Renato Bratkovič is an accomplished crime writer and a Slovenian publisher. He owns Artizan, a company publishing some of the hottest new titles in crime fiction. He blogs at Radikalnews. Renato met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about the former Jugoslavia and just how Partisan publishing is.
Would you say that Slovenia has recently undergone something of a political revolution?
A year ago my people were joined in the flood of protests, starting in Maribor, my hometown (against the corruption of the mayor and his team), which immediately exploded into the whole-Slovenian movement against the so-called political and economic elite – “elite” being a completely inappropriate name for all the scum, who have been running (ruining) my country for more than 20 years.
The ex-Slovenian prime minister, who maneuvered his way up and formed the government hadn’t even been elected in the first place, he built his power on dividing us to lefties and righties, us and them, and had the balls to call the protest movement “the rise of the zombies”, but guess what: he had to go and we, the zombies, are still here!
And the new government is bending under the pressure from Bruxelles and tries to force unpopular austerity measures, where the honest and poor pay the price for those who have actually caused the crisis … So, after a year this autumn is again going to be hot, at least that’s what they say.
What do you think the historical importance of Marshal Tito was in the unification of the former Jugoslavia?
Well, I guess he was very important … I mean, first thing he did was kick the Germans’ asses during the WW2. No, seriously, I was eight when he died. Everyone believed the world was going to end. Almost every world leader came to pay respects at his funeral. Even when he died, he was able to unite what seemed non unitable.
There are people who adore him and there are the ones who hate him, noone is neutral. He was obviously at the right place at the right time, he was smart, he had a vision and charisma, and was able to inspire people to follow. The whole situation in Yugoslavia was very complex. The problem with the WW2 was, that that there were more than just two sides – it wasn’t only the aggressor and the defender, there was the aggressor, defenders and collaborators with the aggressor. And within the defenders, there were also those who wanted freedom and new world order (Communism) and those who just wanted freedom and peace. And within the collaborators there were people who were for Germans and those who were just against communism. There were (and still are) also questions of nationality, religious views etc …
So from that point of view, he can be credited as the winner of freedom and peace, otherwise I would speak and write German or would perhaps “leave the stage” through the chimney. What people cannot forgive him is the fact that to maintain the new world order – we established socialism as a step toward communism – you had to remove those against it. So people who openly disagreed were sent to Goli otok (a Croatian Archipelago) or killed. And that would, of course, describe him as a dictator.
Well, ten years after his death the world didn’t end, but Yugoslavia did, with Slovenia and Croatia leaving first and the wars breaking out. In Slovenia it lasted only 10 days, while other ex-Yugoslav countries were not as lucky.
But many people today still see him as a hero and a guy, under whose leadership life was much better than today, when instead of communism we found ourselves in the middle of capitalism, or as I call it, cannibalism.
How important do you think the exclusion of Stalin was in the former Jugoslavia in terms of its identity and form of Communism?
I guess it caused a lot of people lose focus – one day Stalin was a god, the next day you were not supposed to mention him, or you could book a vacation on Goli otok. And Tito, well, he wanted to show he didn’t like being pushed around, and developed a softer, “less totalitarian” form of communism. Non-Aligned Movement, as a form of resistance to eastern and western bloc division, would later probably not come into existence either.
How politically motivated are you as a writer?
I haven’t done real political writing yet – I have a story (The Contract) about the guy, who can’t get his dick up so he makes a deal with the devil. His life changes drastically up to the point that he becomes a Slovenian prime minister. At the end the guy has to pay, of course … In this story – it is actually a political satire – I reflected on the events that occurred on the political playground at the time.
But I think I should put more politics into my writing and I am playing with the idea of writing a non-fiction column on my blog (Radikalnews), a series of provocative pieces, where I’ll start with a flash fiction story, a metaphorical take on some current events or people involved, and then describe how I feel or think about them.
Tell us about Artizan.
Artizan is your advertising agency and a publishing house that I run with my partner, comrade Jurij. We established Artizan in 2012 to offer our creative services to our clients together – strategic storytelling, graphic design, book publishing … The name and the logo, of course, play with the word Partisan.
Our portraits on our website (http://www.artizan.si/) are actually our faces placed put over the picture of Tito and Koča Popović (Yugoslav philosopher, writer and national hero).
As the prime minister and the government were right-winged, it felt natural for me to make a statement and express my own political views and values with my company – so my work actually is politically motivated after all!
And I honestly believe in comradeship with our clients.
Who are your literary influences?
I think Hubert Selby is one of the greatest writers, ever. His writing is more than writing – it’s a recording of life. Irvine Welsh is another writer I just can’t get enough of – his spoken scottish accent is really inspiring. I tend to use a Maribor dialect, when I write a dialog and I wrote one of my stories entirely using it.
When I sent it to a couple of Slovenian writers, two of them were totally pissed off, as they thought I was illiterate. When I thanked them for their feedback in my email and explained why I had written in my dialect, they could see, that I actually had a clue, how to spell, where to put a comma, etc …
I also like Chuck Palahniuk, Will Self, Norman Mailer, I literally grew up with stories by Charles Bukowski, I dig Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, and Slovenian writers, of course.
In January 2012 I “discovered” Paul D. Brazill, who inspired me greatly, as well. Reading his stories made me aware, that my writing was a bit noir too. Then I e-met you and a wonderful bunch of other American and British authors I can communicate via Facebook and Twitter, and who all provide both a reading pleasure and an inspiration for my own writing.
I do, however, write from my life, the world and people around me, things that happen to me …
How has Slovenia affected your writing?
Slovenia has become a sovereign state when I was nineteen or twenty – I’ve written my first stories as a kid, when it was still a part of Yugoslavia. We had been taught about the WW2 heroes, about the Partisan kids who risked their lives to carry around messages of great importance, about brotherhood and unity, about belonging to the collective, about things that were more important than we were, etc … In the beginning of the nineties everything fell apart.
I mean, we wanted to have our own country, to be masters of our own fate, to have a final say on everything – Slovenia was being compared to Switzerland, everything seemed possible, a small country, big opportunities, if only …
I began writing seriously in August 2011, and some serious shit was beginning to happen. I am a sensitive person, I am pissed when I see the arrogant politicians and managers trying to make a fool out of me, and I feel pain seeing kids who have nothing to eat, while the greedy sons of bitches with no integrity easily get away with stealing great sums of money and transferring it to some financial oasis, while we are paying for this. I never imagined “the next Switzerland” like this.
In that respect my writing is greatly affected by Slovenia – I write about people losing their jobs, about alienated couples, about hopeless future … But as I still see a glass half full I try to add a bit of humor every now and then too.
And, as you know – Laibach, Slavoj Žižek and Boris Pahor come from Slovenia …
Do you think publishing is in trouble?
Publishing in Slovenia is in GREAT trouble. The biggest publishing company over here, Mladinska knjiga is currently for sale – it’s owner is the catholic church, which had insatiable economic appetite and is now sinking in debt. They owned a bank, a vine cellar, a thermal destination, and what have you, and they produced one of the biggest holes in Slovenian economy …
But this is probably not the biggest problem. The problem is, that two million people live in Slovenia, perhaps half of them is reading, and only thousand people are actually buying books – an average circulation of books here is 500-700 pieces.
As I see it – and here I risk being called paranoid – it is all a master plan of so-called political “elite” who influences the school system, where nothing is being done to promote reading, as it is a route toward thinking, which the “elite” does not want us to do.
Luckily, there are some smaller publishers here who do care about the language, reading culture, literary quality …
What are you working on at the moment?
I am fighting on (too) many fronts at the moment – I still have to make money as an advertising creative, although I’d like to focus entirely on books, no matter what the situation in publishing. I’m working on several great books that will get published with Artizan in the near future. As I am doing it myself (my comrade Jurij is responsible for graphic design and printing projects), the progress is a bit too slow, but I’m doing what I can.
But to be more precise: there’s your Apostle Rising in Slovene on the way, couple of novellas and short story collections by Paul D. Brazill, both in English and Slovene, a wonderful collection of 49 stories by Joseph Grant (also in English and Slovene), and a new novel by Slovenian author Janja Rakuš in English.
I am also working on translation/rewriting of my Don’t Try This At Home stories in English (one of the stories, High Midnight, has just appeared recently in Noir Nation 3) and writing a rats novel …
What advice would you give to yourself as a young man?
I’d kick my ass and say: “Hey, you, stop wasting your time – go out and create something!” I’ve raised time wasting into an art form!
In my twenties and thirties I just kept doing wrong things, making wrong decisions … I’ve had my mid-life identity crisis when I was 32! It seems that only when I turned 40 (with my short story collection coming out a week before), that I finally found myself, my purpose, I found out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life – which is, of course, better than never at all. Kind of like DBC Pierre, right?
So, I keep telling that to myself now … and to my boy and girl, as well.
Thank you Renato for an insightful and versatile interview.
For the Slovenian audience, Renato’s ‘Ne poskušajte tega doma’ can be found here