Old School


Prisoner of an Artistic Time
Radivoje Bojičić says it’s impossible to tell whether Novaković was ”mora a Čubura fellow or Partizan fan, football referee or art critic, drama writer or satirist, novel writer or narrator, movie director or TV scriptwriter…” He was a master of writing, expert in film and theater, magician of memory. He carried his time and Belgrade of that time on the palm of his hand, lived both in the cinema and at the football stadium, obsessed with Shakespeare and the ball. And so on. The achievements of those who have done much are reduced, while of those who have done little are increased

By: Dragan Lakićević
Photo: Novaković family private archive

I thought I wouldn’t find him in the Encyclopedia of the Serbian Nation (2008). He passed away just when the Encyclopedia was being completed – however, we owe it to Milivoje Pavlović, author of the entry stating that Slobodan Novaković (Belgrade, 1939 – Belgrade, 2007) was a playwright, director, writer and critic. ”He graduated from the dramaturgy department in Belgrade. Editor of the film department, later of the art and entertainment program and chief editor of TV Belgrade 1986–89. Published 12 books, author of 2 theater dramas, several screenplays. Works: Alice in the Land of Progressive Wonders, Kings and Subjects, Three Quarters of Belgrade. TV films: Philip on a Horse, Genealogy, Imperial Cities. Awards: ’Golden Feather’ for art critics, ’Radoje Domanović’.” And that is certainly not all. The achievements of those who have done much are reduced, while of those who have done little are increased.
He was a Belgradian – urban, local-patriot, artistic, versatile. International! Belgrade had studios, theaters, departments, stadiums – where Slobodan Novaković worked. Every prisoner of Belgrade builds his own Belgrade – of words, images, dreams and memories. Slobodan Novaković is a memory of Belgrade from its artistic times.


The lexicon Who Is Who in Serbia 1991, includes more information: that he was editor of the culture department and film critic in Mladost magazine, editor of TV Belgrade Film Department and author of several more books: Film as a Metaphor, Drawers of Laughter (historical development of caricatures in Serbia), Television, Canceling Metaphor, The Time of Opening, Madnesses, Serbian Devil, Artistic Arcadia, Alice in Babylon, How the Marx Brothers read the Grimm Brothers, Buridan’s Critic. Already the titles reflect the fields of education, meticulousness and interests of Sloba Novaković – he was a polyphonous participant and author.
He was author of theatrical plays: Alice in the Land of Progressive Wonders, Snow Queen, Hayduks. Author of TV films: Battle, Genealogy, Traces, When Boys Fight a War and documentaries: Derby in a Large Village, Emergency Measures, Road, Matija, Gusle Player, Ballad of Cer, Lamenting Migrations, Painting the Impossible. His films were featured in Berlin, Melbourn, Krakow, Plovdiv, Moscow, San Sebastian, New York, Munich, Beijing.
He was enlisted among the authors of the most successful TV achievements in the world in 1985. Also mentioned are awards in Dublin, Munich, Belgrade.
”As a federal football referee, he participated in 500 football games in Yugoslavia.”


He was a satirist, a ”Ježevac”, oral chronicler of the biggest satiric magazine in the Balkans named Jež (Hedgehog). The writer of this text mostly remembers him from there. The day Sloba comes to the office (first located in Nušićeva, later in Resavska) turns into a great humorist history: he used to tell episodes about people and works of Serbian satire, and the history of satire is parallel with the history of politics and entire social life. We should have written down the stories from Slobodan Novaković’s scattered memory. There would be examples for textbooks and anthologies, and mostly for material about the spirit of those times and that land.
Once he spoke about ”Tito and Jež”. It is known that comrade Tito once criticized Jež magazine, which occasionally, on purpose or by accident, detoured from His path. Such mentioning was dangerous and could have brought great problems to the old satiric magazine established before World War II. The Jež people continued joking and laughing, and at the same time fearing of loyal Tito’s officials in all party and state institutions…
So, they calmed down, waiting for May 25, the birthday ”of the greatest son of our nations and nationalities”. They had the idea to give the president, as birthday present, an annual set of Jež editions, bound in leather with golden letters. The big and expensively equipped book arrived from the bindery to the office in the afternoon of May 24. The task to write an inscription in the most beautiful handwriting was given to a caricaturist, who drew all his life with pen and ink, never with ball-point or felt-tipped pens. He sat down at the big office desk, dipped his pen into the ink – he didn’t even manage to write Dear Comrade… his hand shook, the pen moved aside and dropped a horrible black ”pig”on the first clean page of the big book. Everyone was breathless, mostly him. The chief editor was holding his head in his hands. The book was destroyed, a new one couldn’t be finished by the next day, and according to the protocol, gifts were sent before the Youth Day holiday…
They wanted to kill the drawer. They were desperate. Speechless!
However, it was Jež after all. Someone got the idea to continue the inscription with the ”pig”: Dear Comrade Tito, we do sometimes make a mess such as this one, but Your big Heart always forgives us – Yours, Jež
Perhaps it will make him laugh! It was their job: to draw and write to make people smile… Even the Leader of the proletariat!
They never found out whether Tito smiled. And no one asked if the book-set of Jež editions was kept in Tito’s Museum.


The ”Great Ježevac” published his political-historical and philosophical articles – entirely made of shrewdness and satiric wisdom – under the title Svrbija (Scratchia) in the ”Golden Ježevac” edition. He replied to his favorite predecessor Domanović and his Stradija (Suffering Land). In a note about Svrbija, Radivoje Boričić says that it’s impossible to tell whether Novaković was ”mora a Čubura fellow or Partizan fan, football referee or art critic, drama writer or satirist, novel writer or narrator, movie director or TV scriptwriter…”
In his articles, he encompassed all the phenomena of actual politics and its language. Just look at his essay ”Language of Animosity”. A discussion full of aphorisms: ”Vuk Karadžić taught us: Write as you speak! – and life teaches us: Speak as you hate!
He was master of writing and narration. Expert in film and theater, he was a wizard of memory – the local, office, city – between politics, history and literature. His portraits – stories about famous contemporaries: professors, poets, painters, actors, scientists, film directors and others – were published by RTS in the book The Dead, observing the tenth anniversary of Slobodan’s death. The first elaborated is the portrait of Raško Dimitrijević, professor of world literature. Sloba remembered everything that needed to be remembered about him, what many who had listened to the great orator knew, but also the things that only he could hear and tell.
Slobodan Marković, Libero Markoni, in Sloba’s story had a portrait with a frame made of poetry: ”Everything was within his reach, Čubura was his governorate, and he was its minister without portfolio – the market stalls in Kalenić belonged to him, as well as the yards in Orlovića Pavla Street, the neighborhood, everything. Kafanas with oiled floors and buffets without bars, with two or three tables covered with oilcloth, opened their doors before him. The entire Čubura neighborhood, where people died for a small garden, for a room and kitchen, for a reseda cupboard with an alarm clock… Libero carried all that on the palm of his hand.”
Sloba also carried his time and Belgrade of his time on the palm of his hand, with people and arts which he understood differently than others.
The book The Dead is a collection of his texts (writings, portraits, memories, essays) about immortals just like him. Famous participants of his time, according to his choice and sketches, were painted in it: Raško Dimitrijević, Ljubiša Jocić, Slobodan Marković, Aleksandar Popović, Dušan Radović, Milić of Mačva, Dragoslav Srejović, Ljuba Tadić, Zoran Radmilović, and others. Novaković chose them: he understood them and had something to say about them.
One of his most beautiful portraits was dedicated to Dušan Radović: ”Radović weighed each word. He used to say: ’As soon as I open my mouth, a stupidity wants to fly out. So I swallow it’.” Such a witty presentation of the image and character of the great poet could be included in prefaces of school readings… Radović was a poet, journalist, football fan, friend. ”He usually sat alone on the western stands, near the field, not far from the faithful south. He watched the games in silence, with his eyes sparkling. Only there he definitely yielded to idleness, without which poetry doesn’t exist. Football and our love towards Partizan joined us. It is known that ’grobari’ (Partizan fans) are a particular type of people. There is a strange fluid between them, they immediately recognize each other and behave as if they were closest family…”
He wrote about Dragoslav Srejović, archeologist, as a fan of snakes that keep ”age-old secrets which archeologists are searching for”. ”Srejović trusted snakes, he believed that he owed his clairvoyance to them… He discovered what others before him couldn’t see underground, although they dug in the same places: the first mosaic Srejović discovered in Gamzigrad was an image of god Dionysus, with snakes braided in his hair, and the most beautiful mosaic excavated in the same place was the ’Labyrinth’, which resembled a coiled snake.” Srejović recognized the portrait of Roman emperor Galerius in Gamzigrad, and witty Novaković noticed their resemblance. And wrote down Srejović’s words: ”Galerius left me Romuliana in his testament!”


Novaković was a fan of Partizan. One of the biggest among people working in culture. It both helped and hindered. ”I wish I could replace certain Partizan fans with fans of Zvezda, but however it may be, Partizan is the most beloved”, he used to say. Some of it is included in his Partizan anthem: ”While Partizan is fighting its battles, / our flag is waving…” He wrote it in 1975 and it was composed by Kornelije Kovač.
Partizan’s box was unimaginable without Sloba Novaković.
He lived between football, film and theater. He spoke that once, long ago, the famous Italian and international director Bernardo Bertolucci was guest of Belgrade during FEST. That FEST was in the sign of the Last Tango in Paris author. He was even invited to Television Belgrade First Program. In primetime, after the Saturday News, in a program which entire Yugoslavia watched, Bertolucci’s host in the studio was Slobodan Novaković. The conversation, together with clips from movies, lasted more than two hours.
The next day, somewhere in the vicinity of Belgrade, not further than Požarevac, Sloba took charge in a local match, with local, but furious fans. He blew the whistle, the fans didn’t like it, and he heard someone in the stands yelling:
– Booo, f.ck you and Bertolucci!
At times fans chased him over village meadows and macadam roads, mad because their teams didn’t win.
He told about games in fields where one goalkeeper couldn’t see the other, because the field wasn’t flat – the center was on a small hill. When the opposing teams starts an offensive from their penalty area, those in the center inform the goalkeeper:
– They’re coming!
For him football was a form of life, a kind of philosophy: ”Football is a ball game, which enchants the Planet man lives in. I asked myself: can the magic of the ball game be expressed with visual artistic means?”
Answering the question and observing the 60th anniversary of Partizan Football Club, he prepared an exhibition of artworks in the ”Haos” Gallery Ball Game, believing that he was giving the football game a new, spiritual dimension. ”A ball is, like a circle (sphere, projection of a globe), a symbol of perfection and homogeneity. A circle is without beginning or end – it symbolized the cosmic skies and their connection with the earth…”


Satirist and dramaturgist, his thinking was in wide relations, from theater to the authorities. He was obsessed with Shakespeare, the writer who knew everything about the authorities, as if he were watching our times. Novaković’s book of interpretations of Shakespeare’s works is entitled Kings and Subjects. The book includes many thoughts and aphorisms about the authorities and ethics. The essay about Macbeth states: ”You don’t know what’s worse: when a bad government gets hold of man, or when a bad man gets hold of the government.” In his mini-essays about Shakespeare’s plays and heroes, it is difficult to separate what is William’s and what is Sloba’s, whether he refers to the actual or some historical government: Referring to Julius Caeser, he writes: ”The king is always endangered by a conspiracy – because his faithful subjects always threaten him with a conspiracy.” He said many nice things about the theater: ”Even when the curtain falls, the play is still in progress.” Is there a greater praise to this art?
Devotee of culture, he was a witty interpreter of caricature and painting. He merged traditional values with modern views and knowledge. Man of the world, Belgradian and Serb, he traveled both to football games and festivals. As if the entire cultural Belgrade was traveling with him.
He was one of the legends of Belgrade. He was half a century young – since his first appearances in drama clubs and literary evenings until the end of his life. Both in cultural artistic societies and in state television. Based on his education, he could’ve been professor at several colleges. Remembered are his satirical texts for the students’ spectacle Freshman Party. It is also remembered that he was one of the founders of the satirical cabaret Mosquito, that he staged Nušić, Italo Calvino, Andersen…
He wrote parodies of history and poetry – less known and the most famous. The book Between Reality and Parody already in its title begins with a parody of one of the most beautiful poems of our poetry. Here is one verse from Davičo’s ”Hana”:

I, son of a hunter in the dark, always an otter, never a sheep,
fell in love, after the war, with unaligned Udba,
daughter of heroic Ozna and Leka – veteran,
with which I was eternally connected by literary fate.

A parody always reveals a second face or hidden side of the poet. He also made a parody of a folk poem:

Peacock is grazing,
Standard is growing,
Mountain is green.
Man is withering,
Prices are jumping,
Cheeks are being red…

His parodies also included verses and subjects of the greatest writers: Andrić, Ćopić, Desanka, Erić, Vučo, Kiš, Pekić, Crnjanski, Lalić, Popa, Simović, Bećković, Kapor, Ršum, Brana Petrović…
In a word, he created cultural life – he directed the spiritual and soul atmosphere, he made it picturesque, audible, funny, popular…


He wrote applied poetry – and had a talent for it. He was close to Dušan Radović in that aspect, although Duško was a poet, and Sloba was a playwright. He had a poem for anti-reading:

Practical learners,
Are the best students,
They study the least,
And know the most,
And after all,
Have minimum repent.

Everyone grows from their environment,
Gains a name in it.
It pushes and tramples over you –
It keeps and takes care of you,
It won’t let you be –
It models you.
It navigates you –
It conditions you!

Practical learners,
Are the best students!

The papers of Jež’s legend Radivoje Boričić keep Sloba’s ”Poem for Paja Minčić, piano and… Radoje Domanović”:

Paths of Kalemegdan
Busts of great men
Every day
Little birds
Are shitting relentlessly
On Serbian philosophers, scientists, writers
Bird feces are pouring from faces
Of cultural leaders
Look, a bouncy sparrow
Jumping on Mokranjac’s head
And a cocky magpie pooping on Crnjanski’s forehead
Not a single great man remained clean in Serbia
All of them, already during their lifetime
Were shitted by some bastard
Only Radoje Domanović
Cocked his black little hat
Hiding under its brim
The satirist is meditating calmly
Since he knows that no bird
Can poop over his face
Raised in Stradija
Radoje defies pests.

It was Sloba’s defense of Belgrade and its great people.
He lived both in the cinema and at the stadium.
He was a diabetic but wasn’t afraid of death. After a therapy in the City Hospital in Zvezdara – his son Marko wrote – he dropped by the ’Lion’ confectionary. He ate two big cream pies with great pleasure, with the color of the cloud which took him through life from one to the other side of the world, and came home satisfied, defying his illness.
”He died on May 3, 2007, in the ’Dragiša Mišović’ hospital, where he spent the last eight months of his life, with rare visits home…” Marko Novaković further notes: ”He was buried at the New Cemetery in Belgrade, on the day a derby was played on Partizan stadium, and on the southern stands, on a large black and white banner, the most faithful fans wrote: One and only Sloba Novaković!

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