Self-made Man Transcends Human Rights Injustice Through His Unbridled Creativity

Dimitar Anakiev filming in Rimini, Italy as daughter Alma looks on
Dimitar Anakiev filming in Rimini, Italy as daughter Alma looks on. Photo: Riley Arthur

National Geographic grantee Riley Arthur is documenting the Erased of Slovenia-  25,671 non-ethnic Slovenian residents who were not automatically granted citizenship after the country split from Yugoslavia in 1991. Over two decades later, the community is still fighting for documentation. These stories are about the Erased and the places they live. 


On the way to an interview in Rimini, Italy, Dimitar Anakiev was muttering to himself. My assistant, Patrick Felsenthal, and I had just gotten into the car and Anakiev appeared to be focused. Alma Anakiev, Dimitar’s daughter and our trusty translator, explained that her father was listening to a language lesson. He is teaching himself French.

After a few minutes, the lesson presumably ended and Dimitar took off the headphones and began to explain why a man in his fifties of Serbian descent living in Slovenia would want to learn French. Anakiev has been reading philosophy texts; as an intellectual and poet he felt limited by the five languages he speaks. He hopes to be reading the great French philosophers soon.

Dimitar Anakiev is a self-made man: a doctor, a filmmaker, a poet, a publisher, a chess master, an activist, and a great person. We met at a film screening at Metelkova autonomous zone where he was screening a collection of short films he made about the Erasure. His filmmaking style reveals a level of intimacy with the interviewed Erased which can only have been gained by the trust and empathy of shared experience. Dimitar Anakiev was Erased.

Prior to Anakiev’s Erasure, he worked as a prominent physician in Tolmin, married a nurse and lived a peaceful life raising their daughter. When Anakiev was Erased he lost his license to practice and overnight his former patients refused to acknowledge him publicly. It wasn’t long before policeman arrived at his home and forcibly deported him to his native Serbia.

After his deportation he was unable to reenter Slovenia, and thus lived in Serbia, separated from his family. While in Serbia he wrote haikus as a way to cope with the indignity he felt. After four years returned to Slovenia through a temporary visa sponsored by a chess club, and began teaching chess- arguably the most creative re-entry of a temporary visa of any of the Erased I interviewed.  When the visa was due to expire he launched a publishing business, where he published small editions of poetry and literary texts by Slovene authors. As a business owner he was able to remain in Slovenia. As a publisher he printed Gulag Slovenia, a collection of poems written about the Erasure.

Anakiev has likened his experience as an ex-Yugoslav Erased person to that of a Russian Gulag prisoner, denied dignity by suffering a slow death by emotional and psychological traumas. When Anakiev began to feel limited creatively by poetry alone, he attended film school and launched a production company, which he now runs with his wife and daughter. His films have shown in several international film festivals.

Like many people I interviewed, Anakiev was not initially interested in politics or activism, but through the experience of a systemic human rights violation, he became politicized.  He describes the victory of the first case for the Erased at the European Court for Human Rights as the most important day of his life.  In the Fall, Anakiev founded an activist organization for the Erased called the Association of Erased Workers (I was invited to be one of the signing members!). There are now three activist groups for the Erased. His group, Association of Erased Worker, allies with the labor movement and aims to be a voice for the working class.

Dimitar and Alma became invaluable to the expedition and team. The Erasure is a complex human rights issue and as an intellectual he was able to dissect the problem and draw comparisons that only a poet could. In his spare time Anakiev is studying medicine and thinking about reentering the medical world. He is constantly pondering future film projects, and we have discussed a future collaboration. He will no doubt be writing in French soon.

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Photographer, islander, environmentalist, gelato eater.