Kosovo is echoed across the world

Writers on the war: Wole Soyinka President of the International Parliament of Writers launches a new series

Wole Soyinka
Sunday 18 April 1999 23:02 BST

THE ARMENIANS will recognise themselves in Kosovo. They understand only too well a world that turns a blind eye to the structured violation of its kind, and then goes further to insult the claims and duty of memory by the manipulation of language, inventing a syntax of denial in the testaments of reality. They will be among the first to assert, and with unassailable truth, that because 1915 was denied, 1939 was made inevitable, and the once unthinkable of 1999 now confronts the conscience of the world in a wearisomely familiar replay. So would the Tutsi of Rwanda, albeit employing different reference points: that because Europe ignored 1994 - at least until much too late, 1999 was made inevitable.

All victim groups guard certain milestones on the road to amnesia, but we do not really have first to be victims, only to cultivate a virtually spontaneous habit of associations, and the warnings they provide. It takes no effort for me, as example, to make one subjective equation: in my mind, Kosovo equals Ogoni. That has an unavoidable immediacy. The assault of the Serbian government on Kosovar writers and intellectuals, scientists and human rights advocates, the callous executions of their most notable figures, immediately bring to mind the gruesome spectacle of the Nigerian writer and activist, Ken Sarowiwa, and his eight companions, dangling from the gallows. The silencing of individual voices, their routine storage as primary matter for elimination is only a symbolic summation of a wider project of mutilation, even annulment, of both culture and heritage, of identity and creativity of which such voices are the most committed exponents.

Outside one's personal immediacies, Kosovo also equates the Sudan, where a brutal, intolerant regime has waged similar war against a defiant culture and identity for more than two decades, attempting to cleanse what it considers the stronghold of impurities in religious and cultural doctrines that define the self-perception of one section in opposition to another.

Kosovo, with the marked difference in organisation, systematic planning and focussed goals, also equates Sierra Leone. The violence against the Sierra Leonian populace by a so-called rebel movement is mind-boggling in its repudiation of all civilised modes of conduct, and its largely undiscriminating mayhem. Yet the selective hunts for, and attacks on the homes of artists and intellectuals - such as the poet and novelist Syl Cheney-Coker, or the assisted escape of the urbane critic and poet Eldred Jones, helpless because now virtually blind - serve to remind us that the violence of power, even of putative power, constantly launches its primary offensive against the creative mind.Between the clinical method -icalness of a Milesovic and the juvenile leadership of the army of marauders that has turned Sierra Leone into a charnel house, we find that there is only a difference in the taste of morbidity.

The scarring of Kosovo is the brand of Cain, incongruous on the face of an elder and sage, that image of what a dying millennium should be, dignified and wise from age and experience. Those who are trained in these afflictions have responded as they must, mustering material aid to the hungry, the sick, the traumatised and the dispossessed. And it is the ultimate responsibility of institutions set up to punish crimes against humanity to pursue those who must be called to account for these deeds. In attempting to efface this new blemish we all seek accessible roles, expressions of solidarity and affirmations of common humanity.

For us in the field of culture and the arts - which are certainly mechanics also of self-recovery, identity and self- validation - we have accepted the task of salvaging what we can from the cultural rubble, snatching from zones of incapacitation those targeted, endangered species, the spokesmen and women, the interpreters of such menaced cultures. We have accepted a responsibility to establish and nurture havens of creative sanity throughout the world. It is a project that translates as snatching a seed out of a conflagration, out of the sludge of inundations, preserving it in a safe nursery not only for posterity, but in order to restore the now fortified seedling to its habitual space of germination, where a new cycle of creativity can begin.

The International Parliament of Writers, created by a global network of authors in 1994 in answer to the persecution of writers, has no set stand on the Kosovan war. At the request of its members, however, it is producing a series of individual articles to give voice to their responses.

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