Europe's Wild East
by or Only Karl May understood us Indians
by Dzevad Karahasan
When I was small, my mother often went to hospital leaving me in the care of our neighbour Marica, who I should make clear - given the times in which we live - is a Catholic and Croat. Marica would always fetch from our house the cooking pots in which to cook for me, and literally every time she would explain to me that I could not eat with her children, because they ate pork. 'That's a sin for your people, and if I were to let you eat it in my house the sin would fall on my soul', she would say. I believe I got the information about not eating pork from my mother, but I am quite certain it is to Marica that I owe my acceptance of that information with feeling and experience, something that is deeper and stronger than rational knowledge.
My father was a Communist, so we used to celebrate religious holidays almost in secret - we celebrated them while pretending not to. The celebration was reduced to two quite recognisable elements: cake-baking and a visit from our family friend Brother Klemo, Guardian of the Monastery at Duvno. If mother had made a pile of cakes and Brother Klemo came to visit - it was Bajram. If only one of these things happened, then it was some festive occasion but definitely not Bajram. The way you could tell that the holiday was being celebrated, unseemly though it may be, was the combination of cakes with Brother Klemo's visit.
Brother Klemo and other Catholic friends who visited us at Bajram would pretend that they had simply dropped in, father too would pretend that our friends had come by quite accidentally, while mother would not pretend but would bring out the cakes. I did not pretend either but looÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌìked forward to these visits - each new visit meant new cakes also for me. Something similar would happen during Catholic holidays: we would visit friends, father would pretend we had just dropped in, while mother would openly offer best wishes and I would openly eat whatever was offered.
I spent 22 years in Sarajevo and came to know quite well not only its daily life, but also what I would term its 'local mythology': i.e. the combination of untested beliefs firmly held by all who feel themselves to be the city's true inhabitants. The key components of this local mythology were: the little Orthodox church in Bascarsija has one of the world's richest museums of Orthodox art; the Bey's mosque has one of the world's richest collections of carpets; the church of St Anthony on Bistrik is so large and beautiful because our Franciscans managed to carry the day against the Austro- Hungarian authorities, who were none too fond of Franciscans. Each of these places, of course, was linked with countless legendary or true anecdotes, of the kind which make up any local mythology in a city dear to its inhabitants. It is important nowdays to stress that these stories from the local mythology were told - and pride in the holy places was shared - equally by people of all confessions. Muslims, Catholics and Jews took as much pride as the Orthodox did in the Orthodox church's fantastic collection, just as the church of St Anthony simply belonged to us all.
Almost all the Bajrams I celebrated in Sarajevo I celebrated with Mile Baric and Ivan Bubalo, professors at the city's Faculty of Franciscan Theology. To Enes Karic, professor at the Faculty of Islamic Theology, I was introduced by our common friend Rada Ivekovic from Zagreb, whom I would describe as by confession a writer and intellectual. Other professors from the Faculty of Islamic Theology I met at the Faculty of Franciscan Theology, while celebrating Catholic religious holidays.
That is how things were until recently - until 1990. Then the people in Belgrade discovered that Serbs were endangered everywhere in the world, especially in Bosnia, and 'intellectual missions' made their appearance, bent on 'saving endangered Serbdom' by separating the Orthodox segment from other segments of daily life. Without much success, to tell the truth, since the local mythologies adopted during centuries of common life simply proved stronger than the new ideologies. That is why the new ideologues decided to continue politics by other means: in April 1992 military attacks on Bosnia began, conducted by the Yugoslav People's Army, which re-invented itself as the 'Army of Yugoslavia' or 'Serb Army' or whatever its name is now.
I spent one year of the war in Sarajevo in a building in which lived: 11 Bosniaks (Moslem faith), 7 Serbs (Orthodox faith), 5 Croats (Catholic faith), and two people born in so-called mixed marriages so that it is difficult to define their religion in 'pure categories'. We spent that year running to the cellar together, sharing water and food, giving to and stealing from each other, quarrelling about our place in the queue when collecting rainwater at the downpipe from a gutter. We also spent that year convincing each other that we were bound to win, since there were too many of us to disappear without a trace.
After a year of such life I left Sarajevo and Bosnia, because I felt useless. The final-year students got their degrees, but I found it impossible to organise lectures for the rest. The hospital where I was helping got itself so well organised that every attempt to help on my part proved useless. I became just one hunger extra, one fear extra, and one water- drinker extra, in a city in which there was a surfeit of hunger and fear, but a deficit of water. So I went away, first to Austria, then to Germany, then further on to the free and fortunate world of Western Europe.
I arrived in the free and fortunate world and began to feel bewildered, so that now, after spending a year in that world, I have come seriously to ask myself and others whÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌìether I really existed; whether I really experienced what I remember; whether I am a wicked liar and mystifier falsifying my forty years of life, or perhaps a pitiful patient who believes he remembers something that naturally did not happen, because it could not have happened. I have learned that we in Bosnia were victims not of a crazed chauvinism - which managed to find a use for a huge decapitated army, when this was in search of a state and a leader willing to employ it - but of our own nature. I have learned that the Bosnia in which I reached (optimistically speaking) my middle age does not exist and never did. I have learned much that has bewildered me and led me to ask painful questions about myself. This is because I have learned these new and bewildering things from people who rightly think of themselves as being somebody in contemporary European thought; and if you come from the Balkans - and from poor Bosnia, at that - then you care about European thought, especially the current which gives expression to so-called contemporary Europe.
The reflections on my fate (since it is my own fate too that is at stake: I am no ideologue and cannot raise myself above the individual's fate, especially when it is my own) which so painfully troubled me are undoubtedly an important contribution to contemporary European thought, not only because of the influence which this kind of thinking has on so-called public opinion, but also because of its ability to articulate clearly and simply certain concepts, ideas and images and offer them as the self-consciousness of a period and culture. This is why I have the need and obligation to reflect a little, in the company of witnesses, on certain characteristic statements in which this type of thinking is almost paradigmatically expressed. Not, in other words, just because these statements about my personal experience run directly contrary to my own, but above all because I consider the authors of these statements to be important people, and because I consider the type of thinking manifested in their statements very significant for what calls itself contemporary European thought.
The well-known German poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger, for example, believes that what is happening in Yugoslavia is a civil war among wild tribes. Now Enzensberger has inherited, through no merit of his own, a magnificent culture; he has also inherited, through no fault of his own, National- Socialist barbarism. Since the heir inherits both the real wealth and the bad debts, Enzensberger, in order to be able to inherit with full legality Hoffmann and Kleist, Goethe and Schiller, must accept within the terms of his inheritance also Himmler. When I say inheritance I mean knowledge, understanding, mastery - i.e. cultural tradition in all possible senses. As a serious poet and a serious intellectual, Enzensberger inherits only what is legally his.
How then, in view of all this, is it possible for him not to recognise what has been happening in Yugoslavia since 1988, i.e. since the time when the regime still in power in Serbia clearly formulated its fundamental positions? The basic fund of information (newspaper reports, at least) was sufficient for a knowledgeable person to recognise everything and understand it. Paraphrasing one of Enzensberger's own poems, I can perfectly describe and define what has been happening in the Balkans since 1988: namely, that was when everybody began to speak Cyrillic. Yes, the Cyrillic script in post-1988 Serbia was precisely what the Gothic script was in the Reich, at the time which Enzensberger describes as the time when people spoke Gothic.
It was long ago, of course, when Enzensberger wrote that poem, very long ago, yet - how is it possible that he fails to recognise in reality his own verses? Or is it reality that is the problem? What I have squandered so many of my years upon - is that reality for the German poet?
The time when everybody spoke Cyrillic began with the public proclamation of a programme basically reduÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌìcible to three tenets: 1. all Serbs must live in the same state; 2. Serbia is wherever there are Serbs; 3. Serbia has the right to use all means, including military force, to defend the interests of Serbs wherever they are endangered, and it is the Serbian government that decides where this is the case. This programme, i.e. the right to a political programme of such a kind, is based on the idea that the Serbs are a heavenly people - a view which, although not formally adopted by the government, is constantly present in all public media and can be heard expressed at mass meetings by even the highest government representatives.
Does this remind you of anything? The heavens are high, are they not? So a heavenly people, if only in a technical sense, must have something to do with a higher race. In order to earn the right to read Meister Eckhart, Enzensberger must certainly have read the almost identical programme of the state in which long ago Gothic was spoken. And yet he believes that Serbia, under the government which proclaimed this programme, is waging exclusively civil wars! Does he believe that the military conflicts in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s, when the people who spoke Gothic were defending the interests of their conationals, must have been a civil war - one of those civil wars to which the inhabitants of Czechoslovakia were extraordinarily prone?
With regard to what is happening in Bosnia, I think first of all of certain characteristic fates, since I have actually experienced the whole of this tragedy through a few characteristic fates. The fate, say, of the two old people from the neighbouring building whose son Jasmin was torn apart by a grenade in our yard in July 1992, and whose daughter was imprisoned from the start of the war in a Serb concentration camp for the insemination of women. The fate of little Amina, whose parents were killed before her eyes, while she was wounded in the knee. The fate of that lovely young man Samir, who was in the city with his mother while his father was targeting them both from the hills above. From the great men whose heir Hans Magnus Enzensberger is, and among others from Lessing, I have learned that individual people have fates, while great collectivities have a history - and that literature is concerned with fates. I know this because I have learned it from the German classics. How is it possible that the German poet Enzensberger, who has absorbed German classical literature along with the smells of his family home - absorbed it in the same way that the link between darkness and sleep is absorbed - how is it possible that any poet, of any kind whatsoever, does not know that for a writer the human fate is of the truest interest (he was a contemporary of Böll's, after all, and may even have known him)? The poet Enzensberger does know this, he knows it just as well as he knows the second law of thermodynamics. But to know it from inside, in the way in which writers know it (the way Böll knew it), it would be necessary to feel, in relation to the concrete war, the link between that war and the individual fate. In order to feel this, however, it is necessary to feel that 'out there' is real and happening to people, since only real people can have fates. Which means that 'out there' are not tribes, but Amina, Jasmin and Samir. Which means that it is all actually happening to us, and not to someone in some exotic 'out there' which by definition is not real...
I believe this is the problem. Enzensberger is undoubtedly a poet, and it is terribly important to me to believe that he is just as undoubtedly a person with good intentions. He would undoubtedly view everything happening in the Balkans through the prism of the Cyrillic script, the pseudo-mythical image of a heavenly people and the fate of Jasmin's parents - if only he could feel that it was all happening in the real world. In the real world, however, we see, recognise and understand what our culture and the way of thinking we have absorbed shows us -allows us to see. One type of thinking (which was dominaÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌìnt in Europe in the second half of the last century) does not allow anything 'out there' to be recognised as real, since everything outside Europe is exotic. Western Europe is reality, everything else is exoticism and, in the exotic 'out there', no fates, people or reality exist.
The same type of thinking, but in a caricaturally simplified version, is represented by the prominent politician, commentator and - alas! - official Balkan expert, Peter Glotz. The life and thought of this eminent person are worthy of attention, since the mechanism of a certain type of thinking - the 'technology' of a certain type of intellectual labour - can be grasped very well in his case, precisely because it is demonstrated very clearly thanks to its caricatural reduction to the basic form. A few random examples will perhaps suffice to illustrate the type of thinking with which I am concerned here, and which still appears to play a central role in what might be called European thought.
The text 'Wer Kampfen will, soll vortreten' (Die Zeit, 15.1.1993) is a veritable treasure-house of statements exhibiting the mechanism and characteristics of this type of thought, in all their nakedness. At the very beginning of the text, the author Glotz treats with irony (indeed mockery) the decision of the German Minister of Posts to resign from the government, because of the latter's passivity towards 'Southeastern Europe'. Mr Glotz bases his irony on a number of facts: 1. the minister who has resigned is a technocrat; 2. he is a sinologist by training; 3. he is not an expert on Southeastern Europe. So the man is a figure of fun if he feels human responsibility for a tragedy he has witnessed (if only indirectly), and feels sympathy for the people affected by it, although he is not an expert on the region in which the tragedy is occurring. As a sinologist he has the right to feel compassion for the Chinese, and to feel a human sense of responsibility (in Kant's meaning) for what happens in China; but compassion for the Bosnians he must relinquish to Balkanologists (since we have no Bosnologists).
I, poor sinner, must confess that at first I was dumbfounded by the monstrosity of this logic; that I wanted to run away from the free and fortunate world in which people think like this; that I longed painfully for my primitive world, in which we felt sorry for the misfortune of others - highly unprofessionally but from the heart. At the same time, overwhelmed by fear as I was, I tried to decipher why what I had read and found so terrifying seemed also familiar. And eventually I realised that it seemed familiar because I recognised the matrix of thought: because, in learning about scientific socialism and other benefits of progressive mankind, I had come to know rather well the type of thought to which Mr Glotz's statement belongs. This is the caricatural variant of rationalism known as scientific optimism or scientism, a pseudo-religious relationship towards the exact sciences. It is the thought which scientifically proved that the victory of socialism was inevitable; the thought which established a scientific aesthetic, and measured the value of music by the intensity of glandular reaction to it; the thought which established by scientific methods that South- American Indians were human beings, so could be given the sacrament of christening (the same would be established somewhat later for Negroes); the thought which divinised objective, positive, measurable and transferable (hence, mechanical) Knowledge; the thought which abolished God, but did not manage to amputate religious experience - so put Knowledge in God's place.
However, it is the destiny of followers to be a parody of those they follow. What does Sacred Knowledge about the Balkans look like, in the case of Balkan expert Peter Glotz? Recalling Ranke, Mr Glotz insists that Croats, Serbs and Dalmatians are a single people, and that Slovenes, Croats and Serbs speak the same language. I am not a linguist so cannot argue with Mr Glotz with the aid of KÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌìnowledge, but can speak only of my own experience and feelings. These tell me, for example, that for a long time now the Slovenes have spoken their own language, which is not like any other language in the world; and that they would like to keep it for a while longer, if Mr Glotz will permit them to do so. Of the other peoples who all speak the same language, linguists could say more than me.
At another point in the same text, Peter Glotz first bewildered, then deeply saddened me. In response to Reichstag deputy Hermann Wendel, Peter Glotz asserts that the Yugoslavs are one people. He bewildered me because on that theme I cannot speak - I am so ignorant that I simply do not have a position. I know that the links between the communities in this area are rather strong and numerous. I know that, in any highly complex structure, stressing the differences between the parts seems as dangerous as stressing the structure's unity (I know this from literature). I know that a maniacal insistence on unity destroyed the First Yugoslavia and provoked a conflict between its communities during World War II. I know that the maniacal insistence on differences which I have witnessed also strikes me as dangerous, because honouring and preserving differences with respect to your neighbour provincializes, imprisons and exhausts the active energies of your community. I know all that, and it is what I think. But I really do not know where the border lies, before which two communities constitute a single people and after which they become two different peoples.
On this theme, I can impart only some experiences and some facts which I know absolutely. I know, for example, that my father was a Communist who fought for the Second Yugoslavia passionately and quite concretely. I know that after 1945 he declared himself in the census as 'nationally undefined' (i.e. non-existent). He declared himself in that way, because he did not experience as his own any of the three choices he was offered. He could declare himself nationally as Serb, as Croat, or as Yugoslav -but he stubbornly felt he was some fourth thing. My father fought for Yugoslavia and cannot have been anti-Yugoslav. There were two million people like him in Yugoslavia. Nationally, they felt they were Bosniaks. My father was born in 1917, two years before the First Yugoslavia. He was a convinced Yugoslav, yet till late in his life he had to register as 'nationally undefined': in other words, nationally non-existent.
I know another indisputable fact. I know that, in the course of the current war, 200,000 of those who nationally could not help feeling they were Bosniaks have been killed. They were killed solely because nationally they could not feel otherwise.
I know another indisputable fact. I know that in World War II, and again in the current one, very many people died feeling themselves to be Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, Montenegrins, or Slovenes. They died mainly because they felt that way, and because they did not feel they were just Yugoslavs. I also know that in this area nine million people feel Serb, four and a half million feel Croat, two million feel Bosniak, over 600,000 feel Montenegrin... Many hundreds of thousands of them have been killed and maimed, and all this could perhaps have been avoided had they felt just Yugoslav. When I realised this I felt deeply saddened. 'God', I thought, 'how much misery could have been avoided, if people had only read more of Peter Glotz and Die Zeit, for whom it is all so clear because it is all so simple!'
I repeat that I do not belong to those who glorify differences and keep insisting on them at the expense of similarities. I repeat that I do not know for sure what a people is, what the difference is between a people and a nation, or where the border lies after which a cultural community becomes a people. I repeat that I have never felt a strong sense of belonging to any particular community, and that I am a person with weak political convictions. Nevertheless, the aggressive self- confidence with which Peter Glotz ÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌìexplains all perplexities and solves all problems offends me deeply.
I am, at the same time, awed and highly impressed by the serene dignity with which Peter Glotz rejects any possible influence on his thought. He does not allow the Balkan people to tell him what he should think, and patiently explains to them that they are all the same. He does not permit facts to influence his thought, and refuses even to look at the map, so that in the text we are talking about he discovers that Knin has 800,000 inhabitants. For Balkan conditions, this is a metropolis. By virtue of Peter Glotz's decision, Knin becomes the third largest Balkan city!
Yet it all began innocently, almost lyrically - I mean my desire to acquaint myself with the life and thought of Peter Glotz. On 10 February 1994 I was watching the 'Live' programme on ZDF: a talk-show on Bosnia, ten days before the NATO ultimatum to the besiegers of Sarajevo expired. Peter Glotz, of course, was appearing on the programme, and at one point he stated (I quote): 'And here I question the idyll of a common Bosnian state' ['Und da stelle ich in Frage die Idylle des gemeinsamen bosnisches Staates']. My attention was drawn to the word 'idyll'. In an essay written long ago, I attempted to explain kitsch as a signifying or mental structure in which reality is represented (experienced) either as horror or as idyll. In the idea and experience of kitsch- sensibility, the world is either like an Arnold Schwarzenneger film, all bursting with violence and horror 'in the pure state', or it is like a happy love story between a shepherdess and a shepherd. Kitsch-sensibility is not capable of understanding - hence, of articulating - a complex polyphonic structure, which exists (among other things) precisely because of the tension between the various sounds composing the structure. A serious drama, for example, in which different characters are used to articulate different perspectives, different relationships, different possible ways of seeing and participating, within a single whole or in relation to a single work. Or the cultural environment, the environment of everyday life, in Bosnia: an environment constituted by four 'voices', four possible ways of participating in one thing. The drama consists precisely in the tension which inevitably appears in the encounter between different views on the same thing; if the differences between these views are not preserved, the characters are lost, their autonomy and relative completeness are lost, the tension is lost. In other words, the drama is lost - to be replaced by a kitsch- structure in which all are identical and everything is the same. Everything is either pure violence or pure goodness; people are all either more or less effective wielders of violence, or else shepherds full of love and goodness, differentiated only by gender. That is why kitsch-sensibility cannot produce a serious drama.
And that is why kitsch-sensibility cannot understand Bosnia. Catholics and Jews, Muslims and Orthodox, all mutually different, with their own identities, yet all together. It cannot be an idyll, because they all have their own identities with everything implied by that. Nor does this mean they are all killing each other there in a dreadful, brutal manner, just like in a horror movie. How to explain that it is precisely the fact that each cultural community in Bosnia preserves its own identity -precisely the fact that four voices, with all their mutual differences, come together in one whole - which creates the tension upon which a unity can be established, in which the parts are not mechanically fused, yet are linked in a productive dialogue? How to convince someone that Bach did compose music, even though what he composed is unsuitable for marching, or for seducing shepherdesses? Don't bother, you can't convince somebody with kitsch-sensibility. And thank God for that.
The Bosnian idyll called into question by Peter Glotz drew my attention to the speaker, and sentimentally reminded me of my early wÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌìorks on kitsch. I was intrigued and made happy by this man who linked Bosnia and idyll. In all my long years, nothing like that had ever occurred to me - nor, so far as I know, to anybody else. For everyone, Bosnia has always been a domain of tension, a domain in which four cultural communities with their identities and their differences have built a wider community, filled with tensions, inherently polemical, but also filled with dialogue and understanding. All in all a community, a symphonic unity which is a whole, even if not a mechanical whole. A community of the very kind that has existed more or less happily (mainly less, but that is another theme) since the early 16th century: since the arrival of the Jews expelled in 1492 from Spain. Never as idyll, very rarely and relatively briefly (in World War II, for example, or in the current war) as horror. So, very rarely understandable to Glotz. Yes, what is now happening in Bosnia is hellish, but that does not prove Bosnia to be impossible. It proves only that fine, complex structures are fragile in the face of mechanical force. You can destroy a brain with a hammer, but you cannot destroy a hammer with a brain: that is all that the current events in Bosnia serve to prove. How to convince Glotz that five centuries last longer than three years, and that laws are based on what lasts for centuries?
A little later in the same programme, Mr Glotz said: 'And now I quote today's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. There Ivo Andric, the Nobel laureate, writes in 1920, i.e. quite independently from our debates today, about the rhythms of Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim and Jewish clocks - about how the churches sound there...' ['Und jetz zitiere ich dei FAZ von heute. Da schreibt Ivo Andric, der Nobelpreisträger, im Jahre 1920, also vollig unbeeinflusst von unseren heutigen Debatten , darüber, wie also die Stundenrhythmen der Orthodoxen, der Katholiken, der Muslime, der Juden - wie die Kirchen dort läuten...']. Managing, from the thematic description and the year mentioned by the speaker, to work out what he was talking about, I realised that of the points made in Mr Glotz's statement one is certainly true, one possibly true, and all the rest untrue. It is true that Andric was a Nobel laureate, it is possibly true that Mr Glotz read FAZ on 10 February 1994, but everything else is the kind of muddle of which only a Balkan expert like Peter Glotz is capable: semi- informed about a few things, self-confident, and aggressively ready to explain something he has half-heard somewhere. What is the whole thing about?
From Mr Glotz's description, the text in question could be Andric's short story 'Letter from the Year 1920'. For that story does indeed speak about the 'clock rhythms' of Bosnia's religious communities, and its title also includes the year which so enthused Mr Glotz. The story was not written in 1920, but shortly after World War II - in 1947, if I remember correctly. This is the beginning of the Second Yugoslavia, a time in which politics (but also common sense, for Heaven's sake) demanded not just of literature, but of all human activities, that they should articulate the fatal danger of glorifying differences or reducing all relations between the Yugoslav peoples to a mere sum of differences: a time when the foundations of a new unity were being laid. (The nature of that unity - and how unfortunate it was that the unity was not of a different kind - is a theme for another occasion.) 1920 was the first year of the First Yugoslavia. Knowledge of the basic facts of Andric's biography and the basic elements of his literary technique would have sufficed for an intelligent reader to realise why Andric placed this year in the title of his story. As any such reader would have understood, it was a covert polemic against the new regime's conviction that it represented a point of rupture; that with it had begun a qualitatively new era; that it had made possible the leap from zero to one - i.e. from non-existence to existence. I cannot, unfortunatelyÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌì, explain here all the implications of the fact that the story 'Letter from the Year 1920' was written immediately after World War II. I mention this fact only to illustrate yet again how well informed Mr Glotz is; how capable he is of reading and of understanding what he reads. He sees a year in the title, and assumes that the text was written in that year. He reads the word 'Letter' in the title, and assumes that the text is indeed a letter. He reads the sentence: 'That difference is always akin to hatred', and assumes that this is lived experience and the author's final judgement.
Peter Glotz has the right to be ill educated, but as a career politician he does not have the right to be ill informed. He ought to know to what genre the text he quotes belongs; he ought to know that Knin does not have 800,000 inhabitants; he ought to know that Slovenes have a separate language. It would be desirable, though not obligatory, for him to know what I shall now explain to him, without any ironical intention. So-called fabulative literary forms contain also text spoken by their characters. In order to be able to understand fully these textual passages, and the work as a whole, we must take into account which character, at which moment, and for which purpose, is speaking what we are reading. When I say 'which character', I am thinking of his fate in the text, his personality, his momentary situation, his relationship to the character he is addressing, etc. (in other words, all that the concept of character implies). In texts of this kind, statements never refer directly to reality outside the work. So it would be wrong to conclude that Goethe was a necrophiliac, though his character in the drama Faust did show certain predilections for the deceased Helen. All this, and much more, has been explained by a man (now unfortunately dead) called Aristotle: you can find out about all these confusing matters from his work 'The Art of Poetry'.
This short lesson means that the statements in 'the letter' allegedly 'quoted' from the story 'A Letter from the Year 1920' cannot be ascribed to Andric. They can be understood only if it is also understood that they were 'written' by a character (of what kind? with what fate? at what moment?), on the basis of experience acquired at a time 'prior to the establishment of unity'; and that he is addressing them, in a certain psychological situation (of what kind?), to somebody (to whom?). A story cannot be quoted as a source of political information -even high political functionaries should know this much. Bertrand Russell once suggested that schools should teach how to read newspapers with suspicion. After the experience I have acquired during my year of exile of how literature is read, I would suggest an even stranger subject that would be called Basic Theories of Literature.
Or are we, in fact, dealing with something quite different? It is possible that even Peter Glotz would be bewildered if I were to make judgements about the Thirty Years' War on the basis of Kleist's Michael Kohlhaas (even though the story's subtitle says it is 'From an Old Chronicle'). But that is quite another matter, of course: do I have the right to behave like Peter Glotz?! (Thank the Lord, to be frank, that I do not have that right.) And just where do I get the crazy idea from, that somebody so powerful has to be correct towards Bosnia and even accept that literature is written there which has to be read as literature? Or are we not dealing with something completely different: i.e. with a type of thought in which we are imprisoned, and which is precisely our experience of the world and ourselves in that world (rather than just a mere technology of cerebral labour)?
I think this is indeed what we are dealing with: a type of thought that determines us as closely and inescapably as our own skin. I do not believe that Enzensberger would willingly laugh at his own verses, nor do I believe that Peter Glotz would willingly make people who are able to think logically laugh at his expertise. I do not believeÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌì that they refuse to know anything about what they teach to humanity. I believe that they fail to know it - because they are prevented by a model of thought that determines their very ability to know.
I believe that the basic principles of this type of thought are revealed very clearly in the examples I have given above, demonstrating what kind of thought we are dealing with. Those basic principles are: 1. what I do not understand does not exist; 2. the Other is not actually real, the Other is my notion of him; 3. everything which is not I - which I have not adopted and made part of my image of the world - is, and can be, only an object; 4. naked mechanistic power is the sole criterion of truth, goodness and beauty. These principles and this type of thought we know very well from the European tradition. They created the foundations and alibis for Europe's colonial conquests, articulating the truth that the English had to conquer India in order to civilise it, and that North American Indians and Australian Aborigines were thrilled to bits (literally to bits) by similar civilising missions. They have created a spiritual ambience in which it is normal to produce nuclear weapons, and to conduct the most morbid genetic experiments as innocently as if selling Christmas cards. In other words, they have expunged ethics and metaphysics as irrelevant, since God and ethics stubbornly refuse to be mechanical phenomena. They have articulated the concept of ethical neutrality, ascribing it first to the exact sciences and then to all other human activities.
I do not, of course, think that Messrs Enzensberger and Glotz are responsible for all that I have described here, nor have I described it on their account. But, demonstrating precisely this type of thought, they spoke about something which constitutes my fate, so concerns me deeply. Bewildered, worried and dismayed I tried to understand what was going on, because I had believed that multiculturalism, openness and polyphony had freed Europe from vulgar-mechanical thought. I really did think that, in the new Europe, only a minority believed they possessed more truth, goodness and beauty because they had more money and weapons; and that because they have more money and weapons they can decide about life and death. Believing that Europe had articulated the concept of a unity higher than the mechanical one, I asked myself if I were mad because I remembered my life the way I had lived it, and thought about my home in the way I did. This is why I felt the need, indeed the necessity, to question myself about what others were explaining to me about me. Messrs Enzensberger and Glotz were not accidentally chosen - they are very characteristic. They are, in fact, part of the Establishment, as are so many of those who try to tell me how I lived. Karl May was an outsider, just as many of those who treat me as a real person are. Was Karl May able to talk about us Indians with so much affection and understanding precisely because he was an outsider, or did he remain an outsider because he loved and understood us Indians?