Milan and I met several years ago at a diplomatic dinner and spent the evening engaged in a chat about life, the issues of our time and space, and the challenges of a young state. After several years of silence, I received a call from him earlier this summer: "Would you like to have some coffee?" The meeting was sincere, as sincere and inspired as Milan's views on the world, life and expression are. His work drew me and his last book delighted me with its simplicity, remarkably expressive power, and most of all ,established a fusion with my own understanding of life in a completely new, straightforward, yet very modern way. If you are creative, in Slovenia or looking for something in this space that will enable you to gain recognition abroad, I sincerely recommend that you read this book. Reading about his views will help you understand it better. This is Milan's story. Enjoy.
INTERVIEW WITH MILAN JAZBEC
VB: Who is Milan Jazbec?
MJ: The name identifies a fifty-year-old who has not been using a shaver for half of his life, who daily goes to work as a diligent civil servant (as a member of the administrative international variant of diplomats) and who enjoys playing with words in ether, on paper and on the web. Well, I'm not just a diplomat; I also write and often lecture at various universities at home and abroad. One of the things that pleased me the most was organising the first diplomacy school for children with the pupils of the Brežice Primary School three years ago. It was excellent!
VB: Where are the origins of your passionate bond with books and literature?
MJ: I feel I have been captured and enchanted by the world of books since I picked up my first one. My grandfather Albin, who spent eight years in search of a better life in America, was always, as far as I remember, a subscriber to newspapers and bought various books, which I devoured with fervour.
For example, one of the favourites of the barefooted country boy was "Ti-Coyo and His Shark", while "Naš državljan" (Our Citizen) was one of the dullest. Thinking about the latter now, I can hardly imagine how I made myself read it, but I feel it was good that I at least tried before discarding it. Even as a pre-school child I used to arrange sheets of paper into books, gluing them together with home made glue and showing them to my neighbour who later became my school teacher. I was later embarrassed by it, of course.
VB: Are your charitable activities also connected to books?
MJ: They are. One of them is a bookshelf that we set up in the library at my old primary school in Artiče last December, and which holds all the books I have written. There are about twenty of them now making the bookshelf appear quite full, but it also holds interesting reading. My idea was to encourage primary school children to discover their own potential, to talk about it and seek to realise it. Everyone is good at something and we must all, whoever we are, help children discover their potential. This is one of the noblest things we can do in life.
I completely realised my greatest childhood plan of becoming a journalist and I enjoyed studying for it. Most of the rest came by itself. In a way, at least. I never considered diplomacy - quite the opposite, I was never interested in it, but now am immersed up to my ears in it, and my books on the subject are read by students at universities around the world. While studying defence studies after I had completed journalism I would have laughed at anyone who told me I would become Deputy Minister of Defence. Anyway, it happened.
VB: Where is your source of energy for all this diversity?
MJ: I believe it comes from being open and receptive to the new and the challenging, and in not forsaking what I have in me. I like to listen to my elders and learn from those younger than me. I currently have two informal mentors: my son who is a student and my former now retired professor who is over ninety years old. We cooperate on books.
VB: How do you balance writing books and diplomacy?
MJ: Writing is a good training for diplomacy: both activities require you tell a lot, as much as possible, while maintaining a reserve, and expressing yourself between the, lines,careful not to say too much,especially that, which as a civil servant or diplomat you are instructed not to. This is a winding path of a special kind and involves seeking for solutions which appear not to exist, but naturally, they do. They always do. This keeps a person fit, sharp and gives a sense of satisfaction. At the same time I feel diplomacy is an activity excellent at exposing and revealing the human soul and character, or their splendour and misery, if I borrow an analogy, while at the same time it conceals and hides the efficacy of a person's work. Or in the words of the character Močilar, how people live and how they have this and that between them.
VB: What is your guiding philosophy?
MJ: I write as Fran Levstik proposed - the truth must be wrapped in a pleasant joke written so that many see themselves in your text, but nobody recognizes themself specifically. I also write expert texts, monographs and textbooks which students, diplomats and perhaps even some politicians use to study diplomacy.
VB: Moving on to the reason for our interview. Your new book is about to be published. Why did you choose Martin Krpan (t.n.: literary character created by Fran Levstik). Where did you get the inspiration for its meaningful title - Martin Krpan, Diplomat and Soldier?
MJ: I have had a fascination with Martin Krpan since my childhood - since the special edition of the children's magazine Ciciban with illustrations by Ive Šubic - an experience I am sure I share with many people. The idea for this exciting book came from my wife Maja on a Sunday afternoon. Since I have also been planning to write a monograph about Martin Krpan, this book was a special challenge, partly because I have once more completely absorbed this unique work of art through my son's experience of it. I immensely enjoyed writing the book, although it was not an easy book to write. On the other hand, having insight into fields of diplomacy and the military was very helpful. I have firsthand knowledge of them, both theoretically and practically.
VB: So what is it about?
MJ: It is about diplomacy and the art of war and explains both through the wisdom of our excellent diplomat and soldier, Martin Krpan.
VB: Has writing this book change your perspective on the world around you?
MJ: Yes, it has. I see certain experiences in my life from a more critical perspective while I see others in a more forgiving light, and do not deal with some of them anymore for they have been demanding too much precious energy and time. I have become more rational and deliberate. It has also affirmed my belief that any encounter is worth at least ten minutes of my time, but some of them no more than that. All of the above strengthens my confidence and brings new value, ideas and projects. But perhaps the most valuable experience of writing this book was finding time to talk to some of my old friends again and meeting many new people. There would be less of that without the book.
I widely avoid anyone who- borrowing Krpan's words - has bad thoughts and bad intentions peeking from behind their hats. Both can be quickly exposed with a bit of practice.
VB: What did you learn from Martin Krpan?
MJ: A great deal, and he keeps teaching me.His perhaps most important lesson is that you have to keep to your path and persist on it.I already knew that and have been living by it, but it is nevertheless important. The character of Krpan, or rather the text by Levstik is remarkable and unique, holding an incredible amount of inspiration and encouragement. With respect to diplomats, Krpan holds up - with a little help from me - a clear and accurate mirror for every diplomat to review their reach and what they have to do to be true diplomats. Very demanding!
VB: Who is Martin Krpan?
MJ: To me, the Martin Krpan in this book and in general is an example of a confident, bold, brave and composed person, relying on his ability and keeping his word. He is skilful, resourceful, respectful and well-mannered, although many think otherwise. He is not greedy or arrogant, neither is he vain. He does not desire what he does not need or knows what to do with. His system of values is firm and allows him to be upright and proud. Thus he does not have to exchange his life for employment at the court and he does not wish to. It is very enlightening to see how illusory courts attract with their questionable glitter.
He is apparently capable of great deeds and cares greatly for his local environment - in general, he has a balanced positive relationship with himself and the world around him. Isn't that close to what ancient Greek philosophers saw as an ideal statesman?
I am certain Fran Levstik used Krpan to depict a free, enlightened, capable and content individual, which any country should be based on. This is in my opinion Levstik's central message to our time.
VB: Why is it important we should read this book?
MJ: Clearly because it speaks about a central Slovenian hero who is a limitless source of inspiration for contemplation and action. It contains a completely new, and consequently different view of the character and on the text about him. The book presents an aspect of Krpan, of his actions, attitude and thinking that is fundamentally contributing to the identity of the state. The book is a sort of a diplomatic and military manual, while at the same time it provides the author with a convenient alibi to use his interpretation of Krpan to express - or at least try to - a bit of criticism.
Additionally, the book also offers the reader criteria for evaluating diplomatic work and assessing its quality and the skill of diplomats, including but not limited to our own. This is very important for diplomacy is still mystified on the one hand and undervalued on the other.
VB: So, how should we read the original Martin Krpan and your book?
MJ: Krpan should not merely be read as children's literature, but as a work each reading and each paragraph of which reveals significant views, opinions and realisations that we have about ourselves and about what we could have been ,had we understood it in a broader sense earlier. While preparing to write this book I listened to the tale of Martin Krpan every day for about three months and discovered new meanings and hues to these meanings each time. What an inexhaustible source of inspiration and strength! I tried to transpose a part of it into writing that should be interesting, attractive and enlightening to anyone, especially Slovenian diplomats and soldiers.
VB: Any special treats?
MJ: The book contains a few original local approaches and inventions, if I may put it so. I will give you a taste with three examples: pages 128-129 captured Krpan and his mare in a way which will delight anyone who reads and sees them. Furthermore, page 140 announces the publication of an electronic facsimile of the first publication of Levstik's text from 1858. It will be available by the day of publication of this book. Also, the book contains a list of all Slovenian editions of Martin Krpan and its translations - more than 140 altogether!
The introductory pages present a series of thoughts on Krpan and this book, contributed by people who supported its publication. These thoughts are a treasure chest of original, clever and encouraging views on Krpan. They radiate confidence and pride, both of which we lack so seriously. And some simple everyday kindness.
VB: Do Slovenians really lack confidence or are we just modest and able to enjoy non-material qualities, such as simplicity, freedom, skill and wisdom?
MJ: I believe that the number of people who value the true qualities and virtues of life are growing. I wish there were more such examples in public life for that would be of great importance. We all know that good examples tend to be followed ,and that giving such
is worthwhile. Confidence, on the other hand, needs to be learned. Among great people modesty is a virtue of personal strength and integrity and not a weakness. The virtues you mention can make us rich and content which ultimately eliminates the lack of faith and self-confidence.
VB: What is your next step?
MJ: There are many steps on my path and more reveal themselves with. Krpan was very helpful, mainly in sharpening my focus, stimulating a critical view and adding to significance and confidence (not that I lacked any of these before).
First, I have two books I have already written. One of them describes bureaucrats with a pinch of humour, while the other one is a collection of short stories about diplomacy. Short, lucid and psychologically demanding views on fragments about diplomacy and a diplomat's life. I am also preparing a complex book on the sociology of diplomacy. It will comprise contributions from several authors and attempt to establish and new scientific field, as revealed by the topic.
Naturally, I also have new diplomatic steps to make in the service of our country. Having been involved since its beginning I find it a constant source of inspiration, motivation and encouragement. I take it all very seriously.
The book will be published by Zavod Martin Krpan (www.martinkrpan.org). The first presentation will take place on 19 November, at 5 p.m. at the great hall of the TR3 building in Ljubljana. It will also be exhibited at the annual book fair and presented on a tour across Slovenia.
It is inspiring how inquisitive, determined and insightful you are, Milan. Thank you for your wisdom and the pleasure of helping us to discover our selves, the strength of our space and the wisdom of our heritage. And for the modern version of Martin Krpan as an expression of the strength of a nation that is seeking its own identity so bravely. I hope your rhythms will expand further, across the borders of the known.