One hour with Vladislav Bajac

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 29, 2018 14:05

One hour with Vladislav Bajac

By Sidonja Manushi


Vladislav Bajac looks as if he could have been anything he wanted in life - painter, rock and roll star, zen master...anything; but he decided to be a man of the written word and eventually found himself in Tirana, at a time visits from Serbs continue to be uncommon and are regarded with awe on the one hand, and a certain disbelief on the other.

Among the crowd of bibliophiles who gathered at the Tirana Times bookstore to hear him share bits and pieces of his life, Bajac is introduced as an author, translator and publisher. Later, he tells me he also worked as a journalist.  

As an author, Bajac has brought seven novels to life, as well as two books of poetry and three books of short stories. The first, Which way Leads To People, was published when he was 18-years-old and his face still slightly cringes when being asked about it. He stayed away from writing for sixteen years after that.

"It is difficult to say something more about my long life; when I write I realize how long it has been," he replies, when asked whether he'd like to add something to his short introductory bio for the public.


As, during that same evening, we are facing each other at the lobby of his hotel over a sugar-free, objectively bitter macchiato, longer parts of his life start being shared and I realize it must indeed be difficult to say all that much about such an artistically rich life in a few concise sentences. After all, life cannot be made into a Japanese, short-form haiku and Bajac knows that better than anyone else, having received two international awards for his poems in the genre in Tokyo at the start of the nineties.  

And yet, some themes start surfacing as he expands more on specific areas, such as his 25-year-old career as a publisher at the Geopoetika publishing house, his way to Eastern religions and the way they influenced his personal and professional life, some of his best stories with other internationally known authors he has the luck to call friends, and how to remain optimistic in a tense global reality.

Stories about the Geopoetika Publishing House start naturally when, having visited Belgrade only a few days ago, I tell Bajac the number of bookstores in the Serbian capital is impressive.

Bajac says his journey as a publisher started simply as a way to stay connected with the world in what then was the very end of Yugoslavia. In a city where the bipolar rule of two major publishing houses "doesn't leave enough space for other, brilliant publishers anymore" however, he and his team decided to give life to new books, mainly from young Serbian and international authors, that could appeal to both populism and elitism.

"At the very beginning I only had two ideals: not to be ruined, to continue to exist as a publisher," he says, half-heartedly entertained by the fact writers and publishers now have to think twice before taking up the art-form, "and the other was choosing books that were not that popular, but would reach a big audience while retaining the same, high publishing standards."

He managed to do that by picking up on young unrecognized writers through his sixth writer's sense - he tells me his latest find is a 26-year-old girl with a brilliant novel - and by using his network of existing and upcoming writers, many of which have become an exclusivity of Geopoetika in translation.

"In the end, we are in the position to be proud of something. It might not be a best-selling story, but at least it's good literature."

After saying that, Bajac goes on to share a story about Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish 2006 Nobel winner whom he'd known and translated before becoming globally famous, convincing that, with the right outlook, sometimes good literature can become a best-selling story.  

Another element that helped him excel as a publisher by separating it from writing, kill his ego trips as a writer and spotter of other people's talent and go through life caring about the ideal, rather than the business of writing, has been his early interest in far-Eastern philosophies.

"Buddhism is a shortcut to becoming a wise guy and I became wise, I think so, much earlier than usual. It's not praising myself, but it's a very practical thing that happened to me. It helped put myself aside as a writer. That's why, in general, writers are not good publishers. They cannot control their ego - but I do that. What is more important, I deal with the ego trips of other writers. It is difficult to deal with those who are famous, or important, because I often see my possible self in them and because, very often, they cannot control their ego!"

The death of the ego, as he describes it, has caused divides between him and his friends throughout, but also seems to have offered him the best point of view in life.

For example, when Allen Ginsberg, the beat generation representative who also turned to meditation and Eastern philosophies at a later time in his life and who was a personal friend of Bajac, visited him in Belgrade, the world literature scholar turned haiku poet turned prominent literary figure in Serbia, told him that he was commercializing the way to the zen.

"He didn't like that. He was quite angry and we fell apart for awhile," Bajac reminisces. "After some year, however, when he came back to Belgrade for a book promo, we met and he told me: 'Vlado, you were right.' It was nice to hear that, although, it was never the point," he smiles.

For Bajac, the point to being happy, partly learned from his involvement with Buddhism and partly, I assume, from growing up in a region like the Balkans, is to be naive and to be 'stupid'.

His answer to this very difficult question of how one remains happy in a cynical world convinces me with its simplicity, because real things are inevitably cliche, and simple.

"People ask me how I'm doing and when I say 'I'm fine,' they are really surprised. So, I tell them 'Don't worry! It's only because I'm stupid,'" and he immediately shakes his head, wanting to reassess his claim about himself as if it's the highest praise.

"It's just an energy; if you are eager to know, if you don't think you picked up all the knowledge and that there is a lot of things that you don't know and there are brilliant people everywhere - not many, but enough - it makes you positive, like it's all worth doing."

Bajac is planning to translate his most awarded and globally recognized book, Hamam Balkanija, in Albanian as well. The story, which evolves in two timelines, plays with two different forms of narratives and styles: the 16th century Ottoman Empire, and the present, and is even written in two different alphabets in the original Serbian language. Another one of his books, Hronika sumnje, is also being eyed by the Tirana Times publishing house for translation and publication in the country. When we talk about his visit here, doing literary work between the two countries seems to be the thing to excite Bajac the most, a man who, as I was proved, could have been anything, but luckily decided to be a man of the written word!


Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 29, 2018 14:05