By Ljilja Cvekic
BREZOVICA, August 11, 2009 (Serbia Today) – “What do you think the 21st century is bringing to us?” This is a question Bozidar Mandic, a founder of the only commune in Serbia that has survived to date, asks each of his visitors in the wonderful oasis of peaceful green fields and woods bordered by three creeks in the middle of loud, polluted and increasingly absurd civilization, just 100 kilometers away of Belgrade.
The only way we can struggle today against absurdness of consumer mentality, pessimism and negative energy, materialism and technology of modern impersonal world, he says, is to form such little islands that would bring back to us lost communication, emotions, creativity, time and sense. To gain ourselves back.
“A search for freedom has always been the essence of my life,” Mandic told Serbia Today.
He escaped the urban life in 1977, when he moved with his friends artists from their hometown Novi Sad to a hundred-year old country house and wildness, forming his Family of Clear Waters (Porodica Bistrih Potoka) as “a small suggestion to a human how to find a way out of a labyrinth he has been trapped in”.
“We’ve lived without any ideology or organizational imperatives. Freedom and creative life was all that we wanted. To be ourselves and to hold the sense in our own hands. We had everything except money. We made an oath that we’ll resist ever to be attracted by the power of money. To be modest, instead, and share with others.”
At that time many similar communes were appearing and disappearing around the world. It was a period when hippy movement and sexual revolution were still alive, when young people raised their voices against conventions and money as a measure of success, singing about peace, love and happiness, friendship and life freed of rules and orders. Times were changing, many hippies from the past have got their own children and became serious professors, politicians or bank managers in suits and ties, giving up the ideas of freedom and accepting all rules of their societies.
He remained fateful for 33 years to his initial idea of “a money-less economy”, resisting technology and living his “forest philosophy”. The Family of Clear Waters has turned from an intensive commune of people searching after the sense of life into a family commune, where he lived with his wife and three children and many friends. Children have eventually grown up and went their own ways, wives and friends were coming and leaving, replacing each other.
It was not always easy to live that kind of life. “It’s not easy to be free,” he says. Winters might be very cold and there is still no bathroom. His first wife got tired, moved to the city with children, then the second.
“I’m now in the third phase of parenthood, when children started looking after me and giving back that idyllic emotion I was poring on them without any punishment, authority and teaching,” said Mandic, 58, now grandfather of three. “It is important to find yourself within yourself and on your own.”
Many generations of young people have spent years there, living and working together, growing tomato, beans and potatoes in the garden, cooking on the wooden stove end eating at the big old dining table in the open, discussing and reading poetry sitting on an improvised wooden stage and benches in the yard, and sleeping on mattresses together at the main house.
The old house next to it had initially a sign at the entrance saying: “Even enemies are welcome here”. There is a small gallery and library now, and a barn, a stone building that once hosted two cows, has turned into a theatre, with simple wooden floor and a bench leaning against the wall. Steep wooden stairs lead to another stage under the roof.
“The commune has got its ephemeral form – a life in solitude. I have now much more time and peace for creation. Isolated, but not lonely, I live alone but with many people visiting and staying for a while; they are all accepted here with lot of love and joy, I believe in cheerful kindness as a new form of revolution, in saving the world with beauty,” he says.
The life is simple here. He rises with the Sun, wipes the floor in his little working room and writes for a while on his old typewriter, then works in the garden and around the house, reads, goes for long walks with his dog, fast as a lightening and white as a snow. “I think that time is not passing; it just has different densities. Time is here so thick that you can grab full hands of it. Life is slow, in harmony with nature.”
He says he cannot write, although he published 20 books of essays, poems and novels, and he cannot make art and theater, although he staged dozens of avant-garde theater plays and art exhibitions. “Stories are writing themselves, I’m just writing down thoughts and sentences from the nature, transforming them into pieces of art done only in natural material, wood and stone and dried horseshit, and then putting all that process of creation on the stage; we’re just playing ourselves on the stage, streets and fields.”
While he lives a natural and archaic life, he creates a modern art, based on three elements of authenticity – honesty, courage and simplicity. Each summer, the Family of Clear Waters hosts an avant-garde theater festival, when many actors and theater directors come to spend time together, enjoy art and nature, dialogue and laugh.
But Mandic says young people are playing and laughing much less than before. They are not ready to open up, they know neither how to express themselves nor to listen, didn’t learn to communicate, but just blubber instead. “One theme is inevitable in all talks we have here – relations between men and women. There’s a huge gap between two sexes, roles have been mixed and lost, making everybody unhappy.”
Although a great opponent of technology, computer, Internet and mobile phones, saying they are taking away a character and personality, living with no tab water and hitchhiking all his life when traveling, Mandic admits that he has got little tired and agreed finally to accept an old car from his son, an old TV set and his first phone for his children’s sake. “My daughters worry about me. I’m scared it would ruin my peace. But I’m also excited. Can you imagine when I get tomorrow the phone and for the first time somebody calls!”