Power of the Word II > next story

IV. Nice People Don't Mention Such Things
by Dubravka Ugresic

On the table, in the glow of the wax candle, stood the tiny bronze Europa riding a galloping bull. Balocanski took the tiny figurine in his hand and began to examine it under the light holding it close to his eyes, so that he seemed to be sniffing at the little Europa like a dog.
Miroslav Krleza,
The Return of Philip Latinowicz

1. An acquaintance of mine in Zagreb once introduced me to the love of his life. She was a quiet, pale little woman who exuded calm—"I'm going to marry her," said my acquaintance. "She's a wonderful sleeper, she can sleep for twenty hours a day," he explained, tenderly. Now they are happily married. This little real-life episode may serve as a preface to the interpretation of a love story. Let us say, at once, that what we mean is the love between East and West Europe. And let us say, also, that in our story Eastern Europe is that sleepy, pale beauty, although for the time being there is little prospect of an imminent marriage.

2. I wondered exactly when I realized that what was at stake was an attachment between two different halves. It must have been at the moment when I felt on my own skin that frontiers really do exist, that one enters countries and leaves them, and that for this simple spatial transaction one needs an identification document. Before, when I crossed frontiers freely with my Yugoslav passport I did not feel their reality. Today, I possess a Croatian passport and I know the offices of many consulates and embassies in European cities. For example, in order to obtain a small Dutch stamp in my passport, I have to show a letter of invitation, proof of the reason for my journey to the Netherlands, proof of health insurance, international or travel cover, proof that I have money and a return air ticket which confirms that I shall leave the country, in this case the Netherlands, by a set date.

At airports I stand in the queue for passport control. Signs over the booths behind which uniformed officials sit indicate my place. In some places it says others, in some there is merely an absence of the blue board with the ring of little yellow stars. My queue is long, it drags on slowly. The EU people in the parallel queue enter quickly. I notice that none of them looks in our direction. There is not a single glance expressing sympathy, curiosity or, if nothing else, contempt. They have no time, the queue is moving too quickly. But we, others, have plenty of time to observe them. We are different, our skin is often dark, our eyes dart suspiciously about or stare dully straight ahead, our movements are sluggish and subdued. No one chats or laughs in our queue, we are quiet, there is something surreptitious about us. The tension of our bodies testifies that we have only one thought in our heads: just to get across this frontier.

And when I cross it, I shall not say anything about this to my Dutch friends. Nice people don't mention such things. Besides, why should I? Once I have passed through passport control I can go and pray in a little Muslim or who knows which shrine at the airport itself, if I really feel like it. I'm welcome, cultural differences and identities are respected here. However, my problem is of a different nature. My problem consists in the fact that I am not and do not wish to be different. My difference and my identity are doggedly determined by others. Those at home and these outside.

3. I come from a Land of Blood Groups, from Croatia. There the dedicated blood-cell counters noted each of my blood cells. As a result I became . . . no one. Write: no one, I say to the officials in the booths each time they ask me my nationality, and they ask me often. Hurry up, they say, tell us what it is. Nationality: no one. Citizenship: Croatian, I repeat. We don't have that no one of yours in the computer, they say. The right to be no one is guaranteed me by the constitution of this country. Citizens are not obliged to declare their nationality if they don't want to, I say. In real life it's different, they say, everybody is obliged to be someone. That's just why we have wars, I say, because everyone agreed to belong to their own blood group. That's why we have wars, they say, because people like you wanted us all to be no one.

In the computers of Croatian officialdom, my name is entered in the category: others. I insisted on my position. They insisted on theirs: I no longer exist there. It's quite understandable, I myself insisted that I was no one. Now I live outside. Now, outside, I am what I no longer am at home: a Croatian writer. The representative of a country in which I barely exist, a country from which I ran away into exile, on the assumption that exile meant freedom from enforced identification.

Here, alongside my occupation, writer, they never fail to put that designation, Croatian. So along the way they learn the name of a new European statelet, stumbling over it, Cro-Cro, Cro-a-tian, that gives them some satisfaction. People respect ethno-identities. I understand that, they don't wish to offend, I must be extra sensitive about these things, that's just why there's a war in my country, after all. And so: me Tarzan, you Jane . . . The more politically aware will add: former Yugoslav. The more culturally conditioned will add: East European. The politically sensitive will add: post-communist. The gender-aware will add: woman. The best-read will add: Central European. (For heaven's sake, Croatia was always Central Europe, wasn't it? What do they mean, Balkans? What nonsense!) And it seems I have no way of taking off the labels they have so kindly stuck on to me. Because it is only with those labels that they can recognize me, place me, communicate with me, it is only with those labels, they believe, that they can read and understand me properly. I understand them, it is only through my otherness that they can realize their specialness.

And I, a voluntary exile with a Croatian passport in my hand, am obliged to show reciprocal kindness: they expect me to accept my identities as though they were real. It all reminds me of a role-playing game, and although I am tired of games, I do after all agree to play. So, me Tarzan, you Jane . . .

4. When I asked her to sketch her own, inner, map of Europe, one of my West European acquaintances said: "This is where I am. Around me are Germany, Belgium, this is France, that's England, down there is Italy, and, yes, then there are Spain and Portugal as well, and here is a line. Beyond that line is nothing, a great blank . . ." On her inner map, the great blank stretched eastwards from Berlin.

My acquaintance is not stupid or uneducated or insensitive. She was just being honest. And she told the truth: for many Westerners, Eastern Europe is a mental empty space. It begins somewhere beyond the iron curtain, somewhere behind the wall, even now when there is neither a curtain nor a wall. "And if something doesn't exist, I can't be anything other than indifferent to it," said my acquaintance.

That innocent-indifferent ignorance gives rise to those numerous true anecdotes which serious people consider unworthy of repetition. For instance, the anecdote about a West European acquaintance of mine who, after visiting Russia, was touched to discover that Russians really loved small children . . .

5. Of course, not all Westerners were indifferent. There were those who passed through the wall and the curtain, permitting themselves an affair with Eastern Europe. Today, in their post-traumatic state, they lick their wounds and endeavor to be indifferent.

I always wince uneasily when I see Westerners excited by the slightest sign of a possible return to communism. Television pictures of miserable people in worn clothes decorated with dusty communist medals waving flags on Red Square flash round the world with lightning speed. There they are, the commies, raising their heads again! The experienced and watchful followers of East European communist systems immediately reach for their pens and round on the poor supporters of a return to communism, vigorously writing their angry diatribes against the communist president chosen by some Poles or Bulgarians in their recent elections.

"Ostalgia"—nostalgia for the vanished East German everyday which is enacted by young (former) East Germans—is a newly coined term for an emotional trend, whose followers need not necessarily be East Europeans. The Westerners' excitement at television shots of communist zombies on Red Square surfaces via a complex route. Suddenly they are seeing on the screen the image of their East European sweetheart the way she might be once again. And what was she like?

Eastern Europe was a different world from the West. If nothing else, then, for years she confirmed the Westerner's conviction that he lived in a better world. Eastern Europe was the dark reverse side, the alter ego, a world which Western Europe could have been like, but, fortunately, was not. And that is why the Westerner loved her. He loved her modest beauty, her poverty, her melancholy and her suffering, her . . . otherness. He also loved his own fear, the quickening of his pulse when he traveled there, he was excited by that entry into the empire of shadows and reassured by the reliable exit light: passport, embassy, credit card. He loved his own image of himself shopping cheaply, oh so cheaply. There, in the East of Europe, he inhaled a kind of personal freedom, yes, over there he felt closer to what he really was. Over there time was not measured according to agendas and schedules, it's true that there were shortages of all kinds, but there was an abundance of time. The Westerner came to Eastern Europe, she could not go to him, and that was freedom too, freedom from reciprocity. Eastern Europe was always there, waiting for him, like a harem captive. He loved her with the love of the master. He was the researcher and colonizer, he placed his little flags joyfully in the territories he mentally conquered. It was freedom from reciprocity.1 Eastern Europe was his secret, a mistress content with little. At home he had a faithful wife, order and work. Like every mistress, Eastern Europe only strengthened his marriage.

6. "The times we live in are disgusting!" a West European acquaintance of mine complained to me recently. "You can't distinguish Russians from French people any more, and when you go abroad there's nothing to bring back any more! You can buy everything everywhere!"

7. Things have changed. Gray, silent Eastern Europe has begun to speak, to cross frontiers, and, hey, she doesn't seem to need the Westerner any more. He feels disappointed, no, not only because of the loss of an intimate territory . . . His former mistress is increasingly like his own wife! Russians send their children to the best English and Swiss colleges, buy diamonds in Amsterdam and chateaux in France . . . They speak English without an accent—who would have thought it, before they could not pronounce an ordinary full stop without that Slav bleating, and look at them now—they all stand straighter, they slip effortlessly across frontiers, they're everywhere, you can't walk down the street without bumping into them, they're all over the place, they're buying up whole quarters of Paris, Berlin, London, they've become greedy; it's all the mafia, of course, they've inhaled their first mouthful of freedom and now they think that no one can get in their way . . .

And our Westerner feels a kind of discomfort (What if Eastern Europe moves here, to me?!), loss (Where are the frontiers? Is the whole world going to become the same?), slight contempt (Oh, couldn't they think of anything better to do than resemble us?), self-pity (When I took them jeans, they liked me!) . . . And as he watches the shots of aging commies on Red Square, the Westerner wonders whether it would not have been better if that wall had stayed where it was.

8. And what about the Easterners, did they love the Westerners and if so, how did they love them? Easterners did after all know more about Western Europe. Or their knowledge had a different quality. In their inner map of Europe there were no indifferent empty spaces. In many homes there was a map of Europe on the wall; in the kitchen, as in a museum, people kept empty containers from Danish biscuits, English tea and French cheese. These little museum exhibits and the map of Europe were sad substitutes for the countries they were firmly convinced they themselves would never see. Western Europe was a dark object of desire, for it was a world in which people really lived . . . more humanly.

Easterners loved foreigners. Foreigners were walking geography, a small-favor service (they could take something, bring something), their addresses were carefully preserved in address books. (What if I should by some miracle really make it out?) Foreigners were living confirmation that the world about which he, the Easterner, had dreamed, really existed. The only thing was that these foreigners weren't people. Their lives were too good for them to be considered people, that was it. Because what made the Easterners (in their own eyes) superior was the unshareable experience of humiliation. Humiliation was the only thing Easterners could place their copyright on, it was their inner legitimation, the unique Made in Eastern Europe product . . . The misfortune of humiliation is a broad manipulative field, the Easterner gladly created an institution of his misfortune. Here he was an expert, besides, his superiority in the domain of emotion had always been acknowledged . . . What about the Westerners? God knows what it was that beat in their Western breasts in place of a heart . . .

But the Easterner did understand all his own East Europeans—all those poor Romanians, Bulgarians, Poles—but he did not like them. They were all in the same shit, the same contemptible human trash. And no one could make him consider them his brothers. What kind of brotherhood was that supposed to be, brotherhood in misfortune!? All in all, the Easterner did not doubt that he was a European, but his language gave him away. He never said "We Europeans" but always "Europe and us." The Easterner lived in the mousetrap of that traumatic paradox, without being aware of either the mousetrap or the trauma or the paradox.

9. These commonplaces jotted down in haste from an imaginary list of frustrations (and fascinations) between East and West Europe are as inaccurate as they are accurate. Originating in the production of figments, belonging to the realm of cultural stereotypes, these commonplaces serve to crystallize some traumatic points which, whether they are true or false, do, it seems, really hurt. The twentieth century is characterized by psychoanalysis: by its discovery at the beginning of the century and its trivialization at the end. Contemporary television confessionals in which ordinary viewers come before an audience of millions and simulate their traumas— personal, collective, social, historical—reduce trauma to the level of popular, cheap emotions accessible to all.

That is why one should believe an acquaintance of mine, a Russian, who, after an attack of unduly violent anger, apologized: "You see, my nerves have been historically damaged . . ."

10. Since ancient times, Europe has built its identity on the contrast with the East, with Asia. Hippocrates and Aristotle did not blame the differences on people, but on the climate. According to Aristotle, it was because of the cold climate that Europeans were courageous, but not particularly able or wise. The connections between them are weak, they are incapable of managing others, nor do they like others to manage them. Equally, it is because of the climate that the inhabitants of Asia are gifted, but they lack courage and will. That is why they tend to be servants or else they gladly rule over people.

A similar set of characterological oppositions has been current for many centuries. It is on this contrastive base—initially innocently conditioned by climatic differences—that with time new elements in the construction of the European identity were gradually built up (enlightenment, culture, science, civil society, civilization, as opposed to primitive cultures, Christianity, as opposed to other religious systems, freedom, equality, brotherhood, rationalism, and so on and so forth).

The mental construct called Europe has been the concern of European thinkers, artists, rulers (secular and religious), warriors (let us remind ourselves that even Hitler fought against Asia, while German soldiers died for Germany, for Europe!). Europe has always built its identity and its sense of self in Opposition to an "other": to Asia, to the East (to barbarians, to the inferior, to the primitive, to communism, to ╚migr╚s, Gastarbeiters, Islam . . .). Europe has rarely integrated, rather it has tended to banish. So the inhabitant of Europe has adopted not only knowledge of geography but also the basic notions: us, Europeans, and them, people from beyond the border.2

Others and frontiers, these are the two conceptual points around which Europe has built its identity. For almost half a century Europe was divided by a security wall. The Western half experienced the wall as a shield, the Eastern half as an insult. Inert, servile Asia, in this case Eastern Europe, slumbered behind the wall, in a befuddled, totalitarian trance. Today Western Europe is afraid of the consequences. They are not only of a practical nature (fear of huge migrations from the East to the West). A certain unease follows the disappearance of the opponent, the mirror in which Western Europe contemplated itself for so long, nurturing its narcissism.3

Meanwhile, the war which occurred in Europe, in Yugoslavia, only confirmed the aforementioned set of frustrations and once again proved their vitality.

11. The first thing a foreigner notices when he endeavors to discover from a citizen of former Yugoslavia why the war came about is an inability to articulate a reply and the wide use of the language of emotion. With time, following the media, the citizens did manage to memorize a few general formulae. However, these merely simulate rational discourse, for the language of trauma very quickly breaks through what has been learned. For instance, Serbs will swear that they meant no one any harm, but that no one in Yugoslavia had ever liked them. They will interpret the genocide they perpetrated against the Muslims, if they accept that they did perpetrate it, as revenge for unrequited love.

One reason for the generally accepted language of trauma is its broad political and journalistic legalization. That is the language spoken by political leaders, elected representatives, that is the language in which debates are carried out in the newly founded parliaments, and it is the language of the media, the language of ordinary people.

"That journalist of yours really doesn't like us," said an embittered Bosnian Muslim refugee to me recently. He is now teaching at an American university. That "yours" meant Croatian.

"What do you mean?"

"She writes about us as though we were some kind of 'Shiptars'!"4

If we accept the logic of an amorous trauma, then we can say that the former Yugoslav peoples lived a double, parallel trauma: one directed inwards, the other to the outside world; one towards another nation in the former shared country (often several of them!), the other towards . . . Europe.

The beginning of the European he loves me, he loves me not episode is marked by the moment when the peoples of former Yugoslavia placed Europeanization in the place of honor in their transitional ideological package. (We're going into Europe!) At that moment Europe was trembling at the possibility of balkanization, and itself clinging ever more tightly to its own Europeanization, which is also, they say, called Brusselsization.

12. What does the word "Europe" mean for the former Yugo-peoples? At the beginning of the transitional process Europe was a metaphor for a direction and aim (transition), for a system of values, for democracy, a better life and an equal place under the protective umbrella of the quality label: Europe.

For the Croatian media, political leaders and ordinary people Europe was a territory, from which the Balkans, Serbia, were erased. (The Serbs do not belong in Europe.) That is why the Croatian political scene keeps doggedly sending love signals to its Europe: we are anti-communists, Catholics, we are a democratic country, we are defending Europe from Serbo-Bolshevism, communism, Byzantinism, barbarism, balkanization, we are a civilizational, European, Christian shield which will prevent that terrible East from reaching Vienna. (Metaphorically and literally what's more, for the Croatian authorities drove out the majority of their own citizens of Serbian nationality!) At the same time Croatia was building an identity she herself projected, adapting her image to imagined, self-evident European standards. And when Croatia finally became an internationally recognized European state, the euphoria was followed by disappointment. For she had been recognized not because she had in any case always been in Europe, not because that was where she belonged in every sense, not because she was equal, but simply because at a given moment she was a victim. Realizing that formal international recognition still does not mean an invitation to dinner (maybe just permission to peer from outside through the window of the illuminated restaurant where the gentlemen are dining), collective feelings altered. Europe turned from a long desired beauty into a faithless whore.5

Bosnian Muslims, the greatest victims of this war, have similar emotions—a mixture of hope of assistance and deep disillusion. However, the Serbian media and public opinion are also soaked in the same emotions. There too the pendulum of collective emotion towards Europe swings from the idea of Belgrade the Europolis to an insurance company which bears the name Europa and apparently offers its services with the advertising slogan: This is the only Europe that thinks of you!

All this creates a complex traumatic field.6 Dreaming their dreams, the newly emerging European statelets are left to wait in the vestibule of Europe. Both of them thinks itself more worthy and that, because it is more European than the others, it will be first in line. It is highly debatable when and whether Europe will ever allow them in. For the time being they are accorded the attention one accords to the inferior and to children. And the statelets put on a show of infantilism, immaturity, play the role of the victim. At the same time that is what they really are: infantile, immature, victims. The statelets which have hatched out of the ruins of communism still do not exist on the mental map of Europe. On the other hand Europe (whatever it means) is an inseparable part of their newly acquired identity. The statelets see this relationship solely as a story of unrequited love. If we ask the question why these statelets think they ought to be loved, and, since we are talking of love, who it is they themselves are prepared to love, our questions are unlikely to be answered.

13. Does this Europe (this projection created by the traumatized imagination of the small nations of former Yugoslavia) also have feelings or are they reserved only for the wretched?

Europe read about the Balkan situation through its own established, long-standing stereotypes about that part of the world (not of Europe, note!). It approved the disintegration of Yugoslavia, for that state was in any case an artificial creation, in which the small nations did not have the opportunity to realize their national self-awareness and statehood like other, normal European countries. The disintegration of Yugoslavia was equated in European minds with the collapse of communism (The Soviet Union, for instance, such communist federations are not viable!) and therefore had a positive connotation. Disintegration went along with democratization. Proudly waving its own unification, Europe supported disintegration in a foreign territory. Emphasizing the principles of multiculturality in its own territory, it abetted ethnic cleansing elsewhere. Swearing by European norms of honor, it negotiated with democratically elected war criminals. Fiercely defending the rights of minorities, it omitted to notice the disappearance of the most numerous Yugoslav minority, the population of anational, "nationally undetermined" people, or the disappearance of minorities altogether. When the war really flared, it was suddenly horrified at the bloodthirstiness of tribal account-settling and withdrew into a corner. And it immediately drew a borderline (It's incomprehensible! Those must be ancient ethno-customs! These people are not like us!). To start with many Europeans rushed into the polygon of the war (let us recall, among others, Lord Owen who sliced Bosnia into ethnically pure cantons with a surgeon's satisfaction) and then withdrew. Now they are writing their memoirs.

In that dark corner of Europe, some European liberal thinkers found a provincial, museum Europe which, imagine, still read books and had real paintings on its walls (e.g., Finkielkraut), or a romantic, peasant Europe uncorrupted by the evils of urban civilization, in which one could still eat plums unpolluted by pesticides (e.g., Handke). Their writings may also be read as texts which affirm a new non-transparent racism, concealed by the mask of European concern (It's true that in the Balkans people slit each other's throats, but they do really love small children!).

Europe did, of course, also help, it received refugees, offered them generous assistance in the form of food, money, medicine and other things. But it was not all loss, something was also earned: a positive moral and political self-image, a still firmer reason for homogenization along Brussels lines, and who knows what else.

But still, does this West have feelings? Certainly, feelings is just what it has in abundance. European (and American) journalists, intellectuals, artists, analysts, thinkers, experts on countries in transition acquired with the war in Yugoslavia an opportunity once again to show off their colonial love, the love felt for a victim. They did not enter into a dialogue with the victim (What dialogue! The victim is by definition dumb!), they confiscated its tongue (The victim's role is to suffer, and not itself to articulate its misfortune), they became its interpreters (The language of the victim is in any case unusable in the codes of the Western market), representatives of its misfortune for which they would, of course, take their percentage . . . It is true that in all of this they were disturbed by the insatiable egocentricity of the victim. It did not once occur to the victim that others were impatiently waiting in line: Rwanda, the Chechens . . .

It is precisely feelings and sympathy that the West brings as its gifts. Dozens of West European (and American) writers, artists, film directors, photographers are today camping in the field of the Bosnian misfortune. They listen attentively to what the victims say and make notes so that they can later call the world to account, prick its indifferent heart, ennoble themselves through another's misfortune, give Western emotional standards a little shake. And who dares accuse the sated West of indifference? On the contrary, it is precisely feelings that have invaded the Western market.

14. The iconographic image of Europe crowned, dressed in a robe with the design of a geographical map, on which the sixteenth-century designer did not forget either Lithvania (on the contrary, it's larger than Moscovia), or Vangaria, or Sclavonia, nor Bulgaria, nor Polonia, nor Macedonia, has been transformed today into an indifferent blue board with a ring of little yellow stars. The ring of little yellow stars is a modem substitute for the former Imperial crown—a crown deprived of the lovely head of its famous bearer. The new emblem of a United Europe, its modern iconographical representation, suggests only a number (stars—members) unlike the earlier ones which seethed with meaning like tarot cards. Today everyone is free to read his own meaning of Europe into it.

And many do. The great European ideas are today most naturally adopted as parody. Ideas of internationalism are most consistently acted out by representatives of the global mafia as they build the powerful network of their secret routes from China to South America. Newly baked European nationalists are today the fiercest proponents of European ideas of a democratic society. Post-communist profiteers and thieves passionately promote the European idea of work and the proliferation of capital. Post-communist dictators, mafiosi and dogs of war are today the greatest proponents of peace and peaceful coexistence between peoples. United Europe does not seem to recognize or does not wish to recognize the differences. Or it refuses to do so. For it already is Europe, clearly and conclusively defined. However, it is not only ideas which mutate, people also mutate. That fact conceals some hope, if that's what it is. While an increasingly clear division between the compatible and the incompatible, those within and those outside, strengthens intolerance on both sides, so the frighteningly numerous migrations caused by the collapse of the communist systems and the war are bringing into being new people, cultural mutants, "wossies."

15. Let us end our disjointed story in the genre which we promised at the beginning. The result of a love affair is usually descendants. So, let us say something about them. The descendants of the love affair from the beginning of our story are today the new inhabitants of Europe. They too are divided: some express loyalty to the nation, others loyalty to money. However, we are interested in the third group: the stateless, nomads, bastards, wossies . . . Those who unite in themselves the traumatic Wessie and Ossie genes. They do not respect their forebears.7 They belong to a new tribe of people of no fixed abode. They feel most natural in an airplane. They are hard to recognize because they are good at mimicry. Their skill is the skill of humiliation, 8 their achievement is mental, personal freedom. If nothing else, they have won the freedom not to blame anyone for their own loss. Mutants have sharpened sight and hearing. They are skeptical, deprived of rights, they possess nothing, they are sub-tenants. 9 They are TrŞmmerleute, people who mentally clear up the ruins, because they have emerged from ruins, people who can therefore build a new idea about life, a new morality. In their former lives they had a chance to test available ideas about good: they had a home, and a homeland, and a nation, and a community, and successful careers. Today nothing can be taken from them, because they have nothing. Little can be given to them, because they once had everything. That fact gives them a kind of advantage. They do not consider Europe a privilege. Their privilege is the loss of illusions. Europe is for them just a temporary place of residence, the choice of country is most often random. Let us not forget, they belong to the countless race of sub-tenants.

And finally, what gives me the right to judge such things, where is the proof, where are the facts? Let us remember, this is after all only a story. I myself am a TrŞmmerfrau, a sub-tenant, a bastard, a nomad, a Wossie. I have no other proof. And perhaps the idea of Europe, the figment of its East as opposed to its West and vice versa, the dilemmas about better and worse worlds, will be solved by those who are yet to come. That is why the end of this story belongs to them.

When the war in former Yugoslavia began, many people thought of going abroad, and discussed where they might go and where it was possible to go, to America, Europe, Australia or New Zealand. Remembering the best of the accessible worlds, which was not (nor could it be) determined by frontiers, or countries, or ideologies, a child suggested: "Mom, let's emigrate to McDonald's . . ."


1. "In short, the Western Europeans came to have a strong and growing interest in keeping Europe divided. [. . .] The more secure that division, the easier it was to imagine a closer and more prosperous union of nations on the west of the line˝while at the same time holding out the iIlusory prospect of that union's hypothetical expansion to the east Űone day.'" [Tony Judt, A Grand Illusion? An Essay on Europe, New York, I996] back

2. "One is tempted to say that the post-war creation [or, rather, re-creation] of Europe proved to be perhaps the most seminal, and thus far the most lasting consequence of the communist totalitarian episode. After many false starts before, this time the new European self-identity re-emerged, in an almost textbook fashion, as a derivative of the boundary." [Zvgnund Bauman, Life in Fragments: Essays in Postmodern Morality, Oxford, 1995, p. 244] back

3. The otherwise self-sufficient, self-satisfied, even selfish "Europe" centered in Brussels became a beacon for the rest of the continent and source of respect and credibility for itself because of the promise that this Europe was not Zollverein, no mere neo-mercantile partnership of the rich and famous, no temporary practical and empirical solution to daily economic dilemmas. This Europe was the Europe of all Europeans˝ even if there were practical political impediments to their immediate membersbip of it." [Judt, A Grand Illusion? p. 43) back

4. "Shiptar," derived from the Albanian word for Albanian, is used as a derogatory term. back

5. Let us add that the metaphor of a country or a continent as a whore, a fallen woman, or else a sick old woman, which often circulates in the former Yuguslav media with reference to Europe, is not the exclusive copyright of the wretched Balkan peoples. An American journalist crossing the (former) Yugoslav frontier experienced the local landscape in the following poetic way: "The earth here had the harsh, exhausted face of a prostitute, cursing bitterly between coughs." [Robert Caplan, The Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History, New York, 1994, p. 27] back

6. "For Europe is not only a place where we have always been, but also an aim towards which we are moving. Its presence in us is experienced just as powerfully as its absence. It is the territory of the most sublime values of justice, liberty and equality, but at the same time the place where these values are perverted. It is as much the object of our adoration and desire as the object of disillusion and abomination. As its chosen people who save it now from its fiercest enemies, now from itself, we are more European than Europe itself, but also more anti-European. For not only do we sacrifice ourselves for it, we are also its victim. As the altar of our sacrifice, it is the gleaming monument of our glory, but also a festering sewer down which our hopes ebb away like illusions. So how is it possible that all these unbearable contradictions should exist in our Croatian identity in harmonious symbiosis, as in a legal system of madness? So that Europe is nothing other than a figment of our imagination?" [Boris Buden, Barikade, Zagreb, 1996, p. 139] back

7. "We insist on our dislocation, rootlessness, our illegitimacy. We have not been given an identity [. . .]. Our forebears are not what determines us, we choose our forebears [. . .]. We build our own identity, capturing the past from the conformism of history, building our archaeology of the civil society." [Arkzin, November 11, 1996, p. 2] back

8. "It is saddening because if there is anything good about exile, it is that it teaches one humility. One can even take it a step further and suggest that exile is the ultimate lesson in that virtue." [Joseph Brodsky, On Grief and Reason, New York, 1996, p. 25] back

9. "We are poor relations, and the poor relation sees better than the property owner. France is divided into property owners and sub-tenants. I belong to the race of sub-tenants," said the Polish poet Adam Zagajewski, who now lives in France, in an interview.

Dubravka Ugresic is the author of many books, including five translated into English. Her book of essays, Culture of Lies, from which this essay and the next are reprinted, won the Charles Veillon Prize in 1996. Since 1993, she has lived in self-exile and currently resides in Amsterdam.