György Konrád


I’m sitting in a corner of the garden, around me a fieldstone wall, elderberry bushes and a nutwood table. Lavishly scented hedonistic minimalism; even what is not here is pleasant. No bombings here; only at dusk, one can hear the thunder of the bomber planes die away.

They head for their targets and return from there, a flickering flame lights up in the cross-hairs center. Just like in teenage computer games when they press the right button at the right moment. Here in the garden, I have the feeling that this war is made by precocious little boys. Now it’s their turn, nobody is going to steal them this show, they will show to the world what the war budget is good for, this is their grand entrance for the test. They succeed in presenting a merciless face and the photo of the destroyed bridges of Novi Sad.

Everywhere in Europe, the bombings meet with disapproval. In private conversation. Not so much in public. Opponents must be prepared to be denounced as the fifth column, as traitors of the fatherland. I just cannot watch with pleasure this air-raid war waged by the world’s biggest powers against a small Central-European country. I cannot approve of air strikes that are reported to me every morning by the media and that have cost the lives of several hundred people so far, devastating the economy of the Southern neighbor for decades to come.

I have been a NATO citizen for six weeks now; and in this capacity, I have been bombing Yugoslavia for five weeks although I never wanted to. I do not contend that the mass flight of Albanians set in because of the bombings; that it set in after they began, I do contend.

Until now, Western democracies stood for something good. Now they stand for the big bashing the small. The small in turn bashes the even smaller. The smaller calls on to the big for help. There is not much that the small can do against the big, so he takes out his rage on the smaller. So that’s the kind of safe protection that the big are giving to the smallest. It is a fact that they, too, are bombing Kosovo while allegedly bringing succor to it. Driving the two antagonized peoples, and themselves, into a hysterical frenzy. The bombings ordered by the big are getting continuously worse in intensity, brutality, and destructive force. They started war in the interest of the Albanians, but were not willing to really come to their defense, man to man. Who in his right mind would have really thought that air raids from a height of sixteen and a half thousand feet could give the Albanians protection against Serbian troops enraged by the bombings? I do not believe that the UÇK would be more democratic than Serbian authorities. Why should a Muslim be better than a Greek Orthodox? Why should the cause of the believers of one religion be more just than that of others?

All people living on the Balkan are our neighbors; their problems concern us, too. Two peoples lay claim to a territory: what an ominous mistake to mix up nationalist rhetoric with human-rights issues. Nineteen white hats let one black hat have it – another kind of nationalism. For who gave the white hats the right to do this? Their conscience? Some authorization by international law? Or some hypothetical accountancy offsetting the results against the cost of the military action? Does this war, which is fought by air forces today and will perhaps be fought by land forces tomorrow, have any kind of democratic legitimation?
Since the fundamental decisions of life and death rest with the leading NATO bodies and are, in most cases, sanctioned only afterwards by the national parliaments, the question is justified as to in how far a decision such as the air war against Yugoslavia, which is alleged to be a means to enforce human rights without an alternative is based on democratic legitimacy.

The Hungarian government and parliament would not have made such a resolution of their own accord, nor would Romania, Bulgaria, and Macedonia, this can go for certain. Nor would the political elite of Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia have thrown bombs on Belgrade, Novi Sad, Pan&Mac255;cevo, Kragujevac, Ni&Mac255;s, all of them Central-European cities. Not even in his worst dreams, a Hungarian would have considered the bombing of bridges in Novi Sad for the protection of the Albanians in Kosovo. We are less bellicose than Western Europeans; we have not yet reached the same degree of media abstraction that is typical of Western societies in which citizens have means of textual and visual information to give them a rough-and-ready impression of a country they don’t know. Why so? Just because they are farther off the place of action? Because they identify with the pilot who designates the target in his cross hairs; and, see?, a darting flame, a huge fire on the ground and poisonous gases leaking out. I have the suspicion that Central Europeans are more reluctant to identify with the victimizers, for that is what all militaries are: those who expel Albanian families, the uniformed bandits who shoot their victims into the mass graves, and also the smart pilots, for whom killing is not an end, but, from time to time, an unavoidable collateral damage.

Should the NATO be permitted to throw bombs on other nations’ cities for quasi-pedagogical reasons, without being attacked beforehand? For an understanding of the Central European position, I would recommend to take account of the fact that our societies after all managed to establish normal parliamentary democracies without shooting things out.

From the very beginning, we considered a non-violent strategy, a method of erosion supported from outside, of inner weakening, which also led to the turnabout of 1989. Needless to say that the Warsaw Treaty or the party state were far from being a hollow phrase or paper tiger, too. The Central European people’s attitude was based on a moral reflection that takes the biblical commandment Thou shalt not kill seriously and aims for the minimization of violence, for politics free of killing. To state violence, we did not react with another form of violence; instead, we introduced another language and way of thinking to the public awareness of society, which in turn influenced and destabilized the frame of mind of the decision-makers from within.

There is a Central-European solidarity by which outrages are weighed with the same measure, and no one thinks that here is a good atrocity, because it was committed by our allies, and there is an evil one, because it is to be blamed on the malicious enemy. Even if they should have never been to Yugoslavia, Central Europeans can, from their own experience, imagine how people there must feel. We have relatives and friends living there. The Vojvodina is a colorful ethnic patchwork; you will meet Serbs, Croatians, Romanians, Slovakians down there, people who have to work hard for a living and whose sweat labor built the bridges, the fuel depot, the TV station and all other buildings. Making waste is out of place in a region so poor in buildings, notably so since yesterday’s debris has not even been removed yet. What an idea to create new debris! The Central European sees himself as the common man who seeks rather to survive than make history; hence he has eyes for the victim rather than for those in power. He does not like this assertive lashing about. Why should a third person be randomly killed in an air raid, if one Yugoslavian citizen does violence to another one? The NATO is angry with Milo&Mac255;sevi´c and thus kills an arbitrary number of Yugoslavian citizens as an unintended side-effect of the bombing. What kind of justice is this supposed to be? What is the ethical basis of this military-collectivist morale?