A culture of Mass Graves

A symposium of writers from ex-Yugoslavia met in Munich’s “Literaturhaus” last Friday & Saturday to think and talk about the Srebrenica anniversary. Today at least four German daily papers report extensively on the occasion, with one reprinting one of the talks in full. The writers present included essayist Dzevad Karahasan from Sarajevo, the Slovenian writer Drago Jancar, the Hungarian László Végel, now living in Serbia, the Serb Drinka Goikovi, the Bosnian Saša Staniši, the Kosovo-Albanian Beqë Cufai as well as Svetlana Broz, the grand-daughter of Tito, a Belgrade cardiologist and journalist and author of a book of interviews with war victims of all sections of ex-Yugoslavia (Good People in an Evil Time), among others.

The Serbian poet Bora Cosic (at 73 the oldest writer present) sums up the situation with the sentence: “We are all inhabitants of the same country, the Republic of Despair.” He then reads his poem “The last Picture Show,” which contains the lines:

there is no film strip in the projector
what is important is that there’s room for all
in the cinema of their death
as if in a large coffin
then bombs are dropped on them
& they are cut down like sheafs
a whole century has to pass
until a history critic
writes a review

The Serbian Vladimir Arsenijevic speaks to the shame he feels concerning the recently found (and widely broadcast) video tapes of the execution of several young man in Srebrenica by “Black Scorpio” units: “The knowledge that murderers and executioners are moving freely among us, is not, God knows, something extraordinary, we have been used to that for a very long time now. But in this case it is a matter of a very special species of criminal exhibitionists who recorded their crimes on tape and then put their souvenir in circulation, and that is an unusual detail that throws a strange light on the whole affair. By making copies of their video tape and putting it into circulation, they have become actors in their own snuff-movie.”

Someone else speaks of “a culture of mass graves.”

It is difficult to say if such gatherings of writers & intellectuals have much effect, but the very fact they they do take place and that they are widely reported on in a national press (Germany in this caase, where btw several of the writers live in exile), at least makes for the possibility of readers reflecting on what was said. For when such gatherings by US writers on, say, the War in Iraq, and which daily papers will report on them? Or has the role of the public intellectual (been) completely disappeared in the US?
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