How Serbian actor Marko Dolash returns names and meanings to Russia

As a schoolboy, he, the son of a Yugoslav builder, spent a couple of years in Moscow, and boyishly passionately and selflessly fell in love with Russia. “Everything I’ve done since then has to do with this great country,” says Marco. And he does a lot.

He performs Russian and Serbian songs at the Victory Museum, participates in our music and film festivals, at one of them – “The Road to Yalta” – Lev Leshchenko himself applauded him. Marco is also the curator of several Russian-language guides to the Balkans, including the bestseller My Delicious Serbia. It was while working on books that the actor and journalist made a historic discovery – he discovered a diary with musical notes by the Russian-Yugoslav composer Alexei Butakov, which he kept in the Nuremberg-Langwasser concentration camp during the Second World War.

Marco, little is known about your discovery yet, but what has already been voiced is reminiscent of a detective…

Marko Dolas: It is, indeed, incredible. My co-author of the book “My Healthy Serbia” Elena Zelinskaya and I were going to go to one Serbian ethnic village, and before that, on the set of my program, I was chasing a Vietnamese pig and severely injured my leg, I screamed all night, but in the morning I still got into the car and went for a partner. She tried to persuade me to return home, but I did not give up. And here we are in the village, and there is a small museum there, and we didn’t need to go there, but I went there anyway to take a few photos. And suddenly the son of the owner of the museum tells me – here at the flea market we bought a box full of letters in Russian from the gypsies, gave only 200 dinars for it, that’s 150 rubles, and now we don’t know what to do with it. I say take it. In a pile of letters was a brown notebook with the inscription “Nuremberg, 1943”, this was the diary with musical notes of the composer Alexei Butakov, he kept it when he was in the Nuremberg-Langwasser concentration camp. We begged the notebook from the owners of the museum and sent it to specialists from the Russian radio “Orpheus”, they studied the find, ran the notes through a special computer program and said: “This is wonderful music.” Several works from the diary were performed by the Moscow Small Symphony Orchestra at the festival “Russian Diaspora: Cities and Faces” in May of this year, it was a real world premiere. The music turned out to be very soulful and relevant.

And before that, did you personally know who Butakov was? And why is this far from an ordinary composer?

Marko Dolas: To be honest, I didn’t know much. Except perhaps the fact that this is the nephew of the very Admiral Grigory Butakov, who created the armored fleet, was the military governor of Sevastopol, successfully participated in the Crimean War, commanded the same “Vladimir”, which Aivazovsky depicted on his famous canvas “Battleship”. And the composer’s father, Rear Admiral Alexei Grigorievich Butakov, commanded the port of Petrograd in 1914.

But we continued our “investigation”, and found out that, having emigrated from Bolshevik Russia, the musician Alexei Butakov managed a lot. He was the director of a music school in Belgrade, was a conductor of the national theater of Yugoslavia, worked as an editor-in-chief at Belgrade radio, he wrote many romances, and also in 1950 managed to create music for the film “Red Flower”, which tells about Yugoslav prisoners of concentration camps. I performed a song from this picture, beloved by the Serbs, with a guitar at a festival in Moscow.

Is there any explanation for the fact that the diary was found right now?

Marko Dolas: I do not believe in coincidences, I think the time is now, when additional cultural and spiritual bridges need to be built between Russia and Serbia. A concert in memory of Butakov in Moscow, a documentary film about him, which will be released in the fall, is all that both peoples need.

Recently I heard how you read the poems of the Russian poet Yakov Polonsky, and I was amazed that not everyone in Russia remembers him, where does such knowledge of our culture come from?

Marko Dolas: Once I saw a lecture about Polonsky, in which one of his translations was quoted, the poem began with the line “Night looks with thousands of eyes”, I became interested, began to read other translations and Polonsky’s poems. And fell in love with every line. It seems to me that all his poems are about the fact that without love it is impossible to see the world as it really is. It seems to me that the whole Russian culture is about this. And that’s why she’s great. In Serbia, Russian literature, for example, is number one. We equate Dostoevsky with the apostles, and Chekhov at the Belgrade Academy of Arts, where I studied, is dismantled, imagine, the whole second year …

Photo: Courtesy of the press service of the film festival “Your Way”

And what did you find in Chekhov?

Marko Dolas: For me, he is life, in the sense that in his stories at the same time someone is crying, someone is rejoicing, someone is being carried to the cemetery, and someone is going to have breakfast. And it’s all incredibly realistic. In addition, if we take Chekhov’s plays, then, in my opinion, these are tragicomedies, and in this sense Anton Pavlovich fits perfectly into the cinema of the so-called Serbian black wave, which almost all consists of tragicomedies. These are, first of all, the films of our famous playwright Dusan Kovacevic “The Balkan Spy”, “The Gathering Place” and others.

My dream is to make a festival of such cinema in Moscow, firstly, you will see how close our cultures are, and secondly, any festival strengthens ties between peoples. I believe that nothing builds those same bridges like cinema and food. Oh yes, even women, if women find a common language with each other, then nothing will interrupt this connection (laughs).

Photo: Courtesy of the press service of the film festival “Your Way”

Marco, we met at the Svoy Put film festival, how do you like our cinema and, in your opinion, is there a director whose films a foreigner can understand Russia from?

Marko Dolas: I will not talk about modern Russian cinema, it is just returning to its path, but I adore the Soviet one. “Autumn Marathon”, “Mimino”, “Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears”, Gaidai’s films are all mine. As for the Russian director himself, it is, of course, Tarkovsky. To me, he is a genius. From his films one can understand the depth of the Russian person and Russian history, the very spiritual power that is hidden from a superficial glance and is revealed only to those who really love Russia. There is an interesting story. I knew the great Serbian director Mladomir Djordjevic, and he told me that the Italians first invited him to direct the film Nostalgia, but Djordjevic said that only Tarkovsky could make it. Because he is the most Russian of Russians.

I heard the song “Where does the Motherland begin” in your performance several times, tell me, does the Motherland of a Serb and a Russian begin with the same thing?

Marko Dolas: I think that any homeland begins with love, but in our case also with sacrifice. Our ancestors always fought for their land, they suffered, but they fought, this sacrificial blood was absorbed into the ground, into the roots. Therefore, we are talking about deep love for our country. It is impossible to explain what it is to other nations. Russia is my Motherland too. I don’t earn big money here, I spend more, save money in Serbia and come to you, I spend all my holidays here, I participate in projects. At the same time, when the landing gear is in contact with the runway, I feel a surge of tenderness and happiness – they say, real Russians experience the same thing when they return home.

Source: Российская газета by

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