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Eighteen months ago, when Branko Ivanda’s obituary on the Cultura page of Zagreb’s Vjesnik spoke of him as ‘our supreme man of the theatre’, there were still some who wondered whether the phrase was meant in a tone of unequivocal enthusiasm; or was it to be read as meaning he was very good at a lot of things – writing, acting, directing, movie-making – and fell just short of the best in all? Had he moved up into that category of ‘supreme’ just by outliving one or two of his contemporaries, and in particular, Tomislav Buljan? Or was he truly one of the ‘greats’?
Most however were impatient of all such equivocations. We saw them as provincial, a flashback to the bad times when we Croatians lacked belief in our own talents.
Now the last remaining equivocators seem to have fallen silent, and today, when Branko’s bronze statue was unveiled in the town woods close to Dubravkin Put, one heard nothing but good things about the man, and about his films and plays that are being shown in a week celebrating his lifetime’s achievement. Springtime for Branko Ivanda! – the trees over his bronze head in full leaf, the market tables by the Zagreb railway station scarlet with strawberries. Will Judge Time confirm his place? Who knows, and why should we care? For those of us alive now in the new, liberated, self-confident Croatia, the matter is settled. Branko is ‘our very own Bergman’. He is ‘among the immortals’!
That, anyway, is what the Minister of Culture said to his widow after she had unveiled the statue and spoken briefly, with feeling and dignity, of the man and the writer as she remembered him in the final decade of his life.
‘The immortals,’ she repeated, faintly amused perhaps at the extravagance, but certainly not displeased. ‘Thank you, Minister. I hope so.’