Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Silence by Shusaku Endo



Yes, and that on this, the most important night of his whole life, he should be disturbed by such a vile and discordant noise – this realization suddenly filled him with rage. He felt that his life was simply being trifled with; and when the groaning ceased for a moment, he began to beat on the wall. But the guards, like those who in Gethsemane slept in utter indifference to the torment of that man, did not get up. Again he began to beat wildly on the wall. Then there came the noise of the door being opened, and from the distance the sound of feet hastening rapidly towards the place that he was.

‘Father, what is wrong? What is wrong?’ It was the interpreter who spoke; and his voice was that of a cat play with its prey. ‘It’s terrible, terrible! Isn’t it better for you not to be so stubborn? If you simply say, “I apostatize,” all will be well. Then you will be able to let your strained mind relax and be at ease.’

‘It’s only that snoring,’ answered the priest through the darkness.

Suddenly the interpreter became silent as if in astonishment. ‘You think that is snoring.  .  . that is.  .  . Sawano, did you hear what he said? He thought that sound was snoring!’

The priest had not known that Ferreiras standing beside the interpreter. ‘Sawano, tell him what it is!’

The priest heard the voice of Ferreira, that voice he had heard every day long ago – it was low and pitiful. ‘That’s not snoring. That is the moaning of Christians hanging in the pit’. . .


Inside  the cell there came not the faintest sound. Only the pitch darkness where the priest now lay huddle up and through which it seemed impossible to penetrate.
‘I was here just like you.’ Ferreira uttered the words distinctly, separating the syllable from one another. ‘I was imprisoned here, and that night was darker and colder than any night in my life.’

The priest leaned his head heavily against the wooden wall and listened vaguely to the old man’s words. Even without the old man’s saying so, he knew that that night had been blacker than any before. The problem was not this; the problem was that he must not be defeated by Ferreira’s temptings – the tempting of Ferreira who had been shut up in the darkness just like himself and was now enticing him to follow the same path.

‘I, too, heard those voices. I heard the groaning of men handing in the pit.’ And even as Ferreira finished speaking, the voices like snoring, now high, now low, were carried to their ears. But now the priest was aware of the truth. I was not snoring. It was the gasping and groaning of helpless men hanging in the pit.

While he had been squatting here in the darkness, someone had been groaning, as the blood dripped from his nose and mouth. He had not even adverted to this, he had uttered no prayer; he had laughed. The very thought bewildered him completely. He had thought the sound of that voice ludicrous, and he had laughed aloud. He had believed in his pride that he alone in this night was sharing in the suffering of that man [Jesus]. But here just beside him were people who were sharing in that suffering much more than he. Why this craziness, murmured a voice not his own. And you call yourself a priest! A priest who takes upon himself the sufferings of others! ‘Lord, until this moment have you been mocking me?, he cried aloud.

“Laudate Eum [Praise Him]! I engraved those letters on the wall,’ Ferreira repeated. ‘Can’t you find them? Look again!’
“I know!’ The priest, carried away by anger, shouted lauder than ever before. ‘Keep quiet!’ he said. “You have no right to speak to me like this.’

‘I have no right? That is certain. I have no right. Listening to those groans all night I was no longer able to give praise to the Lord. I did not apostatize because I was suspended in the pit. For three days, I who stand before you was hung in a pit of foul excrement, but I did not say a single word that might betray my God.’ Ferreira raised a voice that was like a growl as he shouted: ‘The reason I apostatized . . .are you ready? Listen! I was out in here and heard the voices of those people for who God did nothing. God did not do a single thing. I prayed with all my strength; but God did nothing.’
‘Be quiet!’
‘Alright. Pray! But those Christians are partaking of a terrible suffering such as you cannot even understand. From yesterday – in the future –now at this very moment. Why must they suffer like this? And while this goes on, you do nothing for them. And God, he does nothing either.’

The priest shook his head wildly, putting both fingers into his ears. But the voice of Ferreira together with the groaning of the Christians broke mercilessly in Stop! Stop! Lord, it is now that you should break the silence. You must not remain silent. Prove that you are justice, that you are goodness, that you are love. You must say something to show the world that you are the august one.

A great shadow passed over his soul like that of the great wings of a bird flying over the mast of a ship. The wings of the bird now brought to his mind the memory of the various ways in which the Christians had died. At that time, to, God had been silent. When the misty rain floated over the sea, he was silent. When the one-eyed man had been killed beneath the blazing rays of the sun, he had said nothing. But at that time  the Priest had been able to stand it; or, rather than stand it, he had been able to thrust the terrible doubt far from the threshold of his mind. But no it was different. Why is God continually silent while those groaning voices go on?

‘Now they are in that courtyard’ (it was the sorrowful voice of Ferreira that whispered to him.) ‘There unfortunate Christians are hanging. They have been hanging there since you came here.’

The old man was telling no lie. As he strained his ears the groaning that had seemed to be that of a single voice suddenly revealed itself as a double one- groaning was high (it never became low): the high voice and the low voice were mingled with one another, coming from different persons.

‘When I spent that night here five people were suspended in the pit. Five voices were carried to my ears on the wind. The official said: “If you apostatize, those people will immediately be taken out of the pit, their bonds will be loosed, and we will put medicine on their wounds.” I answered: “why do not these people not apostatize?” And the official laughs as he answered me: “They have already apostatized many times. But as long as you don’t apostatize these peasants cannot be saved.”’

‘And you .  .  .’ The priest spoke through his tears. ‘You should have prayed .  .  . .’

‘I did pray. I kept on praying. But prayer did nothing to alleviate their suffering. Behind their ears a small incision was made; the blood drips slowly through the incision and through the nose and mouth. I know it well, because I experienced the same suffering in my own body. Prayer does nothing to alleviate suffering.’

The priest remembered how at Saishoji when he first met Ferreira he had noticed a scar like a burn on his temples. He remembered the brown color of the wound and now the whole scene rose p behind huis eyelids. To chase away the imagination he kept banging his head against the wall. ‘In return for these earthly sufferings, those people will receive a reward of eternal joy,’ he said.

‘Don’t deceive yourself!’ said Ferreira. ‘Don’t disguise your own weakness with those beautiful words.’

’ My weakness? The priest shook his head; yet he had no self-confidence. ‘What do you mean? It’s because I believe in the salvation of these people . . .?’

‘You make yourself more important than them. You are preoccupied with your own salvation. If you say that you will apostatize, those people will be taken out of the pit. They will be saved from suffering. And you refused to do so. It’s because you dread to be the dregs of the Church, like me.’ Until now Ferreira’s words out as a single breath of anger, but now his voice gradually weakened as he aid: “Yet I am the same as you. On that cold, black night I, too, was as you are now. And yet is your way of acting love? A priest out to live in imitation of Christ. If Christ were here .  .  .’

For a moment Ferreira remained silent; then he suddenly broke out in a strong voice: ‘Certainly Christ would have apostatized for them.’

Night gradually gave place to dawn. The cell that until now had been no more than a lump of black darkness began to glimmer in a tiny flicker of whitish light.
‘Christ would have certainly have apostatized to help men.’

‘No, no!’ said the priest, covering his face with his hands and wrenching his voice through his fingers. ‘No, no!”
‘ For love Christ would have apostatized. Even if it meant giving up everything he had.’
‘Stop tormenting me! Go away, away’ shouted the priest wildly. But now the bolt was shot and the door opened – and the white light of morning flooded into the room.

‘You are now going to perform the most painful act of love that has ever been performed,’ said Ferreira, taking the priest gently by the shoulder.

Swaying as he walked, the priest dragged his feet along the corridor. Step by step he made his way forward, as if his legs were bound by heavy leaden chains – and Ferreira guided him along. In the gentler light of the morning, the corridor seemed endless; but there at the end stood the interpreter and two guards, looking just like three black dolls. . .





Sunday, November 27, 2016

You Love The Law Too Much by Martha Rayner


When I arrived at GTMO a week after Obama’s inauguration I did not anticipate the many ways in which he would continue on the same course as the Bush administration. Most disheartening to me and my client was the Obama administration’s  vehement stand against transparency. The Bush administration’s heavy redactions of critical information that resulted in Dark Pages would be surpassed by the Obama administration’s terribly effective efforts to use the law to hide the truth.

Upon my return from the wrenching interview with my client, I demanded the records of his secret detention and torture* from the Obama administration, including video footage of my client I believed might exist. Obama’s lawyers first responded by engaging in the pretense that they only relevant records were those involving U.S. custody, which meant when my client surfaced from dark (CIA) detention and became an ‘official” prisoner of the U.S. military, - whatever came before was not deemed ‘U.S. custody.” When I asked the habeas judge to order the administration to disclose records of detention that preceded military detention, Obama’s lawyers would neither confirm nor deny  such imprisonment and treatment had taken place and thus would neither confirm nor deny that such records existed.

The judge avoided having to contend with the messiness and toxicity that records of torture would inject into the legal proceedings he was striving to keep focused and narrow. He simply decided that the records of imprisonment and abusive and inhuman treatment were not relevant because, in light of Obama’s refusal to refute my client’s facts of torture, he would, as a legal matter, deem the torture to have taken place. This legal fix appeared to serve everyone’s interest. It certainly served the CIA’s interest by keeping its conduct secret. It ostensibly served my client’s interests by prohibiting  the government from contesting the fact that my client had been tortured. But this was directly in conflict with my client’s interest. He had an aching need for the U.S. to own up what it had done to him. He was, counterintuitively, forgiving of the CIA’s cruel trespasses on his health and dignity. What gnawed ay him was that the United States’ refusal to own up to what it had done. The Bush administration’s contention, to this day, that it did not engage in torture tears at my client. The Obama administration is complicit in its silence and strenuous efforts to stave off investigation and disclosure of our country’s crimes. Since he emerged from secret imprisonment into military custody everyone – military interrogators, FBI interrogators, officials in charge, guards and medical personnel- pretend that it did not happen. It has exacerbated my client’s trauma of torture to have it erased before his eyes.

This is the cruelty of the law – it is often not interested in what may matter most; relevancy looks  only to what matters to the law. The law permitted the United State’s government to hide the shameful and criminal details of its unlawfulness. The government would not disclose its records because the records would confirm my client’s memories and reveal more. For my client, the result of this legal wrangling left him stunned. It had the impact of Orwellian newspeak: if we do not speak of it, it did not happen. He could speak of it, but no one would listen – no one cared.

The fact is my client did not know all the facts of his treatment and torture. His ability to remember and recount was compromised by the very treatment imposed on him. Cruel treatment, sleep deprivation, methods designed to cripple his mind, and the use of unidentified drugs all impacted his memory. He knew the pain and damage it had caused him, but he did not know how even what may have been experienced by him as benign conduct was designed to undermine his will o and cause him psychological damage.

I anticipated much better from the Obama administration since another executive order, issued just months after the inauguration, promised that the administration would “operate with an unprecedented level of openness.” But it got worse. Further litigation persuaded the judger that a narrow category of information from the period of Mr. Al-Kazimi’s secret imprisonment was “relevant”- his medical records – and should be provided to me. Rather than comply with the judges orders, Obama’s lawyers filed a document with a judge that I have never been permitted to read, despite having the appropriate security clearance to do so. From what I can piece together from the judge’s subsequent decision, which was eventually made public in a heavily redacted form, it appears that the Obama administration declared that our nation would be put at risk if my client’s medical records were disclosed to me –just me, not the public – me, a licensed lawyer, law professor, and a person deemed capable by the U.S. government to maintain the secrecy of classified and top secret government documents. Why, despite an elaborate system in place to facilitate habeas counsel access to classified information, was this specific and narrow set of information utterly off-limits?

And why were medical records – information about an individual’s health and medical treatment- deemed “classified” in the first place? The president controls the definition and designation of classified information. Under current executive orders, classified information must implicate one of several national security-related topics, such as military plans, foreign government information, and intelligence activities, and its “unauthorized disclosure” could “reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally  grave damage or serious damage to national security.” Therefore, my client’s medical records were deemed classified because apparently the “originating source” of the records determined that the contents [placed our nation at risk.

What could be in those medical records such that disclosure, to a security-cleared lawyer, risks causing such harm to our country’s security? It was chilling when Obama’s lawyers told me the records would never be disclosed to me, and they never have been.

My client once told me that I love the law too much. He did not say that to criticize me, but to help me understand that he needed refuge from the law. The process of attempting top obtain, from “the law” some semblance of stability and reasonable prediction of the future was harming my client- serving only to compound his fear and disorientation. The law’s promise to bring clarity, resolution, some semblance of predictability, and accountability failed – for him, there is no law. His “legal status” makes no sense, he is ostensibly detainable until the end of hostilities, but hundreds of others have gone home despite the government’s claim of continued hostilities. The Obama administration designated my client for prosecution, but no prosecutor has brought charges against him. Obama claims he intends top “close GTMO” before he leaves office, but his plan is to relocate GTMO to U.S. soil. He hopes to claim closure in hope of burnishing his legacy, eliminating GTMO as a “recruiting tool” and reducing the astronomical cost of imprisonment at this offshore military base,” but Obama intends to continue imprisonment without trial indefinitely and dump the problem on the next administration just as Bush did to him. For my client, the “rule of law” permits the U.S. to hide its crimes and it permits the U.S. to take away liberty without a trial for a wholly undefined length of time. There is, for my client, no law – when he will be released, who will decide it, and under what criteria is utterly unknown.



*including: confinement in a  dark cell the size of a grave, prolonged shackling, nudity with cold air blastings, beatings and sexual abuse and molestation, suspended by his arms for long periods, plunged in freezing cold water, dragged across floors, head bangings, sensory deprivation, bombardment with deafening music, forced to kneel in a position of subjugation, drugging, continuous threats by guards with dogs, sticks and rifles, trussings like an animal, diapering, blind-folding, wrapped in tape and transported to places  they knew not where. Not registered with the Red Cross, presented with no charges and given no lawyer.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Sicilian Vespers by Steven Runciman



Easter fell early in the year 1282, on 29 March. Throughout Holy Week the island of Sicily was outwardly calm. A great Angevin armada lay at anchor in Messina harbor. Royal agents toured the island commandeering all the stores of grain they could find and rounding up herds of cattle and of pigs, to provide food for the expedition [to Constantinople], and horses for the knights to ride, regardless of the peasants’ sullen resentment. The Royal Vicar, Herbert of Orleans, governor of the island, was resident in Messina, in the castle of Mategriffon, the ‘terror of the Greeks’, which Richard Coeur de Lion had built a century before. In Palermo the justiciar, John of Saint-Remy, kept the feast in the palace of the Norman kings. None of the French officials and none of the soldiers who commanded the forty-two castles from which the countryside was policed noticed more than the habitual unfriendliness shown them by the subject race. But amongst the Sicilians themselves as they celebrated the resurrection of Christ with their traditional; songs and dancing in the street, the atmosphere was tense and explosive.

The Church of the Holy Spirit lies about  half a mile to the south-east beyond the old city wall of Palermo, on the edge of the little gorge of the river Oreto. It is an austere building, without and within. Its foundation-stone was laid in 1177 by Walter Ophamil, or ‘of the Mill’, and the English-born Archbishop of Palermo, on a day made sinister by an eclipse of the sun. It was the custom of the church to hold a festival on Easter Monday, and on Easter Monday of that year people came crowding as usual from the city and the villages around, to attend the Vesper service.



There was gossiping and singing in the square as everyone waited for the service to begin. Suddenly a group of French officials appeared to join in the festivities. They were greeted with cold, unfriendly looks, but they insisted on mingling with the crowd. They had drunk well and were carefree; and soon they treated the young women with a familiarity that outraged the Sicilians. Among them was a sergeant called Drouet, who dragged a young married woman from the crowd and pestered her with their attentions. It was more than her husband could bear. He drew his knife and fell on Drouet, and stabbed him to death. The Frenchmen rushed up the avenge their comrade and suddenly found themselves surrounded by a host of furious Sicilians, all armed with daggers and swords. Not one of the Frenchmen survived. At that moment the bell of the Church of the Holy Spirit and of all the churches of the city began to ring for Vespers.

To the sound of the bells messengers ran through the city calling on the men of Palermo to rise against the oppressor. At once the streets were full of angry armed men, crying ‘Death to the French’ – ‘moranu lin Franchiski’ in their Sicilian dialect. Every Frenchmen they met was struck down. They poured into the inns frequented by the French and the houses where they dwelt, sparing neither man, woman nor child. Sicilian girls who had married Frenchmen perished with their husbands. The rioters broke into the Dominican and Franciscan convents; and all the foreign friars were dragged out and told to pronounce the word ‘ciciri’, whose sound the French tongue could never accurately reproduce. Anyone who failed in the test was slain. The Justiciar, John of Saint-Remy, shut himself in the old royal palace; but most of the men of his garrison had been away holiday-making in the town. The few that remained could not hold it for him. He was wounded in the face during a skirmish at the entrance before fleeing with two attendants out of a window through the stables. They found horses and rode at full speed to the castle of Vicari, on the road into the interior. There they were joined by other refugees who had escaped the massacre.


By the next morning some two thousand French men and women lay dead; and the rebels were in complete control of Palermo. Their fury had calmed down sufficiently for them to think of the future. Representatives of each district and each trade met together and proclaimed themselves a Commune, electing as their Captain an eminent knight. Three vice-captains were appointed, with five counsellors to assist them. The Angevin flag was torn down, and everywhere replaced by the Imperial Eagle which Fredrick II [of Hohenstaufen whose wife was Constance of Aragon] had allotted as the badge to the city of his childhood. A letter was sent to the Pope asking him to take the new Commune under his protection.

Already news of the uprising was spreading throughout the island. . . through-out the week news came of further uprisings and slaughtering of the French. The first town to follow the example of Palermo was Corleone, twenty miles to the south. After killing  the French it too proclaimed itself a Commune. The two Communes decided to send troops in three directions to rouse the rest of the island and coordinate its efforts. As the rebels approached each district, the French fled or were massacred. In two towns only they were spared. The Vice-Justiciar of Western Sicily had won the love of the Sicilians by his benevolence and justice. He and his family were escorted with honor to Palermo and allowed to embark for Provence,. The town of Sperlinga, in the center of the island, prided itself on its independence of view. The French garrison there was unharmed and was able to retire safely to Messina.

In Messina there was no uprising. The Vicar, Herbert of Orleans, had  a strong garrison. The great Angevin fleet was in the harbor. Messina had been the only city in the island to which Charles’s government had shown any favor; and its leading family, the Riso, supported his regime.   On 13 April, when all the West and center of the island was in rebel hands, the Commune of Palermo sent a letter to the people of Messina, asking them to join the rebellion. But the Messinese were cautious. With Herbert and his garrison dominating them from the castle of Mategriffin and with the king’s ships lying off the quay, they preferred not to commit themselves. Instead. On 15 April, a Messinese army troop, under a local knight, moved to the south to the neighboring city of Taormina, to protect it against the fury of the rebels. At the same time Herbert  sent a Messinese noble, Richard Riso, in command of seven local galleys to blockade Palermo harbor and if possible to attack its fortifications. The Palermitans hastened to display the banner of Messina with its cross on the walls, to show they regarded the Messinese as their brothers; and Richard’s sailors refused to fight them. The galleys remained off the harbor maintaining an unenthusiastic and inefficient blockade.

In Messina opinion was swaying round in favor of the revolt. Many of its citizens were also citizens of Palermo who had moved to Messina when it became an administrative center. Their sympathies were with their native city. Herbert began to lose confidence. He determined to make sure of Taormina and sent a troop of Frenchmen there under a Neapolitan to replace the Messina garrison. William Chiriolo and his men were offended by this lack of trust in them. They came to blows with the French and took them all prisoner. Two or three days later Messina broke out in revolt. Most of the French were already retired to the castle; and the massacres were on a smaller scale than at Palermo. Herbert blockaded himself in the castle, but he was obliged to abandon the fleet, which was set on fire and utterly destroyed. The Messinese declared themselves a Commune, under the protection of the Holy Church. They elected as their captain Bartholomew Maniscalo, who had played the chief part in organizing the revolt. . .


 The theme of the story is twofold. The episode of the Vespers at Palermo marked a savage and important turning point in the history of Sicily. It also taught a lesson to the whole of Europe. . .


With his own great abilities, and with the Papacy, France and the Italian Gueffs to back him, it seems at first surprising that Charles of Anjou’s career should have ended in failure. He failed through his own sensitivity and his lack of understanding of the peoples with who he had to deal with. The French had shown themselves to be the most vigorous and enterprising race in medieval Europe, and they knew it. They began to see themselves as a master-race. They had organized the crusading movement and had supplied most of its manpower and its direction. They had established their way of life in Palestine and Greece. It was their destiny to dominate Christendom. Charles was a Frenchman. He was moreover a French Prince; and it was above all the Royal House of France that had given the country unity and national consciousness. It was the Capetian Kings who bringing order an justice to the people and breaking down the arbitrary and disruptive power of the nobles. While Charles was a child his mother and his brother were busy crushing the turbulent nobility of France. As a young man he had the task of crushing the nobility of Provence. He grew up in the assumption that popular sympathies were with the centralizing power.

This pride of race and position led him into two grave errors, one of foreign politics and one of home politics. He saw himself as the heir of the crusader princes, especially in Eastern Europe. The French had taken pride in the Fourth Crusade and the establishment of the Latin Empire at Constantinople. Its fall was an insult to them. They could not quite understand it, for it never occurred to them that to the Byzantines, as to the Arabs in the East, they did not represent the finest flowers of civilization but were savage intruders with a liking for religious persecution. Charles believed that would be an easy task to restore the Latin empire, if only he were allowed to send an expedition against Constantinople. From the military aspect he was right; but he made no allowance for the passionate hatred that the Byzantines bore against the West nor the lengths that they would go to prevent an attack; nor did he appreciate properly the skill in diplomacy that they had acquired down the centuries. He despised the court of Aragon and never saw how effectively its claims could be used against him. He underrated his foreign enemies and never understood that they could be dangerous in combination [they conspired to engineer the revolt in Sicily just as Charles was embarking on his crusade against Constantinople].


Their combination was successful because of Charles’s errors in the internal governments of his kingdom. He was not unaware of the forces of nationalism. He knew that he could trust his fellow-French, and he trusted no other race. It was his practice in each of his dominions as far as possible to employ officials drawn from some other of his dominions. But he took no account of the resentment that such a policy might cause. He seems to have thought that, as in France, the element dangerous to the monarchy was the nobility, and that lesser folk would automatically rally to the king. In his Italian lands he diminished the power of the local nobility and relied on imported French nobles and knights, to whom he never allowed much territorial power. He failed to see that either these imported nobleman did not at once become efficient and incorruptible functionaries, just because they were divorced from their ancient hereditary territories, or that a local population might dislike foreign officials even if they were efficient. Charles himself was a good administrator, but he could not supervise everything. It is clear from the reforms he made that he hastily introduced when things went wrong, that his administration had been full of flaws. In particular it failed to satisfy the Sicilians.

It is here that the Sicilian theme mingles with the European. Charles neglected Sicily. He found it poorer and less useful to him than his other dominions. The Sicilians annoyed him by a long rebellion early in his reign. He never paid a serious visit to the island and never himself inspected its governmental machine. The officials there were more corrupt and oppressive than on the mainland where he could exercise personal control.  Yet, in spite of their earlier rebelliousness, Charles does not seem to have foreseen trouble from the Sicilians. They were of mixed racial origin. Only a half century earlier, the Greek and Arab elements could be clearly distinguished from the Latin. He may well have thought that a people of such diverse blood would never come together sufficiently closely too threaten his power for long. But in fact the misfortunes, grievances and aims of the whole island brought the islanders together. It gives a striking example of how little national feeling depends on the purity of race. It was a revolt in the island, plotted, fostered and organized by his enemies from outside, but carried out and maintained by the angry courage of the Sicilians themselves, which pulled Charles’s empire down. Some of the Sicilian leaders might waver. The intervention of Aragon and the naval genius of Roger of Lauria might contribute to the victory; but it was the unflinching determination of the Sicilians themselves, undiminished by the desertion by their allies later on, which freed them from the hated rule of the Angevins.

Charles’s failure as an empire-builder lay in his failure to understand the Mediterranean world of his time. Had he been content with the role of King of Sicily he might have had time to learn how to govern his subjects there, but he saw himself the soldier of God, chosen by the Holy Church to be its champion. The western empire had fallen because it had opposed the Church. He would build a new empire under the aegis of the Church, as its secular arm. He was too late. Christendom had split into too many units with their local interests; nationalism was growing too fast. Charles himself was affected by it. Whatever his own conception of his role may have been, in his actions he was partly  the agent of papal imperialism, partly of French imperialism and partly of his own personal and dynastic ambition; and the parts were confused. Later the Angevin House was to find glory when seated on the Hungarian throne, but only so long as it confined its interests to central Europe.  When it tried to combine its dominions in Italy with those in central Europe, the task was beyond it. The kings of the Angevin dynasty were nearly all of them men of outstanding  ability who made their mark on European history. But it was an ephemeral mark and did little good to Europe.

The massacre of the Vespers ruined the experiment of King Charles’s empire. But more, too, perished in the blood-bath. It was the ruin of the Hildebrandine Papacy. The Papacy had committed itself to Charles. A few wiser Popes such as Gregory X and Nicolas III, had tried to reduce the commitment, but in vain. The Sicilians  themselves did their best to offer the Papacy a road to escape. A better Pope than Martin IV might have cut the losses of the Papacy in time. But even so there would have been losses. The failure to support Charles would have been an admission that Rome had been wrong. But to support him so blindly against the wishes of a devout people and against the conscience of much of Europe, and then to be dragged by him into defeat, meant a far crueler humiliation. The Papacy threw everything into the struggle. It threw more money than it could afford. It threw the weapon of the Holy War, and all to no purpose. It emerged financially impoverished; and to recoup its finances it was forced to try to extract from the secular powers more than they would now willingly pay. It emerged with its chief spiritual weapon tarnished; for there were few Europeans outside France and the Gueff cities of Italy who could regard the repression of the Sicilians as a spiritual aim. The idea of Holy War had been cheapened already when it was used against the Hohenstaufen. It now fell into utter disrepute. The high authority of the Papacy was wasted on a losing cause, without the certitude of moral right on its side. No conception of Medieval history was finer than that of the Universal Church, uniting Christendom into one great theocracy governed by the impartial wisdom of the Vicar of God. But in this sinful world even the Vicar of God needs material strength to enforce his holy will. It proved impossible for the medieval Papacy to find a lay supporter whom all Christendom could trust. By crushing the Universal Empire, which alone might possibly have provided such support, the Popes set themselves a hard problem. Their choice of Charles of Anjou is easy to understand; but it was fatal. When Charles’s power was broken by Vespers Palermo they were too inextricably involved. The story led on to the insult offered to the Holy Father at Anagni, to the Babylonish captivity of Avignon, and through the schism and disillusion to the troubles of the Reformation.


The Sicilian men who poured, with knives drawn, through the streets of Palermo on that savage evening struck their blows for freedom and honor. They could not know to what consequences it would lead them and with then the whole of Europe. Bloodshed is an evil thing and good seldom comes of it. But the blood shed on that evening not only rescued a gallant people from oppression. It altered fundamentally the history of Christendom.


The lesson was not entirely forgotten. More than three centuries later King Henry IV of France boasted to the Spanish ambassador the harm he would do to the Spanish lands in Italy were the king of Spain to try his patience too far. “I will breakfast at Milan’, he said, ‘and I will dine in Rome.’ ‘Then’, replied the ambassador, ‘Your Majesty will doubtless be in Sicily in time for Vespers.’


The Sicilian VespersA History of the Mediterranean World in the Later Thirteenth Century by Steven Runciman; Cambridge University Press, 1958

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Nightmare from Which We are Trying to Awake by Michael Ignatieff



A disillusioned younger teacher in a turn-of-the century Dublin school is struggling through a history lesson with adolescent pupils who are just as bored as he is. He asks them the name of the ancient battle where Pyrrhus won his Pyrrhic victory, and as they mumble the wrong answers, his mind begins to wander. Why is history so suffocating? Is it nothing more than a lesson in futility and folly? Is this what his pupils unconsciously know as they yawn at their desks? Is this why they hang on in silence, waiting for the bell to deliver them back to the noise of the playground and the still un-foreclosed possibilities of youth?

After his pupils flood out into the school yard, the young teacher goes to his headmaster’s study to collect his weekly wages. Turn-of-the-century Ireland is still very much in the British Empire, and Mr. Deasy’s study is decorated with the iconography of empire and British union: a tintype of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, and sporting prints of famous English horses. Mr. Deasy identifies with this iconography of Protestant imperial power: he baits the young teacher and calls him a Fenian, while the young teacher bites his tongue and conjures up in his mind all the savagery incarnated in the Protestant conquest: the Catholic corpses left behind by Cromwell’s bloody passage through Ireland. This is history at its most suffocating: the blood-soaked myth that foreclosed all benign possibilities. “Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right”: Mr. Deasy intones all the adamantine slogans of resistance to home rule and Irish national independence. But there are darker myths imprisoning Mr. Deasy and his kind. He waves his finger at the young teacher., “Mark my words . . . England is in the hands of the Jews. In all the highest places: her finance, her press .  .  . Old England is dying.” Having dropped the coins of the young teacher’s pay into his hands, Mr. Deasy makes a little joke. Why is it asks, that Ireland ‘has the honor of being the only country which never persecuted the Jews?”  “Why, sir?” “Because she never let them in.”



The Jews have sinned against the light, Mr. Deasy instructs him, and history – which is moving toward the manifestation of the glory of God – has proved it so.


To which Stephan Dedalus – Joyce’s  protagonist in Ulysses – famously replies: “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”


History was not just the anti-Semitic philistinism and crabbed imperial arrogance of the Irish Protestant ascendancy –as deposited in the foul sediment of one turn-of-the-century schoolmaster’s brain. There was a “Fenian” version to escape as well. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the nationalist Davin tells Dedalus, “Try to be one of us. In heart you are an Irishman,” when Dedalus announces, “This race and this country and this life produced me. I shall express, myself as I am.” To Davin’s protest, “A man’s country comes first. Ireland first, Stevie. You can be a poet and a mystic after,”  Dedalus replies with cold anger: “Ireland is the old sow that eats her farrow.”


Joyce’s writing is a long rebuke to versions of history as heritage, as roots and belonging, as comfort, refuge, and home. His was the opposite claim: You could be yourself only if you escaped home, if you struggled to awake from the dreams of your ancestors. For Joyce the artist, coming awake meant finding a language of his own against the compulsion of linguistic tradition and inheritance. As he says in Portrait of the Artist, “when the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.” And fly by them Joyce did: to Trieste, Paris and Zurich, from Portrait to Ulysses to Finnegans Wake, from home to exile, from the language of his birth to a language uniquely his own. To come awake as an artist was to create something that transcended both personal and national past. To awake was to come to yourself, to force a separation between what the tribe told you to be and what you truly are.


What is nightmarish about nightmare is that it permits no saving distance between dreamer and ream. If history is nightmare, it is because past is not past. As an artist and as an Irishman, Joyce was only too aware that time in Ireland was simultaneous, not linear. In the terrible a quarrel at the beginning of Portrait over the meaning of the Irish nationalist politician Parnell’s disgrace and death, when Dante screams triumphantly, “We crushed him to death!” and Mr. Casey sobs with pain for his dead king and Stephen’s father’s eyes fill with tears, it is clear that Parnell’s death is not in the past at all. In the quarrel, past, present, and future are ablaze together, set alight by timer’s livid flame.


To awake from history, then, is to recover the saving distance between past and present and to distinguish between myth and truth. Myth is a version of the past that refuses to be just the past. Myth is a narrative shaped by desire, not by truth, formed not by the facts as best we can establish them but by our longing to be reassured and consoled. Coming awake means to renounce such longings, to recover all the sharpness of the distinction between what is true and what we wish were true.


It has become common to believe that we create our identities as much as we inherit them, that belonging is elective rather than tribal, conscious rather than unconscious, chosen rather than determined.  Even though we cannot chose the circumstances of our birth, we can chose which of these elements of our fate we make our defining inheritance. Artists like Joyce have helped us think of our identities as artistic creations and have urged us to believe that we too can fly free of the nets of nationality, religion, and language.


The truth is that the nets do bind most of us. Few of us can be artists of our own lives. That does not make us prisoners: we can come awake; we do not need to spend our lives in the twilight of the myth and collective illusion; we can become self-conscious. But though Joyce’s hard-won freedom may be beyond most of us, his metaphor of awaking points to the possibility open to us all. In awaking, we return to ourselves. We recover the saving distance between what we are told to be and what we are. This saving distance is the space of irony. We wake: we tell our nightmare to someone; its hold on us begins to break; it begins to seem funny or at least untragic. We may still shudder in the telling, but at least we can share it. We can lighten up. The day can begin.


The Warrior’s Honor; Ethnic War and the Modern Conscience by Michael Ignatieff; Owls Books, 1997

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Pregnancy of the World by Susan Faludi



Ha’rat Olam

 In 2014, Time magazine hailed the “Transgender Tipping Point” in a cover story that, with a thousand concurring stories from all corners of the media, enshrined gender identity as the cutting edge of civil rights. That same year, the United Nations passed a resolution condemning discrimination and violence based on gender identity, and governmental bodies from the Danish and Dutch parliaments to the New York state legislature and the New York City mayoral office proclaimed the right of citizens to change their birth certificates to match their chosen gender, even without surgery

The drumroll continued into 2015, when President Obama tweeted Caitlyn Jenner to commended her ‘courage’ (hours after she appeared in a satin corset on the cover of Vanity Fair), and transgender rights became  slogan on the presidential campaign trail. In the media, trans identity was fast solidifying into an emblematic narrative, with all the requisite tropes of victimization, heroism, and celebrity. Rarely did the fanfare convey the daily texture of complicated ordinary lives.


In the summer of that year, I received a letter from Mel Myers, who, back when he was Melanie, ran Melanie’s Cocoon, the guest house in Phuket, Thailand, where my father recovered from her operation in 20-04. Mel had finally succeeded in moving his longtime girlfriend to the United States, but at a cost. “When the time came to bring her to America and get married, I had to transition back to male,” Mel wrote. “My facial feminization surgery is covered with a beard, my reassignment surgery makes bathroom trips awkward, and I cover my beautiful breasts with loosed fitting clothes”. He said that sometimes he wished he’d continued as Melanie and sometimes he wished he’d hadn’t had the operation in the first place, “now I find myself living in limbo . . . I had my previous life as a male, I had my life as Melanie, and now I have my life as neither male nor female or both female and male.” He remembered the time when she, as Melanie, had served as “a poster child of sorts, someone who trans girls would look to for guidance and encouragement, “ but those days were in the past.


He and his wife had opened a Thai restaurant in the suburbs, and Mel was making ends meet working for the TriMet transit authority. “I see all walks of life driving a city bus. They’re little snapshots of humanity, like a quick line sketch of life, it catches life’s essence. I see myself reflected sometimes. It is enlightening sometimes and sometimes it is kind of scary,” he wrote. “I gave up a lot to be who I am.”


Back in my father’s motherland, as in the U.S. media, questions of identity were in full flower. The ruling Fidesz Party celebrated 20124 as the rebirth of Hungarian identity. That spring, the rightest party won the national elections again, and handily – with an assist from the newly minted media law, which stifled the independence of state-financed media, and with the manipulation of electoral rules  that allowed Fidesz to secure a two-thirds parliamentary majority with only 44.5 percent of the vote. Jobbik, the openly anti-Semitic and anti-Roma party, expanded its base even further, nearly edging out the long-standing Socialist Party in the Hungarian Parliament and becoming the most popular far-right party in the European Union.


Fidesz also swept the European Parliament election that year (and Jobbik came in second). And in the municipal elections that fall, Fidesz won control of every country assembly and all but one of the largest cities, including Budapest. When the polls closed in October, Fidesz leaders celebrated their party’s electoral trifecta. “Three is the Hungarian Truth,” Prime Minister Viktor Orban exulted in a speech that day, invoking the (Latin) maxim that “everything that comes in threes is perfect. “The party’s triple victory” Orban declared, solidified a national ‘unity’ and would “make Hungary great in the next four years.”


Four months earlier, the Hungarian Supreme Court has issued a ruling in support of the identity prerogatives of the political right. The court found that a TV news channel had violated the media law’s ban on opinionated press commentary by describing the far right Jobbik as . . .far right. Jobbik’s lawyers had argued that “far right” didn’t fit the party’s chosen identity, which was “Christian nationalist.” The judges concurred: “Jobbik doesn’t consider itself an extreme-right party, thus referring to it with the adjective ‘far right’ constitutes an act of expressing an opinion, making it possible for the viewer to associate it with a radical movement and induce a negative impression.”  The court’s ruling continued, in words that could have been lifted from the identity-sensitive speech codes on a college campus or the “Preferred Gender Pronoun” directives of the blogosphere: “ Even a single word, a single epithet, may exert influence on the viewer.”

On the world stage, criticism of the Hungarian government was reaching a fever pitch: the European Commission had threatened to take legal action against Hungary for undermining the independence of its judiciary and central bank’ fifty U.S. congressmen had signed a letter to Orban demanding that he condemn Jobbik’s “anti-Semitic and homophobic positions”; and media outlets around the globe were calling the nation an ‘autocracy,” the “EU’s only dictatorship,” and, in the words of one German newspaper, the new “Fuhrerstaast.” Orban was eager to turn the page. His administration hired the high-powered New York public relations firm Burson-Marsteller to reengineer its image. The Hungarian government vowed to prove its critics wrong: it would make 2014 “Holocaust Remembrance Year,” officially commemorating the seventieth anniversary of the destruction of Hungarian Jewry . “2014 must be the year for facing up to the fact and for apologizing,” Janos Lazar, Organ’s state secretary and chief administrator of the initiative, asserted at a press conference to unveil the nation’s makeover. “ We must make the apology a part of our national identity.” To that end, Fidesz announced it would open a new museum about Jewish persecution in Hungary and erect memorials and exhibitions to pay respect to the ordeal of Hungarian Jews.


But plans for a Jewish-friendly “national identity”  year were soon unravelling. To direct the new museum of Jewish persecution – the House of Fates (installed in a defunct train station and devoted exclusively to ‘child victims’ – the government appointed Maria Schmidt, Orban’s historical advisor who also directed the House of Terror, the museum that had shrunk the Holocaust to a footnote. After Jewish organizations protested her selection, Schimdt unleashed a full-throated attack on these “left-liberal opinion leaders” who used “intellectual terror” and “prescribe whom we can mourn and whom we can’t, for whom we can shed a tear and for whom we can’t.” By such behavior, “they exclude themselves from our national community.” Meanwhile, the Orban government inaugurated another establishment, the Veritas Research Institute for History, to produce a history of Hungary’s last century that would ‘strengthen national identity.” Placed at its helm was right-wing military historian Sandor Szakaly, who promptly declared the 1941 Hungarian government’s deportation of eighteen thousand Jews to the Ukraine (where they were massacred by SS and Ukrainian militia) was just “a police action against aliens.”


Then the prime minister’s office unveiled plans for a monument to be erected during Holocaust Remembrance Year in Freedom Square, dedicated to “all the victims of the 19th March German invasion of Hungary”. What “all” meant became clear when the government issues a drawing of the monument’s design: An imperial eagle representing the Third Reich savagely descends on an innocent and helpless Hungary in the form of the archangel Gabriel. Prime Minister Orban described the monuments as “morally precise and immaculate.”


Some months after, I would stop on my way through Freedom Square to inspect the results. The swooping German eagle was even more supersized than the drawing had suggested, more garish, a cartoon bird of prey with armor-plate feathers.  The archangel Gabriel was a supplicant, hands held up in surrender, his delicate and bare-breasted frame a study in feminine vulnerability and innocence. Pity, O God, the Hungarian. A few feet away, a home-made counter-memorial by Holocaust survivors and the families of victims protested the assertion of innocence with a display of cracked eyeglasses, empty suitcases, and photographs of murdered relatives.


The ruling party responded to such criticisms with outrage. Janos Lazar, the state secretary who had promised that 2014 would be a year of “apologizing” for the Holocaust, accused Jewish leaders of ruining the government’s commemoration and “fomenting discord between Hungarian and Jews who have lived in unity and symbiosis for centuries.” The House of Fates director Maria Schmidt chimed in again with her own tirade: “To let international Jewish organizations have a say without having contributed a single penny to the costs of setting up the institution is contrary to the responsibility of the sovereign Hungarian state for its own past, present and future.” Those who disagree “fail to understand that this time we are dealing with our very identity.”

.  .  .

On the morning of May 14, an hour after the doctor’s phone call, I climbed the four flights of stairs in the internal--medicine building of St. Janos and travelled a iong corridor to its terminus at the physician’s station, where Dr. Molnarne was seated.

“Explain to me why she died,” I insisted, but she insisted she didn’t know. “Sepsis, heart problem, stroke. Could be anything.”

She gestured towards a large transparent trash bag. “Here,” she said. “Don’t forget this.” The sack contained my father’s “effects”: damp towels, her compression hose (for varicose veins), a set of unwashed eating utensils, her reading glasses, her terry cloth slippers, and the plastic sip cup with her name on it.

A maid making a desultory  show of mopping the floor began prodding me out of the way with her mop handle.
”Stop it!” I snapped. She made a face and plowed past me.
Do you want to view the body? Dr. Molnarne asked.

My father lay on the far cot by the window in the overpopulated ward, the cot where I’d sat with her the day before. She died without privacy, but at least, I consoled myself, she hadn’t died alone. Early morning shadow dimmed the room. A sheet covered the bed and her body, a white rose placed on top of it. I inched the sheet aside to find another shroud beneath, wound around her. I felt for the beginning of the winding and unspooled it slowly from her head and shoulders. Her face was turned towards the window. Her eyes, so resolutely shut during her last miserable days, were open. I began to shake, and then, control faltering, to sob. An elderly patient in an adjacent bed leaned over to pat my back. ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry,” she said .I was grateful for her touch. And oddly comforted by the knowledge that my father had died here in the female wing, surrounded by women.

I studied my father’s face, averted as it so often had been in life. All the years she was alive, she’s sought to settle the question of who she was. Jew or Christian? Hungarian or American? Woman or man? So many oppositions. But as I gazed upon her still body, I thought: there is in the universe only one true divide, one real binary, life and death. Either you are living or you are not. Everything else is molten, malleable.

I tucked the sheet back around my father, a nurse came into the room. She presented me with a repurposed bandage envelope, containing two small items that hadn’t made it in to the trash bag of my father’s loose effects. The nurse had collected them while preparing the body.

When I left for the United States a few days later, I would take the items with me, along with another token of remembrance, the cloth-bound prayer book my father had received on the occasion of her bar mitzvah, on the day a boy became a man. “For you,” the nurse, as she handed me the envelope. “Stephanie’s” Inside it was a pair of pearl earrings.




Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Epilogue by Rita Gabis



[She knew her grandfather as a child: tall and wide like a wall; a tree with low, spreading branches. He bought her forbidden sweets, took her fishing. Everywhere they go together he introduced her with pride. But he never spoke about the war back in Lithuania and there were signs that she barely understood at the time. “Be a Roman Catholic, not like your father.” He killed fish that others threw back. Above all silence about the war and the escape of her family to America from a detention camp in Germany in 1946.  As she grew older not knowing took its toll. She spent years unravelling the mystery, hoping to discover something good about her grandfather.]


Try to look . . if you don’t find anything, don’t regret your efforts. There’s little hope, but there’s still some sort of tiny crystal of hope.

When I first began to learn about Lithuania during World War II, One Simaitre – who in addition to having the same first name as Babita (her aunt) was also, like Babita, a Lithuanian librarian - captivated me.


Employed at the Vilnius University Library, Simaite continually risked arrest and death as she smuggled food and supplies into the Vilna ghetto under the cover of participating, with Herman Kruk and others, in the decimation of Jewish literary culture by finding and sequestering important books for the Germans.

Yad Vashem lists eight hundred Lithuanians as Righteous Among the Nations, Simaite included, but Lithuania still keeps its wartime secrets. In the countryside especially, there is still a fear of saying too much, fear of a bad neighbor, a reprisal from one quarter or another, some of the fear left over from the Soviets who, directly at the war’s end, immediately executed roughly the same number of Lithuanians honored today by Yad Vashem,. And then after that, year after year, killed or deported more.


Members of the same family are often deeply divided about the past. On a trip to her mother country, my mother was told by a Lithuanian relative that “we got rid of both of them, the Jews and the Russians.” A few days later, a cousin drove my mother to a small memorial for local Jews massacred during the war.

I am sure that many Lithuanian families have as yet untold stories of their grandparents and great-grandparents, fathers or mothers, uncles and aunts, who brought butter to the ‘black window” and refused to be paid, who thrust bread into the hand of someone marching from work or to a labor camp, who gave shelter, or simply saw and did not report someone running for his life.

There were Germans also – not many, but some – like the well-known Major Karl Plagge, who through a factory in Vilnius offered extra food, protection, and life-saving permits to many of the Jewish workers there.

Some people both hurt and helped. Some people collaborated – the inadequate word – and then stopped, for reasons that might have had nothing to do with horror and the massacre of the Jewish population of Lithuania. Some helped those in need for a price that kept getting steeper.

As I read through the interrogations of those who worked under my grandfather and Jonas Maciulevicius (later executed as war criminal), certain tropes repeated themselves. Many witnesses insisted they provided aid to “Soviet citizens” trapped under fascist (German) rule. Lozas Breeris, warden of the Svencuionys prison, claimed that he had released a significant number of prisoners close to the end of the war, and had witnesses to back him up. No one my grandfather worked with ever mentioned under interrogation that Senelis had been arrested by the fascist Germans for freeing prisoners, even though they might have attached themselves to his efforts – he was their superior, after all – to win some slight mercy at the Soviets’ hands.

Certainly there were Lithuanians who abandoned their work on behalf of the Germans without repercussion. Joachim Hamann’s killing squad, for example, had its share of Lithuanian defectors,  who were allowed to walk away from the carnage without any punitive measures. MY grandfather might have been horrified to find himself at a meeting in the early fall of 1941 that mapped out the killings at Poligon (8,000 Jew shot And dumped naked into a hastily dug pit) and the creation of the Svencionys ghetto, but if so, it had not been enough to make him request another posting.

Still, as an historian I interviewed and questioned via e-mail several times noted, my grandfather was never put on trial. Though he lied on his naturalization and immigration forms, the lies were not picked up by the U.S. Justice Department. He never had the opportunity to address questions about his wartime life and answer them in a court of law, even an immigration court. According to my mother and her sister, he never mentioned either Poligon or the 1942 Beck reprisals (400+ Poles shot for the killing of a German officer by partisans), so again, in the end, there is no direct account of his role (or lack thereof) in these events.

I recently received a pro-forma letter from the FOIA unit of the Criminal Division of the Justice Department regarding the case file and notes for Vincus Valkavuichus, the Poligon guard. His extradition case still intrigued me. Why, I wondered – and still wonder – had a Poligon guard living in the United States been located and prosecuted, while Senelis, chief of the security police for the whole of the Svencionys region, had been left untouched?

Perhaps, the letter suggested, since my FOIA request had taken so long to fulfill, my interest in the material might have waned. If I no longer wanted the material, the harried specialist – who, as she told me during several phone calls, is short on staff and constantly pulled out for meetings and had a pile of requests on her desk that has mounted at a twenty cases in CD format, month after month after year, with mine close to the bottom of the stack –perhaps could pull my files out of the pile and send them back to storage. “If you are still interested . . . and wish for the request to be processed, please respond . . .”

“Yes, I am interested, yes, I wish,” I write back right away.





Monday, November 14, 2016

The Argument in Brief by Susan Woodward



The real origin of the Yugoslav conflict is the disintegration of government authority and the breakdown of a political a civil order. This process occurred over a prolonged period. The conflict is not a result of historical animosities and it is not a return to the procommunist past; it is the result of the politics of transforming a socialist society to a market economy and democracy. A critical element of this failure was economic decline, caused largely by a program intended to resolve a foreign debt crisis. More than a decade of austerity and declining living standards corroded the social fabric and the rights and securities that individuals and families had come to rely on. Normal political conflicts over economic resources between central and regional governments and over the economic and political reform of the debt-repayment package became constitutional conflicts and then a crisis of the state itself among politicians who were unwilling to compromise. In Parliamentary and democratic regimes such a contest over fundamentally different views of the role of government and its economic powers would be fought out between competing political parties. But in this transitional, one party, but highly decentralized federation, the contestants were government leaders fighting to retain or enhance their political jurisdictions and public property rights over economic resources within their territories. The more they quarreled, the more they contributed to the incapacity and declining authority of the central government to regulate and to resolve those contests over economic rights and political powers of subordinate governments.


The story would be incomplete and might easily had a different outcome, however, if the internal events had not been accompanied by a disintegration of the international order in which the country found its place. As is characteristic of all small states, the domestic order of socialist Yugoslavia was strongly influenced by its placed in the international order: its geographical location, its pattern of trade and foreign alliances, and the requirements of participation in the international economy and its various organizations. The viability of the Yugoslav regime, in fact, depended on its foreign position and a policy of national independence and nonalignment tied to the organization of the cold war world. By the 1960s that viability had also come to depend on access to foreign credits and capital markets on the basis of Yugoslavia’s strategic position in the Balkans and its independent foreign policy. The process that brought the cold wat to an end challenged and undermined that strategic significance, the role of the Yugoslav army, and the country’s alternative markets in the East and in the third world without providing any new basis for security and domestic political and economic security.


In the collapse of Yugoslavia the link between these two processes, the domestic and the international, is the state. The global campaign of the major powers and financiers during the 1980s to promote economic liberalization had as a premise the idea that states had taken on too much control; in managing their economies during the stagflationary conditions of the world economy during the 1970s. Economic revival required liberalization, privatization, and cuts in public expenditures for welfare, public employment, and social services. At the same time anticommunists within communist ruled countries and in the West were declaring the problem of socialism to be the power of their states – the so-called totalitarian control and overweening bureaucracies. The West’s euphoria over the collapse of communists states and its insistence on market reform, privatization, and slashed budgets as conditions for economic aid and trade paid little regard to the alternative hypotheses – that the crisis  of these countries grew from governments that were too weak; that to achieve the prescribed reforms required an extremely effective administrative capacity; that foreign creditors will lend only to governments that guarantee repayment; and that foreign investors demand favorable government regulations and political stability.


The more unstable an international order, the more governments must resume responsibility for external defense and for negotiating foreign trade and the conditions for it on which all modern economies depend. Radical reorientation to the market demand of exports and production cannot occur without new investment for structural adjustments, and successful open market economies require centralized a centralized capacity for macroeconomic policy. Entrepreneurship and civil freedom depend on a context of civil order, predictability and individual security.


Economic reforms such as those demanded of Yugoslavia by foreign creditors and Western governments ask for political suicide: they require governments to reduce their own powers. They also do so at the same time that demands on governments, particularly the necessity to protect civil order and to provide stability in the midst of rapid change, are ever greater. Without a stable civil and legal order, the social conditions that are created can be explosive: large-scale unemployment among young people and unskilled urban dwellers; demobilized soldiers and security police looking for private employment; thriving conditions for black market activities and crime; and flourishing local and global traffic in small arms and ammunition. A sense of community under these circumstances is highly prized, but not because of the historical persistence and power of ethnic identities  and cultural attachments, as the ethnic conflict school insists, but because the bases of existing communities have collapsed and governments are radically narrowing what they will or can provide in terms of previously guaranteed rights to subsistence, land, public employment, and even citizenship.


The definition of the Yugoslav crisis as ethnic conflict was a major source of the quicksand into which intervention fell. Although they were accused of excusing the crimes of nationalist demagogues, those that held the view that this was an ethnic conflict and civil war ran into difficulty because they accepted the argument of the nationalists, giving credence to the war propaganda of the politicians and generals who sought nationalist states and accepted the necessity of war to that end. Those who insisted that this was not a civil war but external aggression were drawn increasingly to the same conclusion – an ethnically defined solution in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in Croatia, because they defined that aggression and its victims ethnically – Serbs against Bosnian  Muslims or Croats. But by giving in to an ethnic account of the conflict and defending only one nation in a multinational context, proponents of the aggression theory abandoned non-ethnic understanding and constitutional mechanisms necessary to protect that group (and all citizens in general) against discrimination, expulsion, and death on the basis of their ethnicity/nationality.


That these wars are a form of aggression is indisputable. But the focus on aggression diverts attention  from its immediate cause – the breakup of a country and the contest over the location of new frontiers – and from the role that the United States and European powers together played in that process in 1990-92. And while distinction between external and internal aggression and between aggressive and defensive military action may be the only perch for international actors who seek to hold international norms those responsible for the atrocities, detention camps, and forced migrations, it is of very little use in influencing behavior when the driving political dynamic is nationalism. In order to combine moral principles with effective policy, the interactive character of competing nationalisms cannot be ignored, and the escalatory spiral of defensive perception and aggressive behavior must be counteracted to stop the violence.

The counterintuitive character of such a dynamic can be seen particularly in the outcome of the argument that such aggression in the Yugoslav case was the plan of one man, Slobodan Milosevich. This argument ignores the conditions that make such leaders  possible and popular and therefore also ignores the policies necessary to end their rule. It has also led people to ascribe so much [power to the man that foreign governments came to rely  on him to end the wars and therefore could not risk his fall from power even while they accused him of crimes against humanity.




Sunday, November 13, 2016

Conclusion to Conversations with Milosevich by Ivor Roberts


[Former British Ambassador to Yugoslavia Ivor Roberts reports his conversations with helpful,  non self-critical candor; that is, he does not retrospectively try to conceal the false pre-suppositions, incomprehension, malice, pompous over-estimation of his own capacity or innocence of his judgements (such as you’d expect from a British diplomat, or American for that matter) at the time. His introductory and concluding remarks tell a different story.]

In looking back on the disastrous course Yugoslavia and those who interacted with it took over the course of a decade, it is depressing to see how few lessons have been learned. Many Western politicians who favor robust intervention believe that Yugoslavia proves their point : bombing opponents to the negotiating table was a strategy that should have been executed earlier and more often. Any other approach smacks of appeasement, runs the argument. While Fredrick the Great may have talked about diplomacy without arms being like an orchestra without instruments, he wasn’t saying that diplomacy should not be tested to its limits. If we (should) have learned any lesson of the last decade or so of disastrous wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, it is that force should be the very last option; when the possible gains clearly outweigh the downsides; when there is full international legal backing  through UN Security Council resolutions; where there is a clear sense of proportionality and a likelihood of  a successful outcome. It goes without saying that there should be a clear plan for post-conflict scenarios.


To insist on one’s own position, however strongly felt, with no willingness to concede that others may have arguments of some merit and with no capacity for maneuver is to give up diplomacy usually with dire results. Diplomacy and its concomitant, negotiation are not to be dismissed lightly even if at times its progress can be painfully slow. A clue lies in the etymology of the word “negotiation”: nec otion = ‘not leisure or inactivity.’ In other words, it calls for persistence and iteration and is not to be denigrated for that.


Diplomacy is not, of course, guaranteed to get it right. We need to recognize that however extensively the problems of Yugoslavia were domestically generated and aggravated, the international community’s diplomatic actions on many occasions were culpable in making a bad situation worse. In particular, opportunities for an earlier conclusion to the Bosnia war, the various rejected peace plans, were missed  with consequences that were in many respects calamitous and led to much greater loss of life. Srebrenica*, that darkest page, would never have occurred, which carries with it a wider import. For today’s jihadi, Srebrenica and the prolonged agony of Bosnia are, together with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the early exemplars of how the Islamic nation or ummah have been attacked and oppressed by nonbelievers: thus is their hatred fueled.


Traditional allies in the Yugoslavia crisis were frequently at odds, a factor exploited by actors on the ground. Nor was it helpful to take a Manichean line and maintain that the Europeans made a hash of it and required the United States to intervene on the ground to sort out the mess the Europeans had left behind. It is the case, frequently forgotten, that the United States under Bush Sr. had abandoned the field to the Europeans in the early stages of the crisis. A less confrontational approach across the Atlantic would have yielded greater dividends.


We have to remind ourselves that the Dayton Agreement was not negotiated from a blank sheet of paper It owed much to the map-making begun by David Owen and carried on by Carl Bildt through the Contact Group of diplomates largely from the European Union but also, of course from the United States and Russia. And the decision to engage Milosevich as part of the solution, not just as the originator of the problem, was finally adopted by the United States nearly two years after the British and French had done so.


As for Kosovo, here again the accepted wisdom has to be challenged. The narrative that Kosovo is a Western success story, ignoring the country’s huge social and economic problems, may be convenient for the purposes of narration but doesn’t correspond to the reality of Kosovo as an at least partly dysfunctional state propped up by international aid and support. There are wider ramifications, of course. The recognition of Kosovo, in direct disregard of a UN Security Council Resolution guaranteeing Yugoslavia’s territorial integrity, set a damaging precedent for Crimea to be incorporated into Russia and for the latter’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states. Self determination in Kosovo justifies self-determination in Crimea if international borders are going to be flouted. And it s no argument to say that Kosovo is sui generis. All such cases sui generis. You cannot persuade would-be secessionists to give up their cause by saying that none of these cases prove a precedent. Once again the West’s thinking has proved muddled and incoherent and its approach to international law cavalier and selective. In an imperfect world, consistency is an invaluable virtue; however distasteful it may be to negotiate with those whose morals we abhor, we make our strategic goals far harder to secure if we fail to acknowledge the interdependence of principles (including self-determination), regime change, borders, and the inevitable tension between human rights and state security.

This brings to the fore the question of forcible regime change. Was the unspoken aim of Rambouillet  and the Kosovo bombing campaign to remove a bad man from power, to remove a thorn in the flesh and someone who failed to conform to Western liberal democratic reform [though there was a shortage of anything but thorns to replace him]? The press secretary  of foreign policy analysis  Strobe Talbot was quite explicit: “It was Yugoslavia’s resistance to broader trends of political and economic reform – not the plight of Kosovars Albanians- which best explains NATO’s war.”


In other words, Kosovo was not to be seen as “an operation with singularly humanitarian objectives, but as a regime operation with geopolitical purposes and implications.”


We need to be wary of going down the road of regime change for a variety of reasons. Doubtful legality is the prime one. And the caveat “be careful what you wish for “ is another. Western support for the so-called color revolutions and the awakenings, springs and uprisings has not always, indeed rarely if at all, ushered in a neo-Kantian world of Perpetual Peace, a world where democracy breaks out everywhere and war is relegated to history, so the neo-conservative theory goes, because democracies don’t fight each other. External actors in seeking to impose such regimes often find that not only is their presence inimical to their own interests but they also have a tendency to bring to the fore those who talk the right “Western” talk but are unsuited to running their own country. Iraq and Afghanistan are merely the most egregious examples of this.

It might be argued  that humanitarian intervention, the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, needs to aim at regime change to achieve its objectives, but regime change does not occur in a vacuum. Unless the interveners plan to occupy and run the country for themselves, there has to be an alternative regime to put in place, elected or not. The dire lessons from Iraq demonstrate the folly of dismantling  the organizational vertebrae of a country without any viable alternative plan. In the case of Iraq, the consequences are particularly severe as the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/ISIL) have at their core former (Sunni) members of Saddam Hussein’s army.

We also need to bear in mind the copycat effect of intervention whatever the motive, regime change or not, without proper sanction under international law. Where one state is seen to act with high-handed disregard for international law, others may be emboldened to follow a similar path. Changers of borders without mutual consent must be wrong whether undertaken in Kosovo, Crimea or Eastern Ukraine.

It was one of international community’s major failures, once the SFRY’s dissolution became inevitable, not to use the opportunity to revisit the whole question of borders. This was often ruled out, quoting one of the principles of the Helsinki agreement, the inviolability of borders. What the agreement actually provide for was the inviolability of borders without the mutual consent for change.

The international community, relying on the advice of the Badinter Commission that, since Yugoslavia was in the process of dissolution, the new international borders should be the old republican administrative borders- [extraordinarily independent under Tito’s last constitution, one cause of the dissolution itself and a reason that Milosevich could not dictate to the degree that the British and Americans wanted him to- one of many paradox’s in this story]. But these frontiers failed to correct the errors so palpably committed at the time of the Balkan Wars, the London Conference of 1913, and at Versailles in 1919 [long-standing wounds]. In particular, they took no account of the difficulties faced by minorities trapped within these new borders. Dutch political director Peter van Walsum (then holding the EC presidency) in July 1991 had argued in a telegram circulated to all EC capitals that as it was “difficult to imagine that Yugoslavia could peacefully dissolve into six independent republics within their present borders,” it would seem sensible to look “in the direction of a voluntary redrawing of internal borders.” Incredibly, this proposal received no support from any of the other eleven EC countries. It was a tragic missed opportunity. With sufficient political will and imagination and with Western military backing to enforce a cease-fire and provide a peace-keeping force [in a timely and effective fashion], it should have been possible to redraw the borders in ways that would have laid the basis for a comprehensive and stable settlement, avoiding the bloody conflict, the massacres and atrocities and the vast movements of hundreds of thousands of refugees. . . .

[But about the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the first place? Roberts covers this in the Introduction remarking first that the problem “cannot be simplified without distorting it beyond all recognition’, for example in Richard Holbrooke’s pronouncement that “Yugoslavia’s tragedy was not foreordained. It was the product of bad, even criminal, political leaders who encouraged ethnic confrontation for personal, political and financial gain.”  One factor to be sure but also:]

The macroeconomic stabilization program inspired by the International Monetary Fund was introduced in 1982. It brought in the familiar austerity measures, high unemployment, and declining living standards. The program accentuated social and republican  divides by a North-South policy which differentiated between investment programs for each.  Thus the North (Croatia and Slovenia) became more advanced and export orientated, while the South remained labor intensive and with a low wage economy. The 1974 constitution’s decentralization measures were key elements in preventing adequate reform of the central economy. With foreign borrowing, exchange and debt obligations removed to the republics, the federal government’s capacities to address the proposed transition to a market economy could hardly begin to function. Although the debt crisis was partially eased in the middle of the decade by a huge debt-refinancing program, the continuing East-West relations left little scope for reducing federal defense expenditures. However unjustified and perverse it seems now, this was a period when the perceived threat led to increased defense spending in new high-technology weaponry.



* this massacre was after U.S. supported Croat operations that initially drove 18,000- Serbs from Western Slovenia and ended up forcing more people- 180,000 -  from their ancestral homes since the  Germans’ departure from Czechoslovakia after WWI. The U.S. violated an arms embargo to support this operation. In the case of Kosovo Madeleine Albright ‘pushed and pushed for use of force against Serbia.  Time and again, sensible negotiating positions put forth by various parties through-out the decade were rejected by a Congress under the thrall of ex-patriot communities in the U.S., a true aberration of policy development that used to be cursed as ‘filibuster’ but is now standard practice: acting on the resentments of those who have fled their country for either economic or political reasons.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Father of Cultural Studies by Kate Crehan



An important source of subaltern* conceptions of the world is folklore [as are conspiracy theories today].  Gramsci’s attitude to folklore is often extremely critical, as is his scorn for the “little old woman who has inherited the lore of witches.” But he is by no means simply dismissive: he takes folklore extremely seriously. For Gramsci, who grew up in a peasant environment that was, in the words of one of his biographers, “riddled with witchcraft, spell-casting and belief in the supernatural, folklore could never be the quaint and picturesque remnants of a bygone age. The world of his childhood was one in which people had no doubt that living among them were women who transformed  themselves at night into creatures that “sucked the blood from babies,” and that “ghosts returned as Will-o’-he-wisps to squat on the breasts of sleeping people.” Daily life for the Gramsci families peasant neighbors involved constant vigilance against powerful, malignant forces, and it was these forces that people tended to blame for the various misfortunes that befell them: children or livestock dying or failing to thrive, crop failures, and any of a host of ills endemic to peasant communities. In Gramsci’s eyes, such folklore acts to blind people to the real sources of their oppression and exploitation. The reason to study folklore is so as to challenge it more effectively.

For the teacher, to know “folklore” means to know what other conceptions of the world and of life are actually in the intellectual and moral foundation of young people, in order to uproot them and replace them with conceptions which are deemed superior. The teaching of folklore to teachers should reinforce this systematic process even further. It is clear that, in order to achieve the desired end, the spirit of folklore studies should be changed, as well as deepened and extended. Folklore must not be considered an eccentricity, an oddity or a picturesque element, but as something very serious and is to be taken seriously. Only in this way will the teaching of folklore be more efficient and really bring about the birth of a new culture among the broad popular masses, so that the separation between modern culture and popular culture of folklore will disappear.


Just how seriously Gramsci took this cultural struggle is clear from the next sentence, with which he ends the note: “An activity of this kind, thoroughly carried out, would correspond on the intellectual plane to what the Reformation was in Protestant countries. For Gramsci, however, it was not simply a matter of progressive teachers bringing an already fully formed modern culture to the backward masses, but rather the bringing into being of a new culture that draws from the good sense embedded in folklore and common sense as a whole.

For Gramsci, we must say [though this is not without controversy among some scholars], common sense is a multi-stranded, entwined knot of, on the one hand, clear sightedness ( good sense), which is not fooled by the sophistry of spin doctors, but, on the other hand, blinkered shortsightedness clinging defensively to the comfortable and the familiar. Common sense is, as he puts it, “crudely neophobe and conservative”. But common sense is more than this; its nuggets of good sense also reflect ‘the creative spirit of the people.” Those in search of genuine social transformation need to begin with those nuggets. “ Is it possible that a “formally” new conception can present itself in a guise  other than the crude, unsophisticated version of the populace?”

True, the conceptions of the world to be found in folklore are necessarily incoherent:


 This (folkloric) conceptions of the world are not elaborated or systematic because, by definition, the people (the sum total of the instrumental and subaltern classes of every form of society that has so far existed) cannot possess conceptions which are elaborated, systematic and politically organized and centralized in their albeit contradictory development  [qua their oppressed and exploited position]. They are, rather, many-sided – not only because they include different and juxtaposed elements, but also because they are stratified, from the more crude to the less crude – if, indeed, one should not speak of a confused agglomerate of fragments of all the conceptions of the world and of life that have succeeded one another in history. In fact, it is only in folklore that one finds surviving evidence, adulterated and mutilated, of the majority of these conceptions.

And folklore is not confined to the traditional, as conveniently understood:

Philosophy and modern science are also contributing new elements to ‘modern folklore’ in that certain opinions and scientific notions, removed from their context and more or less distorted, constantly fall within the popular domain and are ‘inserted’ into the mosaic of tradition.  (La scoperta de L’America by C. Pascarella shows how notions about Christopher Columbus and about a whole set of scientific opinions, put about by school textbooks and ‘Popular Universities,’ can be strangely assimilated).


Every time and place has its own contradictory bundle of common sense and good sense notions containing not only notions carried over from the past, but newly minted ones. The focus should be on the relationship between specific threads of common sense and specific life-worlds. Gramsci takes to task various Italian authors of his own day who “lump together pell-mell all generic folklore motifs that in reality have very distinct temporal and spatial characteristics.”

For Gramsci, the basic structuring opposition in any society is not that between the traditional and the modern but, as the concept of subalternity itself indicates, that between the dominated and the dominant. His refusal to reify the traditional as the site of some kind of privileged authenticity helps explain his openness top popular culture in all its forms. The popular culture he had available to him in his prison cell was essentially limited to printed matter, the serial novels and other publications aimed at mass readership to be found in the prison library, mass-circulation newspapers, and so on. Nonetheless, given the right attitude, as he explains in one of his letters to Tatiana, a prisoner can find riches in even the meager and unscholarly resources of a prison library. The letter is a response to a request from the wife of a political prisoner for advice for her husband on how best to study in prison:


Many prisoners underestimate the prison library. Of course prison libraries in general are a jumble: the books have been gathered at random, from donations by charitable organizations that receive warehouse remainders from publishers, or from books left behind by released prisoners. Devotional books and third-rate novels abound. Nevertheless I believe that a political prisoner must squeezer blood even from stone. It is all a matter of setting a purpose for one’s reading and of knowing how to take notes (if one is permitted to write). I’ll give two examples: in Milan I read a certain number of books of all kinds, especially popular novels.  .  . Well I found even Sue, Montepin, Pionson du Terrial, etc, were sufficient when read from this point of view: why is this sort of literature almost always the most read and the most published? What need does it satisfy? What aspirations does it answer? What emotions and points of view are represented in these trashy books for them to be so popular?


His advice to the political prisoner makes it clear that Gramsci’s motivation in searching the jumble of the prison library was to discover shared subaltern concepts of the world. It is worth noting that Gramsci’s recognition of the value of popular literature makes no aesthetic claim for it”: these are ‘trashy books”. As for his own tastes, he was a man of high culture. The authors he responded to on an aesthetic level tended to be literary giants such as Dante, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and Pirandello. But these, too, he saw as not  existing outside political and economic realities, but as shaped by their particular historical moment. His insistence on this point is reflected in the note in which he discusses “utopias” and “so-called philosophical novels.” For him, “one of their most interesting aspects to consider is  such novels “unwitting reflection of the most elementary and profound aspirations of even the lowest subaltern social groups, albeit through the minds of intellectuals preoccupied with other concerns.”


Central to his reflections on popular culture is Gramsci’s challenge to the distinction between “authentic” and “inauthentic”: popular culture, between work produced by ‘the people’ and those created for them. He homes in on Ermolao Rubieri, who had proposed a threefold classification for popular songs. According to Rubierei, there are “1) songs composed by the people for the people; 2) songs composed for the people but not by the people; 3) songs written neither by the people nor for the people, bit which the people have nevertheless adopted because they conform to their way of thinking and feeling. To which Gramsci responds : “It seems to me that all popular songs could and should be reduced to a third category, since what distinguishes popular song, within the framework of a nation and its culture, is not its artistic element or its historical origin, but its way of conceiving of the world and life, in contrast to official society.”

 
Gramsci clearly had a horror of sentimentality; his distaste for anything with even the slightest hint of the saccharin runs through his notebooks and the prison letters. But while he may have been a man of high culture with fastidious personal tastes, he also recognized the genuine emotion that lay behind common people’s love of trashy art and saw its value. One of the letters to Tatiana contains a remembrance of Giacomo Bernolfo, a man who had once been his bodyguard


I am very sorry and much aggrieved by Giacomo’ death; our friendship was much deeper and intense than you could have possibly realized, also because outwardly Giacomo was not very expansive and a man of few words. He was a rare person I assure you . . . When I met him right after the war, his strength was Herculean (he was a sergeant in the mountain artillery and used to carry cannon parts of great weight on his shoulders) and his courage was utterly fearless, though without boastfulness. And yet his emotional sensitivity was remarkably acute, even taking on melodramatic accents, which however were sincere, not affected. He knew a great number of verses by hearty, but all of them belonging to that third-rate romantic literature loved so much by simple people (along the lines of opera librettos, which are mostly written in a very peculiar baroque style with disgustingly pathetic mawkishness, which however seems to be astonishingly appealing), and he like to recite them, though he would blush like a child caught in error whenever I joined the audience to listen to him. This memory is the most vivid aspect of his character that insistently comes back to my mind: this gigantic man who with sincere passion declaims verses, in bad taste but that express robust and impetuous elementary passions, and who stops short and blushes when his listener is an “intellectual” even though a friend.


 In his notebooks and letters Gramsci is always concerned with what actually appeals to common people. He thought progressive intellectuals needed to pay serious attention to that which resonates with the subalterns they wish to reach.

Nowadays the study of popular culture along the lines suggested by Gramsci has become common in a number of disciplines, but in the 1920s and 30s  it was  a rare scholar who thought such stuff was worthy of study. Decades after his death, Gramsci would be a key figure in the development of what came to be called cultural studies. Antonia Gramsci: Selections from the Prison Notebooks, edited by Hoare and Novell Smith (1971), for instance, would be a major influence on the research group at the Center for Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham, who under Stuart Hall’s leadership established cultural studies as a distinct field in Britain.


*Subaltern, meaning 'of inferior rank', is a term adopted by Antonio Gramsci to refer to those groups in society who are subject to the hegemony of the ruling classes. Subaltern classes may include peasants, workers and other groups denied access to 'hegemonic' power.


Gramsci’s Common Sense; Inequality and Its Narratives by Kate Crehan ( Duke Univ. Press, 2016)