Agonija Europe: Razgovori i susreti

TitleAgonija Europe: Razgovori i susreti
Publication TypePublication review
AuthorsMüller, Nils
Author(s) of reviewed materialRadica, Bogdan

Title translated:
The Agony of Europe: Conversations and Encounters

PublisherZagreb: Disput
ISSNISBN 953-260-010-8
Review year


Full Text

On the occasion of last year’s Zagreb book fair, the first Croatian edition of Agonija Europe by Bogdan Radica, originally published in 1940 in Belgrade (under the title Agonija Evrope), was presented to the public and aroused interest in the media. It contains a series of essays on, and interviews with some outstanding European intellectuals originating from the 1920s and 1930s, covering the European crisis preceding the Second World War, a crisis that was widely perceived as one of European or “Western” civilization in general. The volume has been translated from Serbian into Croatian and “Croatized” [p. 18], which might at first hand sound a little strange to those who are familiar with the strong affinity of the two languages (if two different languages at all), but given the fact that Croatian students today usually do not have a command of the Cyrillic script any more (the teaching of which was removed from their curricula after the declaration of independence in 1991), this step did appear necessary to enable further reception of this remarkable book possible – at least in Croatia.

Bogdan Radica was one of Yugoslavia’s most effective journalists in the interwar period and played a central role among the liberals of the Croatian émigré community after 1945. Having pursued his studies in Italy and Paris, he served as political correspondent and press attaché at the Yugoslav embassy in Athens, later at the legation at the League of Nations in Geneva. Being disappointed by the new state and society Titoist partisans started to establish in Yugoslavia after their victory, Radica emigrated to the United States where he taught political science and published frequently in both international scientific journals and the Croatian emigration press. He died in New York City in 1993.
Agonija Europe consists of three parts: An interview with Italian historian and philosopher Guglielmo Ferrero (Radicas father-in-law), which has been published before in Italian (Colloqui con Guiglelmo Ferrero, Lugano 1939), a long extract from Radica’s correspondence with Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, and twenty-two essays in between these that constitute the longest part of the book. It seems unnecessary to provide a detailed outline of the argumentations, as Radica usually incorporates the interviews into a broader essay on his counterpart’s scientific or fictional opus, proving himself a perceptive and widely read author. Radica’s vocabulary can be taken as a key to understanding the interior structure of Agonija Europe and discover the coherence of the particular chapters.

First, he adopts the term “agony” and its reference to Europe from Unamuno [p. 353]. In Unamuno’s philosophy, living in a state of agonal struggle means to suffer from a combat between “body and mind, [...] life and form” [p. 331]. Applied to the state of the continent in the late 1930’s, this dialectic approach implies that European politics and societies have been disunited from the intellectual roots of Europe and its basic moral values. Second, Radica assigns this dialectic to notions of “qualitative” and “quantitative civilization” that can be found in Ferrero. The 20th century is the age of quantitative civilization, of the “masses” (the term is discussed in the book by Ortega y Gasset), which clashes with the 19th century, as New Europe clashes with Old Europe, emerging antimodernism with modernism.

This is the leitmotiv of Radica’s collection of texts and provides the wide framework for manifold thinking on the roots of the European crisis. The Swiss geographer and economist André Siegfried is alone in denying the link between crisis and the decline of European moral values: “The European has never been more or less moral [than today]” [p. 293]. Most of Radica’s conversational partners connect the crisis with the emergence of totalitarian ideologies. Bolshevism, Fascism and National Socialism challenge traditional moral values and concepts of “Europe” or the “Occident.” The tenor of Radica’s collection of interviews is that Europe’s agony is manifest in the rise of totalitarianism. Notably, fascist thinkers like Giovanni Papini or Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (father of Italian futurism) predictably salute this, but as most of the intellectuals who appear here are reputed antifascists living in exile (having fled from Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union), their common anti-totalitarian stance should come as no surprise.
Agonija Europe is a multilayered text. Radica discusses the relationship between (Soviet) Russia and “Europe” or “The West” with Russian émigrés Nikolaj Berdaev and Dmitrij Merežkovski. He debates the role of (West) European intellectual elites facing a radicalization of politics and the outbreak of war with André Gide, Georges Duhamel, Julien Benda and others. Questions on What is Europe? and What is the character of its civilization? provoke various answers as much as lead to further questions when asked. All this makes the book a highly valuable source for those interested in the intellectual history of the first half of the 20th century.

This edition is a praiseworthy one. It includes detailed annotations on all the people involved and provides precise information on earlier publications of parts of this book (Radica was making use of his journalistic material repeatedly). Unfortunately, the introduction by editor Josip Pandurić is unsatisfying. He lays very much emphasis on the fact that he succeeded in “Croatizing” the book, using quotes by Radica from the early 1990s – the extremely nationalist climate of opinion in those year’s debates on Croatia is known. Another essay by Stevo Đurašković (Zagreb) also highlights Radica’s and his book’s Croatianness and it also provides reliable biographical information. A final supplement is contributed by Ivo Banac (Yale), who knew Radica personally. He briefly summarizes Agonija Europe, basically outlining the turn against totalitarianism, a key trait in Radica’s opus and personality as a nationalist but liberal at the same time. All in all, this is a highly interesting book and an enjoyable read – for those who read the language(s).