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NO 147-148

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Helsinki Charter No. 147-148

January - February 2011


An Essay on Evil


By Zoran Janjic

The name of Martin Heidegger usually associates two things: a well-deserved reputation of one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century and a shameful fact that a period of his life was marked by his voluntary work for the Nazi regime. Whereas the deliberations about the former are usually left to experts, idealists and philosophers themselves, Heidegger's Nazi days are mostly referred to as something episodic, a youthful delusion of a politically naive intellectual, a black spot in his impeccable career of a teacher, fundamental ontologist and a lover of silence and tranquility of the Black Woods on the outskirts of which, in the tiny village of Todnaberg, he had built himself a lonely cottage as a refuge from the noise and vanities of earthly problems. Chilean Victor Farias's book Heidegger and Nazism /1987/ in Spanish was firstly turned down by German editors. But then, when the book was translated and published in France and some other countries they had no choice but to publish it as well. The book raised a great hue and cry among academic circles in Europe and Americas. Heidegger's student himself, Farias had been compiling documents for the book for ten-odd years, digging through all available archives, dairies and correspondence, and talking to survived witnesses of the era. He even managed to acquire documents from the archives of the then East Germany (where he also incidentally run into the documents testifying of the ties between Chile's Socialist Party and German Nazis in 1930s, and some secret agreements between the Soviet Union and the Salvador Allende government, the material for his another iconoclastic book the title of which speaks for itself - Salvador Allende: The End of the Myth).

In brief, Farias's study reveals the following chronology of Heidegger's engagement with the Nazi regime: in 1933 Heidegger was firstly rector and then fuehrer-rector at the Freiburg University (the University is at the state's disposal, while the fuehrer-rector at supreme Fuehrer's). In his Addressing students for the first time, he said, "Do not let your being be governed by theories and 'ideas' any more. Just the Fuehrer and only the Fuehrer will stand for the German reality and its law, today the same as in the future." Owner of the party card No. 312589 he was regularly paying his membership fee till Germany's final defeat in 1945. In his capacity as a rector he manifested a whole range of not exactly commendable traits and personality flaws, from power corruptness to tendency for informing on his colleagues of Jewish origin or liberal views (after which all of them were fired and left jobless). In his capacity as a rector and in line with the laws on "racial pureness" he decided on the scholarships for which only Aryan students, members of SS or SA, could apply - Jews or Marxists in no way. And there is the case of Marx Miller, one of Heidegger's most talented students and a student representative. Because of Miller's staunch anti-Nazi stands Heidegger informed on him as well in a letter to the Rectorate, quoting his "political unsuitability." Then he deposed him as an assistant dean and put an end to his career as a professor. And all that he did duly, in a form of an official letter that informed the faculty administration that Miller was an excellent scholar but "unsympathetic to the regime."

When the war was over, Heidegger was only logically trying to cleanse his biography before the Denazification Commission. Fate and world trends obviously had not favored him or Germany, he said, resorting, as an authentic representative of his own philosophy and his own Dasain, to authentic lies or pragmatic half-truths (and that was the first line of his defense). So he said, "I've never attended party meetings or worn a party badge, the same as after 1934 I've never opened my lectures or public addresses with the 'German salute' (Heil Hitler!). The truth is, however, quite different according to Farias's book: there is a photo of Heidegger wearing Nazi emblems, his student Karl Levitt saw him in Rome in 1936 wearing a swastika on his lapel, and there are reliable testimonies that till 1936 Heidegger regularly begun and ended his lectures with a salute to Hitler.

After 1949 when the Denazification Commission banned him from the university as "a Nazi companion" his colleagues from the Philosophy Department stood up for him. So, two years later, Heidegger resumes his lecturing and is active at the university till late 1960s when he retires with honors. That would be the second line of his defense - small, professional circles in Germany didn't want to have some embarrassing facts about their respectable colleague disclosed. (The first hearing against Heidegger began back in 1946, but then he suffered a breakdown and had to be treated in a sanatorium in Badenweiler for several weeks).

Madness is usually referred to as a companion to the mind of a genius. And yet is seems that a deliberate and voluntary imbecility of no matter what origin and justification is a much more frequent companion of great minds (at least there are many cases testifying of that in history). After the war Heidegger did not speak a word about his pre-war engagement, his anti-Semitism or Holocaust. He broke that "shameful silence" (Derrida) only once in a subsequently publicized lecture titled Con-figuration (1949). Commenting the plague of modern technology he manifests total moral idiotism (deliberately, to all appearances) by placing concentration camps in the same context with the problems of agriculture and food production. "Agriculture is now a motorized food industry, the same thing in its essence as the production of corpses in the gas chambers and the extermination camps, the same thing as blockades and the reduction of countries to famine, the same thing as the manufacture of hydrogen bombs" he says. And in the silence of Black Woods he writes about himself conceitedly, "One who thinks big, must make big mistakes."

International academic circles provided the third line of Heidegger's defense. A large front of outstanding figures - from Hannah Arendt, Karl Jaspers and Sartre to Claude Levi-Strauss and Derrida - have backed him devotedly for years and more or less euphemistically referred to his "flirt with Nazism." It was Farias's book that broke the general silence and all the three lines of Heidegger's defense. It did it with factual information and to the point, and having bypassed all the strongholds of his defense as a Maginot Line provided tons of evidence about fascism actually being inherent to basic postulates of Heidegger's philosophy rather than a chance episode or peripheral mistake as the official interpretation had it. In eight months only as many as six publications addressing Heidegger and his relationship with Nazism appeared in response to Farias's book. No wonder that the strongest response of Heidegger's defenders came from France where his philosophy influenced so many in the aftermath of the World War II (Sartre, Claude Levi-Strauss, Foucault, Derrida). As it seems, only in France was it possible to accuse Farias for "staging Stalinist processes against Heidegger." The argumentation of his advocates ranged from total negation of the facts and quotes published in Farias's book to Derrida's claim that the books "tell nothing that has not been already known."

And so it happened that many interesting facts about the outstanding figures from the circle of Heidegger's longstanding and devoted associates, followers and propagators saw the light of day. In France, Jean Beaufret, translator of Heidegger's works, who had promoted the philosopher for the last 35 years of his life (and even published several books of his interviews with Heidegger), enjoyed full credibility as a former member of the Resistance until his correspondence with revisionist historian Robert Furison, known for his denial of Holocaust, was revealed after his death in 1982. The same as this historian, Heidegger's translator was expressing his doubts about the existence of gas chambers and concentration camps. In America, it was posthumously revealed that Paul de Man, well-know theoretician of deconstructionism and one of major propagators of Heidegger in the United States, had cooperated with Nazi invaders of his native Belgium during the World War II and had even been writing anti-Semitic articles for their papers. In this context the support from Ernst Nolte, another revisionist historian, comes as no surprise. Nolte does not even question Heidegger's cooperation with Nazis - for him that was only a necessary and logical response to the Russian Revolution of 1917, a response that even justified Holocaust and concentration camps. "It should not be ruled out that national socialists and Hitler went for the 'Asiatic' method (Holocaust) because their saw themselves and their nation as potential or actual victims of that 'Asiatic' method. Wasn't Archipelago Gulag a precursor to Auschwitz?" he writes.

But what Farias's book probably achieved the most was that it revived the interest in an earlier study on Heidegger by Pierre Bourdieu titled Political Ontology of Martin Heidegger. Bourdieu linguistically analyses the political discourse of the German extreme right in 1920s and places it in the context of Heidegger's vague philosophical jargon. His analyses shows that Heidegger's speech literally brims with the phrases taken as normal in the political discourse of the German right of the time. Prompted by this analysis Johannes Fritsche goes even further - in a study Historical Destiny and National Socialism in Heidegger's Being and Time he proves that Heidegger's most famous work reflects the ideological dirt of the time. Moreover, those thick ideological layers were visible, close and understandable to original readers, the generations of the rightists in 1920s, and it was only later that they turned opaque. Through a comparative analysis Fritsche even reveals the similarity between the idioms used in Mein Kampf and Being and Time.

And here we come to the point where the nationalistic discourse of Dobrica Cosic - that self-taught ontologist of death and phenomenologist of pits and mass grave - and the shameful maneuvers meant to hush up the embarrassing aspects of Heidegger's philosophy and political thought converge. And what they share in common (despite the fact that as a self-though philosopher and an author of extremely authentic cosmogony of banality Cosic exceeds Heidegger and all the philosophers worldwide) are the things unsaid that indicate hidden truths. Cosic's "state-building" thought tacitly pictures Serbia's ideal state organism as some vitalistic entity that perseveres all historical times, often changing its shape, size and place (like some giant, movable ameba). And that's what his readers, themselves molded by the "state-building" idea, perfectly understand without words or hints ("we look at one another and say nothing, but we understand each other"). And, so book by book, interview by interview, Cosic's wise speech by Cosic's wise speech, the author and his readers, as one, give shape to the empire of their dreams and draw the borders of "the Serb national being." In her report on Eichmann's trial in Jerusalem Hannah Arendt coined her famous "the banality of evil." But there is not only one side of the evil, the evil is evil because it always promptly reappears in some shamefully changed, utterly new and unimaginable form. With its bottomless capacity for radical transformation the evil always comes as a surprise. (Had, say, Mengele been arrested instead of Eichmann and had she attended his trial the phrase "banality of evil" would hardly occur to Arendt) The same as there is no such thing as one evil and one form of the evil, there is no such thing as one "Nazism" inherent to a locality and a specific ethnic group. There are "Nazisms and Nazisms" and endless opportunities for reappearance of various "Nazisms." The history of Europe in 1990s is the history of Serb Nazism, autochthonous and authentic. And it is no coincidence that the "state-building" writer, Cosic, was the president of FR of Yugoslavia (1992-93) at the same time when another writer ("a poet") named Radovan Karadzic began implementing his poetic program in Bosnia with mine throwers, cannons and riffles to emphasize the power of his liciencia poetica. Probably these two are the only writers in the whole world whose conversations were tape-recorded by intelligence services and had them published at the official site of the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Even this made them immortal.

Over one of their phone talks, like two grotesque incarnations of Beckett's Didi and Estragon, Cosic and Karadzic exchange rubbish about things they know nothing about: about Havel and about culture and philosophy of European Middle Ages. The two destroyers of every culture and entire towns that make Bosnian civilization talk culture! Here are some excerpts:

Estragon Karadzic, "That Havel destroyed Czechoslovakia."

Didi Cosic, "Oh, that colleague of ours turned such a fool. What a midge!"

Estragon Karadzic, "A midge, a midge, that's for sure. So, you see, that philosophy of Middle Ages."

Didi Cosic, "That was nothing."

Estragon Karadzic, "Nothing, emptiness, no juices." There is no meat in it at all."

For the "state-building" Cosic, who claims that "history works at full speed," Czechoslovakia has two writers only: Schweik and Kafka (Cosic forgets that Schweik is no writer but a character from a novel). For him, Europe and Kundera are nothing but (erotic) trifles. "All that eroticism, what's the meaning of it, what is it Kundera and the likes are after.And look at history and arts of that Middle Europe, you'll find nothing original there," he concludes.

For the two, erotic was replaced by territories and occupation long ago, and history by SANU memorandums and YPA mine throwers and cannons. Over an earlier "literary debate" (also tape-recorded) Cosic asks Karadzic's whether his troops plan to make Sarajevo or Banjaluka a capital.

"That's out of question, Sarajevo is the capital," replies Karadzic.

Cosic, "Yes, yes, but listen, do these four regions touch one another somewhere?"

Karadzic, "Everything is in one piece."

Cosic, "And they are all connected?"

Karadzic, "Totally connected, all of them."

Cosic, "Good, good, and Muslims do not try to generalize their territory."

We need neither Freud nor Lakan to interpret the erotized discourse of the two invaders who penetrate territories with long barrels. All we need is a look at the verbs and phrases they are using - "touch," "connect," "in one piece." In his context, Cosic's inapt use of the term "generalize" associates forced eroticism. When he says "Muslims do not try to generalize their territory" it sounds more like "do not try to genitalize their territory."

Genitalization of territories with "Serbhood" or, as Cosic would put it, "exchange of territories and humane migration." The territories seen as static are imbued with nothing less static and rigid nationalistic discourse that has lost touch with modern times: hence, the territories are equal to ethnicity and are used, whenever necessary, as battle cries and alibis for the killing of others (alleged self-preservation). The bombardment and siege of Sarajevo started in the last months of the presidency of this state-building writer and his signature is probably under some of the protected documents (for the time being) of the tribunal in The Hague, referring to the notions such as arms, trucks, planes, helicopters, ammunition, grenades, commanding officers, etc. The state-building Cosic was not only the president at the time but also the commander in chief of the Yugoslav Army - and everybody knows that logistics and arms for the war in Bosnia were coming from Belgrade. The crimes committed during his presidency (and there is strong evidence of his personal responsibility) were the abduction and killing of civilians in Sjeverin and Strpce. Speaking of the abduction of the passengers from the train in Strpce, the army and the highest state officials had been informed in writing, a month earlier, about the exact date and time of the crime, including the names of abductors. So the state-building writer knew what would happen but did nothing (despite his constant worries). As the president he played a small and insignificant role of a useful idiot for a year (June 1992 - June 1993) and then Milosevic discarded him like a sucked orange.

Unlike Heidegger the state-building Cosic may today count on one line of defense only: his "readership" (the great majority of which have never read a single book of his), i.e. "the nation" the interests of which he has been "standing for" throughout his career as a writer. The international public has hardly ever heard about a writer named Cosic, while the domestic academic circles, the people of letters and culture are not to be relied on for a simple reason: they completely failed long ago, twenty years ago. For, genocide, destruction of cities and expulsion of people do not go hand in hand with some grand idea such as culture. All those unfortunate readers - as the last defense - and Cosic share together and share among each other is a sense of guilt and, probably, a burden of complicity, acknowledged or denied (many of them have been in reserves), the same spiritual myopia and self-perception of a rare, endemic species in the hostile European environment - Ramonda Serbica (a "phoenix flower"). What characterizes the ramonda flower, discovered by the famous Serbian biologist, Josip Pancic, in 1974, is an unusually rare phenomenon: its totally dry roots revive when watered. The word has it that this is how the Serb ramonda survived the last ice age.

Russian botanist Pavel Chernavsky discovered these extraordinary tenacity and regenerative powers of Ramonda Serbica in 1928 when he accidentally spilled a glass of water over a herbarium with a sample of this dried plant. Several days later, to his astonishment, the Russian botanist saw that a totally dry plant came into flower. The same year he published this chance but major discovery in the Russian Botanic Journal.


NO 147-148

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