Ljubomir Micic – Zenitism and the Balkan Barbarogenius

Ljubomir Micić
Ljubomir Micic
Ljubomir Micic

Ljubomir Micic (1895-1971) was an avant-garde artist with an unbearable temper which filled his life with conflicts. Born to a Serbian family in Sosice, Austro-Hungary (nowadays Croatia) he attended the Lyceum in Zagreb where he started expressing literary and playwriting talents. He was mobilized for Austro-Hungarian army in 1915, but simulated madness at the Eastern Front. Being sent back home in 1917, he got involved into acting, journalism, art criticism and writing in general. In the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, Micic worked as a teacher for a while. After gaining some recognition for his poems and novels he decided to start the magazine “Zenit – the international Review for New Art”.

The first “Zenit” came out in Zagreb in 1921. It was an experimental publication covering arts and culture by innovative typographic solutions. It featured poems, manifestos and essays, announced events and made use of several languages. The chief editor was Ljubomir Micic, helped by his brother, Branimir Ve Poljanski, Bosko Tokin and Paris-based expressionist poet Yvan Goll . The group gathering around the Zagreb magazine referred to themselves as “Zenitists” thus forming a genuine Southern Slavic avant-garde movement, “Zenitism”. They were hostile towards the academic artistic canons, bourgeois society and popular religiosity. Technological progress, radio, cinema, photography, jazz music and advertising industry amazed them. The list of contributors to the magazine constantly changed due to numerous quarrels with Micic, but the contents of Zenit were always provocative and controversial. By 1924, the magazine had already raised various polemics in Zagreb and some if its monthly issues were censored. Its printing moved to Belgrade, where it stayed until the magazine was finally banned in 1926. Legal ban was proclaimed because of the text “Zenithism through the prism of Marxism”. Micic, prosecuted for obscenity and Bolshevik propaganda, escapes to Paris, together with his wife Anuska, who was a regular contributor to Zenit. The couple stays in Paris for decade, deepening the connections with the leading avant-garde artists. From 1936 onwards they live in Belgrade, but Micic keeps corresponding with Paris and publishing in French. It is in these pre-war years when his concept of Balkan Barbarogenius, popularized in Zenit, was finally shaped. Who was the Barbarogenius and how he helps us understand Southern Slavs?

Balkan Barbarogenius

The Balkan region is often perceived as the Orient of Europe and the integration of its countries into the European community is not yet finished. In Ljubomir Micic’s time, Balkan was often seen as barbaric, and this trend hasn’t really stopped to the present day. Instead of struggling to prove the respectability and achievements of Southern Slavic people, Micic called for overcoming the culture of what he saw as a Decadent West. He despised “noble gallows of the European so-called continent” with its “smuggled culture and stolen civilization”. At the core of Zenitist movement, he placed the figure of the Barbarogenius who was to heal and “decivilize” Europe.


The redemptive force of a Balkan man stemmed from his powerful vibe of freshness, youth and energy. He may have been raw, but his barbarism is represented in Nietzschean terms of reshaping the old values and giving birth to new man – Superhuman (Übermensch). According to Micic,

European culture is cruel and cannibalistic. That is why Zenitists work on the balkanization of Europe and want to expand…to all continents in the name of the new barbarism, in the name of new people and new continents, in the name of a terrible struggle: East vs. West! The Balkan peninsula is a cradle of pure barbarism, which preaches a new brotherhood of men.

The Balkan Barbarogenius possesses the primordial purity not burdened by education and manners of a “high society”. He owes his vitality to rebellious ancestors – hajduks – who fought all Balkan invaders (Ottomans and Habsburgs) in guerrilla style. His masculinity is impossible to tame as he is “an extremely powerful corporeal machine.” Such character of Barbarogenius clearly shows the influence of Futurism on Micic’s work. His life-lasting love for Expressionism adorned the character of Barbarogenius with the ability of unrestrained and pervading interaction with the surrounding. His spontaneity is something which “old and tired” Europe has to retrieve at the path to recovery. Only Balkanic Southern Slavic people, led by the ideal figure of Barbarogenius, can stop the decline of the West. They represent the necessary rejuvenation of Europe’s decadent culture. All these ideas were outlined in the numerous issues of Zenit, and Micic rounds them up in a novel in French “Barbarogénie le Décivilisateur”(1938).

During the World War II, Micic became a fierce Serbian nationalist issuing the rightist magazine “Serbianism”. In this period, he abandoned Southern Slavic character of Barbarogenius, making him more and more Serbian. When the war ended the ideology of “Brotherhood and Unity” was the only acceptable option for all Yugoslav inhabitants. Micic withdrew from public life and died forgotten in the home for the elderly in Pancevo, Serbia.

An interest in his work has been renewed after the turbulent events in the Balkans, and nowadays Zagreb and Belgrade compete in issuing catalogues and appraisals of Zenithism. The magazine is available online through the National Library of Serbia and even inspired the birth of a new Zenit although its editor claims the name to be their only connection.