The Age Of Skin

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

“Where lies the appeal of fascism and its many forms, soaking into Europe like ink into a dry blotter? It lies in the fact that fascism requires no qualifications, no guarantees, no certification of any specific education or knowledge. Fascism’s appeal lies in belonging to a like-minded group of people, in acceptance, in the violence of one gang over another, in the easily stoked feeling that we’re better than others, we’re finally better, and being better–-surprise, surprise–-doesn’t take much, only the same blood group and a willingness to do violence to those who don’t share that blood group with you.”

That quote comes from THE AGE OF SKIN, the latest collection of essays by Dubravka Ugresic. This courageous and brilliant writer has become the conscience of our time, a fighter for democratic, human values, a valiant and uncompromising critic of all that has gone wrong in our world, a world that is presently under siege from fascism.

Born in Croatia, Ugresic can no longer live in her home country, thanks to threats on her life by the reactionaries who took power after Croatia became an independent nation following the civil war in Yugoslavia. The failure of communism was followed by the failure of democracy, thanks to the re-emergence of the Ustashas, the WWII Croatian-Nazi party, now posing as freedom-lovers and patriotic icons. “These Balkan scum,” Ugresic writes, “have been strutting their feathers before us over the last twenty years–-the criminals and murderers, thieves and embezzlers, liars and mafia bosses, general and soldiers, priests and clergy, politicians and politics, but also the attorneys, both men and women, who have been successfully defending them.”

Ugresic writes out of despair and darkness, fearing that these criminals have taken over just about everywhere. Yet she refuses to remain silent: in essay after essay, whether writing about politics, misogyny, literature, movies and television, hot springs and medicine, she defends democracy and freedom, community and solidarity. Here, for example, is what she has to say about selfishness in the 21st century:

“It bears remembering that in this society of ours, rooted in an overweening happiness, empathy has been jettisoned. Everyone is pre-occupied with their own life, their own little existence. And as long as people stare obsessively at their reflection on the smooth screen, there will be no room for the lives of others, there is simply no room.”

(Translated from the Croatian by Ellen Elias-Bursac.