OBITUARIES Milovan Djilas
Saturday 06 May 1995
Reading The New Class (in the early 1960s in an American pocket compendium Essential Works of Marxism), one suddenly became aware that socialist theory was not the sole prerogative of bullying and obsessive apparatchiks tied to a mass-murderer. It was a perceptive and liberating book, and utterly penetrable. It still is.
Djilas must be admired for his unshakeable anti-nationalism. Yet he was a staunch Montenegrin, who wrote two of the finest fictional appreciations of the Balkan situation this century.
Montenegro (1964) consists of three linked novellas whose theme is the transformation of Montenegro from a corrupt monarchy into a province of the new Yugoslavian state. The first tells of the 1916 battle when the outnumbered Montenegrins capitulated to their hated enemies, the Austrians; the second tale, "The Gallows", is even grimmer, describing the events that led to the execution of three captured Montenegrins; the last ironically celebrates the end of Montenegro as a separate kingdom.
By comparison Under the Colors (1971) is a sweeping historical saga, that depicts in at times horrifying detail the agonising struggle of the Montenegrins to free themselves from the barbarism of Turkish rule.
Each book is a thinly veiled indictment of Stalinism; yet each is a majestic work of fiction in its own right. Both were written while Djilas was in prison.
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