In memoriam to Jasna Tkalec, 1941-2017

Jasna Tkalec, a dear comrade and a courageous and inimitable revolutionary democratic socialist writer and intellectual, passed away yesterday.

She was born in 1941 in Zagreb, Croatia. Her father was Zvonko Tkalec, who belonged to the the old pre-WWII generation of Yugoslav revolutionaries and participants in the partisan movement in the Second World War. He was one of the most prominent translators of Marx and Engels from German into the Croatian/Serbian language, and was imprisoned and tortured at the Nova Gradiška concentration camp, which was run by the Ustashe of the Croatian Nazi puppet-state.

Jasna studied Romance studies and Classical Philology at the University of Zagreb, and undertook further studies at the University of Florence. She taught at the classical gymnasium in Zagreb in late 1960s and early 1970s and was a general secretary of the Cultural Committee of the Socialist Union of Working People of Croatia (one of the main official political institutions in former Yugoslavia, alongside the League of Communists) from 1976. In 1984 she spent time in Rome with a stipend from the Gramsci Institute. In the mid-1980s she lived in Paris where she translated books on political theory and art. She published articles on social theory (especially on Gramsci and on feminism) in many of the leading Yugoslav Marxist journals, including Naše teme, Žena, Dometi, Delo, Kulturni radnik, Pitanja and Oko.

After the collapse of Yugoslavia, she worked as a freelance journalist for Novi forum, Nokat, Hrvatska ljevica, Novosti, and for Italian socialist magazines and newspapers il Manifesto, Liberazione and Avvenimenti. In the early 1990s, she was convicted to three months in prison for her radical criticism of the new far right nationalist regime in Croatia. From 1991 to 1993 she lived in Bologna and Rome, where she also collaborated with the magazine Balcanica.

In 2015 she published a collection of essays The Phantom of Freedom, in which she unveiled the brutality and authoritarianism of the capitalist and imperialist order which masquerades itself as a form of democracy. To this grim reality she counterposed consistent anti-war and democratic socialist politics and a broad humanistic culture.

I first met Jasna as a 17-year old, when I started collaborating with the monthly socialist magazine Hrvatska ljevica, on whose editorial board she was (and which I also joined a year later). The magazine’s founder and editor was Professor Stipe Šuvar, a former Vice President of Yugoslavia who, unlike his peers, refused to simply retire or join centrist political forces following the break-up of Yugoslavia, but instead sought to blaze a trail for new revolutionary democratic socialist politics. Jasna’s writings and our many conversations during this and the subsequent period were immensely enriching. Jasna was also, from the start, on the editorial board of Novi Plamen, a left-wing journal for politics and culture which I founded and co-edited from 2007 until 2015 (when it folded as a printed journal but continued as an online magazine). Plamen was from the start conceived as a gathering place for democratic and humanistic left-wing forces from all the countries of former Yugoslavia. Jasna continued to diligently contribute to Plamen’s online edition.

Jasna was an immensely erudite and gifted writer and polymath. Her brilliant essays, both enlightening and of great literary value, will hopefully be deeply appreciated by the coming generations of left-wing intellectuals and other progressive people on the territory of former Yugoslavia and beyond. Her humanistic vision of socialism reflected her humane, gracious, generous and cooperative character. We have lost a splendid, singular person. Her Promethean spirit will, however, survive in her luminous essays and in the people whose consciousness she has enriched and revolutionised.

by Daniel Jakopovich