Božena Begović

Photograph of B. Begović provided by the Department of the History of Croatian Theater of the Institute of the History of Croatian Literature, Theater and Music, Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts

18.3. 1901 – 10.7.1966

History remembers Božena Begović primarily as Radio Zagreb’s first ever announcer. However, her vivid life experience does not allow for this to be the only thing we remember upon encountering her name. She also enjoyed a substantial acting and theatre carer, and she was also a translator and a writer. However, her work was never fully acknowledged, and she spent much of her life barely making ends meet.

Her father was the writer Milan Begović and her mother was the pianist Paula Goršetić. She completed her elementary education in Hamburg, her family’s residence at the time. In Vienna, she graduated from high school, and later from the Academy of Music and Performing Arts. She was fascinated by the ideas in leftist literature and spoke several languages: German, French, Italian and English, and she also learned Czech and Esperanto. Following her university graduation, she worked as an actress in Vienna, Steyer, Dubrovnik, and Zagreb.

Božena made her theatrical debut in Zagreb in her father’s play The Wedding Flight (Croatian National Theatre – HNK, 1923) where she played the lead role. Because of the ubiquitous misogyny and the sexist way women were treated in the cultural sphere, Božena left for Dubrovnik to be with her recently divorced mother. There she joined the local theatre scene. She became Head of the Dubrovnik Theatre Association, where she helped bring to life the works of many notable authors by using her skills as an actress, director, set and costume designer.

Following her return to Zagreb in 1926, she became the first announcer at the newly-founded Radio Zagreb. In the small studio at 9 St. Mark’s Square, she uttered the famous words: “Hello, hello, this is Radio Zagreb. We are saying hello to our first listeners and we ask you to call us right away and tell us if you can hear us well.” Apart from being the radio’s announcer and reciter, Begović was also largely the one responsible for maintaining the entire studio. 

She spent several years travelling from Zagreb to Dubrovnik, looking for work. She spent the winter of 1928 in Zagreb, unemployed, unwell, living in an apartment without heating. 

Her friends, writers Miroslav Krleža and August Cesarec, helped her return to the Croatian National Theatre, where she worked as a secretary until 1945. In the meantime, she was working as a tutor, teaching languages, and would translate the works of Marin Držić, Vesna Parun, Miroslav Krleža, Honoré de Balzac and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry during the night. 

In 1945, she became the first woman appointed Drama Director at the Croatian National Theatre (the same function her father occupied 18 years prior). She was also the first director of the Pioneer Theatre (today ZKM – Zagreb Youth Theatre) founded in 1948, which was meant to provide artistic and cultural education to children and youth. 

Apart from being a known translator, Begović was also acknowledged as a writer, an interest which had developed during her years at university. She published theatre reviews, critiques and anecdotes, as well as a collection of poems entitled About Life, whereas the collection About Pain and Reason was only published in 2008. It features a postface by literary critic and poet Dunja Detoni Dujmić, an expert on Croatian women writers such as Jagoda Truhelka, Dragojla Jarnević, Marija Jurić Zagorka, Camilla Lucerna, Ivana Brlić Mažuranić and many others.

She was the first president of the Croatian Women Writers’ Association (1938 – 1941), an organization which was shut down by Ustaše after their rise to power. Begović remained an impassioned antifascist in spite of the rise of fascism and she supported the Communist Party. She refused to accept fascist politics and became involved with International Red Aid, where she helped take care of the people and children who had been rescued from concentration camps. In 1942, she became a member of the Women’s Antifascist Front (AFŽ).

Begović died in Zagreb in 1966. Her legacy, which still remains largely unrecognized, presents a significant contribution to the Croatian culture.

19 Jurjevska Street, Zagreb

Božena lived on Jurjevska Street from 1935 until her death in 1966. At the time of Hitler’s rise to power, Božena, bed-ridden with fever and overwhelmed by her poor financial situation, fell into a state of deep distress. She started living with chemical engineer Joelle Vuković, who helped her regain her health and well-being. They lived as partners for 30 years. In 1973, at her own expense, Joelle published Božena’s selected texts. Today, there is a memorial plaque on her house in Jurjevska that's been set up by the Croatian Writers’ Association.