"The nefarious atrocities regularly elicit religious fervor, dramatic posturing, baseless claims to inflate them as much as possible - and fury if anyone does not blindly join the parade, but seeks to determine the truth, cites the most reputable authorities, and exposes the innumerable fabrications. The common reaction to such treachery is an impressive torrent of deceit. There is an instructive record, quite well documented in many cases. The reasons are not hard to explain. The topic should be pursued systematically, but that is unlikely, obviously." Naom Chomsky
The Handke-Yugo affair, as I call it, and its two resurgences - quite aside the immediate historical degree of responsibility of Serbs, Croats, Kosovo Albanians, and their leaders and adjutants, foreign powers, and free wheeling independent perpetrators - presents a case study in what Naom Chomsky calls a case of a "nefarious atrocity." Like vultures or coyotes attracted by the smell of a fresh kill, righteous, ill informed, media-consuming and feeding journalists and writers of all kinds converged first on Sarajevo when it became the kind of flashpoint beloved of a media to explain the world to the simple minded, and then on the Austro-Slovenian writer Peter Handke, in a parallel kind of media war, when he published the first section of his "A Winter's Journey" in the Süddeutsche Zeitung in 1996, which its editors, not all that inaccurately, subtitled, "Justice for Serbia" since Handke, among other matters, disagreed with the already high strung yelping of the coyotes for the skin of everything nefariously Serbian. Without wanting to summarize, again, what I think of as a detailed, unsammarizable account of the three comings and subsidings of the affair [here are several link collections:
[1=timeline] I wanted to investigate and describe the sources, the foundations of the self-righteousness of these witch hunters, the background, conscious, and assumed, on which it plays.
A] Subsequent to the Kosovo campaign, in 1999, the German Foreign Minister Fischer congratulated himself [and the Schröder government] by stating that he felt that the NATO intervention had prevented another "Auschwitz" - and there was no hue and cry as to his so stating. However, support of the Kosovo campaign had already earned this ex-68ter, who during his days as a Revoluzzer had apparently been physically violent towards a policeman, an especially well-honed Handke sobriquet QUOTE; that is, Fischer was cursed by someone who had quickly sought to apologize, as he did recently once again , for having misused the "A" word, which he correctly explained had inadvertently "slipped" out of him, to express in a kind of inarticulate scream – my interpretation - his extraordinary pain at what transpired during the systematic destruction of Serbian infrastructure. The "A" word, the "steinerne Gast", the obdurate guest with obsidian qualities, a different kind of third that is stonily present in a country that has taken the extraordinary measure of passing a law that prohibits the guest's denial, and to whose weight and unwelcome presence and exploitation the rare German writer – one exception is the famous instance of Martin Walser, during his acceptance of the peace prize of the German Book Trade - voices his objection , tries to shake off; extraordinary in the sense that it outlaws disavowal, scotomization, an everyday, every person, every depth-psychological phenomenon, one of the building blocks, also one of the great survival mechanisms of the human psyche, albeit outlawed here in a well defined instance, yet of course setting precedent - it is as though one of Freud's discoveries had been inscribed in stone. The philosopher/ sociologist J ürgen Habermas once said that it took Auschwitz to give German a conscience, a ludicrous statement if there ever was one, entirely obliterating centuries of history, the way in which conscience is created individually, within classes, societies as a whole, and German legal history. It is a statement that confuses guilt feelings with conscience, not that one is possible without the other. The historian John Irving is presently  incarcerated in Austria, the Johnny-come-lately of facers of its once enthusiastic Nazi collaboration, for transgressing the prohibition against denial: from Alexander Mitscherlich's "The Inability to Mourn"  to a law that tries to enforce a reminder to mourn. An entire people, for generations to come, is reminded what their ancestors – the losers of WW I, initiators, mad believers, opportunists, the haters and ressentimenters, the fellow travelers, the entirely innocent, the entirely ignorant; that whole spectrum, a society - perpetrated or failed to keep from being perpetrated between 1933 and 1945, and which immense and also hugely self-destructive extermination, had Hitler and his party been victorious, would have been carried out on an even more horrendous scale: after all, the Slavic peoples were next in line. All of that is, certainly, one major component, one major large canvas section on which the Handke controversy played out - of whose unusual psychological and artistic formation, whose checkerboard constellation as it were, I have tried to give more than a hint – aside whatever personal animosities and provocations played into the fracas.
B] Not only has denial been outlawed in Germany, there exits a law that requires personal, proactive intervention in the event that you know that a crime against humanity is being committed… an attempt to prohibit passive fellow traveling, the looking the other way, any kind of inaction being prohibited is apparently one of the consequences of "A," the kind of law that, on an individual level, forces, obligates the individual conscience to take preventive action, to go to justice if need be, if you follow the law's ultimate consequence, to commit regicide if you judge the executive to be engaged in a crime against humanity; and which permits, obligates, the individual conscience of contemporary German Bundeswehr soldiers, to stop following orders, that is to disobey [!] orders which they regard as criminal. That is yet the second component. How would that law, if it existed in the United States, play out in the first decade of the 21st Century? How is one to regard the unconvictable U.S. war criminals of the past fifty years? Down to the most miserable PFC who goes berserk. In Germany that law against denial has been extended to cover acts committed outside its own domain, and by citizens other than those who hold German nationality. But there is some tentativeness in using it in instances such as visits as those of Donald Rumsfeld. In the hands of journalist and writers this law, and the background whence it derives, provides the moral imperative… and an impetus… that has a long and often honorable history, most famously in dictatorships, in various kinds of independence movements, and under the duress of an occupation by a foreign power. Existential moments.
C] One further aspect of this affair, it is an entirely German one, needs to be mentioned here [not that revisionist debates are not part and parcel of the fabric of intellectual life]: the debate known as the "Historiker Streit." I don't wish to reargue the inarguably horrendous proposition that provided the occasion for this academic discourse - http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki
– the proposition of German exceptionalism or not in setting the standard for perpetration of horrors, which however indicates that that old devil vanity is casting his glow on the proceedings and infusing the individual conscience claimants; which proposition became intimately tied to the question of denial of the holocaust and is one major reason why the human facility for denial has been criminalized, in all its multifarious versions, for whatever endless reasons. Denial certainly is not a uniquely German feature, or that of any society or historical period; it is a nearly supra-historical feature - in the individual it can be painful but it is possible to address it on the forum of conscience, of awakening, an often painful incremental process; on the level of the lethargic "psyche" of a tribe, much less a nation, it can be nearly impossible to address, unless that nation is nicely subdued, and generationally divided: it requires internal societal conflict for the matter to be raised at all. Evidently, the victory over the South during the American War Between the States and the so-called Reconstruction Period did little to instill regret or to assuage the narcissistic humiliation, or the sense of worthlessness of the lower white classes, whose only claim to fame seemed to be that they were not black. However, in the instance of post WW II Germany, a defeated nation, a certain segment of the educated people in one part of it - certainly here the trickle down theory applies, or up from the ranks of students who were the daughters and sons of the educated middle class – then instituted their own mourning, approximately one generation later, the previous generation, what was left of it, putting up comparatively light resistance. It took two generations in Austria. Within the terms of the "Historiker Streit", it is undeniable that in applying production line methods to extermination the Germans scored a first, other exterminators, using somewhat different methods, but lacking overt genocidal intentions, were not far behind. I myself regard the attempt to impose US will on Vietnam with free fire zones and chemical destruction of its lands as a form of industrial warfare, just one step away from genocide, since the Vietnamese were merely [!] meant to submit to Washington's will. A kind of mutual assured destruction saw its first coming during World War I. What I want to comment on is language: the initial proposition that the Germans as exterminators were not unique in world history is entirely trivial but was raised, put that way, chiefly, to shove the "stony guest" at least halfway out the door; but to reply to this proposition, with the best of intentions, by insisting that the German extermination, is unique without specifying of what kind it was, is to engage the wrong proposition on the field of language in a manner where no good results can be expected; the point being that one people's insanity is quite sufficient and all attempts atchistorical relativization are invidious and beside the point. If the formulation [s] is [are] wrong, the language game will not be solved. However, you may feel about abortion, Roe versus Wade is bad law, leading to endless litigation. To reply to the wrong formulation in its own terms – in this instance that German crimes were not unique – by insisting that they were, means that you have engaged a mis-formulation with a misformulated reply, and that whatever laws eventuate from this mixed bag of misformulation – you shalt not deny – will, ineluctably, invade the private sphere to a heretofore unknown depths; setting a precedent with possibly unforeseeable consequences. The criminalization of denial, think about it! How about: you shall be sent on a tour of the memorialized camps and forced to look at the films and then read the books, and then you may try to convince us the jury that what you saw was not the case, and if you so convince us you shall be win a historian prize of a million dollars! The point is: the formulation is eo ipso pointless under the law that though shalt not kill. All comparisons are invidious; only self-defense is permitted. Case closed. Yes, there are certain absolutes. In convictions for murder there exist classifications for degrees of responsibility. In the case of the German nation, it was murder in the first degree. There are no extenuating circumstances of any kind. That there are psychological, historical and sociological and linguistic explanations says nothing about guilt. After all, German law was perverted, legally, so that the crimes could be permitted [just as U.S. law has been once again perverted under Bush II]; brilliant German jurists participated in these perversions, wrote these perversions of justice. The extermination of European Jewry is not an instance of accidental man slaughter; or of aiding and abetting, of which no end of European nations are culpable, more rather than less enthusiastically in this instance while claiming to be Christian. The U.S. decimation and maltreatment of its native peoples, too, is uniquely criminal, no matter how historically comparative; as is the attempt to enforce its will on the Vietnamese people in the 1960s and 1970s; or the conquest of Iraq, all of them major crimes against humanity for which only the losers ever have to pay the piper, although the American people are already paying the price for their folly in believing the likes of Cheney, Bush Rumsfeld and the mad Neo-Cons and for far deeper follies for which only they and how they arrange their nation are responsible.
The calamity of the Yugoslav federation was its ethnically and politically and religiously fractious past and the history of recourse to violence by all parties which then began to be played out in genocidal terms as the federation disintegrated, also economically, into its constituent parts.
D] The fourth component of the canvas on which the three comings of the Handke controversy were played out is the ferocity with which the law forbidding denial is exercised, wielded by a particular class?? segment??? by the guild of journalists and writers... the "fourth estate"... professional, amateurish, at any event all self-appointed, as of course am I, with no official legitimacy except whatever trust exists in the organs that hire them or publish their material, or as pendants of legal action such as that of the International Tribunal; their legitimacy resting on the quality of their attempt to be as truthful as possible, on their research, the soundness argumentation, the ingenuity of their intuition, and of course on the quantitative effect of their reportage; and on the sounding board into which they feed their reports. Star reporters. Foreigners all who descended on Yugoslavia as though it were the Congo, which is still sufficiently strange and foreign to them to give them pause about their ignorance. Except for Handke, a showboat and star too, but by far the most knowledgeable among the lot, someone with historical consciousness reaching back at least some hundred and so years.
Handke, accused of denial, was going to his own kind of writerly truth, implicitly, in a kind of apparently unacceptable manner, and accusing those who victimized him of entirely ignoring other sets of victims, making different more complicated emphases, and as an artist who, as it were preternaturally as I have tried to describe, does not put the horror story on page one every day of the week; yet who, it appears, was personally far more upset than anyone of the neutral or atrocity screaming and exploiting reporters and freelancers, the numerous tourists of the civil wars in the sense of H. M. Enzensberger's famous essay "Tourists of the Revolution." - Each side with their favored victims. The German writer Buch sentimentalized the Kosovo Albanians. Handke in the face of the near exclusive emphasis on Bosnian Muslim victims pointed to the Serbian and Croatian victims. The concentration camp survivor Elie Wiesel said that, as a former victim, he was instantly on the side of the Kosovo Albanians. Wouldn't it be loverly if life were that simple... and if victims were lambs and were not hurt and vengeful, potential wolves.
Two states of denial as it were, where I find Handke's - especially with his psychically determined proclivity to deny, to ameliorate, of which he is to a limited extent aware - far less objectionable since he at least allows the dreadful truths to appear at the edges, and in their complexity, only rarely and amusingly denies outright, is possibly influenced by sentimental transference in the case of the Big Bad Wolf, de-emphasized some aspects in favor of others, but in his recourse to legal niceties is far more precise in his argumentation and use of language than his opponents who in the way of editors and their audience once a story is "set" prefer not to question the underlying fundamentals of the narrative of the good against the bad guys.
How often does a news paper or other provender actually admit, within the brief-lived historical memory of their audience that they had gotten the fundamentals of the story wrong, and thus… Most of the time you can see the truth, if they happened to have some purchase on it, slipping out of their hands. My most favored current instance is that of the origin of popular support for the Iraq insurgency in several nervous shootings of several dozen residents of Fallujah by members of the first U.S. division stationed there. You can actually see this once described event slipping out of the very hands of the same reporters who continue to report from Iraq, or the editors eliminating it. However, you can trace the disappearance act within the morgue of the NY Times, its archive.
States of denial of one and the same kind? that both assume, claim to have some purchase on a complex reality? That listen to each other? Mutual hatred, since Handke certainly is unstinting in his expression of hatred of the news media. Not a pretty picture at all. A Brescia all the way, a weird collage. And not a conclusion, a result that I anticipated arriving at when I followed this trail of tears like some early human ancestor looking for marrow bones in this attempted finding, since I'm as much a consumer of the news that flows my way, pre-digested, edited news… and, initially, still, continue to be preternaturally gullible. I suppose one way of representing what transpired in Yugoslavia might be by way of Breughel the Younger's paintings of a Dutch villagers who are all beating each other up with scythes and sticks and stones and shovels.
It would of course have helped if Handke himself were something closer, say, to what I perceive to be the media-mediated nearly saintly figure of an Archbishop Tutu or Nelson Mandela – it's just amazing what a Christian you can become if tortured to a sufficiency by so-called Christians – than just the extra-ordinarily gifted writer Peter Handke who lacks few of the reprehensible qualities of his persecutors, and then some, if he weren't so violence prone, didn't throw unattractive tantrums. If the attacks on him had not elicited his furies, if he had been entirely a patient argumenter, a kind of less slippery Habermas.
It appears that the first two sections of this background – a past red and still raw with atrocities - and the laws that are its consequences, enabled, self-justified the newspaper class to act as judge and jury and lynch mob executioners all rolled into one, beholden to whom? Certainly not even to their own educatable, revisable conscience. For I have seen not a one – there must be, there just have to be that one or two that I have missed – who, when he or she looked at matters more closely, revised and changed their minds and conclusions that the chief culprits are the Serbians with Slobodan Milosevic as wolf in chief. Nor have I seen Handke change his mind, though he appears to be willing to speak the hideous formulations in the way that it was demanded of him.  Engraved memories. Automatic, visceral reactions. And a questionable tribunal that then fails to bring charges - which is why it loses in legitimacy - in the instance of the war crime of the destruction of the Serbian infrastructure, fails to bring General Wesley Clark to trial, no matter how convictable he may be since he would certainly seek to justify his command actions as having been committed under orders, in which case you would have to put Ex-President Clinton, Ex-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Javier Solano on trial, too. If nothing else, perhaps in acquitting these horrendous worthies, such a trial would be educational, all around, and especially in the Balkans. Not going to happen though if it did I expect that it would receive better coverage from the NY Times than the Milosevic trial got at the hands of their Marlise Simons.
Although the background in Europe may be Auschwitz and the carnage of WW I and II, in the United States it is, most immediately, the unresolved criminality of the Vietnam war that led so many of the Vietnam protesters to join in the simple minded condemnation of Serbians. Handke pointed out that the "68ters," as the anti-Vietnam war contingent is called in Germany, seemed to be only too eager to intervene in Yugoslavia on humanitarian grounds; pretty much the equivalent segment in the U.S. called for, and then endorsed Clinton and Albright's decision to intervene, first in the arming of the Croats and Bosnians [who also received some apparently disposable importable Mujahedeen from Iran!], and to bomb in Bosnia prior to the Dayton Peace talks, and then to bomb Serbia itself during the Kosovo campaign, also as a kind of first demonstration, a kind of preview of what US arms can do, of the even more emphatic shock and awe to come at the beginning of the Iraq War. These exercises are always a show not only of force but advertisement for the products of the military industrial complex, that ingenious complex which, with lard distributed through every single congressional district, has integrated the production of military hardware into the American economy, so that making arms is not the kind of dead drag that military hardware is on most others economies! Here it pays to fight evil! As a form of corporate welfare every district is up in arms when one of its bases threatens to be closed, one of itsw arms manufacturers relocates. And as a matter of fact you need to keep finding some kind of evil to fight to keep the stupid economy going. The same goes by the way for the outsourcing of prisons: that is the genius of American capitalism, very little in it lacks a continuous profit angle. If ressentiment is a resource for election campaigns and for the class economy to keep on churning, the reservoir of psychosis can be tapped for war-like acts, in the instance of the journalistic class in the West, I call it the psychotic volcano, some of whose magna is in all of us. Most immediately, both in Germany and in France, with lesser sophistication in the United States, l'affaire Handke, played on the ground of the "never again," the memory of Auschwitz, but not it appears of the crimes committed by any other ex-colonial power. It played loudly amongst a self- appointed class of intellectuals who follow in the tradition of "engage" meanwhile of all kinds. The spectrum of their political affiliation, whether falling into the fields regarded left or right, are of no concern to me, since their yelping at the slightest sign of "atrocity" cuts across, is not significant to, whatever politics they profess... Atrocity, atrocity...
Discounting the possibility of bad faith of those who became engaged in the Serb hunt and the Handke hunt, no matter the theatrics of some of the participants, Handke was/ is by far the most knowledgeable, aside some of the diplomats who, however, no matter their privately held observations and beliefs [which will grace their memoirs once the are retired] each is some master's servant, acts in an interest. Handke at least provided a half dozen fine books, and one extra-ordinary play; what appeared in the papers and on the TV channels is fortunately already entombed. Last year, in New Haven, a newspaper writer went into full screaming mode against the performance of Handke's 1967 two character play "Self-Accusation" at the Yale Cabaret, entirely because he had defended the Serbs against whole sale calumny; quite aside the fact that the play preceded these events by 30 years and anyone reading this beautiful text would quickly get the point that it's author if nothing else suffers from a hypertrophy of conscientiousness. From Susan Sontag and the NYRB to that piece of righteous lumpen in New Haven, just a short stone's throw.
4] Über das von Serben begangene Massaker von Srebrenica schreibt Handke: "Ich wiederhole aber, wütend, wiederhole voller Wut auf die serbischen Verbrecher, Kommandanten, Planer: Es handelt sich bei Srebrenica um das schlimmste 'Verbrechen gegen die Menschlichkeit', das in Europa nach dem Krieg begangen wurde."
1. Ich habe nie eins der Masaker in den Jugoslawienkriegen 1991-95 geleugnet, oder abgeschwächt, oder verharmlost, oder gar gebilligt.
2. Nirgendwo bei mir kann man lesen, ich hätte Slobodan Milosevic als „ein" oder „das Opfer" bezeichnet.
3. Richtig ist: Anläßlich des okzidentalen Diktats gegen Jugoslawien von Rambouillet, im Februar 1999, habe ich mich, wie die Welt seit damals weiß, vor der Kamera des Belgrader Fernsehens verhaspelt, wobei herauskam, in meinem Französisch, die Serben seien noch größere Opfer als die Juden - was ich dann, nachdem ich, ungläubig, das Band mit dem von mir produzierten Un-Sinn angehört hatte, schleunigst schriftlich korrigierte: Text, seinerzeit von „Focus" veröffentlicht und von der F.A.Z. Wort für Wort, einmal ohne Kommentar, umgehend nachgedruckt.
Phantom-Titel: Wilder Mann
Ein P.S. noch für eine mir und vielleicht auch diesem oder jenem Leser wichtige letzte (versuchte) Berichtigung: Vor kurzem, wiederum in der F.A.Z., in einer der wie gewohnt geistvollen, hochherzigen und einfühlsamen Glossen des Theatersachverständigen der Zeitung, die meine Person oder meinen Phantom-Titel „Der wilde Mann" zum Vorwurf nahm (P.H., borniert, Kitschier, Befürworter von Kriminellen et cetera), war auch von meinem Stück „Die Fahrt im Einbaum" die Rede, worin ich angeblich das serbische Volk als eines schildere oder gar preise, welches Europa das Essen mit Messer und Gabel beigebracht habe, und überhaupt die Kultur. Richtig ist wieder, daß in dem Stück (Seite 65) eine Figur sagt: „Dabei waren wir es, die euch jahrhundertelang die asiatischen Horden ferngehalten haben. Und ohne uns würdet ihr immer noch mit den Fingern fressen. Wer war es, der in die westliche Welt Messer und Gabel eingeführt hat?" Nur: ist es nötig zu sagen, daß es sich hier um eine Parodie handelt? Nötig anzuführen jedenfalls der Rollenname jener kleinen Figur: „IRRER".
Und in diesem Sinne wünsche ich, daß all meine (6) Aufzeichnungen, Erzählungen, Berichte, Stücke der letzten fünfzehn Jahre zu Jugoslawien Wort für Wort gelesen würden, und anders sachverständig: „Abschied des Träumers vom neunten Land" (1991), „Eine winterliche Reise zu den Flüssen Donau, Save, Morawa und Drina" (1996), „Sommerlicher Nachtrag zu einer winterlichen Reise" (1996), „Die Fahrt im Einbaum oder Das Stück zum Film vom Krieg" (1999), „Unter Tränen fragend" (1999) (alle bei Suhrkamp), und zuletzt „Die Tablas von Daimiel", Juni 2005 („Literaturen"). Mir dünkt, mich bedünkt, für diese Schriften ist der Heinrich-Heine-Preis. Es gibt noch Bücher zu lesen jenseits der Zeitungen.
„Ah, die alte Frau dort, meine Leserin, / die einzige, die mich noch grüßt? / Und wenn sie mich nicht grüßt? / Was für ein Abenteuer! / Und sie grüßte. / Und ein zweiter grüßte, ein Unbekannter. / Und ein Dritter dann" (Gedicht für H. H., am 27. Mai 2006).
Text: F.A.Z. vom 30. Mai 2006
Author Martin Mosebach writes on the Peter Handke affair (more here, here and here): "Too bad the American ambassador who encouraged Slobodan Milosevic to wage war in Bosnia didn't come to his funeral in Belgrade. Someone like Handke who remained faithful to the dead Milosevic is much more worthy of admiration than all the Western politicians who made it possible for Milosevic to commit his crimes while he was alive."
In an exclusively online answer to writer Botho Strauß' general amnesty for geniuses in the Peter Handke affair (text in German here), Jörg Lau puts the two Peter Handkes back together: "Why do we get so upset at Handke's kitsch rendering of Serbia and things Serbian, why does his coquettishly playful relativization of the facts annoy us so much, why do our hackles rise when he appears at the funeral of mass murderer Slobodan Milosevic? It's because he's a major poet, whose novels and diaries continually provide us with 'moments of true experience.' When we attack Peter Handke the politician, we defend Peter Handke the poet."