"It is not our intention here
to draw a parallel between the conflict in Yugoslavia and the Germany of
that time, but the psychological and propaganda mechanisms
that appear primitive and comical from this distance do show a striking
similarity. Whereas once fear reigned of "Trotsky's Bolshevik hordes,"
which were poised to attack Germany, today the Serbian
communists, nationalists by choice, are those to whom Western newsmen are
imputing virtually everything that they are capable of dreaming up. In
the first instance there were no public relations firms, such as Ruder
& Finn or Hill
& Knowlton, who could have championed
the German cause in the world, but the "sources" have remained the same,
and as described by Ben Hecht, these are as a rule very unreliable contemporaries,
who perhaps show great histrionic talent, but who could not be described
as very trustworthy. What is crucial is the willingness of the media to
publish such reports, and in this respect nothing has changed three quarters
of a century later.
it is one thing, for instance, when false information put out by the authorities
or declarations made in good faith are believed, but can be set right when
the government is unmasked. In this way, newspapers achieve fame and prestige,
and their quality is measured by the number of public servants who have
lost their jobs. However, what we have here is a preconceived judgement.
For a variety of reasons the media are disseminating
hatred and not news, depending on what aspect they view the confliet
from, what "world view" they represent or what ideology they conceal behind
them. In the case of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, there are historical
motives at work, for the Serbs have never been forgiven
their resistance to the National Socialists [Nazis], whereas Die
Tageszeitung, which is considered to lean to the Left, believes that it
must take the side of the oppressed and the underdog. In both cases the
result is the same, and therefore one can no longer see any difference
between Reissmuller and Rathfelder. Zeitung fur Deutschland and its school
edition in Berlin have become media shock troops
of the nationalist and populist cause.
Revival of National Sentiments
Unlike the press, which since
1977 has no longer been so ideologically singleminded, the
resistance demonstrated by public opinion to large-scale propaganda campaigns
is quite astonishing. In fact, the public could hardly be blamed if, driven
to distraction by the daily bombardment of reports about Serbian crimes,
they demanded that the government dispatch troops to the Balkans at once.
But the public is not doing so; such demands are rather being voiced by
former left-wing intellectuals, who could be expected to be able to differentiate
between propaganda and real news. They can
be accused not of stupidity but of well thought-out intentions, because
they did not fall dupe to the biased reporting by the media simply out
of incompetence; instead, they took upon themselves the media's task.
They are no different from journalists like Roy Gutman,
Maria von Welser, or Alexandra Stiglmayer, who have turned the conflict
in Yugoslavia into a melodrama in which the lead roles are played by the
Muslims, as innocent victims, and the Serbs, as genocidal villains. In
order to expunge the previous distinctions existing in people's minds,
they had to ignore previously known facts
and simple truths.
In the past these intellectuals
were internationalists, and the nation was the butt of their criticism.
In the name of the nation, entire peoples have been exterminated, wars
waged, and people tortured. Murder, torture and violence lie at the heart
of the nation, but they cannot always come to the surface simply because
neither state nor public interests are in principle identical with nationalism.
No one needs to be persuaded of the link between the nation and nationalism,
and it was logical to fight against the nationalistic policies of the Right.
This struggle was crudely oversimplified, and moreover it was no longer
relevant. Intellectuals claimed that in the meantime much had changed,
that "national feelings" are no longer something terrible, that internationalism
and universalism lead nowhere and that nationalism can under no circumstances
be left to the right wing.
"A large section of the French
intellectuals," noted Alain Finkielkraut,
"is today again making the mistake of rejecting the revival of national
sentiments as signs of a resurrecting nationalism. That is why a section
of the intellectuals took a negative stance towards the Croats. What is
national is denied in favour of the universal. This did not mean favouring
the Serbs but rather despising the nation and national considerations"
(quoted in Die Tageszeitung, 13 Jan. 1992). However, it
is precisely here that lies the transformation of the intellectual (who
instead of "national sentiments" should possess intelligence) into a
demagogue with method to his madness.
Daniel Cohn-Bendit flirts with this method, calling his "national sentiments"
an "identification with the fatherland," and arguing that "Gerrnany should
not be kept forever in a forced anti-Fascist quarantine" (Der Spiegel,
1/94). What did the author mean by this statement? "For me, for instance,
a right-winger is anyone opposed to military intervention in Bosnia," and
we, for the sake of peace, would agree that he was right if it were only
a question of a definition whose correctness was being illustrated with
the example of Bosnia, for we would not want to be in the same company
with Cohn-Bendit and Stefan Schwarz, who has been proclaimed a leftist.
Finkielkraut not only forgets,
but in his nationalist philosophy becomes surprisingly retrogressive, when
he reaches for the arsenal of rhetoric used by left-wing intellectuals
and takes ideological elements which have rightly helped discredit the
left wing as a force which seeks to reform the world. When the idea of
"class struggle" began to run out of steam, because the workers had no
intention of taking part in anything other than wage negotiations and as
an agent of history proved to be useless and unreliable, the left-wing
intellectuals began to pin their hopes on the liberation movements of the
Third World. They took up the cause of the Maoist Cultural Revolution and
the Vietcong, and their slogans were "The struggle for national liberation!"
and "Victory in the national war!"
Finkielkraut has again dipped
into this stock of nationalist rhetoric and as a dyed-in-the-wool communist
mouths the phrases coined by the Comintern, as though wanting to acknowledge
retroactively that the commentators of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
and Die Tageszeitung were right in saying that there is no difference between
communists and nationalists. (In an article appearing in Die Tageszeitung
on 27 Jan. 1994, Rathfelder jabbers about a "new totalitarianism of Red-Brown
provenance " in Yugoslavia .)
intellectuals quite rightly took a stand against
the largest imperial power, but today, in
contrast, at the best of times, out of exaggerated conformism, they are
in the opposition as they accuse governments
of not doing what they had previously fought against.
Whereas states have learned something from the debacles in Vietnam and
Algeria, the same could not be said for the intellectuals, who are giving
unsolicited support to their previous opponents at a moment when the latter
have become cautious and reserved and prefer to avoid military adventures.
In the pontifical tones of
a professor of the nation, to whom any opposition idea is foreign and who
is motivated only by concern for national values, he tells us: "France
is forgetting its own traditions; it is forgetting that in 1848, Paris
was the capital of free nations. All patriots had in it a homeland."
These "patriots" in June 1848,
allowed the infamous massacre of workers which later, in February, paved
the way for them to gain power, when they toppled the "bourgeois monarch"
Louis Philippe. Since Finkielkraut talks about "France" and not about the
ruling clique, the bourgeoisie, capital, or the state, he is condoning
these crimes which precede the creation of a nation. He could equally have
cited the year 1793, when the uprising in Vendee was put down in blood
and mass executions were carried out in Nantes.
Finkielkraut, who accuses
his colleague Levy of having paid the aggressor the compliment of going
to Belgrade, is more happy to accept Tudjman's invitation. It
remains a mystery why he felt called upon to defend the Croatian people
and why in the meantime in France he has earned himself the nickname of
"FinkielCroat." Perhaps it is because Tudjman,
an ardent admirer of Ante Pavelic [Nazi fuhrer of WWII Croatia],
is glad that his wife is not Jewish?
The Military Romanticism
of Bernard-Henri Levy
What the world would look
like if the levers of power were in the hands of the intellectuals, with
their sense of moral obligation to make it a more humane and just place,
can be seen from a commentary written by Bernard-Henri Levy, who was sent
by the Spanish daily El Mundo to report from Sarajevo. His article, pursuant
to an international trade agreement, was also carried by Die Tageszeitung
on 30 Dec. 1993, which informed its readers that thirteen European newspapers
send one reporter every week to Sarajevo, whose article is then carried
by all the newspapers. "This action has been organized and financed by
the French humanitarian organization 'Reporters Without Frontiers' and
ART TV." Levy sits on the board of this TV channel.
"Lift the arms embargo!" cries
Levy in his caption, adding: "The Bosnian Army is far from being beaten."
The text that follows in small
type is pure war propaganda,
which in every crisis spot in the world would be a job assigned to the
rookies of the local radio stations if they wanted to keep their jobs.
Levy, of his own volition, is doing what only opportunists and war profitters
usually agree to do. Spouting slogans about carrying on to the bitter
end, Levy boests the morale of the inhabitants of Sarajevo. "We shall never
back down and never give up," is the message that Levy allegedly heard
when he listened to the heartbeat of the nation. Levy describes poor desperate
people who do not know where to flee as "a new nation of martyrs," and
he provides a "testimony to the heroic bravery of these people" and their
"spirit of resistance and incredible strength of will."
Levy cloaks the reasons for
his warmongering in statements which he attributes to "ordinary soldiers"
or to General Divjak. Their drift is that "ethnic-cleansing" must be prevented
from triumphing and "the model of civilization" saved. Admittedly, these
are the assertions made by each side in the war when some "reporter without
frontiers" asks stupid questions, but the arguments are not more convincing
merely because they are put in the mouth of a general.
When, for instance, he regards
himself as carrying on the tradition of the French resistance or Spanish
republicans, this can be his own personal fancy, but only a former left-wing
intellectual, deeply impressed by this fact, could believe in it. The siege
of Sarajevo has nothing to do with either the French resistance or the
Spanish republicans. The historical alternative to Fascism was neither
a guerrilla war nor a struggle for national liberation, which in France
and Spain had been fought long ago.
Levy claims that "rival criminal
gangs have been eliminated," whose leaders he benevolently refers to as
"hotheads," as though he were talking about a few unruly juvenile delinquents.
"Now regular officers have taken the army into their own hands," Levy assures
us. But the civilians being killed in the fighting do not care whether
they are the victims of regular units or irregulars.
In any case, the ordinary
people do not want this war, as even Levy has to admit. However, in this
hopeless situation, instead of urging the people to flee to safety, instead
of calling upon those "ordinary soldiers" with their "clear political vision"
to desert, and instead of advocating that France take in refugees, he has
made the suffering population into a "new nation of martyrs." When intellectuals
begin to talk in positive terms about the "nation," then we are on the
threshold of an era of barbarism and justification of war crimes.
Then everything becomes embarrassing.
Even the sad announcement to a starving population that a biscuit factory
is now turning out uniforms sends Levy into raptures, because only the
uniform, as a symbol of the national idea, gives the war its proper cachet.
The words spoken by Izetbegovic at virtually every press conference are
sycophantically passed on by Levy as "confidential" information: "If the
arms embargo is not lifted, we shall lift it ourselves in the end, and
we shall win this war." It is disgusting how Levy fawns on General Divjak.
"His professionalism, mental courage, his popularity with the men, his
intelligence in strategical but also political matters inevitably win the
respect of every observer. " He has quite different things to say about
the cowardly Serbs: "The Serbs are poor infantrymen; they are only strong
when they can fire off shells from a great distance. But they avoid direct
physical encounters." Levy dreams of the good old days when a man engaged
in hand-to-hand combat with his opponent, "as our soldiers did at Verdun,
literally entrenched," or as was done in 1944 by the inhabitants of Le
Havre and Caen, when they withstood the "Allied bombing."
Compared with such dangerous
idiots, who confuse military romanticism with journalism and call themselves
"reporters without frontiers," the military men appear the very model of
reason. "It drives me crazy when somebody comes up and says that a few
airplanes will be enough to save Bosnia," complains former UN commander
in Bosnia-Herzegovina, General Francis Briquemont.
was not the only one to applaud the break-up of Yugoslavia as representing
liberation from a "multinational prisonhouse," which, as we must admit,
was nonetheless a prisonhouse in which life was peaceful and whose prisoners
could freely go abroad to work in other countries. The logical aftermath
of "the right of nations to self-determination," as the Western intellectuals
called the national acts of secession, was a war for the repartitioning
of the country. It would be doing the intellectuals an injustice to claim
that they did not know all these things, but instead of doing some thinking
and keeping their mouths shut, Levy and company have been championing yet
another fragmented nation, which is a guarantee for new bloodshed
and misery, as shown by the wars of secession in the Caucuses.
The founding of a nation,
history shows us, is always linked to the persecution and bloody oppression
of minorities. Territorial pretensions cannot be justified, either historically
or morally. It has always been the principle of might makes right which
decides where an ethnic group is going to live. "Where some ethnic groups
live today other ethnic groups used to live, and an autochthonous population
has never yet given up its place to its successors; settlement was always
accompanied by war, bloodshed, and persecution" (Wolfgang Pohrt).
According to Levy, the selfless
spokesman for the "ordinary soldier": "We are fighting against Fascism."
The Fascists are the Serbs, and sometimes the Croats, who until yesterday
were waging an anti-fascist struggle against the Serbs. But Levy does not
allow for the possibility, as has clearly been made a reality in the case
of Croatia, that Bosnia might itself embrace Fascism tomorrow, when the
areas which are being fought over are "liberated" and attention can be
turned to a showdown with ethnic minorities on their own territory. Dissenting
members of Izetbegovic's government have felt something of the sort on
their own skin.
All these pronouncements have
not done Levy any harm; they have been received with forbearance and understanding,
because a person gains credibility when his protests are loud enough. "I
have never had any distance on the Balkan question. I have been outraged
from the first day of this war, and I want to scream to express my outrage
over this catastrophe." It was with these words that, according
to Die Zeit of 20 May 1994, Levy announced his "honest intention," which
should be called more precisely his "intellectual vow.!" Now his cry has
translated his call to arms - into a film. This proved to be too much even
for Erankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (18 May 1994), and this newspaper cautiously
distanced itsell albeit only because all the ballyhoo was not in good taste:
"Bernard-Henri Levy is present on all fronts. He
went directly from Sarajevo to Cannes, where a film which he made
in former Yugoslavia was shown. Although not presented in the main programme,
it received considerable attention.
Several pages in Nouvel Observateur
were dovoted to it; he gave interviews to all the newspapers, magazines
and TV stations. And the whole day on Monday from morning to night, he
appeared live on state radio, France-Inter. So much dust was raised by
his film "Bosnia!" that... a person feels like shouting 'Enough! ' Together
with several intellectuals (Andre Glucksmann, Edgar Morin), Levy intends
to run in the European elections on June 12th with his own slate for Bosnia.
This plan was publicly announced on the day the film was shown at the Cannes
Film Festival, and the news was broken as part of the publicity campaign
for Levy's film. His director loves to introduce him as the new Malraux....
As for Bernard-Henri Levy, one cannot avoid the impression that this
is all a kind of ego trip. In addition to having a finely honed
instinct for intellectual power, Bernard-Henri Levy also has a nose for
political timing. He is desperately looking for an historical justification
for his actions, and it is possible that he himself suggested the comparison
with Andre Malraux. After Yugoslavia he set off on a
quest for his own legend, which he brought home in the form of a
short film, and did not even have to risk his life while it was being made:
the French press published some compromising photographs in this connection.
Levy has always come across as so intrusive... Comparing Levy with Malraux,
the process of leaming with the aim of overcoming the past, which focused
for such a long time on the Vichy phase, has now turned to the time before
the war. On this tortuous path his protagonists have lost some of their
Die Zeit also expressed doubts
about Bernard-Henri Levy's undertaking and commented on the ease with which
some people espouse a cause: "He committed himself on behalf of Bangladesh,
against the Argentinean generals or French communists, on behalf of Salman
Rushdie." Nor should we forget Levy 's Afghanistan friends. He posed for
a photograph in national costume complete with turban, in the company of
mujahedins when they needed support in their fight against communism. "And
now he is fighting for his 'Bosnian friends' who
conferred upon him an honorary doctorate from the University of Sarajevo.
He constantly issued invitations for them to come to Paris, where president
Isetbegovic, as a guest in Levy's luxury apartment, exclaimed in astonishment:
"Why should someone like you be doing so much for us?" He visited them
a number of times, with a carefully manicured three-day beard, and a white
shirt peeking out from below his winter jacket. A photographer was almost
always present. Extremely conscious of the importance of effect, he once
gave an interview while crouching beside a wall, over which, one could
only assume, bullets were whistling. Then, inadvertently, the camera panned
to show two soldiers strolling casually along the road behind the wall.
In short, there was no hail of bullets. Everything
had been staged so as to make the scene appear dramatic." Shouldn't
Levy have continued to conduct shallow conversations with Francoise Giroud
about love and men and women, which at least, unlike his film "Bosnia!",
spared the environment.
To be sure, "Bosnia!" and
the slate for Sarajevo sparked off polemics, but as is the case with all
publicity stunts, everyone wanted a share of the attention. And thus the
"Gang of Warmongers," as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung called these
intellectuals, vied for their share of the ratings, publicity, and public
appearances. However, media attention focuses on someone only if he personally
has a contribution to make to the debate, and such opportunities were present
in abundance: "Whereas some candidates on the ticket, such as Andre Glucksmann,
moved by Mitterrand's irritated reaction (who criticized his friend Levy's
initiative), wished with all his heart to take part in the battle, Bernard-Henri
Levy is maintaining a reserved stance... Political scientist Alain Joxe
takes a critical view of Mitterrand's statement that "one war should not
have another war added on to it," and for this reason argued that the arms
embargo should be maintained. .. Even Alain Finkielkraut doubts the credibility
of Levy's circle and criticizes his exclusive confidence in Bosnian
president Izetbegovic, "yesterday's man", who today is throwing up every
possible obstacle to prevent the Muslim-Croatian unification, considering
this trust to be politically naive and even irresponsible"