Mile Kekin

Mile Kekin

Songs by poet and musician Mile Kekin, front man of the punk-rock band from Zagreb "Hladno pivo", should be included in textbooks. Not just in Croatia, in all of Europe

14/04/2016 -  Božidar Stanišić

Last summer, I received a message from Sweden, sent to me by a former student of mine from when I taught literature in Bosnia. An unexpected message, since he usually only writes in December – for greetings and a few words on his being a foreigner in Northern Europe. That time, however, he wanted to know what I, "a teacher put of the ordinary", thought about a song of punk-rock group Hladno Pivo from Zagreb. If I were minimally able to surf the Internet, my old student assured me, I could find the video as well as the lyrics of the song in question, called Firma. "That's right, that's how we were ripped off! Firma says it all, so clear... They are cool! Positive people!", ended the message.

Hladno pivo sings Firma

Even basic surfers like me can make it into the waves of the web, so I watched the video. Not wanting to look like a teacher who does nothing but teach, I replied briefly: "Thanks for the information, very interesting!". At the same time, I wrote in my notebook: "It seems to me that the spectrally empty factory corridor where Hladno pivo sings Firma, song from their latest album Dani zatvorenih vrata (The days of the closed doors) – with the former workers of the Gredelj, Dioki, and Kamensko factories telling their truth in the background - does not represent an exclusively Croatian reality, nor a mere detail of the Yugo-space, but rather a symbol of the transition which, after the Wall fell, shattered the entire Eastern Europe and is still a burden on the shoulders of entire generations".


According to the words of the workers in the video, the aforementioned Croatian giants did not go bankrupt because they were not competitive or technologically obsolete, but only because they were robbed by criminals in suits, eager to "make way for two hundred families". [The reference is to Tudjman's project to entrust the management of the national wealth, including the privatisation process, to a small circle of families]

The author of Firma is not a singer but a poet – one of those few that try to stand on the side of the last and the abandoned. If it were up to me, I would suggest for this song to be included in school textbooks – a proposal which, I am sure, would be unlikely to pass without a referendum. I write nonsense, I know, things "out of the ordinary", because people have been neglecting the polls even for the elections, let alone they show up for an imaginary referendum on songs to be included in textbooks! Anyway, I'd like to see Firma in textbooks from Ljubljana to Skopje, and then translated into Hungarian, Czech, Polish, Slovak, Russian, Albanian, Romanian, Bulgarian, and so on. If nothing else, this satirical rock'n roll elegy would probably be able to take the place of at least one of those little patriotic songs that still cram the textbooks. Every day the protagonist of Firma, an unemployed worker, to be less annoyed with himself, takes a walk to what used to be his factory, accompanied by the following thought:

Maybe tonight I'll confess to them

How we fell without even a shot

In the old trick of the new beginning

And once I get to the gate and closed barrier

I'll take off my hat, out of respect for all of us who still remember

That day, out of black limos in front of the factory, they told us:

God, country, nation

Everyone down, this is privatisation!

Make way for "two hundred families"!

I'm not one of yours

The singer – pardon, poet – and musician in question is called Mile Kekin. You do not find him in textbooks. If one day you will, it will be a sign, a sign that in the East – from Zagreb to Vladivostok, from Tirana to Gdansk – something new is happening. New to the extent that a man, musician, and poet is able to transmit to others that great, simple "something", as "history does not know a single case in which art or an artist, in any time and place, were able to exert direct influence on the fate of the world – and it is from this sad truth that we are led to the conclusion that we must be modest, aware of the limitations of our role and power" (Zbigniew Herbert).



However, he, Mile Kekin, deserves a place in textbooks – not not only because of the song Firma, but also for a more recent acoustic miniature titled Ja nisam vaš (I'm not one of yours). In the night between March 3rd and 4th, this man leaned against a wall, took his guitar in hand, and, with seeming lightness, as if he were singing a lullaby, spit out a few verses. Verses that, like all the poetry in the world or art in general, will not change the world, but can still penetrate the minds and hearts of those who seek to observe it, that world, with their own eyes. Who knows, maybe these verses will even succeed in awakening more than a few young head from his Nazi-illusions. Because these verses are clear, as clear as they could be – like all simple, but profound things.

Therefore, one would expect only the small-minded bourgeoisie to try and confine these verses in a purely local, namely Croatian context. Yet, except for a few simple and sincere "well done, brother", thousands of accusations and insults have piled up against Mile Kekin. The allegations are coming from "brothers" everywhere, as we used to say, "from Vardar to Triglav".

Internet is miracolous: you can spit mud on others, hiding stupidity behind a nickname or anonymously, without any consequences. And among those who spit, though certainly not alone, there are again those "blacks", that, of course, think they are "whites", lights of a "better, black" future. Are those not the same black knights mentioned by Branko Ćopić? In his poetic testament, titled Pismo Ziji (Letter to Zijo), he already predicted their arrival: In the world are multiplying black horses and knights, vampires of the day and night.

Branko is long gone, while the black knights, though defeated in 1945, are back to multiplying – from Ohrid to Karavanke – and their orchestras strum the same old, deafening music, praising God, the people, and the nation (which is also the home). Shake, beat, make noise – so no one longer knows which side, at "that time", filled the freight trains of people and took the children from schools to shoot them. As everything is up for revisionism, especially the past.

No, not even Kekin could have known that in early March in Slovakia, for the first time since the Second World War, eight percent of citizens would give their vote to the "blacks". That a new parliament would settle in Bratislava which would include democratically elected deputies of the pro-Nazi party "Our Slovakia". Do we need to remind of how many "blacks", of all shades, already sit in parliaments, from Athens to Stockholm? And that this is no longer "simple" right-wing populism, endemic only in certain versions, such as Zagreb and Belgrade? This is a European phenomenon!

This man, poet, and musician gave us a short, but great song – as great as our eyes should be in front of Memory and History in motion.

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