Racak, Mon Amour
Wednesday, February 03 1999, 7:53 PM
Lidice and Ouradour-sur-Glane remain with us in body, spirit and practice.
Towns and villages deep in Europe's provinces have been murdered in the nineties as they were in the forties. The bodies of Racak villagers stretched out in a Kosovan mosque repeat and extend this decade's history of massacre in the Balkans. And, with equally repetitive predictability, western Europe, NATO and Washington speak their heartfelt but rote lines about the violation of human decency and the laws of war.
Slobodan Milosevic can see the obvious as well as an American newspaper reader: to protect Kosovo from Serbian violence requires the exercise of military counter-violence and no country wishes to receive soldiers' coffins on returning transport planes. NATO is willing to threaten air strikes, little more. The US administration has indicated that it might consider committing a couple thousand ground troops. Milosevic sees threats for their sham: the future of Serbian nationalism has far greater meaning for his politics, and Kosovo is now the meeting point of conflicting nationalist memories.
Whatever emerges in the next several weeks, a basic diplomatic truth will remain: the lives of Kosovo's citizens are worth only the price of words. The slaughter of the nineties throughout the former Yugoslav territories could not have taken place otherwise.
While western Europe has been practicing ever-newer, broader integration and and economics, retrograde politics in the Balkans, eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics frequently appear to have never left the strong-arm nationalism of the thirties. In Byelorussia, the Lukashenko government has crushed political rights and the independent press. In Croatia, Franjo Tudjman quite literally worships Franco and wants to instill the spirit of the Phalange in that country.
Nationalistic authoritarianism has quietly spread throughout the regions, heavily propagated by right-wing parties that seldom catch international attention. Only in Slovakia, with last year's electoral fall of the corrupt and proto-totalitarian Meicar government, has one of these jingoistic bully-boy ethnocentric governments met with reversal.
Throat-cuttings and mass executions in the pitiful remains of Yugoslavia express a profound, brutal resistance to inter-ethnic accomodation and tolerance. Again and again, the bodies of Moslem townspeople pile up. Moslems have become the new victims of Europe; they are an anti-national underclass, people who raise questions for the flagbearers of purist nationalisms. The Romani who bear the brunt of daily assaults and murders throughout eastern Europe — but whose threatened lives and violent deaths almost never appear in western media — also inhabit this cultural counter-stream of misfits under European nationalism. If either Moslems or Romani had acquired the sensitive status that Jews have today in the European conscience, none of this could happen.
Such broad regional assaults against cultural heterogeneity do not emerge from a vacuum. The general shift into 'free market' economies has mixed political and economic corruption as never before. New-old elites (for ex-communists are among the most rapacious capitalists) in eastern Europe and the Balkans practice personal enrichment, not mutual social accomodation. Chauvinistic social identities and their supposedly-traditional antagonisms have become a diversion from mass economic misery.
As a trash collector observes bitterly at last in Bouhamil Hrabal's novel Too Loud A Solitude, "it's just one melancholy circle after another and going forward means coming back, progressus ad originem means regressus ad futurum and your brain is nothing but a hydraulic press of compacted thought." The worst of European nationalism repeats its previous worst, recycling the afflictions of ideological history.
Those unnamed Racak villagers, lying in rows beneath a bare glass bulb, are the product of a nationalism that punishes assertions of equal history, of equal humanity. We are all from Racak — we bear their names.
Joe Lockard is a member of the Bad Subjects collective.