June 3rd, 2005

[LINK] Serbia on Srebrenica

You know that things are bad when this is a sign of progress. From The Guardian:

They are the images that have finally, 10 years later, shocked a nation. A man, several men, are unloaded from a truck, marched to a wooded hillside and shot, one by one, in the back. Two prisoners are ordered to carry the bodies to a barn. They too are then executed.

The murder of thousands of Bosnian Muslims from Srebrenica in the summer of 1995 is well documented. But a video that emerged this week during the trial of the former Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic, has provoked a bout of soul-searching in Serbia, parts of which are still in denial over the horrors of the Bosnian war.

The footage was the first such graphic material from the massacre in Srebrenica to be shown in the country, where more than half of the population refuses to believe it even took place, according to a poll last month.

Nicholas Wood, sadly, suggests in The New York Times that even videotaped evidence of mass killings broadcast on national television might not make that much of an impact on Serbian public opinion.

In Belgrade, many passers-by appeared skeptical about the possible impact of the tape on public opinion.

"What was shown on that tape was just a tiny bit of the crimes committed throughout the war," said Neohjsa Mrdjenovic, a 29-year-old musician. "The footage will not change anything because people knew what had been happening. Everyone knew about the siege of Sarajevo all along. Unfortunately people don't care about it. They only care how to feed their family."

Rodoljub Cosic, 25, said: "The footage might change some people's opinion about Srebrenica, but the majority knew what had happened there. People knew what had happened in Srebrenica more than any other place as it has been often raised in public."
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[BRIEF NOTE] A Case of Tragic Stupidity

When the Canadian mass media isn't covering the latest scandal in federal politics, of late it has been revisiting the sorry tale of Karla Homolka, a blonde woman 35 years of age who is most famous for joining with her husband, Paul Bernardo, to become Canada's most famous serial killers. Homolka was lucky enough to sign a sweetheart deal with the Crown for a sentence of twelve years before the discovery of videotapes showing her actively participating in the rapes perpetrated on these three victims and others. She has just finished her sentence, and is now being released to live whatever life she can fashion for herself in Montréal. The Ontario government wants to place limits on her freedom, but she has reportedly already found a boyfriend, Jean-Paul Gerbet, convicted for the murder of his girlfriend in 1998 and set to be released in three years' time. Watch Homolka's own USENET newsgroup, alt.fan.karla-homolka, for more information.

Homolka's former husband, Paul Bernardo, remains in the Kingston Penitentiary. It is very unlikely that he will ever be released, given the severity and number of his crimes. It's fitting that he'll be confined for the rest of his natural life in a narrow and constricted prison cell, since his entire life before his arrest appears to have been founded on the desire to fulfill his every need (sex, power, respect, money). In the immediate aftermath of his arrest and trial, I remember press coverage which highlighted the fact that he owned a copy of the controversial Bret Easton Ellis novel American Psycho. Homolka seems to have been interested in this theme as well: Stephen Williams' Invisible Darkness mentions her fascination with gory crime and horror books, and one 2000 article in The Guardian reports that the copy of American Psycho actually belonged to Karla. I don't think that it would be too much to assume that American Psycho's graphic recounting of the multiple crimes of Patrick Bateman managed to influence them both.

American Psycho was widely criticized at the time for providing Paul--or the Homolkas as a unit--with a blueprint for mass murder. Both Frank Davey's Karla's Web (better, I think, than the eye review has it) and Stephen Williams' tome stress the extent to which they wished to become successful in every possible domain, to become prosperous suburbanites while retaining their secrets to themselves. At first reading, American Psycho does seem to describe this sort of situation, showing the co-existence of Bateman's immense material success and his high social standing with his multiple gratuitous crimes. I first read American Psycho expecting some superficial, gratuitous, and highly unartistic waste of paper. Instead, I found a fairly acute satire of Reagan's 1980s, of a person so deadened by his consumerist desires that not even the most barbaric savageries made him feel like a human being. Nothing that he did ever provoked Bateman into real feeling.

These idiots missed the point of American Psycho entirely.
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[BRIEF NOTE] The Funny Thing About Genocide

I've noticed today that I've been writing a lot about historical negationism of late: the Turkish genocide of the Armenians; the massacres of Bosniaks by Serb paramilitary forces at Srebrenica; the Holocaust. While I hesitate to call this a trend, it is true that I've been thinking a lot about the mechanics of historical representation and collective memory, and questions of accuracy. My thoughts on this subject have evolved since last year's review of Alison Landsberg's Prosthetic Memory and John Barnes' The Merchants of Souls, but the issue still matters to me. One thing I've been wondering about recently is the question of why a person or a community would deny the existence of genocide. What possible motivations could there be? Disbelief at the scale of the crime is one, relatively honourable, motive; a desire to protect one's personal or group honour is another, dishonourable, justification. It's a truism to say that these two motives don't cover every situation.

One particularly horrible motive has come to me recently. Ron Rosenbaum's Explaining Hitler is the first, and so far the only, book I've seen which suggests that the Holocaust was a vast jest. Consider, if you will, the famous "Arbeit macht frei" motto greeting incoming prisoners at Auschwitz. Were the Nazis really going to allow the inmates destined for extermination escape and life if only they worked hard enough? And then, there's the classic, "We're sending the Jews to ... Madagascar!" (Cue cymbals.)

One definition of humour has it as the "ability to perceive, enjoy, or express what is amusing, comical, incongruous, or absurd." If you're in the process of committing genocide, and if you believe that the victims deserve their fate, might you not find it a bit of a stress-reliever to play on the incongruity between your victim's disbelief and your certain knowledge? True, this is a one-sided humour, but when does humour have to be fair to all parties concerned? After the genocide's over, you can't have the same fun that you used to--you run out of victims, for starters. There's still an incongruity between the knowledge that you share with the wider world and your public pretense, mind. Your genocide denial also runs the decided bonus of tormenting the survivors just a little bit more. What's the harm to you?
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[MEME] Book-Tagged, Again

Charlie Stross has book-tagged me. I've been book-tagged already, but what sort of person would turn down a Stross book-tagging?

1) Total number of books I've owned:
I've never counted, but I suspect that I have well in excess of a thousand, here in Toronto and back in Charlottetown. I own perhaps fifty travel guide books from the Rough Guides series, for instance, acquired as a teenager from a surplus bookstore at low prices. Of all of these, perhaps three or four hundred are with me in Toronto. (Freight charges are high, and the amount of free space available to me low.)

2) The last book I bought:

Anthony Arthur's Literary Feuds. This book concentrates exclusively on disputes between American authors, these disputes tending to be sordid. Gore Vidal versus Truman Capote, for instance. The book is redeemed from being purely gossip by its recounting of the dispute between Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy over the former writer's misrepresentations and lies, in her memoirs and elsewhere. Disputes over memory--what should be remembered? how important is the truth? how--always have fascinated me.

3) The last book I read:

Jon Ronson's Them- Adventures with Extremists. See my next post.

4) Five books that mean a lot to me (in no particular order):

Origins--Cosmos, Earth, and Mankind by Hubert Reeves et al. This book, translated from the (European) French, manages to combine the grand schematics of Teilhard de Chardin with the best of modern science.

Surfacing by Margaret Atwood. A classic of Canadian literature, Surfacing is the title that proves Margaret Atwood does have a sense of humour.

Memoirs of Montparnasse by John Glassco. This memoir of an obscure Canadian writer's several years in interwar Paris is a fascinating read, not least because of the implications of its fabrications upon biographies as a genre.

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. Carter mastered the rhetoric of the uncanny, constructing beautifully intricate and quietly deadly universes for her protagonists. I wish that I could have met her.

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. At her best, Woolf wrote with a beautifully poetic lucidity. Mrs. Dalloway is just a novel about a day in the lives of some Londoners, but Woolf manages to convey these lives so well.

5) Tag five people and have them fill this out in their LJs

Pearsall Helms at Pearsall's Books.