Turks Among Us

When Professor Damir Arsenijevic came to UC Berkeley as a Fulbright Scholar in 2010, I remember speaking with him about the position of “the Turk” in his native Bosnia and Herzegovina. I shared an article, “Anti-Semitism and National Socialism: Notes on the German Reaction to ‘Holocaust,’” which Professor Moishe Postone wrote shortly after the release of the television series “Holocaust” in the German market. Professor Postone’s article still strikes me as a valuable place to begin a conversation about “the Turk” not only in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but in central and (increasingly) western Europe as well. Yes, like all people living under relatively poorer economic conditions but able to avail themselves of regions that enjoy better economic conditions, citizens of Turkey have made their way to more prosperous regions of central and western Europe. And, like people everywhere, not only have they brought their own practices with them, but they too have shown a reluctance to embrace wholesale the practices of the peoples in the places to which they move for purely (or primarily) economic reasons.

ViennaBut “the Turk” holds a different position than, let us say, “the American,” or “the Canadian,” or even the nationalist or mainland Chinese immigrant to Germany or France or England. For unlike these imaginaries, “the Turk” is also a potent historical figure, physical evidence of a history that persists among us even after the events by which it was ostensibly composed— the Battle of Mohács (1526), the Battle of Vienna (1683) — rest in the distant past. And when in the nineteenth century a rising educated Balkan bourgeoisie fought to seize a greater share of the political power, they identified ethnicity, nationality, language, and (most potently) religion as the most effective weapons wherewith to challenge the legitimacy of dynastic succession. If they were to survive the waves of nationalism and democracy sweeping their regions, monarchs had at the very least to adopt the language and religious symbols of their bourgeois opponents (B Anderson, Imagined Communities,1982). Thus it was that monarchs and bishops whose predecessors had governed multi-ethnic, multi-religious entities were compelled to embrace the radical nationalism and ethnic and religious exclusivism of the increasingly militant middle classes.

This could suggest that “the Turk” is an anachronism, an obsolete cultural form ill-suited to the contemporary world. But “the Turk” is as much a product of our world and a constituent component of it as the microchip or social media. For, so long as we occupy a world composed by the global flows of capital, communities will continue to follow these flows and compose themselves — or, rather, will continue to be composed by these flows — in socially and historically specific ways. So that, although we might want the individual elements, the individuals, composed by capital flows to assume the general, universal form of the commodity (which we imagine ourselves to be), these individuals will always bear with themselves the symbols of their own particularity, the sure signs, as is true of every other commodity, of their historical and social indigence. This historical and social indigence, this particularity, I will argue, is what we find so offensive and unacceptable and unnecessary, at least those of us who (mistakenly it so happens) believe we embody the commodity’s general or universal form.

To differing degrees and in different ways we all of course embody the commodity’s general or universal form. Insofar as our thought forms, experiences and actions are mediated and structured by the abstract value form of the commodity, we all feel the push and pull of its universalism as well as the embarrassment — and also the attraction — of the particularities by which this universal is necessarily born along. But some of us — those of us who have submitted to the discipline of knowledge and practice that grants us unique access to the commodity’s secrets — enjoy a particularly close relationship to the commodity’s abstract, general form. And for us, I will confess, the residual particularity that clings to individuals and communities less fully integrated into the dominant form can strike us as specially obnoxious.

But why? In part our distaste for “the Turk” can be credited to the way that their particularity exposes and calls our own particularity into question. We cannot shed our bodies. And it is the harsh light that their particularity sheds on our own — our language, our traditions, our laws, our culture, our religion — that helps to account for that “clash of civilizations” to which Samuel P. Huntington called our attention two decades ago. What Huntington missed is the way that the general, universal form always, out of necessity, must use the specific form as its container, its means of transit and transmission. This also helps to account for our inclination to mistake our own particularities — our language, laws, religions, traditions — for the universals they can never effectively be. When “the Turk” breaches our border, introducing his laws, his culture, his traditions, his religions into our nations — and does so without so much as a nod of gratitude for “the universality” that has allowed him to take up residence among us — we are faced with the dilemma either of acknowledging the justice and equality of all particularities, because all equally can be the bearers of the universal form, or of arbitrarily granting universal status only to a specific set, our set, of particularities; because we have the power and authority to do so.

But the dilemma is only apparent. The choice is not real. For even when we formally grant equal status to all particularities — to “the Turk,” “the Jew,” “the Christian” — this purely formal ascription does nothing to erase the actual particularities, the differences that distinguish us from one another, or the desire that all individuals and their communities subscribe to and endorse the universal. Formal equality, which is grounded in that universal, does nothing in other words to eliminate the political drive to eliminate the particular.

We experience this drive in a number of ways in the US. In the US, “the Turk” was once an Irishman, a Chinaman, an Italian. Today “the Turk” is more likely a Spanish-speaker. Notwithstanding political losses, there is still widespread and growing hostility to undocumented immigrants, specially native Spanish speakers, but also speakers of Farsi and Arabic, who, it is felt, take jobs that would otherwise be taken by documented citizens, and whose religious practices, particularly among immigrants from the Middle East and South Asia, are felt to be at odds with the value orientations of documented citizens. Such immigrants, it is felt, should “lose their particularity,” which in this case means their linguistic and cultural particularity and adopt the “universal” language and religious sensibilities of their adopted country. The “English-only” frenzy has swept large swaths of the United States and, of course, there continues to be widespread opposition to building mosques and other non-Christian or non-Jewish buildings of worship and learning.

But this drive to eliminate particularity also appears in the public’s schizophrenic response to the Christian Right, which wrongly claims that it is preserving the cultural heritage of the United States. As far back as the Treaty of Tripoli (1797), signed by John Adams, the US has been officially on record as “not in any sense founded on the Christian religion”:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims],—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Mohammedan] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

Yet, clearly many Americans have been uncomfortable with President Adams’ and the United States’ official universalism. And so they want to eliminate human and civil rights protections from classes of individuals they believe less well suited to American particularity (which they, again, mistake for the universal).

The universal, however, is by definition not any particular thing — not any language, set of laws, religion, cultural tradition. To the extent that we are all connected in some kind of historical universal, we are connected by the universal value form of the commodity, whose very essence is the mere utility it makes of particularities, whether Turkish, German, Christian, Bosnian, Croat, or Serb. These particularities are, at best, bearers of this universal. But they are also impediments to its frictionless concourse. The universal value form both requires, but also disdains bodies, which it uses as mere pretexts for its transmission and reproduction.

It is the abstract value form that promotes the disturbing suggestion: How do we eliminate the Christians, or the Turks, or the Jews? How do we eliminate the Spanish-speakers or the Hmong or the Iranians? How do we eliminate particularity?

The answer I believe is that “the particular” will only disappear once its universal container is exposed and eliminated. This is because bodies are ill-suited as bearers of the universal, by which they are invariably destroyed. Instead, we need to develop techniques for cultivating and caring for particularities, and for the bodies to which they are rightly bound. “The Turks” are driven into Germany, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic because the abstract universal value form of the commodity is the only means we have for sustaining particular bodies. But, what if, instead, we made cultivation and care for particular bodies our universal objective? What if instead of limiting and controlling access to the universal form — instead of making access contingent upon embracing the universal language, religion, law, and culture — we set our minds to caring for particularity?

Anyone who has been to Sarajevo knows what this looks and sounds and feels like. It looks like a Bazaar where individuals from each community share their wares under the safety of state protection. It sounds like a cacophony of languages, music, prayers and practices. And it feels like a space where nothing at all is universal, but where all particularities enjoy the liberty to move and share and grow.

But of course recently, under the pressures exercised by privatization and deregulation, those individuals deprived of their bodies or threatened with loss or injury to their bodies, whether by economic hardship or state action, find themselves increasingly at odds with the “universals” that hem them in and limit them. And, just because hunger, need, and danger call attention to our particularity, to our dependence, they can also elicit resentment by those of us who are privileged to enjoy the benefits of the universal. But I suggest we not allow ourselves to be deceived. I suggest, instead of punishing and limiting the particular, we challenge the legitimacy of the value form that has brought this particular into such a position of need.

This will entail acknowledging that “the Turk,” like the non-Turk, is a social and historical construction. It will entail exploring the social and historical forces shaping the great modern migrations, but also shaping the resurgence of militant cultural particularism. And it will entail diagnosing and treating the causes of conflict not by promoting the social form that gave rise to this conflict in the first place, but by seeking to create a world where particularities, individual bodies, are safe and healthy.

Humane Budapest

I found several features in Budpest terribly humane. One feature that I have seen nowhere else in Europe is receptacles liberally spaced on all the downtown streets where owners can deposit their small, obnoxious dogs.
The other was clearly marked sections of the city where adults are prohibited from holding hands with small children.
What a spectacular city.

The Wonder of Relics

I like relics. And, yes, I believe that relics are magical. Which is why when in Budapest I deliberately sought out Saint Stephen’s forearm, housed in Saint Stephen’s Basilica. I know, this goes against tons of current theological and sociological wisdom. Spirituality is . . . well, “spiritual.” It is unseen. It is immaterial. It is personal. It is individual. It is in my heart. Spirituality is not . . . well, “physical.” It is not seen. It is not material. It is not public. It is not social. It is not shared.

Oh, and did I say? Spirituality cannot be touched, held, measured, weighed. I know all of this. Which is why I like relics.
You see, I am an historian. And I am therefore deeply troubled by the now five and a half century old religious trend to deprive religion of its historical and social body, to collapse religion down into the unseen feelings or emotions of individual believers, depriving it of its place in time and space. For religion that exists outside of time and space can have no place in a science whose objects of interest are by their very nature temporal and spatial. Yes, detemporalized, despatialized religion might “exist,” but only on a plane where even the term “exist” can make no sense. It cannot be touched, weighed, seen, or held. And so it cannot be an object of my science. But I like relics.
To be sure, there is a danger here. Where religion is physical, where it occupies time and space, it can also occupy us. Here in the Balkans, many communities are — how should I put this? — pre-occupied by religion. We pass from Orthodox to Catholic to Muslim territory, evident not only in the religious practices of the communities who live in these territories, but also in the frequency of mosques or churches, the shapes of grave stones, the tolling of bells, or the calls to prayer. These material signs remind us that religion has a body, that it has several bodies, that it occupies space and time.

In the late Middle Ages and the early modern period, the sacred doctors of the Church determined that religion no longer had a body and that bodies could no longer be religious. (In the Counter-Reformation, the Catholic Church sought to revise and soften this determination through the extravagant display of religious bodies, but to little avail.) What followed was the proliferation of bodies defined solely by their objective, eternal, unchanging physical characteristics. The spirit was then free to occupy whatever non-physical, non-material, non-temporal space it wanted. Clearly, however, it is not quite that simple. Bodies — religious bodies — remain both here in the Balkans and elsewhere. And, yet, something has changed. What is it?

What has changed, I think, is that the sacred or divine has grown immune to the wounds left on the surface of its body. What do I mean? Well, take the wounds inflicted on Jesus’ body during his passion. In iconography from the second to the fifteenth centuries these wounds survived Jesus’ resurrection and ascension and were visible in heaven at God the Father’s right hand, so to speak. But, then, in the fifteenth century these wounds proved incapable of making their way into heaven, where passion and passibility were increasingly felt to be forbidden. God — true God — knows no suffering, no weakness, no wounds, no passion. True God no longer has a body; or, rather, the body that God now has is absent the imperfections still visible on the body of the pre-resurrection, pre-ascension Jesus.
Iconographically, this is the equivalent of the children’s rhyme: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Which may help to explain why it was not until the early modern and the modern period that religion becomes the occasion for widespread, officially sanctioned mass death. Yes, I know; what about the Crusades? Yes, what about the Crusades. There is a wonderful web site that deserves our consideration, http://necrometrics.com. What it shows may surprise you. But, then again, maybe it won’t. What it shows is that when religious practitioners held bodies to be sacred, they were both less inclined to sacrifice their own bodies and less inclined to kill the bodies of others. Which is why, as a percentage of the world’s population, far more lives would be taken in the early modern and modern periods than were ever taken during the Crusades. Sacred bodies, material relics. If “sticks and stones” do not touch the heart of my faith, my belief, my religion, then I am free to use them liberally without fear that in annihilating the body I have done anything to damage the soul, whether mine or another’s.

There peering out at me from behind the glass are the knuckles and fingers and forearm of Saint Stephen, who is held to have introduced the Christian religion to Hungary. They look weak, discolored, deformed, ugly. And I am wishing that all religious objects appeared to us in this light; not strong, bright, healthy and beautiful; the exact opposite of the victorious knights and kings and bishops perched above the dead and dying bodies of their enemies: but weak, defeated, poor, and suffering bodies, historical bodies, temporal bodies, which are also and for this very reason sacred bodies.

I like relics.

Santiago Matamoros

While making our way up to Berlin last week, we passed through Budapest and happened, while searching for our flat, to circle the square on whose periphery is seated the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts. We would have noticed the Museum, an imposing structure, under any circumstances. But, in this case we were particularly interested since it advertised an exhibit, Caravaggio to Canaletto, with whose themes and personalities we are specially attracted.
Although artistically I found myself specially taken — again, still — with Caravaggio, for purely historical and incidental reasons I also found myself transfixed by the story behind Giovanni Battista’s “Santiago Matamoros,” Saint James the Moor Slayer.
The story is that during the Battle of Clavijo, where the Spanish Christians defeated the Spanish Muslims, Saint James appeared on a horse, with a sword. The Muslim soldiers were so terrified by the figure that they lost heart. And behind the Saint’s leadership the Christians slaughtered more than 5,000 Moors. Remarkably, we are to believe that the Saint, whose bones are reputed to rest in Galacia, rallied to the war cry of believers and helped them defeat their religious enemies.
In contemporary Budapest, the story seems almost quaint. And, yet, as we tumble backwards into the Austro-Hungarian and Hapsburg past, the contest between Moors and Christians, Muslims and Roman Catholics, appears in a different light.
In 1521, Suleyman the Magnificent was provoked into attacking the Kingdom of Hungary. He ended up capturing Belgrade. The Battle of Mohács looms large in Eastern European lore. The Ottomans ruled in the region for over 150 years, from 1541 to 1699. But the mythology extends both forward and backward several centuries. Already in the eleventh century, according to the statuary in Saint Stephens, Budapest, the Roman Catholic religion spread in Hungary only at the expense of its pagan and Muslim occupants. Indeed, wherever Roman Catholicism thrust down roots, the Church’s and the State’s own iconography lead us to believe that it did so only with the spilling of significant Moorish blood.
As an historian, I am delighted to find these relics scattered across my vacation route. And, yet, I find it disturbing how little they have been subjected to the historicizing hand of my profession. That is because these statues and these images still inspire the faithful, and because, were they adequately historicized, they would lose some of their inherent power to inspire.
There is, however, another, seemingly separate set of relics in Budapest. These relics call our attention to Hungary’s troubled history from the 1930s through 1989, when Hungary shed its Stalinist past. Although Hungary did not officially join the German-Italian Axis until 1940, she had tilted increasingly toward fascism throughout the 1930s, not without significant support from Hungary’s Roman Catholic population. Following the war, Hungary’s political leadership and iconography then flipped in nearly the opposite direction. Her churches and their icons suffered under neglect. In other words, under an ideology that purported to be “historical” the historical character and meaning of the monuments under its care held absolutely no interest to the communist regime; even worse, they were replaced by a new set of Stalinist era icons and statuary whose meaning and aim — to reinforce political power — were nearly identical.
One might therefore think that with the passing of Stalinism, the caretakers of these relics and icons might finally wish to offer Hungarians an historically embedded narrative of the treasures under their care. How are we to historically understand the conflicts between Muslims and Christians, and between Christians and Jews? How are we to make sense of the rows upon rows of saints carrying swords, standing victorious over slain Muslims?
And, yet, where we might expect an explanation or historical account, the statue or icon is permitted to stand for itself.
In a different age or a different time I might not be so concerned about such uninterpreted, self-interpreting, symbolism. In an age that openly invites Christians to view Muslims and Muslims to view Christians as timeless enemies, however, such uninterpreted symbols of religious and political violence cannot be held entirely innocent. Here, historians have a special responsibility to offer narratives that embed such objects in their original landscapes, but that also identify how and why such landscapes were always contingent, fluid, and open to other possibilities. The proprietors too have a responsibility, the Churches, religious orders and state authorities to distance themselves from the violence, hostility, and antagonism portrayed in these images; for such public displays cannot be permitted to serve the function of sanctioning divisions we can no longer afford to tolerate.
Tomorrow I will return to Bosnia and Herzegovina, where such symbols cannot be held entirely innocent, where ethnic groups under the cover of religion deliberately repeated the carnage of Clavijo explicitly in retaliation for Mohaćs. Unless we want such massacres to repeat ad infinitum until the end of ages, we have an obligation to clearly tell the stories surrounding these events, not in language or in forms that provoke these events anew, but that place them, as they belong, in the past.

Elements of Antisemitism

Were we not specifically looking for the Jewish Museum and the Old Synagogue Holocaust Memorial, they might have been lost to us as minor details in the middle of the vast historical expanse spread out before us in Prague. At first this seems incomprehensible. In March 15, 1939 in Prague alone there lived 125,000 Jews. And between October 1941 and October 1944, between 75,000 and 85,000 Moravian and Bohemian Jews were transported to death camps throughout central and eastern Europe. Fully 800,000 Jews lived in the former Hungarian Empire. 600,000 lost their lives to forced labor, starvation, disease, and death camps. So it would seem a minor detail impossible to overlook. And, yet, we might easily have missed it.


This would appear all the more incomprehensible if we consider the long list of famous Jews from Bohemia, a list that includes Edmund Husserl, Franz Kafka, Gustav Mahler and Sigmund Freud. How did I miss this?


Antisemitism is not the same thing as hatred of Jews. Antisemitism entails the ascription of qualities to Jews that are felt to be ontologically inseparable from their ethnicity. These qualities are then set in opposition — ontological opposition, existential opposition — to the being and existence of other, equally reified ethnic groups, for example “Germans” or “Aryans.” But since the qualities so ascribed are social and historical in character, their social and historical location are separable from the ethnicities to which they are ascribed. And this means that in order to understand where and how these qualities take shape and persist we need to look not only at the communities to which they are ascribed, but even more to the social and historical landscape in which they appear.

Greed, money, unrootedness, conspiracy, secrecy, or rootedness to a foreign soil are not qualities that are ontologically immanent to any individual or group. But they were and are qualities that terrified and continue to terrify and attract interest among members of contemporary society. In order to make sense out of these fears and attractions we may be tempted to identify the agents responsible for their preponderance: bankers, industrialists, immigrants, minorities, intellectuals. And once we have identified the agents responsible for our hardship, we can then rid our community of these agents.

But this ignores the social and historical, supra individual, form of the agents who are actually responsible for our hardship. It is not that we are incapable, say, of incarcerating two in every five African American young men, or placing one in one hundred industrialists under house arrest at a country club prison. We can and do identify these individuals, remove them from society, where they cannot be seen, where they cannot do harm, and where we can forget them.

And then we can ignore the social and historical forms that gave rise not simply to these individuals, these agents, but also to the mistaken belief that these individuals were the ones responsible for our hardship. In the mean time, the real agents responsible for our hardship, the supra individual social and historical agents persist and expand.

Why is it so difficult for us to see these supra individual social and historical agents? Surely one reason they are difficult to see is that seeing them requires the time and categories without which critical reflection does not take place. And, in a mass, democratic society the vast majority of individuals, whose actions mediate social relations, lack both the time and the categories needed to critically reflect on society and history. But we also need to be aware of how even the suggestion of supra individual social and historical agents is an affront to individual freedom. Individual freedom would suggest that we are the agents whose actions, individually, are responsible for our own destiny and that those who would divert our attention away from individual freedom and responsibility toward supra individual social and historical agents are embracing and promoting perspectives that shun individual freedom and individual responsibility. “We are in control and those who suggest that we are not in control are seeking to control us by undermining our responsibility.”

Two tragic consequences follow from this way of viewing agency. The first is that I am driven to reject, a priori, social and historical causation. Individuals and not social and historical forces are responsible for all that happens. The second consequence that follows from this view of agency is that I am driven to identify the individual agents who are responsible for my hardship; I am driven to the conclusion that I can remedy this problem by eliminating the individual agent: the banker, the industrialist, the criminal, the thief.

This ideology is terribly powerful in part because it is empowering. It seems to restore my agency and my ability to remedy my hardship, if only I can eliminate those agents responsible for my hardship. Note, however, that the community of those responsible for my hardship has now expanded. It now also includes those who, by calling my attention to social and historical agents, are attempting to undermine my freedom and my responsibility. In other words, the world of my enemies has now expanded to include all of those who embrace or advance a rigorous social, historical, or economic account of my hardship. These too now also must be eliminated since they are advancing the very ideology that denies my freedom and responsibility.

When the National Socialists rounded up and exterminated European Jewry they did so under the mistaken belief that the mechanisms responsible for their hardship were not systemic, that these mechanisms could be credited to specific communities of individuals (European Jewry), and that among those qualities characteristic of European Jewry, distinguishing them from Aryans, was the conviction that human beings are socially and historically formed and therefore that their qualities are not ontologically given.

(Not coincidentally, tragically, when Hannah Arendt adopted Martin Heidegger’s ontological fundamentalism and translated it onto the post-war landscape, she could not help but also reproduce her mentor’s purely negative concept of freedom, which helps to explain why she faulted not only those individuals who had fallen victim to their social or historical circumstances, but also those who believed that freedom is socially and historically constituted. The fault she found with Marxian social critique therefore was indistinguishable not only from Martin Heidegger’s, but also from eighteenth and nineteenth century conservative social critique in general, which held that modernism’s principle error to embed freedom in and account for it in terms of the social formations by which it is shaped. Since freedom cannot be shaped, according to this view, there can be no sense to reforming the social, political, or economic order in the hope of giving rise to greater freedom. Freedom is a purely inner quality, an individual subjective characteristic most perfectly granted by divine power. Which is why any attempt to reform the social, political, or economic order is also, by definition, taken to be an act of greatest impiety; a clear sign of human corruption.)

Even therefore when Jews sought to present themselves or even to become “something they are not,” i.e., non-Jews, they were faulted according to Nazi ideology for seeking to conceal their true nature and for surreptitiously trying to overturn the naturally-given order.

As I walk through the Jewish Quarter of Budapest I cannot help but be struck by this tragic and potentially mortifying irony. There is still an invisible wall around this quarter, not unlike the invisible walls around similar quarters in cities all across Europe, spatially separating this catastrophe from the persistent social and historical conditions that made it possible to begin with. For all around these quarters and even within them we are made to march to the incessant beat that says “we are all responsible individually for who we are, where we have come from, and where we are going.” And so each shop opens its doors and displays its wares for purchase by those individuals whom fortune has blessed, seeming to endorse the fiction that our material well-being, our intellectual prowess, our skill and our aptitude are matters entirely of our doing; which must of course mean that we are also individually responsible for our poverty, ignorance, and ineptitude. Individual differences are attributed to differences — and ultimately to deficiencies — in being. Those with plenty are thus inclined to account for their wealth not (as was once the case) by acknowledging their privilege, not by acknowledging the private, purely individual laws that govern and determine their unique, individual way of being, but rather by crediting their being as such. Similarly those with little are also inclined to account for their poverty as a consequence of their impoverished being, a defect in their individual souls. For how else can individuals who no longer believe in the social or historical nature of their own being account for such differences?

So skirting the boundaries of the Jewish Quarter and even penetrating the thin membrane that surrounds it is the very social and historical disease that originally brought about this catastrophe. But, like the Jewish Quarter itself, it is invisible. No one intends to make these fundamental distinctions. They meant only to preserve a certain notion or experience of freedom; freedom as the absence of constraint, freedom as the absence of social and historical determination, and so true individual responsibility.

Such is the ruse, the conceit, of neoliberal economic practice and also of neoliberal theory. Its complaint against social, public economic policy aims only to preserve individual freedom and responsibility. It does not aim — at least not initially — to isolate or condemn any specific group of individuals. And so we cannot mistake its surprise, when Jews are loaded into box cars or African American men into prisons, as anything but genuine. They really do not grasp the connection. Indeed, they are ideologically predisposed to deny the connection. For were they to acknowledge the connection between economic or social conditions and freedom, this would completely destroy their ontologically fundamental, ungrounded, neo-Kantian notion of freedom. They are therefore compelled — as Friedrich von Hayek was compelled — to account for these catastrophes by symbolic inference, not by causal explanation. (Again, because causal explanation would undermine their ideological foundation.) Since Nazis implemented social controls on German society, social controls are, by definition, the evil that caused the catastrophe. Nazis, Communists, and FDR — all three and the British Socialists besides — all implemented social controls; all leading us down the “road to serfdom” as Hayek would have it.

Herein concealing the real elements of antisemitism, the social formation, capitalism, that brought and still brings us to deny, or ignore, the social and historical form of our own being. Which may explain why I shudder in horror as much when I am walking along the streets of Budapest lined with high-end shops and luxury goods as when I am walking through the Holocaust Memorial or the former Budapest Ghetto.

Are we sowing the seeds of another Holocaust? Indeed, I think we are.

The Neoliberal Dream and its Opposite

Thanks to our “new” 2003 Diesel Renault Megane, Kirsten, the boys and I had the freedom to get out of town this last weekend. On Friday we traveled to an “Ethno Village” called “Stanisici,” located just this side of the Serbian border, eight kilometers beyond Bijelinja, in the Republik Srpska, one of the three entities created by the Dayton Peace Accords. Then on Saturday we traveled in nearly the opposite direction toward Sarajevo, where, in Olovo, we visited an ancient pagan stone circle located on the grounds of the local Orthodox Church, before heading to Bijambare, a public regional park with well-groomed paths, bathrooms, a restaurant, and — at the end of a two kilometer hike — six spectacular caves. Stanisici, the “Ethno Village,” is part of the unfolding dream of Slobodan Pavlovic, the 71-year-old Serbian-American property multimillionaire who created the village as a testament to his Serb heritage. Bijambare and its caves were created following the last ice age and are open to visitors thanks to public contributions from citizens in the Canton of Sarajevo. Stanisici and Bijambare epitomize two very different paths into the future, not simply for Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also for the world.

Disney Land of Republika SrpskaI had passed Stanisici several times on my way to Belgrade and so I was naturally curious about this “traditional” village, which some in the press have labeled the Republika Srpska “Disney Land.” First, as a disclaimer, initially I found the entire setup completely disarming, even whimsical, on the order of Jackalopes, Area 51, and the villagers living inside of Donald Trump’s toupee. But, then it did seem a tad odd that the Orthodox chapel and monestery at Stanisici are the real thing, with real services, and real bishops and the like. Now you won’t see that at Disneyland! Yes, right wing evangelical Christians in the US also have their theme parks — and the Mormons own their own theme park Mecca (Great America!); all channeling their proceeds into making sure that we all have sex with the right partners and drop bombs in the right countries. As the saying goes, “One homophobic, misanthropic, psychopathic militarism is as good as the next one.” Yet, at least according to one journalist (Blood, money, bricks and mortar (The Independent 10-Nov-04)), the multimillionaire founder of our Ethnic Village — and the accompanying University, and the nearby bridge and border crossing, and the olympic water training facility, and all of the stores and hotels and roads and the city and region surrounding all of this — intends to annex the Republic of Srpska by default, purchasing it and declaring it a part of Serbia. And he might just get away with it.Replica of Noah’s Ark

Contrast Stanisici to Bijambare. Next to Mr. Pavlović’s hallucination, Bijambare is small potatoes. Its only ambition would appear to be preserving a national monument so that Bosnian and Herzegovinian schoolchildren and their parents can learn about the geological history of this small slice of the Balkans. There is not one thread of nationalistic fabric in the entire park. Nothing at all whimsical. But, instead, just a real pleasure.

IMG_2118Would it be wrong to see in Mr. Pavlović’s hallucination prefigurations of the impending violence that everyone, I mean everyone, feels will soon return to this region? No. But that is not my point. As I have maintained all along, Bosnia and Herzegovina is our future, the world’s future; that is, if we cannot figure this out in time. But what would that entail?

One commentator on Mr. Pavolović speculated that he was simply a wealthy, kind-hearted, but naive nationalist. And perhaps that is true. (Did I mention that Mr. Pavolović purchased a seat in the Republic of Srpska Senate? Well, he did.) But this begs the question: in what kind of a world can wealthy, kind-hearted, nationalists purchase cities or regions, build bridges and border crossings, and seriously contemplate annexing whole territories for their Church, their Bishop, or their Nation? In what kind of a world does that happen?

Such things happen in a world where public assets have been sold to the highest bidder, where law is made and enforced by a private plutocracy, where what used to be called “the public” is now the play toy of private enterprise, and where real-world policy has long since passed from res publica to oikonomia — from “the wealth we hold in common” to “private enterprise.” To be sure, we still enjoy our token public monuments — like Bijambare. But they are really just tokens. The real power — and all of us know this for a fact — belongs to the Slobodan Pavolovićes of this world. And it belongs to them not because of any hidden secret of the market, but because of what the market has written in bold letters all across its banner: WORLD FOR SALE TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER!

Obviously this motto conflicts, by definition, on its face, with the highest republican values, institutions, and ideals. But, in all fairness, Mr. Pavolović is doing nothing illegal. He is following all the rules. He is living the dream. He is creating the dream. Only were the public to suddenly acquire sufficient education, leisure, shared wealth, and good health — only then might the public be able to reverse this complete privatization of what once was republican life.

Now, that IS a hallucination!