Tag Archives: Romania

1934 stroll from the Iron Gate to Istanbul

I am not a member of the Sir Patrick Michael Leigh (“Paddy”) Fermor, DSO, OBE (1915-2011) cult, though I readily stipulate that he had pluck and extensive culture. Decades after his stroll from the Netherlands to Istanbul (which like many Greeks he continued to call “Constantinople”) that took from 8 December 1933 to1 January 1935 and mostly without notes or diaries, he published two books about the trip and worked on a third. The third was put together by Colin Tiburon and Artemis Cooper. It has a baroque style, except for the appended diary of his later first trip to Mount Athos.

I suspect that the 18-19-year-old had not been as virulently anti-Ottoman as the author of The Broken Road was. The Greek nationalist fanaticism and unremitting denigration of Turks mars the book.


It also has other major problems of organization (wildly digressive) and believability. I do not believe he could have remembered so many details 25-75 years earlier, and his disquisitions on history surely owe much to later reading. I don’t doubt he went where he says he went (much lengthening the trip by swinging from Plovdid in central Bulgaria to the Romanian capital of Bucharest). Nor do I doubt that he cadged off scores of Romanians and Bulgarians, including impoverished peasants as well as Romanian (and, earlier, Hungarian) aristocrats. I find his sense of entitlement to being fed and sheltered very off-putting. His outrage that some Bulgarians would not give him a free ride shows particularly clearly his exploitativeness. (He does sometimes mention unease at others paying for all his meals and drinks, though the reader cannot be sure if he felt this is 1934 or decades later looking at the record of his reliance on the kindness of strangers that exceeded that of Blanche DuBois).

Fermor worked on the manuscript into his 90s. I find the portrait of his 19-year-old self suspect. There is hardly anything about the target of the long walk (with at least one train trip, and lots of rides), not even what is Byzantine in Istanbul, let alone its mosques, Topkapi Palace, and the waterways within its boundaries.


The parts that most interested me were about his visit to Rustchuk (Russe, Bulgaria on the Danube) and his extended stay (sponging in both cities) in Bucharest. He documented the rabid anti-Semitism of the Romanians (pp. 148-52).

Kretzulescu Church int.jpg

(interior of Kretzulescu Church in Bucharest, showing typical decoraiton of every inch)

©2018, Stephen O. Murray

Internalizing hatred for one’s “kind”

Having read parts of the 1935-44 journal of surviging in Belgrade that Mihail Sebastian (né, Iosif Mendel Hechter, 1907-45) makes it even more difficult to regard his 1934 De două mii de ani, just translated by Philip O Ceallaigh as For Two Thousand Years, as a novel. The narrative voice is the same, and the lack of plot or even much narrative continuity makes 2000 feel more like a journal than a novel.


It’s not that nothing happens, particularly early on, in 1923 when violence against Jewish students is routine at the University of Bucharest and the narrator is under the spell of a young lecturer on economic history (with a penchant for proto-fascist promotion of Romanian “blood” and the dangers of corruption by Jews), Ghiţă Blidaru, based on Nae Ionescu who wrote a rabidly anti-Semitic foreword to the first edition of the book. It is this teacher who convinced the narrator to leave the liberal arts program and become an architect. (This is fiction; Sebastian became a lawyer, not an architect.)

The narrator goes on to help build an oil well/refinery and, after two years of study in Paris, returns to build a villa with a terrace above the Danube. Anti-Semitism is back on the rise in Romania. It is surprising that Sebastian survived the holocaust and WWII—only to be run down by a truck on the way to the first class he was going to teach, on Balzac, in 1945. The diary of fascist times was not published until 1996, when it was “greeted” with renewed bursts of anti-Semitism in Romania.

The novel was not published in English until 2016. (The diary was published in the UK in 2001, in the US in 2012.) Its interest is more for documentation of Romanian fascism and of the psychopathology of self-hatred than as a novel, even a novel of consciousness. It was published in association with the US Holocaust Museum.

I think there is too little Bildung for it to be a Bildgunsroman: rather than growth, it documents flight from very pain-giving reality, following attempts by the narrator(/author) to understand the virulent hatred for Jews.

“I was expecting signs in the street—and there was nothing in the street but confusion, the fog of stupidity, intoxication. So I took refuge in intellectual problems, which cast no light, but gave me consolation.” (109)

“It was difficult to follow the progressive hardening of enity from one day to the next. Suddenly you find yourself surrounded on all sides, and have no idea how or when it happened. Scattered minor occurrences, gestures of no great account, the making of casual little threats. An argument in a gram today, a newspaper article tomorrow, a broken window after that. These things seem random, unconnected, frivolous. Then, one finr morning, you feel unable to breathe.” (209)

… And this was published in 1934. Things were going to get far worse, especially during the Iron Guard pogroms! (The reader knows this, though the author back then did not.)

For me, the most interesting character is an itinerant seller of books in Yiddish, Abraham Sulitzer, who has a passionate speech about Yiddish as a living language (nor a corrupt dialect of German, nor the attempted reincarnation of Hebrew outside synagogues):

“real Yiddish is a living, breathing language. Millions of Jews speak it, millions live through it. For these millions are printed the books uou see, for those million Yiddish is written, translations are made into Yiddish, and Jewish theater ir performed. It is a complete world, a complete people with itw own elite…. There are Yiddish novelists, poets, critics and essayists… The edgy, gritty urban realism of the ghetto and the mysticism of the synagogue unite in this folk-culture of the Jewish neighborhood.” (83)


The narrator is convinced Jews are assimilating into national cultures, including Romanian. He rejects Zionism and Marxism, each having a representative advocate among his agemates (Sami Winkler and S.T. Haim, respectively). Most of the book is very talky. I doubt I would have read even the first part if I had had something else to read with me, though I finished the book later, at home.


©2017, Stephen O. Murray



Romanian policier with a conflict of law and conscience

I must be missing something, since I don’t have any difficulty considering “police” potentially to be an adjective, as well as a noun or verb, for instance in “police state” or “police misconduct.” In these examples, it specifies a kind of state, a kind of misconduct, right? And in a very unusual climactic duel between a young police officer and his boss (presumably a holdover from those enforcing the laws laid down by Ceausescu) “police state” is one of the constructions the Romanian dictionary supplies in its “police” entry. The key contested concept is “conscience,” to which I’ll return. But I don’t see anything peculiar or dismaying about the title of the much-acclaimed, award-winning 2009 Romanian movie by Corneliu Porumboiu, “Police, Adjective.

pol adj.jpeg

The pace of the movie is, I think, the slowest of any police procedural I’ve ever seen. Plainclothesman Cristi (Dragos Bucur) follows a Vasiliu high-school student who sometimes smokes hashish but does not sell it. The boy smokes with the agemate who informed on him and an unidentified girl outside the school. Christi’s book (Vlad Ivanov, abortionist of “4Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days”) tells Cristi that criminals use the term “squealer,” not those in law enforcement, while Cristi objects to referring to the boy he’s tailing as a “dealer.”

Cristi does not trust the informant/squealer and believes the source of hashish is the boy’s older brother whom the boy will not give up. For whatever reasons, the police captain presses Christi to make an arrest at least for possession.

Cristi pushes back that Romanian law will surely change as those elsewhere in Europe (including Prague, where he recently honeymooned) and that it is an affront to his conscience to ruin a kid’s life (even if he only serves half of the seven-year sentence) or place him in the position of regretting squealing on his brother.

This leads to what is surely the longest sequence of reading definitions from a dictionary in any movie. Trust me, this is a dramatic confrontation! Christi’s definition of “something in me that stops me from doing something bad that I’ll afterward regret.” The dictionary has communist residue in a definition of “conscience” as “part of the social system of a particular class, reflecting its condition of existence.” The captain does not insist on that one and fails to register the inclusion of “moral law” in the entry. As in other Romance language, “conscience” in Romanian also includes what is differentiated as “consciousness” in English, which obscures the discussion.

The captain insists that police follow written laws, not their own sense of conscience (moral laws) and will not allow Cristi’s older office-mate (also presumably left over from the bad old days) to arrest the boy.

Earlier, Cristi and his wife have an extended discussion about what a pop song’s lyrics (Mirabela Dauer’s song “I Don’t Leave You Love”) mean and she explains to him that his surveillance report uses a form that was abolished two years earlier by the Romanian Academy (which polices the language as the French Academy does).

police adj.jpeg

Critical praise has (IMHO) inflated expectations for all three of the Romanian films that have made it onto the art-house circuit (“The Death of Mr. Lazarescu “(2005) is the other). All look drab/verité, proceed slowly, and covertly (though unmistakably!) criticize soulless laws and social systems (past and present: abortion has been decriminalized in Romania). The closest American equivalent to the Romanian film-making (generalized on the basis of three!) is Jim Jarmusch, with drab location shoots of long takes of which not much ever happens and sparse dialogue (it’s not even portentous here).


©2010, 2017, Stephen O. Murray



Trying to get an illegal abortion in hyper-pronatalist communist Romania

The only two Romanian films I’ve seen are both long and slow, drably shot in documentary style. In “The Death of Mister Lazarescu” (2005) a dying man is getting quite a lot of medical establishment attention, though not any help. In “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” (2008) young woman takes it upon herself to get her friend out of” trouble” of the unwanted pregnancy kind. In neither movie is he Romanians seeking medical help very sympathetic.

Both movies, especially the second one, were highly praised by critics, despite it being a very long, very drab movie without charismatic stars and with mostly unpleasant characters. I will grant — and get back to — the redeeming social value of the movie, but I thought that the movie did not just drag but ground to a standstill at a birthday dinner for the boyfriend of the most sympathetic character in the movie, its pragmatic protagonist Otilia Mihartescu (Anamaria Marinca).


How Otilia manages a bad situation is the primary interest of the movie, and I have nothing but praise for Anamaria Marinca’s performance, even though I think the scenes including her at the start in a student dorm and the long sequence of her potentially future mother-in-law go on far too long. (Marinca did not edit the movie!)

The movie is about the difficulties of getting an abortion in a time and place (1987 Romania) were performing or having an abortion are crimes. The movie’s title already communicates that the pregnant woman is midway through the second trimester of pregnancy. I find it hard to take plot-spoiling seriously, but issue a pro forma

Plot spoiler alert

Otila’s roommate Gabriela “Gabita” Dragut (Laura Vasiliu) is the pregnant one, who does not have enough money to pay for an illegal abortion. Otilia takes charge, borrowing money from her boyfriend (the son of a physician) Adi (Alexandru Protocean). Adi’s mother is expecting Otilia at her birthday party and making a meringue especially for Otilia.

Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), the abortionist whom Gabita contacted laid down two preconditions: that she rent a room in one of two hotels and that she meet him so that he can decide whether he trusts her. She violates both preconditions, not making a reservation at a designated hotel and sending Gabita to the rendez-vous. Plus not having enough money. Plus not telling Otilia how far advanced her pregnancy was…

Let’s say that Otilia makes multiple sacrifices to get the procedure done, and that Gabita evidences no gratitude. And it appears that it was not that she was thinking about what to do about her pregnancy for four months and three weeks, but was still in denial

Wandering off into some personalfeelings…

Do I sound unsympathetic to Gabita? I am (yes, I realize she is a fictional character and I do not think I have to like her or her decision-making process). I feel that Otilia goes far beyond what the best of friends might be called upon to do, and though I think she is a bit hard on her boyfriend, think he could write it off to the stress her taking responsibility for Gabita’s follies (by which I don’t mean getting pregnant, knowing nothing about how that came about; I mean the danger to self and others her belated abortion constitutes).

I am well aware that others would condemn Gabita and the “plumber” who induces the miscarriage and Otilia as an accomplice. The movie is totally not about Gabita’s decision not to carry the baby to term, and I am sure that this is reason enough for many to condemn the movie.

My mother considered it the most cardinal of sins to bring an unwanted baby into the world. She might be called “pro-abortion,” though certainly considered abortion a serious matter and not something to use as birth control (as it was in the USSR and the DDR). I am pro-choice, albeit a bit less “pro-abortion.” I certainly do not think that Gabita would be a fit mother and also know something about the horrors of orphanages in Ceausescu’s Romania. So I approve to Otilia getting things done.

End plot-spoiler alert

Not that my views on what the characters in the movie should do matter. Whatever one’s views on that and on abortion in general, the movie provides a reminder that women (sometimes aided by their inseminators) will find ways to terminate unwanted pregnancies, legal or not. This is also a fact made clear in such other non- (un-?) American films as “Vera Drake” and “Story of Women.” Criminalization does not work, though I am only too well aware that reality is anathema to faith-based law-making.

As a reminder of the realities of the provision of pregnancy terminations that considerably increase the rate of fatalities where and when abortion is illegal, I think these films are valuable. The entrepreneurs in these three films are not nearly as crass and unfeeling as they could be.

But as a film, I find “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” 20-40 minutes too long: not just too slow, but drained of momentum as of color. I realize that the birthday dinner is torture to Otilia, who is concerned about what might be happening back at the hotel, but don’t think the audience needs all the table talk of the condescending professionals.

I recognize the desire to praise making something of value with very little money, but question this movie winning the Palme d’or at Cannes and the European Film Awards for both best film and best director (Cristian Mungiu, whose screenplay was also nominated, but lost to Fatih Akin’s for “The Edge of Heaven,” as at Cannes). I think the movie has merits (especially Anamaria Marinca’s performance), but that the low budget and/or subject matter led to their being exaggerated by European and North American critics.

©210, 2017, Stephen O. Murray

A flippant Minnesotan in Romania

I thought that Minneapolis juggler and travel writer (Lonely Planets) Leif Pettersen’s style was too jaunty and too sarcastic in Backpacking with Dracula. Pettersen details the military successes of Vlad III/Vlad Dracula, “the Impaler,” who was voivode (ruling prince) of Wallachia three times between 1448 and his death in January of 1477. Vlad III in resisted (and scared) Ottoman, Transylvanian Saxon, and Hungarian invaders. Vlad III remains a national hero in Romania (which encompasses Wallachia) and Pettersen writes about surviving sites, most notably Poeianari Castle.



)Poenari Castle ruins, photographed by Nicubunu)

Bram Stoker, who never traveled to Romania, borrowed (from German polemics) a horrorshow view of a vampire he named Dracula in his 1897 novel that I don’t think has ever been out of print in English—or in print in Romania.

Pettersen also writes jauntily of the rebellion that led to the shooting of the Ceausescus 1989 for genocide and destroying the Romanian economy. The communist dictator was also from Wallachia (between the Danube and the Carpathian mountains).

Between reporting history that is gratingly insensitive to the suffering inflicted by Wallachian rulers and others in the 15th and 20th centuries, Pettersen includes travel-guide accounts of various places.

There is no evidence that he backpacked during any of his Lonely Planet assignments of researching Romania. His travel seems to have been entirely by rental car, and the first work of the title seems to me false advertising, though the subtitle “On the Trail of Vlad the Impaler and the Vampire He Inspired” is quite accurate.

The book is probably somewhat useful to travelers to Romania (though I’m pretty sure that it is less so than the Lonely Planet guidebooks to which he contributed) and is entertaining for those with a Monty Pythonish sense of humor extending to breeziness about torture and starvation. Not that Pettersen condones the conduct of Vlad Dracula, writing that “even in an era when human life was unbelievably cheap, onein which witnessing death was a regular occurrence for most people, these gory, slow-motion spectacles must have been appalling.”


©2017, Stephen O. Murray


The print is very large (18 point, I think) which makes it easy to read even with dim light and stretches the book to 265 pages.


Reflections on the Pathogens of Dehumanizing “Others”

Ever since the astonishingly inept US occupation of Iraq began, I have taken a special interest in books and movies about previous occupations and civil wars. I do not equate what the US has been doing in Iraq with the Nazi occupations of much of Europe, though I think that resentment of occupation by those regarded as “infidels” (believed to be inferior) is felt as more of an outrage (against the divine order) even than alien occupation is. And I think that there is great skepticism about the announced aims of any alien occupation.

I want to discuss a 1967 movie, “The 25th Hour” (directed by Henri Verneuil, based on a novel by Romanian C. Virgil Gheorghiu [1916-1992]) and a 1993 book, The Balkan Express by Slavenka Drakulic. Both are protests at being reduced to ethnic enmity and describe some lethal absurdities of such reductions. (What I’m writing does not hesitate about “plot-spoilers.”)

“The 25th Hour” (not the more recent Spike Lee movie with the same title) shows one earthy Romanian farmer, Johann Moritz (played by Anthony Quinn), who is recurrently reclassified and is penned up with the sheep and with the goats in puzzling-to-him succession. A local police sergeant (Jan Werich) covets Johann’s faithful wife, Suzanna (Virna Lisi) and when Jews of the region are rounded up and shipped off to dig a canal as a defense against possible Soviet invasion, the sergeant takes the opportunity to clear the field.


Johann does not consider the injustice of Jews being forced into labor camps (Romanian ones, this is two years before the Nazis took over Romania), only that he has been unjustly classified as a Jew. He knows that he is a Christian, but whether he is circumcised or not is not obvious. No one wants to commit himself that a mistake has been made.

Johann “escapes” with some other inmates, who have bought his way out in part because he has saved them by doing extra work. This “escape” (which involved being driven to Hungary by the camp commander) confirms that no mistake was made. The local priest and Suzanna have been trying to get Johann reclassified and returned, and since Jews can’t own land in the Iron Guard Romania, she has had to divorce him (while still refusing the slimy advances of the policeman).

Because he is a Christian, Jewish relief organizations won’t help Johann get out of Hungary. Soon, he is captured and tortured under the belief that he is a Romanian agent sent (with Russian gold left by his labor camp buddy) to spy on Hungary.

Next, he is sent to Nazi Germany as a “volunteer” worker—in a company including non-Magyars rounded up by Hungarian authorities in place of sending Magyars. The “volunteers” even have to stop and pick flowers to decorate the train that is taking them to a labor camp. (Is it necessary to provide a reminder that not all concentration camps are death camps—even if mortality rates are high in non-death camp concentration camps?)

Johann is fatalistic and works hard, though again maintaining that he isn’t one of the kind (this time, Hungarians), but is Romanian. An SS captain with particular commitment to Aryan race doctrine overhears one of these denials, and sees Johann as a model Aryan—so model an Aryan that he puts him in an SS uniform, lectures other officers about the original (unblond) Aryan type and Johann’s picture in SS uniform is widely circulated.

The temporary respite of being a guard rather than a prisoner comes with a high future cost. Johann springs a truckload of his “Hungarian” mates, shooting three Germans. Those he has helped tell the Americans that he saved them and is not a Nazi, but there are all those propaganda photos, and Johann is held for 17 months in the very same camp he was in (first as a prisoner, then as a guard) now run by the conquering US Army. The intellectual/novelist from back home (the character closest to that of author Gheorghiu) commits suicide, and then Johann is put on trial for involvement in genocide (despite having spent a year and a half as a Jew in a labor camp, and done as much as he could to help the inmates in the German labor camp).

There are a few more twists that I won’t reveal. I have to say that the casting of Anthony Quinn was particularly apt, since he was the actor for whatever ethnicity was needed in Hollywood of the 1960s. He sometimes played his own ethnicity (Viva Zapata, The Children of Sanchez”), but is best remembered for being “Zorba the Greek,” (and also played Aristotle Onassis and a Greek in “The Guns of Navarrone”) and also played Arabs (Lawrence of Arabia, Lion of the Desert), Russians (Shoes of the Fisherman), Italians (La Strada, The Secret of Santa Vittoria, Stradivari), Jews (Caiaphas in “Jesus of Nazareth”) Spaniards (Behold a Pale Horse, A High Wind in Jamaica), a Basque (The Passage), and Kublai Khan (Marco Polo).

Asked if he knows why he is on trial by the Allied court after World War II, Johann says that he does not know why he has been anywhere that he has been placed during the previous eight years (and he has missed the Soviet occupation and partisan reprisals back home in Romania, to which he cannot safely return). It is not just that his individuality has been reduced to an ethnic type, but he has been through a dizzying succession of ethnic typifications involving forced labor because he is what he knows he is not (though after the inconclusive circumcision examination he begins to wonder if the authorities were right and previously unknown to him he was a Jew).


The way classifying Johann as an instance of “the enemy” by the opportunist Romanian policeman particularly interests me and provides an obvious link to some of what Slavenka Drakulic wrote about, especially the example a young woman who saw a chance to get an apartment (a very scarce commodity in Zagreb) that had belonged to a woman who had become a pariah for expressing disquiet about the demonization in both directions of Serbs and Croats (“The Woman Who Stole an Apartment”). Property of Jews in German and Nazi-occupied Europe was similarly annexed—as was the property of Japanese Americans on the west coast of the US and Canada when they were incarcerated in concentration camps as enemy aliens (citizenship being trumped by race/ethnicity). Joseph Losey’s film “Monsieur Klein” flashes to my mind for showing a profiteer who is surprised to find himself consigned to the kind (Jews) from whom he had been profiting in Nazi-occupied Paris.

The cosmopolitan Drakulic had a better education and a far more cosmopolitan outlook than Johann, Suzanna, or M. Klein. She was surprised by the collapse of communism in Europe (in general and Yugoslavia in particular), though How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed, her brilliant collection of essays on the frustrations of everyday life for women in the Soviet Empire (and in Yugoslavia, the Stalinist state that allowed its citizens to visit noncommunist countries and shop in them) shows the basic failures to provide for the dignity and well-being of the people, women in particular. Already in that book, she stressed that although what seemed permanent structures of oppression melted, the attitudes of indifference to what the state did persisted. Civil society was not brought into instant or automatic existence by the fall of communism. The young generation (that of Drakulic’s daughter) had no engagement in civil society or politics (“a refusal to discuss or understand politics [w]as a form of rebellion against the then apparently immutable communist regime”).

The breakdown of the communist system did not end the rule of autocrats in general, and the increasingly Serbianist Slodoban Milosovich in command of the Yugoslavian army and state apparatus in particular.

Drakulic was appalled by the attacks attempting to prevent the secession of Slovenia, though soon the fratricide was Serbian/Croatian, and Slovenia was a place of refuge (to which she fled for a time).

Her essays chronicle the gradual realization of war impinging on and eventually eclipsing concerns about private lives, loves, careers, possessions—and homes and loved ones. She resisted stockpiling salt, which those who had survived World War II told her was important to stockpile, not just for use but for sale. (How many of us who have lived our whole lives in North America have ever had to think of such things?)

In “On Becoming a Refugee,” she recalled

“For a long time I had refused to leave my home, even to consider such a possibility. For months and months, I could hear the noise of war coming closer and closer, but nonetheless I still chose to ignore it. I know these symptoms of denial by heart now: first you don’t believe it, then you don’t understand why, then you think it is still far away, then you see war all around you but refuse to recognize it and connect it with your own life [but] in the end it grabs you by the throat… wait[ing] for something to happen, to hit you at last. You learn to breathe in death, death becomes your every second word, your dreams are impregnated by dismembered bodies, you even begin to picture your own death.”

Some of this is a pattern that is familiar from accounts of soldiers thrust into insurgencies (US memoirs of Vietnam, for instance), but in Croatia during the early 1990s, as in Iraq in recent years, this malaise extends to the “civilian” population, not just to those in militaries.

In the US, we are led to believe that the enmities between Serbs and Croats, between Sunni and Shi’ite are eternal. The communist Yugoslavia oppressed ethnic, national, and religious belief, just as the secular Baathist state of Saddam Hussein did. Tito was Croatian by birth and there were Croatians fighting alongside Serbs against the Nazis. In the war against Iran that (with US support—see the famed photo of Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein), Shi’ite Iraqi (Arabs) fought against Shi’ite Iranians (Persians). If the most profound difference in the region was Sunni/Shi’a, the Shi’ites from southern Iraq would have joined their Iranian coreligionists. This did not happen.

Baghdad and Belgrade, Zagreb and Sarajevo were multiethnic cities in which ethnic/religious differences did not lead to slaughtering each other.

Drakulic, the daughter of a former partisan who became an officer in the Yugoslavian army (and a communist party member) married a man of Serbian ancestry, so that when sides were arrayed, their daughter had to choose between her father’s and her mother’s “kind,” a kind that they had not felt themselves to be—being Yugoslavians.

“I was aware that he was from a Serbian family while I was from a Croatian one, but it didn’t mean anything to me, one way or the other. World War II was long over when the two of us were born and throughout my life it seemed to me that everyone was trying to escape its shadow, to forget and just live their lives.”

Draklulic’s father told her (when she had been playing with his pistol) that “war was the most horrible thing a human being can experience, and that we, his children, didn’t need to know what it looked like…. The brutal disruption of the tender fabric of his life, this is what he regretted deeply, the way a war snaps your life in half yet you have to go on living as if you are still a whole person. But, as I learned from his example [before having her own experience], you are not—and never will be—a whole person again.”

In 1991, a friend of hers wrote (and was excoriated for writing): “We are never going to get out of this nationalist discourse, Croatian or Serbian alike. We’ll never be able to build our future on that, we’ll be thrown back perpetually into the past, far back into the past.”

“In the new state of Croatia, no one is allowed not to be a Croat,” Drakulic wrote in “Overcome by Nationhood.” Though deeply distraught about it, “being Croat has become my destiny…. I am nobody because I am not a person any more. I am one of 4.5 million Croats. I regret that awareness of my nationhood came to me in the form of punishment of the nation I belong to, in the forth of death, destruction, suffering and—worst—fear of dying. I feel as an orphan does, the war having robbed me of the only real possession I had acquired in my life, my individuality. But I am no longer in a position to choose.”

Drakulic has the analytic ability and vocabulary to address (and protest) the reduction to one of a particular kind that has befallen her. Johann in “The 25th Hour” lacked these and had experiences of being cast in a succession of enemy “other” identities (that he didn’t understand).

Neither the movie nor Drakulic’s collection of essays or I provide solutions for how to avoid the virulent infections and reinfections of dehumanizing others, but all (I hope) provide experiences to think about.

And “bringing it on home,” from a recent New York Review article by Marilynne Robinson:

“Nativism is always aligned with an impulse or strategy to shape the culture with which it claims to have privileged intimacy. It is urgently intent on identifying enemies and confronting them, and it is hostile to the point of loathing toward aspets of the society that are taken to show their influence. In other words, these lovers of country, these patriots, are wildly unhappy with the country they claim to love, and are bent on remaking it to suit their own preferences, which they feel no need to justify or even fully articulate. Neither do they feel any need to answer the objections of those who see their shaping and their disciplining as mutilation.”


(Except for the last paragraph, this was first published in 2007 on Associated Content, a site bought and destroyed by the cretins who run Yahoo. ©2007, 2017, Stephen O. Murray