Dr. Branko Mikasinovich is this year’s recipient of the Gold Medal for Merit conferred by decree of the President of the Republic of Serbia and awarded on February 15, 2022 on the occasion of the annual celebration of the Serbian Statehood Day. This honor is bestowed upon Dr. Mikasinovich for his promotion of Serbian literature in the English language. Dr. Mikasinovich translated into English and edited five anthologies of Serbia’s great writers. The anthologies presented volumes of short stories, plays, comedies, satires & aphorisms, and fantastic prose. Dr. Mikasinovich’s anthologies have made Serbian literature accessible to the world’s 1.5 billion English readers.
Svetlana Rogic, the founder and executive director of Art Exchange Inc, had a conversation with Dr. Mikasinovich about the significance of this award and the importance of preserving and promoting cultural heritage.
During the decades of your working life, you received numerous awards. What does the Gold Medal for Merit you received from the Serbian government for the Day of Statehood mean to you?
I feel honored and privileged to have received the Gold Medal for Merit for my literary achievements and promotion of Serbian literature in the English language.
One of the most important tasks for any people, including the Serbian nation, is preserving its national culture. Since I am involved in literary activities it was natural for me to do what I could in that sector, presenting through various genres the culture of the Serbian people, their distinct character, traditions, customs, and events of the present and past. Of course, through these presentations the differences between the Serbian culture and other countries’ cultures are revealed.
The five anthologies I compiled about short stories, plays, comedies, satire and aphorisms, and fantastic prose represent an overview of the most important authors in Serbia. I hope that these anthologies will open the window of Serbian literature to the one and a half billion English speaking people. For instance, it is my desire that some US theater company might discover my compilation on Serbian dramas or comedies and stage one of them in an American theater. That would certainly be an initial step and a breakthrough for Serbian culture.
Is this award a step forward toward stronger connections between Serbia and the United States where many Serbs live and work?
Yes, I believe so. The Statehood Day of Serbia is an important holiday marked by receptions, cultural events and an awards ceremony granting orders and medals to selected recipients both domestically and internationally. As I now live In the USA, the medal I received recognized me for bringing closer together the USA and Serbia through literature.
There is nothing more revealing about a country and its people than literature. Nothing can be more vivid and enchanting than a great piece of literary work and there is nothing that can connect people better than reading each other’s literature. On my behalf I will continue to do what I can in my field for the benefit of both countries. I am sure that other American Serbs will do their best toward this endeavor also.
You edited and published some of the most important works of Serbian literature that have reached English speaking audiences around the world. That is a significant contribution to preserving and promoting the cultural heritage of Serbia. In the context of globalization, how important is it to protect national culture and heritage?
It is very important. While we are all a part of a global community, that community is composed of numerous nationalities. This mosaic of nations enriches our earth and each and every single stone that makes up that mosaic is crucial to the whole picture. What would the world be without such ethnic and cultural diversity? It would be a sea of sameness and monotony. That is why we should cherish each country’s distinct characteristics, as gems that enrich our lives. I am always excited when I see an excellent new Serbian novel or short story. I envisage some foreigner reading this book and reaping the benefits of a different and possibly new culture to them.
What is the broader significance of preserving world cultural heritage and what can be done to preserve Serbian cultural heritage for future generations?
Without our diverse heritage and history, we are reduced to a skeleton of a few existent entities and people. What are we without our diversity of monuments, architecture, theatre, literature, and history?
Culture is all embracing and probably the most important aspect of our heritage and existence. That is why it is so important for us now and for the future generations to do what we can to preserve our unique Serbian culture.
What can be done in that respect? I suggest that every one of us becomes as active and engaged as possible through various Serbian institutions, organizations like yours, centers, churches, etc.. This I believe is our best investment for the future.
Dr. Branko Mikasinovich taught Russian language and literature at Tulane University in New Orleans, he was a journalist for the Serbian Voice of America section in Washington for years, and he published the most representative anthology of Yugoslav and Serbian literature in English to date.