Thinking And Drinking On A Gruesome Centenary

Thinking and Drinking
on a Gruesome Centenary

Why I Killed Franz Ferdinand and other essays by Predrag Finci
Published by Style Writes Now

By Marija F. Sullivan

First, he considered killing the Austrian archduke, Franz Ferdinand. Then he considered taking up drinking.
These could be the titles of chapters from the biography of actor-turned philosopher Predrag Finci, who is very well known throughout former Yugoslavia. The first essay, on thinking about killing the Austrian archduke, is interesting from the point of view of historical distance: what did the popular young actor feel when he “killed” the archduke, 'not once, but twice', first in a film and then in a 1968 theatre performance? And what does the mature philosopher in exile feel about this almost half a century later?

Of course, with the passage of time more than one historical truth has emerged. In communist Yugoslavia, Gavrilo Princip was seen as a great martyr, a sensitive young man who wrote poetry, who cared about social justice and who simply wanted to see all south Slavs united; and then, years later, independent historical research found a variety of evidence to suggest that Princip’s ideals were not perhaps quite so obvious and that the organisation behind him was rather orientated towards the interests of Serbia.
The true value of this essay lies in Finci’s ability to display his own human and intellectual understanding of a compelling rationale for killing and for not killing the future Emperor – something from which less confident writers might shy away.
“Perhaps it is all because I searched inside myself for what kind of personality could belong to the assassin. Or maybe because all of us, especially in Bosnia, have felt (although in different ways) the consequences of that event for a long time. We felt them despite what we thought about the event and its protagonists.“
In the postscript Predrag Finci has written:
“As a little boy I fell in love with a young girl, although to me she was just an 'auntie' at the time. In fact, she was an actress and she taught me how to swim. She had a boyfriend, an actor called Bert Sotlar. I felt a strong aversion to him. One day, he played Franz Ferdinand, and when he turned the corner of a street, I got him as Gavrilo Princip.“
Aside from this entertaining admission, many key questions are asked and answered in this essay. For example, Finci addresses the increasingly pertinent issue of whether the use of violence is justified when fighting oppressive regimes, and he is prone to claim 'that every anarchist movement that uses violence actually maltreats its own people'.
“When I say this, I’m not thinking so much about what the movement actually did, but am rather pointing to the repercussions of the ruling authorities' behaviour towards those involved in the movement, and the people from which the movement grew.”

Finci's other essays also stand out, through the distinctive style of the writing and through their playful inquiry into the nature of motivation in a hyper-consumer society and their exploration of questions such as why do we really go to theatre and who are the people who control things behind the scenes. These are essays that every young actor and theatre director should read, because they constitute an invaluable introduction to what lies ahead in the complex world of the arts: they challenge as well as validate a love of the theatre.
Predrag Finci who really was born “under a red, red star”, belonged in his youth to a generation of Yugoslavs who had to inhale clouds of cigarette smoke and drink gallons of alcohol as part of their “initiation” in the world of artists and intellectuals. And by his own admission Finci embraced this challenge with enthusiasm. So much so that he is now able to provide a remarkably intimate, yet philosophically and psychologically relevant, account of what goes on in the head of a person who is properly drunk – and he offers a compelling portrait of the positive side of unsavoury behaviour.
“I claimed that Aristotelian moderation was physical, and that immoderateness was spiritual yearning, yearning for the ultimate. Persuaded myself excess should be pursued, that human conditionality can be outgrown in ecstasy, that the sublime can be reached. In excessiveness I want to cross over and thus negate myself. Why am I as I am, and not different?“
In the end, it can justifiably be asked how it is possible to bring such thematically distinct essays together in one book: the death of an archduke – whether on stage, in film, or on the historic streets of Sarajevo – and the enjoyment of drunkenness.
By his own account, Finci not only finished off Franz Ferdinand but killed the assassin Gavrilo Princip too, with his bad acting. Was this an additional motive for the artist’s enthusiastic research into the benefits of drinking? Readers will draw their own conclusions. Part of the answer might be gleaned from the author’s admission “… I felt early in the day that I couldn’t stay in the acting profession for long. I cared much more about the world of thought, and would not, at any point, prefer to be someone else.”
In conclusion, I would like to raise a glass to “the unique philosophy of Finci” as the London writer Cathi Unsworth has characterised the essays in this book. I have been privileged to act as “midwife” at the birth of the title essay, as I was curious to see how this gifted writer would interpret the assassination of the archduke in the year when the centenary of this event is being marked.

A good friend of mine and an accomplished writer, Cathi Unsworth, wrote the foreword, and an Austrian born photographer Ruth Bayer took the photo which is on the back cover of the book

Predrag Finci

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