Dinko Kreho writes short fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction and literary criticism. He was born in Sarajevo in 1986. After attending primary and secondary education in Bihać, Zagreb, Pariz and Rennes, he graduated in comparative literature and South Slavic literatures at the University of Sarajevo. He lives in Zagreb.
Kreho was a regular contributor to the project AKT (Alternate Literary Interpretations), a member of the editorial board of the bi-monthly for culture and current affairs Zarez, as well as the host of the program Od riječi do riječi (Verbatim) in Booksa Literary Club in Zagreb. He nowadays contributes to the weekly Novosti, as well as to the web magazines booksa.hr and proletter.me; he also translates (mainly from French into Croatian) and practices theatre as a member of the Zagreb-based theatre collective Center for the Theatre of the Oppressed (POKAZ).
He has published the poetry collections Ravno sa pokretne trake (Straight off the Conveyor Belt,2006), Zapažanja o anđelima (Observations on Angels, 2009)and Simptomi (Symptoms, 2019), the feature-length audio drama Bezdrov: A Whistle in the Night (co-authored with Dario Bevanda, 2013), and the non-fiction collection Bio sam mladi pisac (I Was an Emerging Writer, 2019).
Kreho’s poems, short stories and essays have been translated into several languages. For his work he has been awarded a number of literary prizes and awards, in Croatia as well as in the other ex-Yugoslav countries.
A TREATMENT FOR SCHMIDT
“That’s him, no doubt about it”, said Sonja as soon as she had made her way to Deacon and me. Although it was only late spring, judging by the atmosphere on Slovenska Beach you would have thought it was peak season. We were inhaling the aroma of oils, creams and lotions, and even in the shade, where we were waiting for Sonja, my T-shirt was sticking all the way down my back.
“Ta-da-dam!” Deacon handed us his mobile. When hanging out with people he spends more time googling what is being discussed than participating in the discussion, and every once in a while, when this annoying habit of his turns out to be really useful, he can’t help but gloat. Sonja and I hunched over the screen:
THE FLIPSIDE OF BIOPOWER IN THE ERA OF NEW POLARISATIONS
The accompanying text mentioned migration, combating terrorism, the new mechanisms of control, Internet mastodons, and ‘the gorgeous view to the historic heart of the city’ from the premises of the refurbished Sutjeska cinema.
“Academic tourism?” I asked.
“And not just any academic tourism”, replied Deacon. “Check out the organisers, each one better than the next. And he’s their biggest star! I wouldn’t be surprised if he was staying in one of these turbo hotels with a jacuzzi, a waterbed and a bonus Ukrainian girl every night.”
“This is begging for sabotage”, I said. “If anything, we should piss in his sandals.”
“Or read out loud excerpts from that text during his speech… What do you reckon, Red Sonja?”
We looked at Sonja and fell into silence. As her eyes were travelling from Deacon to me and back, they were speaking louder than words: we knew what was on her mind.
“Guys”, she said softly but resolutely “I think the opportunity has finally presented itself.”
Sonja put it well: the opportunity did present itself. If, having spent twenty-odd days on an estate near Berane ambitiously dubbed The Anarchy Ranch by its managers, we finally had not decided to drive down to the sea in Deacon’s rickety van, or if we had done it a day later or a day earlier, we would not have run into Schmidt. And if two years before we had not got involved in a project that at first seemed like a bad joke, and if, under the burden of proof, we gradually had not started believing in it, we would not have enjoyed the tactical advantage we had now. The whole thing was too bizarre to occur to Deacon or to me just like that; no wonder it was Sonja, a.k.a. Sonjdokan a.k.a. Red Sonja, who thought of it first.
The guy we called Schmidt among ourselves was a philosopher of European calibre. By way of various university gigs, engagements, appearances and combinations, he had been popping up at universities from Ankara to Vienna to Moscow for decades – charming, eloquent and provocative, forever debating with the times. Except in the nineties. Even then he was charming and eloquent, but quite in the spirit of the times: as a young and promising thinker, he was developing a theory of war as a socially desirable event, through which the ‘dispossessed’ national culture would once again be its own master. He was close enough to the ideologists of the time, and even to the masters of war themselves, to live a comfortable life – and yet he remained distant enough to safely get the hell out of there when he estimated that the time had come. As a fellow countryman who has built himself a nice CV at universities all over the planet, in the past few years he had been a welcome guest in this part of the world, where he had also enjoyed the favours of some left-wing circles. His former work and friendships were simply not discussed.
Schmidt was not the worst of his kind – far from it. However, it just so happened that my friends and I – with my eleven years of studying philosophy at university, which I am not proud of – always liked messing with him. He was popping up in all the places that were supposed to be safe from people like him; many of those whose opinions I valued respected, sought out and promoted him. Some of us would occasionally campaign, both on social media and in public debates, and Svebor was once involved in a physical incident at a forum in Ljubljana, and then ‒ nothing. Schmidt enjoyed an immunity that could not be justified even by his undoubtedly extraordinary charisma.
Yet, it was here that the opportunity presented itself, and Sonja was the first to recognise it and name it. Now that Schmidt had yet again emerged in our lives for no reason whatsoever, we had mastered a potential response for his kind. Now we had The Treatment.
“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!” called Sonja in a cracked voice. I rose just enough to be able to see the numbers on Deacon’s phone in the pitch-black darkness of the van: 03:59.
“He’s here”, said Sonja. “Schmidt. Down there, at the seafront.”
“I was on my way back from the loo, and there he was! He’s gone down the path, the sand one. He’s alone. I even think he looked at me, the creep… let’s go!”
“Here’s our chance!” I perked up. “We just need to wake him up.”
Deacon, who was always grumpy when he woke up, just snorted.
The circumstances were indeed working in our favour. In fact, our original plan was to stay at my great-aunt’s in Petrovac, but I kept putting off calling her for weeks, and then it turned out that she had gone to Belgrade and rented the flat out to some tourists. So we eventually decided to sleep in the van. This meant that we had the freedom to build our action plan without witnesses. In the afternoon and evening, while two of us were preparing The Treatment, the third was spying on Schmidt: while he was delighting his motley crew of friends on Slovenska Beach, while he was being treated to the octopus in a Dutch oven at Jurić’s, while he was tasting homemade wine on the terrace of the Majestic (Deacon was right, they were not being stingy with Schmidt). Without a consensus on how to grab hold of him, we finally bought some wine and sandwiches, drove to the edge of a grove four or five kilometres outside town and decided to spend the night there (of course, after we had put false number plates on the van). However, it turned out that Schmidt did not sleep after all the action – and that he had chosen our location as a destination for his nocturnal outing.
It was a strange scene: if my head had not been pulsating after Sonja suddenly woke me up, I would have thought I was still asleep. Slowly, almost sleepily, Schmidt was swaying in one place, staring at the open sea stretching into the distance, the moonlight flickering on his silvery beard. We approached slowly: Sonja was holding needles close to her leg, I was holding wireless cathodes, and Deacon was waiting with the central unit in the van. Suddenly, Schmidt turned towards us.
“Well, well!”, he laughed, and we shivered. “Comrades, suspend the hostilities, I surrender!” He put his hands up. He kept laughing even after we lunged at him.
Comrades from the Austrian underground who taught us the basics of the procedure called it the denazification of the mind. From the very start we thought it was too pompous, obscurantist even, so we spontaneously dubbed it – The Treatment. Whatever evil tongues might say, this is not brainwashing and certainly not torture: The Treatment just enables and by no means forces new ways to experience reality and the self. However, after the subject of The Treatment gets a chance to experience with their own body and mind the repercussions of their own words and actions on other living beings, they simply do not want, of their own free will, to go back to their old ways. This is about sharpening one’s reflection and widening empathy, a one-of-a-kind guided extrospection: The Treatment does not kill emotions and thoughts but opens a pathway to the thousands of other hearts and minds.Although partly based on, let’s say esoteric knowledge, the theoretical basis of the process is materialistic, far from any kind of black magic. Sonja and Tanja simply call it expanded psychology.
After two years of group sessions, brainstorming and testing – none of which, of course, was supposed to leave a digital trace – it was at the Anarchy Ranch that we came up with the final structure and key features of the Treatment, adapted to our climate. But the most difficult part still remained: to determine what it would look like and how it would work when it was tried on a suitable subject. In retrospect, the way Schmidt served himself on a plate obviously stank, but the opportunity was just too good for us to dare think about that.
We were prepared for all kinds of outcomes and plot twists, but we did not expect that after such a frenetic and almost sleepless night in the van all four of us would be so full of energy. It is possible that Deacon, Sonja and I were simply high on serotonin having expeditiously planned and successfully carried out The Treatment; as for Schmidt, it could have been a side-effect or a result of The Treatment. In any case, that sunny May morning on the terrace of the Garden, he was glowing like a man reborn. When it was time to pay the bill, Schmidt mimed to us to stay clear.
“It’s the least I can do for you”, he said, handing out quite a substantial tip too.
“Schmidt!” Deacon giggled. “We’ll have to think of a tamer nickname. You’ve been Schmidt to us for such a long time that I sometimes forget your real name!”
“O tempora, o mores!” Schmidt exclaimed, puffing out his chest theatrically.
“Hola, profesor!”, someone shouted over the hubbub. We all turned: a beautiful dark-skinned woman in a navy-blue dress, our age or even younger, was navigating between the sun umbrellas and tables.
“I thought I was the only one late, but look, so is our keynote speaker!”she laughed.
Schmidt was about to reply, but before he could do it, we heard another voice behind us:
“Perhaps I was waiting for you!”
We nearly fell off our chairs. The voice was definitely Schmidt’s. A fraction of a second later, Schmidt actually appeared in our line of vision: unlike the one sitting with us, his hair was neatly combed and his shirt was ironed. He and the woman met next to our table, hugged and kissed each other cordially.
“I just hope they heat up the coffee properly this time”, he said, to which she burst out laughing.
Bewildered, we started miming to ‘our’ Schmidt. He opened his mouth a few times like a fish on dry land.
“Oh no…”, he finally uttered weakly. “They’ve activated the backup…”
He did not seem any less gobsmacked than we were. The second (or was it the first?) Schmidt and his colleague headed towards the exit.
As they were leaving, he threw a quick glance back. But it was long enough for us to make no mistake: he was laughing at us.
i always think i’ll meet you
at your funeral. there is no hope there, just
a habit on a stupid loop, the kind of habit
i expect will push you among us.
i forget that solidarity among the dead
is unfaltering, that their communism works.
there is no hope there. but nothing can stop me
from thinking mid-rite that at any given moment
you’ll pop up among us like the moon
and nonchalantly look at your reflection in my ever bigger
to let you slide down the street, a tarmac one, a virtual one,
any one. as a branch of an algorithm that spills out into infinity,
a branch that leads nowhere. to release one’s avatars
to hover with rain, to dissolve in autumn. To imagine that
you’re mapping out the anxiety, mapping out a poem, mapping out a city.
to actually just mess about, to devotedly wear out the soles
until you wear yourself out. until you’re left with as much
as you can bring forth to your friends
when you dawn in their lives, to ferment a little
in their day.
night – flawlessly restored – you cannot prove
it’s not the original – i sabotage
myself – wherever i want to squat – somebody else’s
marks – prearranged landmarks – in the night
of the language – in the language
of the night – done deal – as fixed as
the north as
 Sonjdokan – reference to Sandokan, the “Tiger of Malaysia”, a fictional late 19th-century pirate created by an Italian author Emilio Salgari and portrayed by an Indian film actor, Kabir Bedi, in a TV series based on Salgari’s books which were immensly popular throughout the 1970s in the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia.