“I do not know the truth. But I am looking. I am listening. I am remembering. I am asking.”

A tribute to Peter Handke... and a response to a campaign

by Hannes Hofbauer, Vienna

The campaigns against Peter Handke continue: “Why Peter Handke may no longer be an Austrian” – such questionable theses are currently being spread about the Austrian writer and Nobel Prize winner. The reason for the article is the “discovery” of a long-known identification document. The motivation is presumably to discredit an enemy.
“I would like to be in Serbia when the bombs are being dropped on Serbia. This is my place I assure you when the NATO criminals will release their bombs, I will go to Serbia.” Peter Handke said these words on 18 February 1999, when he was interviewed by Serbian television in Rambouillet in France.
At that time at Rambouillet Castle, the negotiators of the USA and the European Union, Christopher Hill and Wolfgang Petritsch, tried to force the Yugoslav side to put the province of Kosovo under international control and to make Serbia and Montenegro a NATO deployment area so that, as Article 8 read, “NATO personnel shall enjoy [...] free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout the FRY [Federal Republic of Yugoslavia] including associated airspace and territorial waters.” Such blackmailing was unacceptable, as also former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger let his his successor Madeleine Albright know via a newspaper comment:
“Yugoslavia, a sovereign state, is required to hand over control and sovereignty over a province with a number of national sanctuaries to foreign military personnel. Similarly, one could ask the Americans to let foreign troops invade Alamo to return the city to Mexico because of the shift in ethnic balance,” he wrote in Welt am Sonntag on 28 February 1999.
And after 17 days of negotiation, Yugoslav delegation leader Milan Milutinovic told Tanjug press agency:
“A scam had happened. An agreement was not even wanted. The whole theatre play had been arranged so that we should accept the unacceptable, or if we did not accept it, bombs would fall […].”
A month later, bombs fell on Serbia and Montenegro. On 24 March 1999, NATO, which had just been expanded by admitting Hungary, Poland and Czech Republic as member countries, attacked. The attack, violating international law, was carried out without a UN mandate. It was a criminal act. And Peter Handke kept his promise. He went to Serbia. His report on a winter journey to the rivers Danube, Save, Morawa and Drina had already been published by him in the midst of the anti-Serb atmosphere of Western media and politics. “Justice for Serbia” was the subtitle. And at the beginning of 1999 he finished his work on the play “The journey in the dugout canoe, or the piece about the film about the war” (Die Fahrt im Einbaum, oder das Stück zum Film vom Krieg), in which he clearly and unmistakably speaks out against the colonial desires of western military, companies and NGOs during the Bosnian civil war. Claus Peymann staged the premiere at the Viennese Burgtheater on 9 June, 1999, the very day that a contract was signed in Kumanovo, Macedonia, on the withdrawal of the Yugoslav People’s Army from Kosovo.
Media and authorities:
together against Handke
After the war, Handke was issued a Yugoslav passport on 15 June 1999. Although marvelling at this passport, in form of a copy, has been possible for years in the online archive of the Austrian National Library, the Yellow Press only gets excited about it now, in order to cement Peter Handke’s image as a friend of a bloodthirsty Serb dictatorship. “In 1999 the Milosevic Regime issued a passport to the Nobel Prize winner for literature,” reads, for instance Vienna’s Die Presse, on 8 November – on top of that twisting the sequence of events, since in 1999 Handke was still far from being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. And the liberal Standard takes further digs on Handke by headlining on the same day: “Why Peter Handke may no longer be an Austrian” (Warum Peter Handke vielleicht kein Österreicher mehr ist). The hostile media are pushing the authorities at will. Because dual citizenships are only allowed in Austria in exceptional cases, it shall now be checked whether Handke may have automatically lost the Austrian one in 1999. The social democratic governor of Carinthia, the home province of the Nobel Prize winner, has now officially initiated a “citizenship investigation” against Handke. This is how politics and alleged quality media in the “Land of the Arts” deal with their writer, who has just been awarded the highest honours.
They cannot forgive Peter Handke that in the 1990s he not only regretted the breakup of Yugoslavia, but was also close to Slobodan Milosevic, the comparatively most sensible force at the time. At the grave of the person who had been deported to The Hague and died there without the medical treatment he had asked for, Handke indirectly expressed his view of the Yugoslavia crisis. This 18 March 2006 is still scandalised today. At the time, Handke spoke the following words (in Serbo-Croatian) at Milosevic’s funeral in his hometown of Pocarevac:
“The world, the so-called world, knows everything about Yugoslavia, Serbia. The world, the so-called world, knows everything about Slobodan Milosevic. The so-called world knows the truth. That is why the so-called world is absent today, and not just today, and not just here. The so-called world is not the world. […] I don’t know the truth. But I am looking. I am listening. I remember. I am asking. That’s why I am here today, close to Yugoslavia, close to Serbia, close to Slobodan Milosevic.”
Historical amnesia on
hatred towards Serbs
It was the “Washington Post” that sounded the death-haloo on Peter Handke. Even on 10 October 2019, when the Swedish Academy announced the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature, the title of its report suggested that Handke might be an “apologist for genocide”. And the following week captioned the prominently placed commentary by the President of the Kosovo Albanian Academy of Fine Arts, Mehmet Kraja, with the line: “Why was the Nobel Prize awarded to a man celebrating a war criminal?” The opinion-forming German-language media retrieved the shout from Washington and pushed into the same notch.
In order to understand where this hatred of Serbia, Milosevic and – most recently – Handke comes from, we must recall the course of events in Yugoslavia’s process of disintegration and the acting people. The first western-led enemy detection of Slobodan Milosevic took place at the turn of 1990/1991. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) had watched the whole of 1989 as a 1000 per cent hyperinflation destroyed all dinar savings in order to launch a rigorous austerity package in the first half of 1990, based on the cornerstones already tested in Latin America: restrictive monetary policy, dismantling state subsidies and social benefits, opening up the domestic market to foreign investors and privatising state-owned and/or socially-owned enterprises. The namesakes for this shock therapy were Jeffrey Sachs of the IMF and Ante Markovic, the last Prime Minister of Yugoslavia. Milosevic, just confirmed with 65 per cent approval in the presidential office of the Autonomous Republic of Serbia, undermined this plan by printing the equivalent of 16 billion dollars dinars and thus paying the Serbian state employees – military, teachers, hospital staff, etc. – with it. Jeffrey Sachs was outraged, broke down his tents in Belgrade, moved to Ljubljana and later to Warsaw. The trained lawyer and banker Milosevic had made himself unpopular overnight in the West by starting up the note printing press.
Now Germany and Austria in particular began to support Yugoslavia’s national centrifugal forces. Especially the two foreign ministers Hans-Dietrich Genscher (FDP) and Alois Mock (ÖVP) stood out. Who were their partners on the ground? It was mainly Croatian and Bosnian Muslim secessionists who they relied on; whereby the historical parallel to the forties was present in Serbia and hushed up in Germany.
In Croatia, German and Austrian foreign policy supported Franjo Tudjman. He had been elected President of the Autonomous Republic of Croatia in May 1990 and was now regarded as the hero of democracy and the free market economy; he fought fiercely for the latter. During Titoism, the trained historian was imprisoned twice for nationalist and “counterrevolutionary activities”.
Shortly before the Croatian referendum on independence in May 1991, Tudjman showed what he understood by Croatian nationalism. On 2 March 1991, Tudjman sent Croatian national guardsmen (there was no army yet) to the Slavonian town of Pakrac, which was mainly inhabited by Serbs. They forced the local Serbian policemen to hoist the new flag of the “Republic of Croatia”, not yet recognised by anyone, on their police station: the chessboard known from the fascist Ustasha period.
Western Cooperation with antisemites
No one in the West came across it. Also Tudjman’s anti-Semitic outbursts were ignored in German and Austrian media at all costs. His book “Irrwege der Geschichtswirklichkeit” [wrong tracks in historical reality], translated into German in 1993, is brimming with trivialisations of the fascist Ustasha regime and reduces the number of victims in the Jasenovac concentration camp to a minimum. Tudjman finds the six million murdered Jews during National Socialism “emotionally exaggerated” in his book. His Foreign Minister Zvonimir Separovic, intimated in an interview why anti-Semitism of Tudjman’s HDZ party did not become an issue in the West: “The Serbian lobby in the world is dangerous because it cooperates with Jewish organisations.” At that time, in the early 1990s, the West concentrated on its hostility to Serbia. Noble claims like the often postulated fight against anti-Semitism were ignored.
The Bosnian-Muslim ally of the West, Alija Izetbegovic, was in his own way even a more radical right-wing radical than Tudjman. In the Second World War he joined the Mladi Muslimani, an organisation close to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood that used the German advance and the Ustasha government in Croatia to form for its part a Muslim force against Tito’s partisans. In 1970 Izetbegovic’s main work, the “Islamic Declaration”, was published. In it he describes the desired future social order under Muslim auspices as follows:
“The first and most important (realisation) is certainly the one of the incompatibility of Islam with non-Islamic systems. There can be no peace or coexistence between the Islamic faith and the non-Islamic societies and political institutions”.
Izetbegovic spent several years in Titoist prisons both for membership of the “Young Muslims” and for the publication of the Islamic Declaration. Whereas the West, especially the French media and intellectuals like the philosophers Bernard-Henry Levy and André Glucksmann, saw Izetbegovic as the saviour of democracy in the Balkans, even more so: Their battle song during the Bosnian civil war was: “We can win, so we must win! Yes or no to European civilisation! Their local patron was Alija Izetbegovic.
Handke: Solidarity with a low voice
So this is how they were knitted, the partners of the West in disintegrating Yugoslavia: Tudjman, swinging the chessboard flag of the Ustashi, and the Muslim brother Izetbegovic. And then, in March 1999, NATO attacked the remains of Yugoslavia. The final act of destruction, so that in future Croatian nationalism, Bosnian Islamism and Albanian nationalism may take the place of the former multi-ethnic state. In such a moment, shortly before the take-off of the NATO fighter squadrons, Peter Handke appeared before the public and let anyone who wanted to hear it know his contempt for this policy and this military operation. With a low voice, as usual, but with emphasis. His solidarity with Serbia, maltreated by NATO bombs, demands respect. Not despite that solidarity he deserved the Nobel Prize for Literature, but because of it.    •

From Hannes Hofbauer already appeared in the 8th edition on the subject: Balkan War. Ten years of destruction of Yugoslavia. Promedia Verlag, Vienna.
(Translation Current Concerns)

Pro memoria (from: Current Concerns No 1 from 15 January 2012)

Christmas is the feast of peace...

cc. Serbia belongs to the Christian cultural sphere. Owing to Peter Handke, the defeated Serbia won’t be completely forgotten: neither the bridge of Varvarin nor the NATO attack against the broadcasting station in Belgrade – a civilian institution. The clinically clean precision strike had caused the death of 16 employees and left many injured.
    Europe had a common cultural base: Christian ethics and social doctrine as well as the Enlightenment. Both pillars require compassion and respect for the dignity of man. Is that only for the winners? Is a defeated people erased from collective memory, because only Anglo-American “tittytainment” has room in it? There are many more wounds in defeated Serbia: those who suffer from multiple cancers and those who die from it. Cancers that have never existed before 1999. About five years after such bombardments the cancer rate starts rising and death reaper draws his late harvest. Shared culture? Compassion? Dignity of man?

It happened on 23 April 1999 around two o’clock at night, when NATO warplanes bombs destroyed the building of the RTS, the Radio-Televizija Srbije, the Serbian Radio and Television, and 16 employees were killed.
The director of the RTS, Dragoljub Milanovic, wasn’t among the dead. After a busy day he had left the house half an hour earlier, to go to sleep. He would not have thought that the station in the middle of Belgrade could be a target; naive or not, but that was it.
The later Serbian government looked at it under changed political objectives and sentenced Milanovic, on the basis that he should have evacuated all staff in time, to a ten-year imprisonment he has since been serving in Pozarevac. Peter Handke tells this story from the perspective of an observer fighting the fact that manifest injustice leaves him speechless. Thus he tells what has been and what is now, for information and with sympathy, polyphonic and straightforward all at once.
“Here a true story is to be told. But I don’t know to whom. It seems to me there is no addressee for this story, at least not in the plural and not even in the singular. I also think, it is too late to tell it: I missed the moment. And nevertheless it’s an urgent, compulsive story. Master Eckart once talked about his need to preach, being so strong, that he would even address it to an ‘offering box’ if he wouldn’t find a counterpart for his sermon – if I remember correctly. This is not a matter of a sermon, but, as I said, a story. But if necessary it would also be told to a pile of wood or an empty snail shell or – by the way not for the first time – even to myself here all alone.”

Source: Peter Handke, Die Geschichte des Dragoljup Milanovic, 2011, p. 5
(Translation Current Concerns)

Nobel Prize for Literature 2019 for Peter Handke

cc. On 10 December 2019, the Austrian Peter Handke accepted this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature in Stockholm. Peter Handke is one of the best-known contemporary Austrian authors – poet, essayist and screenwriter.
In 1966, Handke’s first novel “The Hornets” was published. He became famous in the same year for the staging of his now legendary theatre play “Offending the Audience and Self-accusation”.
Since then he has written more than 30 stories and prose works. His most famous works include “The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick” (1970), “The Chinese Man of Pain” (1983) and “My Year in the No-Man’s-Bay” (1994).
His work has won numerous national and international awards. Since his first prize in 1967 (Gerhard Hauptmann Prize), Peter Handke has been awarded at least one prize every year since 1972, including the Büchner Prize in 1973, the Kafka Prize in 1979, the Grand Austrian State Prize in 1987, the Siegfried Unseld Prize 2004 and the International Ibsen Prize 2014.
On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the NATO alliance’s attack on Serbia, Peter Handke attended the Belgrade conference “Never to forget – peace and progress instead of wars and poverty” (22-23 March 2019). The president of the Belgrade Forum, Živadin Jovanović, awarded him the “Charter of Courage”: in recognition of his intellectual courage in defending the truth and justice in times when greed for power and lies about Serbia dominated.
The Current Concerns/Zeit-Fragen editorial team congratulates Peter Handke on the well-deserved Nobel Prize.

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