AFTER THE WAR – WAR
2004 (Forgotten memory)
WITH NO TIMETABLE
How can I write something that has not been written yet, something
that, after all, I myself haven't already written, and besides
that, make it interesting to readers who don't have any direct
connection to my theme? Hard. Very hard. Especially from my perspective
reduced to a life in a small, newly formed state whose existence
is known only to the immediate neighbours and people whose job
it is to deal with such states. And then, the things for which
is it known…
Anyway, there is something relatively universal that has begun
bothering me these days. In spite of the recently ended five-year-war,
this country is living today as if there never was a war. At first
sight. The summer season has just ended, with very many tourists
from all over the world who have spent their deserved holidays
enjoying the rare beauties of my country. Among them were a couple
of friends who usually come to visit in summer. Relaxed as people
are on holidays, they concluded that the war was definitely behind
us and that nothing reminded them of it… I tried discussing that
with them and gave up. Why should I, of all people, ruin their
holidays? After all, maybe it's best that they think that way,
so they will return next year, and the year after that, and until
then things might really be as they see them now. All in all,
I agree with them – at first sight.
Just as all the tourist seasons, this one ended too, and we remained
alone with ourselves and our memories.
What is it that reminds other people of tragedies they luckily
haven't experienced themselves? Nor have any of their loved ones.
How can they recognize the disastrous consequences when those
tragedies, from the point of view of history, come to an end?
All the tragedies have dates that mark their beginnings and their
endings, and these dates are everything that people remember about
them, with only a little bit of what was in between.
I've been watching a TV show these days on the numerous projects
on the reconstruction of what was the WTC that disappeared on
September 11, 2001 in New York, together with many innocent victims
as a result of the action of deranged minds. Nice projects. Interesting
even to an ordinary man as myself. Some architect will surely
become worldly famous no matter how the place will be called later.
Most of these projects are intended to symbolize the tragedy of
that particular place. How will they do that? With their particular
looks? With the numerous arches that look like… Like what? Ask
the families of the victims if it reminds them of anything? Ask
tourist one future day, when you see them taking pictures of that
grand project, if they know why it looks as it will. Do you think
they'll know? Maybe some of them, at first sight.
They say life goes on, we have to rebuild, it's a triumph of life
over death… Maybe. But what do we do with those people for whom
life stopped there on one, at first sight, ordinary day in September
in which was at first sight an ordinary year? How will they be
recognized in that monumental building?
Maybe they should have left an empty space on that now historical
location, the same empty space that this tragedy has left in the
hearts of the people who lost someone there. Think of that empty
space in the middle of the overcrowded megalopolis. Is there anyone
in this world who wouldn't ask himself why it's there? An empty
space that would be so different from everything around it, just
like that September day was so different from all the other days
that year. A space that would remind every person passing by,
wherever they came from, that they too have lost a lot that day.
Maybe it would make them more conscious that tragedies do not
end with official dates in history books.
However, the empty space will be filled again and life will go
on. And then someone admiring the structures of the new building
will comfort a New Yorker saying that it looks as if nothing's
ever happened. And he will, whether he likes it or not, admit
that it really looks that way at first sight. What about a second
sight? This civilization has no time for second sights, and that
will sooner or later, cost it its existence.
Oh, yes. There might be a compromise. Maybe one of the conditions
for the tenders should be to spend at least a month with one of
the families who lost someone at the WTC. Symbolically. Then again,
who knows what might come out of it?
In the end, I'll allow the possibility that I see it all wrong.
I can't even cope with the specters of my own past, let alone
with somebody else's. But then again, it seems to me that the
tragedy of September 11 is a tragedy for all of us, just like
the recent tragedy of my country, or the present and future tragedies
all over this world of ours… The only one we have, no matter how
differently some people think.
THE WAR – WAR
summer, awfully sultry, and the sea is so near – the solution
is obvious, isn't it? It would take only a few steps to let the
tired spirit in an exhausted body, find comfort in the cold waves;
something the most of the civilized world calls vacation. It's
not so simple, though. You need to know how to rest.
I vaguely remember what it looked like before the last, five-year-long
war that devastated this land I was condemned to by God and my
incomprehensible love for it. I remember the times when man walked
here, too. And then the war came. Out of the blue, intollerably
arrogant like any unwanted guest who cannot accept to be rejected.
On the contrary. Some people I used to have fun with disappeared
over night, some other came whose idea of fun I couldn't understand,
no matter how hard I tried. To avoid feeling excluded I asked
the newcomers to explain the reasons of their joy, which to my
dismay, surprised them very much. Shouldn't one know why he is
merry? Anyway, after a time, some of them became my other self
while the other started avoiding me.
Have you ever seen how the warriors rest? In no way. When they
don't shoot, they drink to forget why and who they were shooting
at. It seemed the best solution to me too, during the first year
of the war – but my war didn't end on time. As any war never ends
on time, no matter how long it lasted. After some dreadful hangovers
I realized that it had nothing to do with resting.
They say all wars have to end sooner or later. Are you sure? If
so, why do the warriors "rest" in the same way after
the war, too?
Let us leave the warriors in their world they themselves do not
understand, let alone the others. The warriors will never understand
why, out of heroes, in time they became modern lepers widely avoided
by everyone, and those people avoiding them will never understand
why, only a short while ago, they thought those lepers were heroes.
It's so hard to be a simple man in war, wherever it catches you.
History is only interested in people of its stature. Not in simple
Perhaps everything would somehow come to balance at a bearable
level of existence of the ones and the others, if it wasn't for
the third ones; those who needed the war while it lasted, but
who need it even more now that it's "over". The hyenas
of war. They do not understand the warriors or the sufferers,
nor do they try to. They need the war just like an auto mechanic
needs a broken car – to make a living. And if there are no broken
cars, all the worse for them. You do have to make a living, don't
you? That is why they are the most successful in their "missions".
In any way. And that is why the war doesn't end until they are
on the scene. They feel perfect on that scene where it's unbearably
easy for them to transform a lost poor wretch into a warrior again,
and the scared sufferers into ostriches who are so terrified that
they do not just put their head in the sand, they all go underground.
Unless some of the other ones should stumble over them.
What will happen if you raise your head anyway? And they notice.
Perhaps they won't shoot because the war is formally over, after
all. But they will do everything to push you back in, make you
bury yourself once again in the hot sand, drenched with blood
and tears. With your eyes open, so you don't forget the lesson.
If you somehow manage to stay on the surface, then the others
won't see you. They won't let them. And if some of the other sufferers
notice you after all, then it's high time you left or started
quickly to revise your religious education.
You don't believe it? Don't. It's your right. But then, just in
case, revise all the prayers you know; you might need it. Do you
think your hyenas are more civilized? Maybe more refined? Or maybe
you do not rhetorically recognize them? But this does not change
Oh yes, you can try something more simple. For example, try playing
a tourist in the just "liberated" Iraq. Spend your vacation
there. Why not? Wasn't it liberated? Spend some time with the
liberated people. Share the joy of liberation. It's a unique feeling,
trust me on that.
But when you return from Iraq, don't ever ask yourselves: what
is freedom? This question can only take you in one direction –
to a mental institution. I know many people who have gone crazy
because of "freedom".
On second thought, maybe it's best if you forget what I just wrote
and enjoy it while you can. You can't change anything anyway,
2004 (Forgotten memory)
Sometimes I curse the day I began to write. Writing has brought
me so close to other people’s tragedies that sometimes, a human
reaction, I wish I had never heard, met or seen them. It is getting
more and more difficult to deal with my own memories, and as time
goes by, other people’s memories pile up as well. You can get
used to anything but tragedies. Tragedies are not something you
get used to, you can only put up with them or escape them, if
you can. Anyway, once you face a tragedy, you have to choose sides,
there being two in everything. You have to choose between man
and “man”. The good old spirit S. Isakov has decided, before his
last voyage, ill and old as he is, to visit Dachau one more time.
Write down the impressions with his trembling hand, and big letters
because his sight is getting weaker every day…
A cold and gloomy morning in Munich. I’m waiting for a taxi. It
finally arrives and a young man gets off looking for my luggage
with his eyes. I have nothing except for this little piece of
soul I’ve got left. Luckily, he doesn’t see it. The remains of
the soul. I tell him in German to take me to Dachau. He gives
me a strange look but makes no comments. He’s silent. I look at
the fields around Dachau dappled with melting snow, they seem
so innocent. The same fields on which the ashes from the nearby
crematorium had been settling down for days, months, years. The
snow wasn’t white in those years. No matter how heavily it snowed.
Memories creep up. I see a sticky smoke spiraling to the sky,
taking thousands of Evelinas, Natashas, Anas, Radmilas… The clouds
had a peculiar uniform grey color, with no nuances, something
I have never seen afterwards. Even when it was sunny, those clouds
stood between us and the sky, tinted with that strange color.
It was because of the smoke. Even the rains were grey. It rained
on the grass, wetting the flowers around the camp… bringing down
in its drops the Evelinas, Natashas… On those wet field they wedded
the earth… Birds sang on their weddings and mice and ants prepared
their first nights…
Even today, after so many decades, there’s the same breeze over
those fields, singing the songs that had never been sung, disturbing
this holy silence. There are no more horrible screams… Just an
echo in my head. I’m having a hard time making out the noises.
Those from the outside from the ones inside my head.
I’m standing on the gate of the camp. Closed. No more guards.
The barbed wire is still there, as well as the watch towers now
empty. I pay the taxi. He grabs the money and hurries away, somehow
disturbed. Why? What is this young man afraid of? I wait for the
official opening at 10. A man comes out of a red Opel and looks
at me as if I were from another planet. His eyes wonder what I
am doing here. Revisiting my youth, I explain. He doesn’t understand.
At least he doesn’t show it. I shrug my shoulders and slowly enter
the main building of the museum. Desert. Only huge photographs
hanging on the walls, full of striped uniforms and spent eyes…
People without names. People with numbers.
“The world is fierce and sad” rings Nabokov in my head. I walk
through the empty halls of the ex concentration camp. Ex? I can’t
stand it. I suddenly feel sick and try to get out as fast as I
can. Outside, on a sod of yellow grass, a small sparrow is looking
at me. Staring at me. Waiting for me? As if he wanted to tell
me something. My God, whose spirit is there in that small body?
Perhaps that of Anne Frank. Perhaps she is flying from camp to
camp in search of her stolen childhood… It must be her, so small,
unprotected and innocent. Eyes wide open. Only children have such
eyes. For both tragedy and happiness. I get closer, it’s not afraid.
I sit by it and start telling it my story. Telling her. Everything
that has happened since I left here. Everything and nothing. Many
things in fact. Too many bad things and some good. I’m trying
to remember the good things and tell her about it. I can’t. Somebody
else inside me starts telling her that kids get killed today,
too. All over the world, they are meeting death with wide open
hearts. Even worse. Kids have started killing, too. In the name
of those who need concentration camps, ghettos, walls, isolations…
I’m walking down the old poplar alley. The trees still have the
rusty nails on which they used to hang people… One can make even
the poplars remember, but not himself. Man has taken the right
to forget for himself. And is using that right selectively. Following
the line of least resistance. A method so loved by the great leaders.
What is Dachau for today? Nobody goes there any more. The memory
is alive as long as there is conscience. Dachau has been forgotten.
It is dying too. Disappearing from reality. Maybe it will come
to life once again. Perhaps in this very moment some new leader
is thinking about it in a bar… Perhaps the snows are again going
to lose their whiteness. When you forget, everything is possible,
If the leaders don’t talk about it, it has never happened. What
they talk about, had to happen. Read their memoirs, the worst
literature man has ever written, and you’ll see.
My dear young friend, I don’t know what you are going to do with
these confused thoughts, but I know you won’t forget them. Sorry
for the smudged letters… They say there is no ink resistant to
live in a country that's recently been through a five-year-long
war. It is almost like a natural cycle which, for reasons incomprehensible
to normal people, keeps repeating itself with a rhythm that does
not let any single generation, not even mine, go by without having
to go through this extraordinary experience. Time goes by, consciences
mature and democracy develops without any influence on the periodic
exchange of opinions through the rifle scopes. I live in a country
where referendums, for example, as the oldest civilized way of
expressing the opinion of the people, are organized only for issues
that are bound to bring new conflicts. Of any kind. There are
always enemies somewhere, aren't they? If not, all the worse for
them. We'll make them up.
I forgot to mention: I love my country. for as much as it may
be imperfect. After all, nothing is perfect, is it?
Nevertheless, I must admit that it's sometimes difficult to live
in a country where the loudness of the national anthem is more
important than a full stomach. All right, some are more musical
than others, it's only a question of ear. So you can hear it on
time. It's a matter of practice. Habits are our second nature,
right? Honestly speaking, it is a bit irritating to be living
in a country where the past is more important than the present
and nobody thinks about the future since it is so insecure that
it's pointless. Placing your bets on the future that has already
been gambled away by somebody else is not a sensible reason to
wait for tomorrow. If these wannabe gamblers had only known the
main gambling rules, let alone the shades on which the outcome
sometimes depends, we would have probably stood a better chance.
You just learn to accept it with time.
It is in human nature to hope even when there's no point. And
there are different hopes. The big ones, important, that keep
haunting you, and those secondary ones, in case the big ones fail
or somebody prohibits them by accident. And so from time to time,
just like the rest of the world, lead by my own anxieties and
fears, I make an irrevocable decision to abandon this vale of
tears and find a new one, a substitute valley in a different corner
of the world, full of flowers and beauty. A valley that buried
its past with dignity and opened its doors to the future. These
last few days, a similar decision is coming up uncalled for.
Since you cannot change your country from one day to another,
and since the whole world has become a global village, I started
looking for the promised land. I turned on the satellite TV, my
window to the world, and started looking. A shock. Instead of
the magic valley, all kinds of bombs came at me from the screen:
stupid, intelligent big, small, short range, international range,
guided, unguided, highly destructive, a bit less destructive,
and then the mother of all bombs, with her innumerable offspring…
Among all those shooting stars you catch just a glimpse of the
terrorized eyes of a survived child, whose house has just been
reduced to ashes because one of the bombs has had a bad day. Then
you see the eyes full of horror of a young Texan who has suddenly,
thousands of miles from home, become somebody's prisoner of war…
Refugees, exiles, people of good will, many others in a bad mood…
In the parks of some beautiful cities, there are serious men in
uniforms walking, with dogs trained to bark at the smell of trouble.
What do they need the dogs for? People were howling up to the
heavens here, but nobody was listening.
Oh my God, is there any hope? By any chance? Only when the time
comes in which no one, absolutely no one, will get the idea to
call a bomb "intelligent".
So you get caught in a sort of lethargy, an incomprehensible tiredness,
and you wait for something to give you a start from that sleepiness.
Possibly something nice. It’s only human to hope even when there’s
no point, isn’t it?
The other day I started writing an essay about globalization and
I gave up. Really, there’s nothing to say that hasn’t already
been said. You can only take some old themes and elaborate them
in a new way. I had no desire to do that. And then some bad things
happened… Actually, these are always the same bad things that
keep happening over and over again, just in new ways. Maybe there
is some point in writing about them after all, to adjust to their
Anyway, moved by these ugly events, I gave up the essay and against
my will, I got back to my most hated theme – the war. But then,
since we mentioned globalization, let’s start from there. If everything
has been globalized, and it has, why do the majority of people
think that the wars have been left out? That they haven’t become
ours, the “heritage” of all of us. Why do we always treat them
as somebody else’s, until they knock on our door? To be more precise,
why do we pretend not to hear them knocking stubbornly at our
door? Do we think that hurriedly installed locks or sophisticated
security systems will keep the unwanted guests outside our doors?
Let’s switch to singular, because all the wars have so many things
in common that there’s simply no point in using the plural. There,
we do not realize that the war is not knocking at the door because
the locks are preventing it from entering, it plays with our ingenuousness.
The war is a curious creature. It’s interested in knowing the
limits of human blindness. And when it realizes that it has no
limits it gets sick and tired of its elementary decency (which
it always respects in the beginning) and it goes back to its original
To get one thing straight, it’s not pretending to be something
else in the beginning. On the contrary! But it’s probably a little
amused by the fact that people call it all sorts of names except
the right one. And its name is war. Nothing especially difficult
to remember or understand. At least it seems so. And when we finally
call it the right name, and we have to sooner or later, it’s already
too late for some people.
On the other hand, if we want to be honest with it and ourselves,
we have to admit that its reaction is quite logical. Namely, utter
underestimation that is close to provocation of something so powerful,
impetuous and arrogant has to end badly. And naturally, annoyed
by such an amount of absurd ignorance, it oozes into our small
world with unbearable easiness, becoming its master. First it
breaks all the locks, turns off all the security systems, and
then exposes our helplessness to the point that our lives become
reduced to a moment. It can last an hour, a day, a year… Depending
on the mood of the new master of our lives. And the war is certainly
the worst of all masters. And why should it be any better with
so many subjects humbly waiting for its arrival.
They say that the war also has its masters. I doubt that. Who
are they? Simple yes men cold-heartedly used just like the innocent
victims of these yes men themselves. Let us just remember for
a moment some of the greatest “masters” of war. For example Attila
or Hitler, all the same. Let us remember how they ended. That
is not the way masters end, only servants. After all, if we think
for a minute, where those masters came from, who created them
… We did. With our behaviour described earlier. It is unbelievable
how much can be done by not doing anything, isn’t it?
I went off topic. After all, I did not have any particular theme
or intention, I just wanted to say by the way that the war will
always be, whenever it likes, the absolute master of our lives,
until we are courageous enough to call it the right name on time.
I hate promises. Anybody's. I've simply filled my glass of illusions
a long time ago and I have nowhere to put them any more. I especially
can't stand the so called great promises. I guess I must have
grown old inside by at least a hundred years during the last five-year
war that rumbled through these territories. And promises do not
mean much to old men. Somewhere in my books I wrote that for your
spirit, a year of war equals twenty years of peace. All the worse
since only after the war I realized that it doesn't end when the
rifles go silent, but only when it is repressed enough in the
heads of the survivors.
When did promises start making me sick? When the same persons
first tried to convince the people that there would be no war,
then that there might be one, to reach the point at which in just
a few months that war which did not exist became a crying need
we invoked for centuries, a natural way to freedom… Who gave them
the right to liberate me after all? Do not listen to promises
of those who recognize life as the greatest value only when it
is sacrificed on the altar of homeland. And dead as you are, they
still try to convince you that you're not. If only the dead could
hear… or judge…
After the war, various scoundrels and profiteers of all kinds
try to explain to the survived why they think they have liberated
us. And by the way they reproach us of not being grateful to those
they sent to their deaths. To those they sacrificed for us and
because of us.
The world. My greatest and most painful illusion. Not only mine.
The war is, among other things, an intensive period of negating
everything that is unacceptable. It took me years to realize that
many world leaders needed this war of ours. Why? I don't know.
And if I do, I don't have the courage to say it aloud. Not because
of fear, fear killed me a long time ago, but because of dignity
for what's left of me. I want to preserve at least that, whatever
Iraq. The war there ended for some people but it has just begun
for others. With other means. War is an extremely adjustable phenomenon.
There is nothing it couldn't use to survive. This way or another.
This morning I met a fellow officer (I forgot to mention that
I used to be an army officer a long time ago…) who is trying passionately
to convince me that the Americans started poisoning their own
soldiers to prove that chemical weapons exist after all. This
colleague of mine belongs to those special services… I told him
he was crazy, that he kept the uniform for too long. He just waved
his hand treating me like a lost case made into a typical "lost
civilian" by the last years of legal practice and then writing.
I have no comment on that. I just kept helplessly repeating that
I don't believe this, that it isn't true, that nobody could do
such a thing to those poor guys dying under the tents on the hot
desert sand… He just commented that I'd forgot how to analyze
things in the military way. He sneeringly asked me if I remembered
someone's promises about certain evidence on the existence of
these chemicals… I remember many things, too many…
I really hate great promises. In the end, do you know how to tell
a great from an ordinary promise? By the number of victims.
WITH NO TIMETABLE
To write or not to write? To watch or not to watch? To see or
not to see? To tell or not to tell? At first sight these are capital
questions, but actually quite trivial, because when something
happens, the fact that we don’t speak about it does not mean that
it didn’t happen. After all, when someone doesn’t want to see
or hear something, all the images and sounds in this world are
After the recent five-year-long war that has temporarily moved
elsewhere, and the postwar survival that follows inevitably, many
dear friends have moved in search of a promised land, a land with
no wars or tears, sad faces and spent eyes. One of them moved
to Spain. He fell in love with the country. A musician. I used
to play guitar once, but he… his music… a therapy for the soul.
I missed him so much from time to time, in the evenings, when
the sun would disappear tired below the horizon leaving me with
my memories. It took me years to realize what it meant to be condemned
Shortly after he left, he sent me a photograph of him, barely
recognizable, suntanned, somehow reborn, playing on a terrace
full of tourists who were literally absorbing his music with open
hearts. Lucky them. The tourists
Every year, around this time, he’d call asking me to visit him
in his valley of peace in order to share at least part of his
newly found enthusiasm. He’d pay for the airline tickets, organize
everything, has got a friend in Munich who’d help transfer to
a plane to Spain… I plan on going every year and haven’t yet managed
to go. And not only there.
He called me this year too. A few days ago. He didn’t mention
any airline tickets, nor his friend in Munich… only panic in his
voice, desperation… Sounds so familiar. He mentioned his daughter
who had gone to Madrid a couple of days earlier. No news of her.
No idea where she might be. He asked me if I’d seen that train
station. I did, who knows how many times, and now again. Images
with the same prevailing colour. In the background there’s fear
mixed with incredulity, dazed looks; an image of a shattered life
in blurred eyes. He’s completely freaked out. How, why? Why here?
The questions come one after another. I’m silent. Can’t answer.
I forgot how to comfort other people a long time ago. I just listen.
I haven’t forgotten that. On the contrary.
The line went dead. I don’t know what he said last. I think I
heard him mention moving again. Where to? What country? Which
train to catch? How can you tell ordinary trains from the ones
with no timetable to respect. It doesn’t depend on them anyway.
I turned on the TV later to see millions of people demonstrating
against those who don’t care for timetables. A magnificent image
of human impotence. Everybody said everything they had to say.
Each one in their own way. Everybody knows everything. Except
the people on those trains… Somebody told them that all trains
respect a timetable. And instead of going to work, visit friends
or simply for a walk, they’ve gone to history. Who cares if they
had no interest in history? History had its interest in them.
Who knows why? And who cares any more, anyway? Only those “making”
history. For them and for us. Nobody told them that there is not
a single human error that has not been recognized by the future,
for as much as they might call it a sacred and only truth.
Oh, yes. The last thing I managed to tell my friend was not to
stop playing the guitar. Not ever and at no price. As long as
he’s playing there’s a chance for those who’ll keep coming in
the same trains.