My Balkans My Balkans

A Book About Branko Cvejić – “With Cveja”

The book titled Sa Cvejom (“With Cveja”) comprises a series of texts by various authors and constitutes a significant document about an extraordinary artist and his achievements in the domain of culture and art, in his city, country, and the entire region of former Yugoslavia. Throughout the book, various memories take us from the time when Branko Cvejić first stepped into the world of art, to some unforgettable plays at his Yugoslav Drama Theatre, and from the legendary character of Bane Bumbar in the TV series Grlom u jagode, all the way to his final roles. The book is divided into eight chapters, capturing important watersheds in the life and career of Branko Cvejić. Such a conception made us look for contributors not only among Cvejić’s close colleagues and associates in the cultural sphere, friends from the worlds of theatre and art across the region of former Yugoslavia, but also in his private sphere, first and foremost his family and close friends of many years. The book’s rich assortment of texts by various authors and photographs also offer a glimpse of the epoch in which Cvejić lived and worked, as an artist who always remained present and selflessly dedicated his life work to art, invariably guided by high ethical, aesthetic, and social criteria. Cvejić bequeathed to us some major achievements, which materialised despite the sheer difficulties of his time and yet were not always recognised the way he deserved it. This book is a step toward a proper recognition of his life of selfless presence and engagement in our culture and art.

Branko Cvejić was not just a witness or observer of, but also an active participant in, the various epochs spanned by his lifetime, whether concerning acting, his job as general manager of a major theatre, or civil and social identity, which, in his case, was clear and consistent. That is why this edition covers all those dimensions of his public persona, and, inevitably, may also be read as a testimony of a time or times that were marked, in our part of the world, with tumultuous and turbulent events. Such an approach is extremely important, because we view history not only as a return to the past, but also as a sort of anticipation of the future.

The book, which began to take shape shortly after the death of Branko Cvejić, is also an attempt to put up resistance, at least in this small area that is available to us, to the general culture of forgetting that has pervaded our society. Such an impression is also borne out by a non-negligible array of important figures from our recent or more distant past, in various domains of professional activity, whose names have been surrendered to oblivion.

Co-published by Clio and My Balkans Foundation, the book was edited by Beka Vučo and her co-editorial team comprising Ksenija Radulović, Aleksandar Milosavljević, and Zoran Hamović. The remaining co-editors were Jelena Kovačević Barać (archival and documentary materials), Dragana Lacmanović (design, style, and formatting), and Nataša Nikolić (proofreading).

The book comprises 400 pages, including 188 black-and-white photographs with detailed captions in the accompanying index of photographs, compiled from various sources: by and large from the archives of the Yugoslav Drama Theatre, Yugoslav Film Archive, various film production studios, the Radio Television of Serbia, as well as directly from art photographers themselves and family archives.

The book was presented at the recently concluded 66th Belgrade Book Fair as well as the 28th Yugoslav Theatre Festival in Užice; on 7 November 2023 it came to the institution where Branko Cvejić spent his entire professional artistic life – the Yugoslav Drama Theatre.

In the coming months, Sa Cvejom will be presented at important theatre and film festivals, as well as major cultural hubs throughout the region. A special, enlarged electronic edition of the book is planned for Spring 2024.

Lasting Success despite Difficulties

15 November 2023
Vreme magazine, Belgrade, Serbia

Marina Milivojević Mađarev

The story told about the career of the actor and theatre manager Branko Cvejić demolishes the dangerous and destructive myth that here, in this part of the world, one can succeed only by being brutal, only if you put yourself centrestage, always and everywhere, only if you’re unscrupulous and selfish

A new release is a book titled Sa Cvejom (With Cveja), dedicated to the life and works of Branko Cvejić, one of the best known actors of his generation and one of the most important theatre managers during these three early decades of the 21st century. The book’s title suggests an intimate tone, but when you take it in your hands, you realise that behind the warm, intimate title, there is a serious piece of work and a very ambitious book. Sa Cvejom is not just a book about an artist, but also about the age marked by this artist, with his work and life.

Comprising some 400 pages with photographs, the book is divided in ten large blocks: an introductory chapter, eight chapters tracing Cvejić’s life and professional journey, and a final, tenth chapter comprising texts written to commemorate Cvejić’s death and funeral.

In the introductory chapter, there is a relatively short piece by Beka Vučo, the main editor of the book, discussing the reasons for making this book. This is followed by a text written by Srđan Karanović, who was a friend of Cvejić since childhood, the director with whom he created his first important role on television, that of Bane Bumbar in the TV series Grlom u jagode. Karanović paints a portrait of his friend through every aspect of their friendship, providing a summary of his development, from a boy to an actor and theatre manager. In the ensuing piece, Ksenija Radulović provides a detailed study of Cvejić’s family tree, using it as an opportunity to trace the development of Belgrade’s bourgeois, artistic, and intellectual circles, which Ksenija refers to as “the good spirit of Belgrade”.

The following chapter, “Na putu ka glumi” (On the Road to Acting), informs us not only that the future Bane Bumbar dabbled in acting already in his secondary school days, but also about the development of youth and amateur theatre in 1960s Belgrade, the amount of attention paid to youth culture and its import for future film directors such as Srđan Karanović and Goran Marković, actors such as Svetlana Bojković, and not only for them, but also for future lawyers, journalists, doctors… This chapter concludes with a text by Svetozar Rapajić, “Bilo jednom na Akademiji” (Once upon a Time at the Academy), in which this veteran professor at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts describes the Faculty as it was at the time when Branko Cvejić and his class studied acting there. This text completes the book’s landscape of the spiritual and cultural climate that furnished us with an entire generation of artists and cultural workers who came of age in the late 1960s, including Cvejić.

The next and, one may certainly say, central chapter is titled “U svetu teatra” (In the World of Theatre); it deals with the question of what kind of theatre actor Cveja was, as well as what kind of theatre manager he was. We were already more or less familiar with what his fellow actors had written about him. Branko Cvejić was extraordinarily committed to every project he was involved in, always willing to “jump in” and substitute for a colleague so that the show could go on; he was charming, funny, he loved actors, he had a lot of respect for Jovan Ćirilov, and sacrificed his acting career at his Yugoslav Drama Theatre when he became its general manager. But much more important, which is somehow implied between the lines and at the same time bears out Karanović’s lines from his introductory text, is the professional journey that Cvejić in fact traversed. It was not an easy journey, including, as it did, disparagement and slighting, as well as praise and support. Cvejić forged his path by investing into others and helping them make plays, whether by being an actor who did a superb job in so-called “supporting” roles, or by serving as the producer of a large number of plays. The story told here about the career of the actor and theatre manager Branko Cvejić demolishes the dangerous and destructive myth that here, in this part of the world, one can succeed only by being brutal, only if you put yourself centrestage, always and everywhere, only if you’re unscrupulous and selfish. This book proves that this is not true. Successful are those who work hard, those who put the interests of the project they’re working on before their own interest, those who trust their friends and colleagues, and those who are willing to surround themselves with colleagues, even if some of them may be better and more accomplished than them. That is what this book teaches us. And there is one more thing that is very important, albeit too often forgotten in the biographies of important people, and that is what their closest associates have to say about them, those who are invisible to the public eye, the technicians, the theatre’s artistic director, the seamstress… They, too, have their say in this book, alongside our renowned actors. That is a wonderful thing and it’s the way it should be, because the Yugoslav Drama Theatre is not made of actors alone, although that’s what it’s best known for, but also its tailors, lighting technicians, sound technicians, and all those invisible services that enable a theatre as an institution to operate on a daily basis, for decades, without pause or failure.

The following three chapters (“Borbe neprestane” – Constant Struggles, “(ex)YU i dalje” – Ex-YU and Beyond, and “Angažman kao sudbina” – Engagement as Fate) smash another widespread myth about success, which says that in order to succeed, one must be close to power. Branko Cvejić was the general manager of the Yugoslav Drama Theatre from 2002 and as such and in that regard, he had the “power” in the theatre, but this segment of the book concerns Cvejić’s long fight, spanning decades, against the banning of plays, the madness of war, dictatorship, isolation. This struggle was not easy, nor did it invariably or immediately bear the desired fruit, but it was persistent and fought in the name of theatre art. The segment of the book titled “(ex)YU i dalje…” concludes with a text by Ivan Medenica, an analytical and critical discussion of the Yugoslav Drama Theatre’s accomplishments in the domain of international cooperation during Cvejić’s term at the helm. Texts intoned in this fashion are not common in this type of monograph, but some critical distance is always healthy and may only further clarify our appreciation of what was accomplished.

The next chapter, “Na snimanju” (On the Set), is dedicated to Branko Cvejić as a television and film actor. This block opens with a text by Marijana Terzić Stojčić, titled “Tihi strateg glumačke otmenosti” (A Soft Strategist of Refinement in Acting), providing a chronological survey of Cvejić’s film and TV roles, with a discussion of the context and the various people Cvejić worked with. This is followed by a series of texts discussing the phenomenon of the TV series Grlom u jagode and the film Jagode u grlu (official English title: “Hard to Swallow”), which traced the fate of the main protagonists of the series in their later years. This block concludes with a text by Aleksandar Milosavljević, “Na Tašmajdanu” (In Tašmajdan), wherein he describes how his generation grew up with the TV series and how the film provided an accurate image of the challenges we face during life.

The segment titled “Van scene i kadra” (Beyond the Stage and Frame) includes texts written by friends and family, mapping his life journey, friendships, his love of green markets, the dishes he liked to cook. Many of the texts included in the preceding chapters are similarly shot through with personal memories and anecdotes, but what catches the eye here is that Branko Cvejić and his family socialised with people who differed very much in terms of their professions, characters, life journeys, nationalities. That bit will quite certainly appeal especially to the so-called general reading public. On the other hand, the so-called “professional public” will find useful the segment titled “Arhivska građa i dokumentacija” (Archival Materials and Documents), which features a detailed list of all of Cvejić’s roles in all media (theatre, radio, television, film, video), followed by a list of plays produced during Cvejić’s term as general manager, and the Yugoslav Drama Theatre’s performances abroad. All of this, along with a wealth of photographs and an index of names, was put together by the editorial team comprising, alongside Beka Vučo, Ksenija Radulović, Aleksandar Milosavljević, and Zoran Hamović. Archival materials and documents were compiled by Jelena Kovačević Barać (as editor) and Ana Ogrizović (as her assistant). The book was co-published by Clio and My Balkans.

Books such as this one are needed not only because they wrest from oblivion artists and cultural workers who might otherwise end up marginalised, but also because they tell us what success really is, how it is achieved, and what it means to last despite all the difficulties. When you read this book, you realise that although living in these parts has been hard and chaotic for decades now, our culture has also had a few moments of glory that can really make us feel proud and that make it worthwhile to keep fighting. That is what this book can teach us, the book about Branko Cvejić – Sa Cvejom.

The book is published in Serbian language and you can take a peek inside the book’s first thirty pages if you go into the SERBIAN PART of the website.