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Peter Handke: The horror unleashed by NATO’s first war

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Nobel prize in literature recipients on peace and war

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Peter Handke
From a 2008 interview
Translated by Tim Fenton

I was in Kosovo in April and I have been there four other times recently. I remained truly struck by what I saw in the enclaves of Velika Hoca, a village with a large Orthodox church, and then in Orahovac. They are two enclaves near each other and there one understands how the Serbs are living, how they spend their time, robbed of every possession, forced to go out only at four in the morning, terrorised all the time. The Suddeutsche Zeitung, speaking of a Serbian enclave, has unbelievably written: “The Serbs pretend to be afraid”. You see, it’s ideology, their minds already made up. No, the Serbs are not “pretending to be afraid”, they are simply living in terror and they have suffered so many murders in this period. There are no longer Serbian cemeteries outside the villages as elsewhere in Serbia. In Orahovac the cemeteries have been transferred to the centre of villages, within the enclaves, and the buses which come every so often from Mitrovica have to wait so as not to disturb the new graves. So even the ordinary tending of graves is impossible when those who do it may end up murdered and the gravestones themselves are often destroyed. I have seen only hate in Kosovo. It is NATO that has created this tragic and unsustainable situation, NATO that bombed the whole of ex-Yugoslavia. And now NATO and the European Union insist that it is necessary to grant independence because, otherwise, they know that the Kosovar Albanians will kill again and threaten a new war. But how does one come to deserve independence not by right but because one threatens violence and another war? What democratic logic is this which has been brought to bear by Europe and the US? Even worse they have never let up in eight years from murdering and terrorising. It’s enough even to see a Serbian symbol, a bus or a coach as it approaches the most beautiful monasteries in Europe like Decani or Gracanica, then even the children, in an automatic reaction, throw rocks. The Serbs are reduced to a flock of sheep, lost and impoverished. They have spoken of the violence of the Serbs against the Albanians but they have remained silent in all these years about the hundreds and hundreds of murders and the destruction of the monasteries. They have told us that the Serbs wanted to expel two million Albanians, and for that reason the campaign of aerial bombardment was justified. They have made a great theatre along the border, great for the world’s television crews and for NATO’s propaganda. Those refugees, for the most part were in flight because they were afraid of the aerial bombardment, they were accommodated as soon as they reached the Macedonian border and they have all returned home two months later. Thus they have contrived a new wretched war from photographs and TV broadcasts. In 1996 I was in Decani to deliver a lecture and there were no Italian troops in front of the monastery then as there are now protecting it, near there there was a lone Serbian restaurant and they did not want to leave. Inside there were traces of an attack by the KLA where an Albanian woman had been murdered: five minutes before on the street the Albanian houses had all of a sudden turned off their lights. The Serbs have also committed crimes and it has been a disgrace to that nation and who governs it. But no-one was describing it as an interethnic war, no-one was mentioning these armed attacks against the Serbs and the moderate Albanians themselves on behalf of the “freedom fighters.” A few days into NATO’s war Le Monde and also newspapers on the Left had headlines “All out terror in Europe. 50,000 victims.” There were a lot of victims but from both sides and many moderate Albanians killed by the KLA. In the end the Hague Tribunal found the graves of two thousand bodies for the most part fallen in combat. But not the fifty thousand or the “five hundred thousand” with which the New York Times headlined.

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They have waged a campaign against me that resulted in the Comedie Francaise withdrawing my work from their programme, and then they have kept quiet about the fact that what they had said was not true. I deeply love the France of George Bernanos, of Francois Mauriac, and above all of Albert Camus, but the culture of today’s France is truly shameful. Nowadays the men of letters and philosophers are caricatures like André Glucksmann, Bernard-Henri Lévy and those jokers of international humanitarian rights like Bernard Kouchner, who in the meantime has become Foreign Minister.

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