Slavenka Drakulic, “I was proclaimed a traitor”



There was a time in her native Croatia when her books were not being published. Neither were her outspoken articles, which instead appeared in the rest of the European press; during the war, but even for many years after its conclusion. Slavenka Drakulic, one of the best known Croatian journalists, essayist and authors, was being punished for her insistent, eloquent criticism of nationalism. She was persecuted, she was the object of a smear campaign and has received too much hate mail for one person. “I am still paying the price”, she tells me when we meet in Berlin, on the occasion of the conference “Narrating War” at the HKW.

The first book by Slavenka Drakulic that I read, many years ago, was “How we survived Communism and even laughed”. It caught my attention in an English language bookstore during a trip to Prague and after reading only a few pages, I was gripped. Luckily so because it has been my introduction to the work of one of the most brilliant authors and social commentators active in Europe today.


How popular was feminism in the communist countries of Eastern Europe, and specifically in Yugoslavia, where you were working as a journalist?

The subject was not very welcome in the media. The idea was that in our socialist countries -we called them socialist as opposed to the rest of the world that called them communist- women were emancipated. Feminism was considered bourgeois, it was seen as an imported ideology for which we had no use.


“How we survived communism and even laughed” was published in English and German, before it was ever translated into Croatian. How did that happen?

It happened because it was written in English in the first place. Let me explain how this came about: Around 1987- 88 I started writing for the independent US magazine, The Nation. I was writing essays about life in what the West called our communist countries, which I had realised that there was very little knowledge about. By that time I was friends with Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan, with whom we had collaborated on the project “Sisterhood is Global”. So Gloria and Robin said “you already write about life under communism; why don’t you write something about how it is like for women in particular?” The idea appealed to me, so I made a plan to visit these countries, with the exception of the Soviet Union.

The first article, written in 1990, was published in Ms Magazine. Soon afterward I received a call from an editor at W.W.Norton who said they had seen the article and would be interested in publishing my essays in one book. So I decided to write a book and it never crossed my mind that it could be written in any language other than English. At the time there were only two translator from Croatian, both booked years in advance, so translation was out of the question. And I was anyway already writing all my essays for the US publications in English, in order to save us all time. I must say that it was in bad English, but I had wonderful editors. And at that time there was nobody writing about these issues.




In fact I cannot recall any other book about the female experience under Communism.  What might explain this?

Indeed very little has been written about this subject. Actually I cannot think of a good enough explanation. To be honest, I was expecting a similar book to come out of the Soviet Union. But it never did. Maybe the topic is not interesting? Could this be the case?


As it happens this book is a long-seller and is still being published, after almost 25 years. This means that the topic is in fact quite interesting.

So it seems, yes. A couple of years ago I happened to be giving lectures on the occasion of the publication of another book of mine that is especially aimed at young people; it’s “A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism”. And the professors I was meeting were all telling me that they have been using “How we survived Communism and even laughed” in class. I asked them what it is that makes it appealing to their students all these years after the collapse of the Berlin wall. “They find this is a very good introduction to the topic, it helps them understand the world they are studying”, they replied. And only a few days ago I received an email from a 20-year-old woman who wanted to talk about the book. She wasn’t even born at the time I was writing it.


You earlier mentioned that you had collaborated with feminist icons like Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan, years before 1989. How had this been possible? At the time you were active and indeed very well known as a journalist in Yugoslavia, but you were not writing specifically for women’s issues.

No, I was writing about everything, in newspapers and magazines. And because I had my columns, I enjoyed the freedom to write about women’s issues. I was also member of a small group of women writers, journalists and academics with a strong interest in feminism. Most of us knew each other from our years in the university in the seventies. Ours was not an NGO; you see, this was not an option available to us in Yugoslavia at the time. We had to be attached to a bigger organisation, so we became a part of the Sociologists’ Association of Croatia. We would meet once a month, do public lectures, invite people to discussions. It was open to everyone. In 1979 we organised an international conference in Belgrade, which was attended very famous feminists from all over the world. That was how the American feminists discovered the work of our group and later invited us to a big international women’s conference in the US.




How was your publishing essays and commentaries in the American media seen by the authorities in Yugoslavia?

They were not happy, that’s for sure. There is one essay I wrote about it. If I remember correctly the title was “A chat with my censor”. One was not allowed to collaborate with the foreign press, of course. But in Yugoslavia everything was a lot less rigid than in the rest of the countries of the Eastern Block. The authorities gave me a warning, but they didn’t throw me in prison. So even if it was not allowed, I did it anyway.


Before and during the war in former Yugoslavia your articles and commentaries were being published in US and European media and you were widely read. Yours was a voice that was persistently condemning nationalism. How were these articles received in Croatia?

They were not being published in Croatia. I wrote three books about the war and a great, many articles in the foreign press, but I could not publish them in my own country.


Working as a journalist in Yugoslavia could you see the signs of the war coming?

We all saw something but none of us thought there was going to be a war. I think that not even the leadership at that time thought there was going to be the war.


Can you recall when you started feeling that the situation was taking a most dangerous turn? When did you start writing about it?

Oh, I wrote about it immediately. As a journalist, you are supposed to do so, no?  Only I had a feeling that sometimes I’m writing too early about things.


Cafe Europa


Are you refering to the essays that are included in the “Balkan Express”? The first of them date back to 1991, right?

Yes, the first of those essays were written for The Nation, and in them I describe the atmosphere in Zagreb, in 1991. I had been witnessing how the nationalist ideology had been taking hold. However nobody thought that it would come to that point; that there would be bloodshed. And once there is bloodshed, that is the end – I mean, the beginning of the real war.


How long had nationalist propaganda needed in order to convince Yugoslavians that people of different ethnic background were their enemies?

We had all been witnessing the spread of nationalist propaganda since 1985, maybe even earlier. Serbian nationalism was at first not directed towards Croatia. It was directed towards the Albanians in Kosovo. So nationalism actually started in Kosovo, with the so-called Martinovic case , in 1985. And it intensified when Slobodan Milosevic came to power in Serbia. In my opinion, when Milosevic first entered the scene, he did not yet plan the collapse of Yugoslavia; that was not the end to which he was using nationalist propaganda. I think that Milosevich, as opposed to the Croatian president Franjo Tudjman, was a great opportunist. At the beginning his idea was to use nationalism in order to manipulate the people and stay in power. I am absolutely convinced and indeed I have written so. When the Serbian minority in Croatia revolted in the spring of 1991, they gave Milosevic the perfect excuse to claim he was coming to defend his fellow Serbs.


What was the Franjo Tudjman’s nationalism aimed at?

By that time, in the spring of 1992, Slovenia had declared its independence, but this had not caused problems since it was not home to any Serbian minority, as was the case for the two other republics, of Croatia and Bosnia, and also Kosovo. Now Milosevic started to see there his own chance. And in fact what I think the Croatian and Serbian nationalists actually wanted was to divide Bosnia, to carve it out. Milosevich and Tudjman met several times during the war and they wanted to share Bosnia between them. Anyway, when you were in the newspapers you could clearly see nationalism swelling, you saw the writing on the wall, but still didn’t believe it would come to a war. Especially journalists of my generation; we didn’t believe it was really going to come to that.


Were journalists commenting on the politicians’ nationalist rhetoric? Were they making an effort to control power?

Well, first of all the newspapers were state owned and thus journalists were employed by the state. The media were not independent. We are not talking about a democracy. That was the case until 1991. But then journalists themselves were not objective, in the sense that they also shared the nationalist ideals. Most of them were very willing to spread the nationalist propaganda themselves. And in any case, I think that critical journalism was not Yugoslavia’s strongest point.


Slavenka Drakulić, Albrecht Koschorske, Peter Maass © Marcus Lieberenz/Haus der Kulturen der Welt

Slavenka Drakulić, Albrecht Koschorske, Peter Maass © Marcus Lieberenz/Haus der Kulturen der Welt


Didn’t that change at all after 1991?

Whoever was working in the newspapers in 1991 and wished to continue to do so, had to identify with the nationalist leadership of Croatia. If you were not a nationalist and you proceeded to make this clear in your writing, then you were out, and worse.


Were now the media privately owned, though?

Yes, the media had in the meantime been privatised. But even so, the fall of Communism unfortunately did not make a change in terms of independent journalism.


Did the new publishers force the journalists’ hands?

No, they didn’t. They did not have to. You know, if you have been depending upon certain institutions your whole life, then you become rather obedient in order to keep your position. In essence, you become a true believer –or you pretend you are – in order to keep this position. Those who were not obedient, those who did not become believers, were either sacked or left of their own free will. It was that simple.


So the transition to democracy was taking longer and was much harder than anticipated?

Whenever I write about these issues, even today, what I try to tell people is the following: You can have a change of a political system overnight. It’s called revolution. But political change is much easier than a change of mentality. So you change a political system but it doesn’t mean that much, really. Indeed what happens is that society begins to build basic democratic institutions, but they are so called empty forms. It means that you have a society which is democratic in name, but does not function according to the democratic principle.

Because the whole apparatus still functions along the lines of a previous regime. And this means that what still counts are party membership and personal relationships. In fact it is still very much like a tribal society. This is the case throughout Eastern Europe, in all the former communist countries, as well as in Russia. And this is what is very difficult to understand. How can this be explained? The only explanation is that people’s values, motivations, morals, habits; they all change only over a very long time.


In 1991 you were still writing in the weekly magazine Danas, which was the most prominent political magazine in former Yugoslavia. In what way did things change for you?

As soon as Tudjman came to power, there was a group of -how should I put it- “tudjmanite” journalists who readily took over Danas. It was the time of privatization, which included publishing houses. At Danas this was followed by changes in the editorial team. All of us, some twenty journalists, the complete editorial staff. We were considered among the best journalists in Yugoslavia and yet we were laid off, as a so called “technical surplus”?? We were kicked out, straight to the unemployment office.


Didn’t other opportunities arise for all of you to be in the media at that time?

We immediately started a new magazine called Novi Danas, but that was only published for a year. One reason was that it was privately funded and we know that nobody can make money out of a magazine in a year. And the other reason was that nationalism had poisoned society to such an extent that journalists who were insistently writing against nationalism, either in a newspapers or in a magazine like ours, could not possibly expect to make a living out of it. Nobody wanted to buy this magazine and read what we had to write. It was already 1992 and we stopped publishing it.


What happened to you and your colleagues after the magazine folded? Was it possible to find ways to make your voices heard?

Very few of us continued to be active as journalists. For me it was possible because by that time I had already published a lot abroad. I was writing very often for the German media. I started to write for Die Zeit, the FAZ, the Frankfurter Rundschau, the Suddeutsche Zeitung. I was also writing for some Swedish as well as American newspapers.


The echo of your articles, must have resounded back home. What was the reaction?

I was proclaimed a traitor. Along with four other Croatian women – journalists, writers and academics- who were also publsihing articles against nationalism. We were labeled “the five witches from Rio” and were the object of a smear campaign. Why Rio? Because at an international PEN conference that had taken place in Rio, in 1992, the then president of international PEN, György Konrad, had very openly expressed his concern about our persecution. The reaction to that back home was that we had to suffer even more persecution, even greater smear.




Would you describe the ways in which persecution expressed itself? What did you have to put up with on a day to day basis?

It meant that all existing newspapers were in some kind of competition as to which one would publish the worst things about us. It is very characteristic of the atmosphere that whoever wished to publicly pledge his allegiance to the Croatian government and make a political statement, did this by verbally harassing us. By spitting on us one was automatically placing himself on the side of the good patriots. And I was receiving a great amount of hate mail.


Did your colleagues, then, also turn against you?

Oh, yes, absolutely. Our former colleagues, people of our generation whom we knew well did this kind of job. The Globus, which is the newspaper that had started the smear campaign, was published and edited by our former colleagues, some of whom had also been our friends. But what is very interesting is that nobody forced them to. In the sense that politicians did not have to order them to smear us, to professionally murder us. They did it spontaneously and with conviction. They wanted to prove themselves faithful to the idea of the new Croatia.


How long did this go on? What became of each of you “five witches”?

The whole issue took on big proportions because the next year, in the spring of 1993, Dubrovnik was going to host the International PEN Conference. But in protest to our persecution many writers decided not to attend it. And this led to even worse persecution… So you want to know what happened to the other four women? Well, my friend Rada Ivekovic left for Paris where she still lives. The author Dubravka Ugresic went to the Netherlands; she’s still there. Vesna Kesic never again wrote a single word for newspapers. And Yelena Lovric became a commentator for a provincial newspaper that was slightly better than the rest; it was like a refuge. As for me I was only writing for foreign media.

So we decided to sue the Globus, each one of us separately because it was not possible to sue them as a group, and 10-15 years later we have all won our cases. But what we all demanded, in fact the only thing that we demanded, was the newspaper would publish the decision by the court.


You earlier said that none of you expected that it would come to the point of bloodshed. Allow me to insist on this: Looking back, do you think it made sense to not expect things to get so out of control?

It is a self defense mechanism. Let me just say that a friend of mine, who has lived through the siege of Sarajevo, has said that he had never, not for a moment believed that this would ever happen in Bosnia. In the spring of 1993 there already was a war going on in Croatia and yet people in Bosnia thought it had nothing to do with them. The same thing was happening in Zagreb. We lived as if the war was taking place very far away. And yet the Croatian frontline was only 45 km away; that’s a half hour drive. And still people did not believe it would come to them. They did not believe it in Zagreb, as they did not believe it in Sarajevo, where my friend said he only then realised the war is happening to him when he saw how a grenade destroyed a house. Before witnessing a house and the people inside it being blown up, across the street from where he was standing, he could not imagine it.


In “They would never hurt a fly. War Criminals on Trial in the Hague“, you write about ordinary people caught up in a war long before whose conclusion they had turned into torturers and murderers. Could there be one characteristic that those people share?

What is difficult to understand about the war is that it’s not like someone coming from Mars is killing us; no, we are killing each other. You realise that it is ordinary people who have been committing atrocious murders. There is no satisfactory enough explanation, except that this is a part of our human nature. The only thing one may say is that we have within us the possibility to do good and evil, and it very much depends on the circumstances. In this book I try to discover and show how each of those people ended up standing trial for war crimes in the Hague.

One guy was a mechanic, he worked in a farm, he liked to go fishing. Then they put him in charge of a camp in Brcko. And he ends up killing ten people before breakfast. Just because he could. And because this was justified. Five years of heavy, poisonous nationalist propaganda had prepared him for this. So he was convinced that his actions were justified. And he was told that he would go unpunished. When you are relieved of responsibility, you feel free to do what you want. But there are many books on that phenomena, especially ones dealing with the WWII. Perhaps the best are “Neighbors” by Jan Gross and “Ordinary people “ by Christopher Browning.




What could possibly be the antidote? Or rather, how can one try to immunize oneself against the poison of nationalism or against the “circumstances”?

It’s an eternal struggle against the evil in human nature, if you want, and there are no guarantees. We all believe that we are not capable of doing evil and in a sense that’s a good thing. But it is not true. The truth is that we could all do it under specific circumstances. So in my opinion two things are important: first to know that people who commit these murders are not monsters, but ordinary people and second to realise that you don’t know yourself, you don’t know how would you behave under duress.

All of us in the West, because we are children of the Enlightenment, we have always thought that the solution to that problem is knowledge; that if you know something is wrong and murderous you will not do it. We still believe in that, but we have seen that we can commit murders. You can be aware that something is horribly wrong and yet you can go ahead and do it. Knowledge is our only defense, and yet it does not immunise us or offer itself as an antidote; take for example poet and psychiatrist –and war criminal– Radovan Karadzic.


Did you ever have to struggle with yourself in order to go on writing what you knew was making you extremely unpopular? Weren’t you at least tempted to simply let go, wait it out and stay silent instead of alienating friends and colleagues?

No, I never had a dilemma, I never calculated the cost. But I have to say that my situation was much different than that of other journalists, in the sense that when I was rather young, at 30, I was diagnosed with a very severe illness. So that experience of illness and the fight to survive helped me put things into perspective.


In which sense?

When confronted with such situations you know what really is important in life. Why should I compromise? I was very ill. Was I going to survive? I didn’t know. What reason did I have to make any compromises? I never thought there was much of a dilemma. The other thing that helped me was that I had established myself professionally abroad.


So you think you might have thought twice if your job was on the line?

But I have indeed lost a job. For me it was not a dilemma, that’s what I am saying. I was just never willing to compromise. Is it only a matter of character? Is it a matter of circumstances, in the sense that you think that “well if I have less money it’s not like I am going to starve and die”? I never cared about these issues and I couldn’t care less what others think. I had my own, some say stubborn, attitude to life. Of course there is a price to pay. I paid the price and I am still paying it.


In which sense are you still paying it? Aren’t you writing in the Croatian media again?

Only occasionally. I was writing articles for an online publication until recently and I give interviews from time to time. But as a commentator, as a journalist, once outcast it is hard to really come back to that society. Because it is still is a very nationalistic society. One has to simply scratch under the surface and there it is. The past is there, dividing us.


Apart from your journalism, you very early on made a name for yourself as a writer of fiction. How is it possible that a famous writer is not asked to contribute with her comments to public discourse?

Fame is relative, especially if there is a dramatic disruption of continuity – such as the war. You know, the generation that was born a few years before the war or during the war, grew up without ever getting to know anything about my writing. How would they know who I am? My books were not being published for a good ten years. And even the first years after the war, only two compilations of my work were published, in a limited number of copies, by a very small publishing house that was attached to The Feral Tribune. I occasionally wrote for them. The Feral Tribune was the leading oppositional magazine, very determinedly opposed to nationalism. They lasted and lasted, but finally had to fold, six years ago. The big publishing houses only started publishing my books about ten years ago. So for a very long time I was not really present in Croatia. If you wanted to read my books, you’d go to a foreign languages bookstore.


Does this mean that the media have not done their self-criticism regarding their role before and during the war in former Yugoslavia? Either in Croatia or in Serbia?

You must be joking. Nothing of the sort happened. Only The Feral Tribune ever cared to start such a public dialogue. And how can there be any self criticism and open dialogue when you still have a nationalist government? Even with social democrats in power.


Why would the government still have a say in such a matter? So many years after the war, aren’t newspapers finally independent?

No, they are not independent. They are privately owned, but they are not independent from the government. The Feral Tribune was and it collapsed. Why? Because it could not sustain itself. Why? Because not one of those who can and want to buy advertisements, would do so in an independent newspaper. They want to be close to the government. And we all know that papers don’t live from their readers.


How is the memory of the war passed on to the younger generations?

This is a big question, because it’s a question of reconciliation. If you have nationalism on one side and nationalism on the other side, there is no possibility of reconciliation. Essentially the problem comes down to how we teach history, what kind of textbooks we have in our schools. To be very brief, I will only say that official history is still very much tinted by nationalism and text books are a sheer catastrophe.


What reasons do you see for this failure to reach true reconciliation?

I think the problem has been that reconciliation was left to people to pursue or not pursue as individuals. Let me explain: On a state level, the presidents of Croatia and Serbia exchanged visits and mutually expressed their regrets. But any attempt at real reconciliation would have to be seriously and consequently done on the institutional level. And I’ll tell you why: because war did not come from the bottom up. It came from the top down. And therefore the peace and reconciliation also have to come from the top down. And it can only be done through the institutions, the most important of which are schools, yet it cannot be done because nationalism is still the dominant ideology, openly or not.


Why is nationalism so persistent, even after a devastating war?

Why shouldn’t it be? Most people believe it was the right thing. It resulted in them having a nation-state, which is what they wanted.


You based “S. A Novel about the Balkans” -that was also made into a film – on the real stories of women who were victims of rape during the Bosnian war. Why did you pick fiction in order to speak about this issue?

I think I had exhausted all my journalistic means. There came a point when I realised that journalism was not enough to describe pain, to provoke empathy from a reader. Readers of newspapers  could not identify with something that was so cruel as mass rapes; as a human being you can only take so much. So I thought that I would attempt to articulate what the women had felt in another way, using literary means. In all the documents that I had read and in all the interviews that I had done with women, their feelings never surfaced. Which is absolutely normal. Psychotherapists will tell you that victims of any violence, in this case rapes, cannot articulate their feelings. It brings the pain back. But without these feelings it is very difficult for the readers to empathize. Out of many real women victims, I created one fictional character, called S. In the book all the factual details are true. This is called faction. And indeed it worked much better than the books of documents that were published, because those are unbearable to read.




What was the fate of these women after the end of the war?

I think that what happened to these women is best illustrated by the case of a film made by a young Bosnian director, – her name is Yasmila Zbanic and the film’s title is “Grbavica”. It won the Golden Bear at the 2006 Berlinale. It tells the story of a woman who has a child by her rapist. The girl is now 11 years old and thinks that her father was a hero, who was killed in war. At some point the mother has no choice but to reveal the truth to her and the film goes on to show how society responds to this revelation and to the two women. Now, what is interesting and telling -apart from the movie itself of course- is the fact that when Zbanic was making the film, the state in Bosnia was not in any way supportive of the women that had been raped in war. The law only recognised men as victims of war. That meant if you were a man who had been detained in a camp you were entitled to a state pension and social benefits, whereas if you were a woman detained in a camp you got absolutely nothing.


What kind of justification did the Bosnian state ever give for such a discriminatory law?

When Yasmila Zbanic won the Golden Bear she organised a campaign, together with the organisation Medica Zenica: every time the film had an opening night, in different cities around the world, they would collect signatures to change the law. Two years later the sheer amount of signatures collected was such that it was putting great international pressure on the Bosnian state and the law was finally changed. This story tells you how these women were treated by the state and the society after the war. There was no help for them. The only aid was provided from abroad. In many small communities they were even looked down upon. After all this is the aim of ethnic cleansing: to frighten and shame the people so that they move out of a territory.


I suppose that many of the children born out of rape during the war have not been told the truth.

Many children have not been told, sure. Also, in many cases the children were left behind, they were abandoned by the mothers. We don’t know how many these children are or what is their destiny. This is something that never surfaced. I personally know of a child that was abandoned by the mother and was later adopted by a friend of mine.


 In what way did the state try to protect those children?

Allegedly the responsibility for their care was turned over to the Church. Many people from abroad wanted to adopt them, but the Bosnian government was reluctant, saying that giving those babies up for adoption would also be a form of ethnic cleansing too. So they tried to keep them inside the country. In any case, the whereabouts of those children in the aftermath of war is still a mystery.




After going through a war, after experiencing and writing about the worst in human nature, you went on to write “Flesh of her Flesh: In search of Goodness”, a non-fiction book about anonymous  living organ donors.

I happened to experience the best in a human being, that’s why. And I thought that it is my obligation to write about it. Which was the experience of receiving a kidney by an unknown person; an altruistic donor as these people are called. People who go to a hospital, put their name on a list and say I am willing to donate a kidney and help somebody. They will never be told who the recipient is, at least in Europe where the law does not allow it. But they will know that they have helped somebody.

In 2004, in Rhode Island, I was the recipient. I received a call from the hospital announcing that I was going to have a transplant in a week. I was totally shocked. How could they ever predict it would happen in a week? I had in mind that you either have a living donor, who is a relative, or the kidney of a deceased person. “This is an altruistic living donor”, I was informed. And I received the transplant. But then I became very intrigued; morally, ethically, philosophically. I started to dig, I found out who my donor is and asked if she would agree to meet with me. I wanted to write about it. But the whole phenomenon of the altruistic donors interested me so much that I decided to meet more anonymous donors and write a whole book.


What is it that these people have in common?

They are very unlike each other, they are of different professional, financial and educational background, but they strongly believe that they can and thus should help a fellow human being. And they are not at all ideological. Some of them are religious, others are not. Philosophically it is very interesting because they are not simply giving away a thing; they are offering a part of themselves. And that is very dramatic. And I think it is the most that a human being can ever do for another human being – it is practically giving another person the chance of life. Christine Swenson, who is my donor, disagreed totally. She said “I did not save your life, you would go on living on dialysis. I just made your life easier.” So I asked “what if your children would need a kidney”. She replied that if any of her two children ever needed a kidney transplant, she hoped that there would be good people in the world who would do the same for them. It is an amazing experience. Witnessing so much trust in human beings, is such a contrast to the war, that I felt it was my obligation to write about it.


Your latest novel touches upon a taboo subject, which is a mother’s love for her child.

It is rather about domestic violence and is based on the true case of a mother who had long been abusing her daughter. At one point the girl killed her. She was a young woman by then. At the trial she did not deny her crime, but she also did not in any way try to defend herself.


When will it be translated into English or German?

I have no idea. The industry has changed. If I had written about the search for the mother’s murderer, then it would be a crime story and therefore easier to sell. This book is not easy to sell, publishers are not very excited because this is not entertainment. Nobody wants a psychological study of a murderer, they just want to find out who the murderer is and that’s it, end of story.


May I ask one last thing- do you think that those who express concern about the rise of nationalism in Europe are maybe overreacting?

I think that in Europe one can never overreact. Because every couple of decades there is a war. It is obvious that the rise of nationalism owes a lot to the financial crisis, the unemployment, the difficult times that Europeans are going through. So you suddenly see the immigrants being blamed for all kind of things, from theft to stealing jobs and social aid funds in Europe – and if you look at the statistics of course this is not true. They work and pay taxes and contribute to the society much more than they profit from it. Nevertheless they are the ideal scapegoats for the populist parties that keep springing up all over Europe.

Because the big European parties, parties in power, are not responsible enough to address the real issues. You see, it is not that important if people’s fear corresponds to a real danger or not. If you do not address it, there will be somebody else who will address and manipulate it. And the politicians of the big parties are not addressing it. Why? Because they depend upon the opinion polls. Which means that if they bear unpleasant news, they will lose their popularity. They all want to stay in power so they are lying. It is all rather simple.


In Hungary and Greece neonazis have already been voted into the respective parliaments. Do you see this as a real danger for democratic societies?

There are different views on this issue. According to one f them, if you let the fascists into the parliament they will have to mellow. I see it differently – I see it as providing them with authority and legitimacy when they speak from the rostrum of a parliament. But then, democracy is showing its weaknesses. Democracy is imperfect, because it counts on people being enlightened, being informed and thinking critically. Only this is not how it works. I think that populists get ample opportunity. But let us hope that I am wrong.


Interview by Katerina Oikonomakou, February 2014BerlinInterviewslogo


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