Europe and the Balkans: Between Tragedy and Solitude

Plevnes, Jordan
Revista Literatures Núm. 3 1999

The birth of Europe and tragedy have their origin in the Balkans. The last decade of the twentieth century in Europe, this "most expensive cemetery in the world" (as Dostoevsky says), has been marked, according to the statistics of international institutions, in its poorest sector, the Balkans, by a minimum of 300,000 deaths in Bosnia, in the war which until very recently was devastating ex-Yugoslavia, by twice that number in war mutilations, and by two or three million people who have had to abandon the houses where they were born. Fifty years ago, we saw in western Europe, the factories of death that engendered Fascism and which resulted in the millions who died on the communist gallows, the 40 million who were registered as "civilian and military losses, in the Second World War. After the end of the First World War, also of European origin, these Balkan regions became an immense tomb for the youth of Europe... The most expensive cemetery in the world, Europe, and its poorest sector, the Balkans are very profoundly united, above all in the intensive production of death.
Imagine that a miracle marks the year 2000 in Europe. From verse 169 of Aeschylus' tragedy Prometheus Bound, written more then 24 centuries ago and dedicated to the rebel condemned by Zeus, the President of the Immortals appears, for a 24-hour visit to the Old Continent, to put the crucial question to our contemporary dead, before international institutions: how can it be that in Europe you always know the number of victims, but never the number of killers? Without the response, the war in ex-Yugoslavia and the Bosnian tragedy become perfect crimes. The killers are either invisible or become negotiators, once again defiling the historic image of Europe. Surprised by the silence of Europe, the President of the Immortals would declare that indifference and collaboration with crimes are present everywhere.
Nicolas Bouvier and I met last Spring in Macedonia. He, from western Europe, with planetary horizons bound to the Balkans; I, from the Balkans, of European origin and a voluntary exile in Paris. We both wanted to forget the tragedy for ourselves, even just for a moment, but who can authorise us to forget it in the name of the victims? To forget that it was split into three by its inhabitants, to forget the Diaspora, to forget that the present powers-that-be are even negotiating its name. When one arrives in Macedonia, one does not have the impression of war, or strategy, or of ethnic cleansing, but of a country which adopts a more fragile position: that of aesthetics. One Sunday in Ohrid, on the shores of a lake, everything seemed calm and a long way from tragedy and we heard voices that sounded as if they were coming from the bowels of the earth. They were mourners from the town of Pestani, the last professional mourners of Europe, the only survivors of the choruses of ancient tragedy. They were lamenting the death of a Bosnian refugee who had arrived the previous night, and who had intoned the names, surnames and addresses of the killers. Between these voices surging from the depths of time and the death of this stranger, we have been able to see how, before Europe and the rest of the world, the great doors of the third millennium are opening up, for tragedy in general and solitude in particular, the only stable currency in human history.