Yugoslav poet on trial for defaming Tito in verse

Poet Gojko Djogo is out of jail for the summer. And the questions his case raises about political curbs on literature in Yugoslavia are in suspense until his trial resumes in mid-September.

The reason the prosecutors are so sensitive about his poetry is that it is suspected of impugning the late President Tito, the revered founder of post-World War II Yugoslavia.

The reason Serbian intellectuals are so sensitive about the trial is that broad allusions in his poetry are interpreted quite specifically in the indictment -- and a conviction could set an unhappy precedent.

At issue are six poems in "Woolen times," Djogo's lates book.

At particular issue are phrases in the six poems such as "Father Blackgold": "the emperor's head," "bronze head," "a teaspoonful of his brain is feeding 20 million persons." Though Tito is never named in the verse, such phrases, the prosecution maintains, rudely insult him "as well as the feelings of our nation for him."

Djogo's poetry errs further, the prosecution charges, in maliciously alleging that there is no freedom or democracy in Yugoslavia, and that Yugoslav society is founded on the terror of one person and faces a dead end. Such a portrayal is said to "belittle all the accomplishments of our nations and nationalities."

In his rebuttal Djogo -- who was jailed from the end of May until the beginning of July -- said essentially that any such offense was in the eye of the beholder. "Who will explain this language to me?" he asked rhetorically, quoting Dante. To the approval of supporters in the courtroom, Djogo said of his trial, "This is a trial of my imagination."

Djogo contended further that the phrase "20 million persons" referred not to the present population of Yugoslavia (22 million), but could refer to the population either of the Roman Empire or of the Habsburg empire at the time of the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The Belgrade regional court judge let Djogo discourse at length in the courtroom on aesthetics, literary theory, history, ethnology, mythology, and folklore. He did not, however, let Djogo call a specialist in for a "literary" rather than a "political" appraisal of the controversial poems.

The prosecution case seemed to be weakened by the contradictory testimony of the former editor of the Prosveta publishing enterprise, which issued "Woolen Times." In a pretrial deposition ex-editor Branislav Petrovic asserted that the poetry contained hostile allusions. In the courtroom, however, Petrovic -- who was dropped as editor after the publication of "Woolen times" and given a suspended penalty of one year's ban on any post with Prosveta -- said that on second reading he realized that "certain words, metaphors, and ideas were given negative meanings which in fact do not exist."

Another witness, a proofreader and director of a workers' self-management team in Prosveta, testified that he ahd notified the public prosecutors' office as soon as the book appeared, since he saw at once that it contained poems of unacceptable sociopolitical content. When asked who had warned him about the harmful content of the poems, the proofreader replied -- to laughter in the courtroom -- that it was a worker from the storer oom.

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