by Stevan Konstantinović
Translated from Serbocroat by Alma A. Hromic
(Swans - October 10, 2005) This is an open letter to America.
Dear American friends,
Trouble does not choose whom it will afflict. It can sometimes be a viciously random thing.
I have to tell you that because of the pain that I -- and my people -- have been suffering over the last 15 years, and still suffer, at first I watched the horrific pictures arriving from New Orleans with a degree of coolness. Perhaps I would have written nothing about it -- but the baying of a certain dog by the name of Al-Zarqawi, who is on record as having said that natural catastrophes will destroy America and that he would rejoice for it, made me pen these few paragraphs.
The simple truth is this: there will always be those who will rejoice at your misfortunes. That is a particularly hurtful thing to bear, but don't be surprised by it. However, it is not the outsiders whose reactions hurt the most, it is the thinly concealed sparkle in the eye of those who are already amongst you -- those who see one person's misfortune as another's opportunity. You are still learning this, and those who are in the hell called New Orleans already know full well the pain from a hyena's bite.
TV images of long snaking lines of cars leaving New Orleans, leaving behind in the city only those who have nowhere else to go, are familiar to me. During the NATO attack on Serbia in 1999, many people from the higher echelons of society made sure that their nearest and dearest were safely whisked out of harm's way before the bombardment started. (This too was weather-related. I am left remembering a Croatian journalist, announcing the weather forecast, who gleefully predicted "wonderful weather and clear skies over Serbia over the next few days" -- excellent visibility, of concern to the ordinary people of Serbia, those who particularly suffered under the NATO bombardment, whose prayers for rain at that time remained unanswered.)
So it is not news to me that there are those who went, and those who stayed. The only startling fact is that there were so many black faces amongst the suffering people left behind. But that is an American thing, something that on this occasion swam to the surface not unlike the corpse tossed into the deep with a concrete block tied around its neck with the intention that it never see the light of day again.
But I have watched what has happened in New Orleans, and it is clear that the United States, home to a rigidly constructed system of law and order (which is held up to the rest of the world as an example, and sometimes inflicted upon that world by force when deemed necessary) has had to come to grips with the explosion of crime in New Orleans in the wake of the disaster. All normal legal protections have been suspended, with the police and the army given orders to fire without warning. Lots of army personnel, lots of police, demands for more soldiers and policemen in order to "normalize" the situation...and we're talking not war but a natural catastrophe?! But "the unrestrained use of force" when Serbian police and army units were dealing with Albanian insurgents and terrorists in Kosovo was actually used as a formal motive given for the attack on Yugoslavia by NATO.
Pain acts like yeast, and the anguish of shattered lives rises like bread dough until a breaking point is reached, until the messiah or something equivalent can arrive. In the case of America, that messiah took the typically American form of billions of dollars. (A much smaller amount, in Serbia, was once called the fund for the renewal of a war-devastated land.)
I know for a fact, and I can stand behind this statement, that a large percentage of those dollars will not reach those by who, in this moment, most urgently need them. The billions will seep from the federal coffers into the bank accounts of businessmen who will be "entrusted" with the renewal of the devastated area. In the first instance, the media will provide stories about the slowness of the normalization of life of ordinary people who have lost everything. But, very quickly, these will be followed by accusations and finger pointing about the siphoning off or inappropriate use of available funds. The media will descend on that with alacrity, because the inevitable fascination with improbably large sums of money and their (mis)use will wipe from the TV screens and the front pages the news of those for whom the financial aid had been intended in the first place. The problems of the poor people of New Orleans will metamorphose into a vast refugee crisis in America, but one that will remain under-reported and festering in the background. It is likely that many of these people will never return to the city which they abandoned, and even those that remained behind can probably be counted on to think hard about leaving such a place as soon as they get the chance to do so.
As for the priorities of the situation, the United States has already given the nod to oil installations in the Persian Gulf, the continued functioning of which is vitally necessary for American society...but also for the profits filling the pockets of those who control them.
Al-Zarqawi and those like him are hugely mistaken if they believe that this or another similar catastrophe will weaken the political system in the United States, or have any kind of measurable effect on its aggressive foreign policies. In fact, it is probable that precisely the opposite will occur. Even more financial restrictions will be imposed on the ever-shrinking slice of the fiscal pie devoted to internal social structures, and increasingly large "investments" will be made in the area affected by the catastrophe. The words "oil" and "dollars" will be the ones most often used in this context. On the flip side of that, many ordinary Americans will be living in fear of losing their jobs as the rest of the economy shrinks, and it will be easy to play upon those fears until workers agree to anything, including a reduction in wages, for fear of losing everything. In the meantime those at the head of the nation will insist on "national solidarity" and "standing together," and this will translate into a high tide of American nationalism as well as radicalism in foreign policies. It is hard to believe, given the parlous state of its own oil installations at this moment, that America will willingly leave the oil wells in Iraq. I would sooner believe that Iraq is about to be inducted as a new star on the American flag.
And what does the ordinary citizen of the United States of America, who has found himself vulnerable and unprotected before the fury of wind and water, have to do with all this?
Dear friends -- I feel deeply for your fear and your pain. I know them well.