Miroslav Pritvornikov was killed by anarchists who considered him a nationalist intellectual. An intellectual they held guilty for many crimes, a typical case of needed removal of powerful men. But I was plunged into despair. Because, I had a different desire, to expand my topic until it overshadowed him to a point he would be beneath me, obsolete, like some symbol of a stuck-up conservative.

And once he was gone, my topic—suffering—was different, because I was left without protection. Nish would become like European capitals, outsiders would rule the streets but I didn’t want them to rule the streets! I wanted Europeans to think I am compassionate, while I would use Pritvornikov in order to prove I am more worthy! They would move on to Europe anyway, and would not be our problem anymore—they would lustfully gaze at their daughters and laugh fiendishly while abusing them knowing some Dostoevskian is painting all their sorrow…what else? They ran out of Pritvornikovs, Europeans…but, what Pritvornikov achieved, with his death, might have been something even greater. He achieved suffering! He suffered, was killed, and therefore—was right. Now, the liberals were wrong.

His funeral was a somber event. Somber because many people, online, cheered for his death without knowing he was their last dam, idiotic, naïve fools that didn’t know we are already avoiding the needles and the brutish mugs because we declared prejudice, as artists, as something primitive. And it echoed across the world, that Europeans have no prejudices so, all would arrive there one way or another.

But we, Slavs—lied. As I said, we lie. The amount of bloodthirst in your average Balkan liberal is enough to freeze the blood cold. Peasants, true peasants, who pretend to comprehend European citizenry. I looked away, it became a learned instinct: truth was less important than my fulfillment. For two centuries have the Europeans mined this compassion, from the exploration of the plight of workers, maids, soldiers, artists, more and more has it become a necessity in order to claim to be an artist, to suffer the trifles of others. And we, arriving too late—with our blood lust, our youth, our capability to simply know that those who are coming mean us no good—pretended hoping Europe would listen in…reward some of us. But they ran out of topics! Europeans!


Slavery and suffering. Slavery and suffering…whoever suffers more is more righteous. This is what the Europeans discovered. Naturally, we copied it—but all copied it, even our tyrants, even our fiends. While he was alive, Miroslav Pritvornikov wrote a few stories about condemned war-criminals who were scorching Bosnia as defenders of the people, even if they were putting Bosnian Muslims in ditches and impaling them on sticks. The Bosnians—who also had war-criminals—celebrated their own, while claiming that we committed the more heinous crimes. It became a competition of peasants over who suffered more…which is why the Bosnians were the most shocked once they discovered migrants like abusing their daughters too.

There was no ummah. No brotherhood of Muslims…the foreigners were lustful and thought—wrongly—they already entered Europe. Videos emerged of the locals bashing Arab skulls in the open fields while the comments were filled of former enemies egging them on, telling them: don’t let them abuse you. This was the Balkans. We always merely had our own Peasant Wars. The very minute Europe would look away—Bosnian Muslims themselves would prove to be as bloodthirsty as the rest of us. I looked on, paralyzed—I was a liberal—but I couldn’t make a topic out of it. I knew, for a fact, that the migrants deserved their beatings, but also that they could never deserve them, the same way I disarmed the police officers, and those before me, all us Dostoevskians, with our moral Machiavellianism! To defend yourself was obsolete! Horrified, I glimpsed upon a strange realization…Somewhere along the line, we became priests!


I was a sinner, a sinner against compassion, against love, liberty, justice, equality, against Dostoevskianism. We didn’t believe in God, couldn’t and I was shocked to discover I and everyone else, worship human suffering all the same, no matter if it is of a demigod on a cross, or our own animalistic pain, suffering we worship, eternal!

Of course I knew that Europe’s feigned compassion, once challenged, would simply mean they would have to go against themselves because it became not a matter of truth but prestige, the same prestige I sought! There is a Miroslav Pritvornikov somewhere out there and he is up to “no good!” Of course we must defeat him! And true!

He was defeated. He didn’t know how to feign it well enough, or, perhaps, his topics were weaker than mine—my characters could always weep better. Their enemy always seemed more cruel, organized, powerful: police officers, politicians, the prejudiced and kitsch-loving middle-class, with their conservatism and stuck-up ways!

How could I have known it stopped being art!

One time, I sensed it. I sensed that I was in fact, doing something I couldn’t even comprehend and, I told him, I told him that maybe…we should go to a church. Or to an imam, or a rabbi. Someone, with a moral core. I already started figuring out I don’t have it, in fact, my bloodlust, always there, was strangely mixed with a false sense of pity over those “weaker” than me because for me that is what it meant to be a liberal—the master of Dead Souls! I said, in some moment of crisis to Pritvornikov: “Miroslav, do you think what we do is art?” And he responded: “What do you mean?” And I said: “Well, why do we like suffering so much? What about the birch trees? “And he said: “What about them?” And I said: “Listen—the birch trees. Can you write a story about them?”

I saw the interest of Miroslav Pritvornikov deflate—there were no grandiose titanic struggles of morality, no cultural hegemons on top, no Lutherans or Americans or even migrants or homosexuals. He asked: “What, is someone cutting them down?” It was his first thought! That the birch trees suffer! Therefore the woodcutter is the cause of their pain. You could even turn it into a story against capitalism! My mind already conjured despoilers of the earth, corporations and men in suits…I said: “No, no, nothing at all! Just—beautiful, wonderful birch trees, growing old and dying.” Miroslav pondered, we were walking across the main plaza to our pub where we would share our latest victories—I published a story about foreign corporate oppression—and I couldn’t shake the feeling there was something he was not telling me. But, I was above him. No matter what, I was more European…


My Dostoevskianism over time proved paralyzing and debilitating. On my own, I could do nothing but observe a world without Miroslav and it became strange, that somehow the world without evil men is even more wicked. Perhaps because their bloodlust is not like that at all. Perhaps, I thought, it is a sign of health? Then, was I sick? But Europeans already demanded of us to let go of all bloodlust even as their societies were becoming tombs…tombs of abuse, this time, their abuse. I knew they could never acknowledge it, simply because it would mean an intellectual loss—their petty idea would be weaker than their intellectual adversary’s petty idea…but Nish changed. Everyone was moving for Europe. I already felt what it was like when people cheered for the death of a villain—but that villain was my friend. And, I heard in their exultations, their jubilation, the same shout that would be uttered one day in all the streets of Europe except this time, it would be my turn, Mishka Zachariy’s moment of death. My defense of decency would prove mockery—those I defend would seek to kill me! But I couldn’t become a conservative…I invested too much into the project so even if it was imploding in the heart of Europe, I would fight a useless struggle because what followed was, no matter how you looked, slavery and suffering. Mortality. Death.

Cheering for the death of a nationalist intellectual reminded me once more of my vicious mother, and my father’s frowning face, talking about a great injustice…there was no Gogol, no Turgenev, ah, we were the liberated serfs without a soul. We remained “dead souls”. And even if a lawgiver appeared we would chase him away in order to bicker over who suffered more, and cheering on the death of wrong-doers.

I visited the local imam and he told me all those that abuse the locals will go straight to Hell, that Allah will not accept such men into the ranks of the Holy…but, I sensed his solemn solitude, because he, like us, sought brotherhood, like Pritvornikov and his Russia, and I with my Europe…for Abdul Mahmudovich, a bitterness of betrayal, that once more we were Slavs before we were even Muslim, even to the so-called men of the “ummah”. There was no brotherhood of the religious. Turkey lost its glow, like Dostoevsky became distant to my soul and Europe too…Our priest, Father Theodosius was hovering around Mahmudovich, comforting him. Any other day they would bicker and argue over which God is the One and True God, cheering for Turkey or Russia but this time, they were two men on a cliff and then, you grab the first sinner you can find no matter what.

But, they were the priests of old while I was the priest arisen: humanity…


Evil, I understood, has a purpose beyond meaning, beyond even something meaningful. I was evil, I was. I was compassionate to the point of wickedness, softhearted to the point of crime, and Miroslav was like that too. It didn’t matter that his topics were slightly different, no, because his oppressive Americans who bombed us were mighty therefore wrong—and we already saw the police officers give up, and our shoes were crunching upon the needles simply because—anything else was prejudice.

We encouraged rot and decay, but Miroslav could never see it!

I only glimpsed it after he passed…I was supposed to receive some Polish award for my literature, I succeeded. I became a topic. I became, well, an artist…

An artist of suffering. The last artist there is. All of Eastern Europe was nothing but suffering—a lie, even there people have happy childhoods and deep loves. All of Arabs needed my help—a lie, of a sick man incapable of confronting the results of his musings. I could always skulk away to a better place, I was an intellectual—I wondered how many Europeans who I worshipped did the same, were they like our feminists railing against one thing while doing it. Were they? I didn’t know.

And all of my blood was suffering, pointless and profane, hollering unto the heavens our poverty, that we aren’t loved but what I said was, we aren’t worshipped. I was back to worship. Reading my works—I saw nothing but a knife to stab a strong man, with my Dostoevskian compassion, to disarm him. I knew—the compassionate get Nobel prizes for literature. The intellectual mass, blind on purpose, lives in secure neighborhoods, and rewards—what else—tales of compassion. Lives of Miroslav Pritvornikovs…so, in the end, I rejected the reward: it meant nothing to me anymore. I abused it, art…I cut down the birch trees.


One day, I got a call from Miroslav’s mother, telling me she had something to hand me over. I arrived at their humble home, a month after his death. Desolate, pathetic home of an old mother—I immediately thought if I could use it in some work…

We drank a cup of coffee in silence. On the news was another protest against the government—the liberals were storming the streets crying out for justice. We heard shouts of anger from the streets of Nish in the distance. Everyone was suffering, and was, therefore, right. The coffee, bitter and thick, felt disgusting. I needed to be somewhere else, where I could go on with my…

She led me into his room. I never actually knew him very well. Or have I known him too well so I could develop a petty hatred like everyone outside, struggling, for Europe, for Russia, for this worthless soil, for some great, meaningful topic? For the birch trees?

He left me a note. Strange, I thought as I read what I now quote. That I am using his final words as a topic…

To Zachariy,

I know you think of me badly. That you are the smartest in the world, I knew back then and I know now. But, Zachariy what I believed, I always will. I know you are proud of your accomplishments, that your name is known in the capital. But we all have our battles to fight. Mine is for our people. That includes you.

Our country will not survive if it goes on like this. You know it, and I know it. There is nobody left to fall back on. Zachariy, Europe is dead. Christ is gone. Soon, Islam will decay too. Perhaps there will be wars, perhaps we will grow distant. But, Zachariy, I believe we are here for a purpose. I don’t know what it is but you have it, and so do I.

I am going for the capital. Someone, from the party, has heard about you rising up a storm. It is a nationalist party and men like you…I have protected you the best I could, even if you considered me whatever you did. Maybe you are right, maybe you are a better man than me. One day, we will forget the wars, even Kosovo, even our churches and history. I simply considered it my duty to stay here, on this land, forever. For all of us.

I thought about what you said. About the birch trees. It sounds like a nice dream. You are more talented than me. Fulfill it. I might not return…if I die, take care of my mother, she is old. And call Vasiliya Pavlovna already I am tired of making excuses for you. Here is the best I can do:

In a forest untouched by man,
Rise up birch trees, young and old
They die and grow, and forever
Sing untouched by hand
The birch trees


Ah, it was…I was the woodcutter all along…we should have just, sang about the birch trees…He couldn’t change his views but died, because of me? Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends? A Dostoevskian, for a Machiavellian? We were, I think, like one person split apart…was I evil? But everything I said reeked of good! He was good yet his good would have to be achieved through evil! Those that killed him believed they are saving people! How could he not see…The corpses beneath the birch trees.


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

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2