From the Archives
Letter to Georg Konrad
President of PEN International
mby Tvrtko Kulenović
mmmnDirector of the Sarajevo PEN Centre
The following first appeared in the Autumn 1994 issue of The New Combat, which was all about the dissolution of Yugoslavia.
Tvrtko Kulenović, a beloved Bosnian novelist and essayist, and director of Sarajevo's PEN centre throughout the siege, was invited
to address the annual congress of PEN International in late 1993.
At the last moment, however, Mr Kulenović was refused permission to leave Sarajevo by UNPROFOR, the United Nations Protection Force, which polices and controls access to the city. So he sent the following letter to the congress instead.
George Konrad, a prominent Hungarian novelist and dissident, was at the time basking in the afterglow of the vaporization of Moscow's Eastern Bloc. Mr Kulenović received no word in reply.
Note that the translation here is by the author and a TNC editor working side by side, and differs slightly from the translation read at the PEN congress.
DEAR MR KONRAD,
There are a lot of things happening here that the world doesn't see or hear. Such things don't stand before the eye of the camera or speak into the ear of the microphone.
You didn't see my neighbor, who wrapped his head in a blanket and then jumped from the 12th floor.
You didn't see the dog lapping human blood out in front of the Svjetlost Building, home before the war to the best and most powerful publishing house in Yugoslavia, and one of the best in Europe.
You didn't see the beautiful white legs of a woman, capped with silk slippers, sticking out the rear door of a van because there were so many bodies inside that the door could not be closed.
You haven't seen the old women with cans and spades collecting dirty water from craters left by mortar shells as cars zoom by and splash them.
You can't see such things in the war movies. You didn't see this summer the man who went to the railyard, to gather the coal dust lying beneath the cars frozen to their tracks, to take home and collect as fuel for the coming winter. A mortar shell fell, and the red of his blood mixed with the black of the coal on his clean, bright white shirt. The world hasn't heard the screams and confusion and that horrible calling out of names one hears when a shell drops in a yard filled with children.
And yet, the cameras and microphones are at work here. Journalists risk and give their lives. Stations broadcast their recorded sights and sounds. It should have been possible to see and hear almost everything.
Yet now it seems that very little has been seen or heard. Why?
Do you remember when Hamlet tells Horatio, 'Methinks I see my father ... in my mind's eye?' The eyes of the world see, the ears of the world hear, but its spirit is drowsy, washed and powdered, tucked into bed, and ready to drop off to sleep.
But spirit sleeps in the anteroom of Death. And the death of spirit leads to the death of civilization. Everything we have created — everything you have created, Mr President — is brought into question by what is happening here.
Permit a writer, for a moment, to become an amateur astronomer.
In the cosmos has appeared an enormous black hole, which threatens to swallow everything. It is customary to give old names to such new things, to illuminate them with the past. I think the name of this new hole must be Munich. Its entrails have the smell of the breath of the past. It hates the civilization of global communication. Of all things the modern world has made, it loves only weapons.
The horrible lips of this dark hole want to swallow all that is bright on the horizon. And among these stars, the first is to be the Republic of Bosnia and Hercegovina.
So it's clear why I said that this hole must be Munich. This time, if mankind vacillates again, neither 50 nor 100 million dead will suffice to save it. Mankind will drown in the maw of the black hole. And the landscapes that survive mankind will look like the landscapes from those disaster movies that were so popular a few years ago. There will be no more need for such movies. There will be no more movies.
Home in Sarajevo, December 1993
Comments may be posted here.