah, how hard it is, for the poor common man! Pritvornikov would then curse the president—never voted—or curse Europe—never visited—or talk about Great Russian authors which he, of course, never read. Because this was no good fellow. This man was of that new breed, “laktash” as they are called. What is a laktash?

Elbower, a man who goes through a crowd jabbing elders in the ribs, yelling “Make way, coming through! God bless the common man, thank you…!” Elbowers of Eastern Europe are a very strange bunch, so, dear reader, let’s talk about them.

I know you have heard of my countries. Ah, those idiotic nations…and you are precisely right my good fellow. But, do you know who is wrong then? It is men like Miroslav Pritvornikov, but what does he actually do, what does an elbower actually, well, elbow?

An elbower smashes the ribs of common society…very strange type really. Balkan states are full of them. These are the types who will gladly do whatever it takes to reach the top, but oh, what is this? What is this? You need a conscience?

When Miroslav Pritvornikov decided he wanted to become a poet, a writer, his first sentiment was the common sentiment around here, it was to become Dostoevsky’s lesser, slightly more cutthroat and vicious cousin. I called it back then, “Dostoevshtina”, “Dostoevskianism,” most dangerous venom, torpid bile of our people.

You know, reader, men like Miroslav Pritvornikov read, for instance, some Russian poet or author whose very pages sparkle with that hallowed, pure decency of a magnificent soul and drawn to it, seek to emulate its peaks, but not lows. What they learn from it is that love, and the celebration of love in its most radical, radiant forms will make you immortal, honored and respected. People will come  to see you as some wise orthodox monk, only secular, so no need for actual sacrifice, oh no, my good reader! Your average Serb, Croat, Montenegrin, why, they could not stand a month of destitution! And best of all, you don’t even need to actually love and cherish people!

So, how are they born, what do they do, tell us! But should I? Because there are many Miroslav Pritvorniks out there, but they never tell you how actually hard it is to love without effort. They love our common man, in books, in poems, prose…but as it is much easier to respect a Russian, it is that much harder to respect a Serb. Similar people, same faith, but one is always imitating another. And why does he imitate him? Because Pritvornikovs love those Pugachovs and Chernayevs and so on. They love their greatness of land, their centuries of culture, their “suffering.” But above all, they love, their love of love itself. Basically, ah, it is painful to say…we simply want to be remembered.

I don’t know a lot of men that fear death and oblivion as we do dear reader. My first conscious memory was of me washing my legs in my yard in a bucket, I was very young too, no more than eight or seven, maybe nine? Anyway, as I was washing my legs from dust, skies thundered and roared. A great, majestic pressure was coming down, pressing down upon the earth, as if St. Elijah, “Thunderer” was throwing lightning bolts, the way old Zeus threw bolts at cannibals. The very skies roared with an unearthly rage, the ground beneath me, I don’t know, maybe it was an illusion…

Do you know what it was?

It was the day of NATO bombardment and they were heading for the capital. I was living in a small village, one of those godforsaken places…but I was ecstatic.

Do you think there were tears, and weeping? Do you want me to tell you about people crying in churches, praying to Christ, as American planes were leveling hospitals and playgrounds? Basically – do you want me to elbow you? See, this is what Miroslav Pritvornik does, his ilk. They never stop loving that pure, raw, animal suffering and they think that, if they show it in its naked, horrible form, that they are therefore defending the abused, common man. But never do they have the courage to say that the common man actually deserves to be abused…Now, my memory is completely different.

I remember how my mother, a strong, cruel and calculating peasant woman, cheered for their bombardment. Look at this Mishka, she mused, look how they go! No more will the capital look down on us Mishka. They are not coming for us, but for them, those…“cosmopolitans.” Hmph! Serves them right…

My father, a military veteran, couldn’t really make of it anything important. And this was no man of sacrifice—he was on the front for three months and, feigning madness or perhaps it really did touch him a little bit, felt a certain glee how the generals, and some Popovich, his old commander, will either die or lose some of his own.

All around my village there was a certain savage glee and a calculating, cruel mockery. Or did you think they would all have deep, somber contemplations about the horrors of war and suffering? Those are Russians my friend. These—these were of a different ilk.

Because not two days after the bombardment ended did my good mother, Vasiliya Pavlovna, start weeping over our poor dead children, and my father, silent and brooding, actually said a few words about that great injustice. But I already saw them when they were honest, and it stuck with me.

As for me, I was nurtured on the blood of my people. That it is sacred, profound, and meaningful. It was this warped Dostoevskianism which over time changed itself into a sick, twisted love of suffering itself. Now, you take something like Konstantin Leontiev and his book, Second Marriage. Wonderful book, one of those pure Russian books of a good man, and you take that same sentiment, of love, of harmless devotion to pleasurable observation of people, how funny and silly they are, how lovely, and give it to a cruel man. You give it to Miroslav Pritvornikov, or someone like me. And you see this same sentiment, this noble love, as a ghastly, sickly rendition of torment.

Miroslav Pritvornikov always loved to talk about the bombing. It was tiresome, he hated everyone around him and found them beneath him, narcissistically suffering and cramming in it blood, guts, and foreign sentiments. “Don’t worry Zachariy, one day, they will get their comeuppance! No one’s glory lasts forever! Justice is on our side…!” Of course, both to me and Miroslav going to a church was like visiting Krasnoyarsk, ah, if only there was time….and money. too.

But, let’s not try to digress; I have a bad habit of pointless chatting. But it is really hard to explain this new man, this new type. So, may the reader put up with me, because unfortunately, nobody else will…


Miroslav Pritvornikov is a strange looking man. Dark haired, long-faced, short-necked, with a nose like a meatball and droopy eyes. One of those mountainous types. A man simply unfit to be an artist – not a single drop of noble blood. Both him and myself, Mishka Zachariy, always were as the Russians say, “expendable fellows.” Pritvornikov would read Dostoevsky and, figuring out that similarities are equal capabilities, strove to have his little potatoes of society: people on the margins as they are now called. For him, it was a simple calculus: by projecting on some poor, starved cripple a shining light, you would, given long enough time, shine a light on yourself. Just like my old mother would leave her beans to boil for five hours for stew.

It would be construction workers or battered wives, war-cripples or demented artists. On the opposite side of course, people without that “Slavic soul” which Pritvornikov feigned, the usual mix of politicians, arrogant generals, “cultural hegemons” (people who told him he is full of it) and, what do you know—foreigners.

There would be stories about emigrants, ah, poor emigrants! But mention Croats to him, or God forbid, Albanians, and watch our Dostoevskian fellow go dark in his hazel eyes. It is all the Pope’s scheme, he would say while dragging a puff of Marlboro. The pope and the Lutherans! He didn’t like Lutherans because his first editor was a Lutheran. “Ah, Mishka, they just don’t get it, they don’t have that Slavic warmth…” what a strange man. There was a Machiavellian, who was falsely Dostoevskian!  Every single thing he said was the opposite of what he wrote, yet everything he wrote, was actually what he wanted others to think! That perhaps, we are dealing with yet another Gogol, Lermontov, even, perhaps, a Sholokhov? But there are no Gogol’s around these parts. In fact, People like Miroslav Pritvornikov carry their jealousy openly and simply, through Dostoevskian stew-making, prove that noble types are the real villains. Dostoevskian thought, used as a Machiavellian dagger. Now do you understand why I find him so fascinating?

And these types—God bless them—are the most morally and spiritually confused types I know. Take me for instance; do you think I actually enjoy writing? Not quite. See, I knew for instance that Dostoevsky suffered, and Gogol, and even Turgenev, I read how some of our great local authors went to the Naked Isle, which is where the communists would send undesirables and this noble suffering, I believed in my youth, was the mark of an artist. But I was, unfortunately, healthy. Lucid, simple, proper, sometimes I even feared I was an average man. I never got syphilis or AIDS, used drugs, or anything like it. Never went into fights, fought against windmills. So, what else? Mishka Zachariy must make himself miserable. So, in order to make myself like one of those noble spirits, I pretty much became insufferable. My own peasant mother, annoying and conniving, I considered beneath me. My father, morose and laconic, beyond me, the way a mad but stupid man is actually beneath a sane and intelligent one. I was always suffering, and what I suffered was other people’s trifles. Since I am, by all metrics, an absolute political idiot, Pritvornikov was always three steps ahead of me: telling me how this is something we must overcome, and how else, through our own passions, yet Pritvornikov loved to play the wise sage while I felt myself superior, wishing to put him beneath me. We were both Dostoevskian, him with his petty man, Mishka Zachariy with his isolation.

Even now, as I write, I have nothing else to do. Because I rejected all of my old acquaintances and don’t let my mother visit my apartment. Because, as Vasiliya Pavlovna said, I am “feigning self-pity.” I am living in a dusty apartment, feigning some “art,” reading whatever. So, instead of suffering after achieving a great deed, I suffer only to conjure it out of my dull imagination. I would gladly suffer, in order to prove a point, since after suffering, everything you say or do, has a kind of justification the same way Miroslav Pritvornikov’s nonsense is justified by whatever bad happens. This is our Dostoevskianism, first suffer, then squeeze an orange dry. Thorough psychological Machiavellianism…


Miroslav Pritvornikov is one of those men common in Serbia, which we could call, men without a topic. They have tried everything, to have or not have a topic, to talk about not having a topic, to observe themselves, as they are observing some other topic. They have inherited, first, the faith of their ancestors which is Orthodox, in greater amount, and in smaller amount, Islamic. Of course, both sides can’t stand each other but, in words, in prose? Every single one of them is something of a saint, or a dervish. For instance, Miroslav Pritvornikov just loves mentioning how Europe will have its reckoning, by whom? Muslims, of course. But that same man will worship one of our own, even of a different faith, if he has a few achievements under his belt…

So—imagine Miroslav Pritvornikov as he is trying to conjure up spirits of ages past. He is out there, elbowing around, one moment he is writing about the common man, the very next he is an aspiring “velikash,” “great man,” defending the pillars of culture against whoever is next on the line. There are communist and nationalist Pritvornikovs here, of any kind honestly, and they all burn with a fiery passion for greatness: but this greatness constantly eludes them. Because greatness is out there, in Moscow or Istanbul, London, Madrid and of course, Vienna. Ah! Vienna! Sausages! And courts! Courtly ladies! These types simultaneously strive to write about, for instance, the class struggle of the working poor and pretend they are not fascinated by high society. Their characters can swear, have irony, curse or bless the past—Pritvornikov always on the other hand tries to sound like a pleasant, gentlemanly fellow. But what does he, in fact, and his ilk, suffer? I can tell you, we—I truly don’t like considering myself a Pritvornikov but what can you do!—just don’t have anything in truth left, but some kind of bloodlust.


Our bloodlust boils and simmers beneath the surface. Our maniacal thirsts – for greatness, acknowledgment, recognition – clashes against last Christian, deeper sentiments, even against our very blood, because Slavs were never meant to live good lives. We were meant to suffer—but what if you are not like Dostoevsky, or Tolstoy, and see in suffering something no longer divine, but demonic? In fact, what if you seek greatness, but are incapable of ever achieving it? Like other, mighty spirits…

We churn through concepts without ever comprehending them in a manner beyond comprehension, because we know that suffering, indeed, is our topic, the last we will ever have. We can’t sing of sentimental childhoods without mentioning shadows of wars, can’t have poetry of nature, and trees without hearing the snapping of branches due to bombardment…but, above all, we have grown incapable of love, true love.

Because in love there is no greatness. We are people thoroughly split apart – a sentiment known to all who have been conquered and overrun – what insults us, demeans us? That the master proves more capable for redemption? That Istanbul, where we were sold is now the center of culture, and Turks can have redemption, but we sense it is but another Machiavellianism. It is to know that those who were great warriors will one day become great citizens, great liberals, then going against the great deeds of their past—but those deeds remain absolute, have been achieved.

So, when Miroslav Pritvornikov writes, for instance, about the suffering of the common man, he is in fact simulating the sentiments of Turgenev. Because when Turgenev wrote he proved serfs are people too. But Turgenev was a member of the nobility, of the aristocracy—us, well; we are the serfs telling others of serfs. We don’t know how to sing like a Turgenev, we are not “nobility,” so when we say the same thing, it flails and flounders, because you can’t go against yourself.

Gogol wrote looking to emulate The Odyssey and Divine Comedy—but we don’t speak either Italian or Greek, our souls don’t, they are lowly. Yet our souls too want fulfillment the way our master achieved it: so we are still those Dead Souls. And the thing we can’t escape from is our own peasant natures.


For all installments of “Notes About Our Common Ground,” click here.