A necessary decision

Since March 2009 I have a profile on Facebook; and I’m also present on a few other social media portals, although I am not particularly (Twitter, LinkedIn) or not at all active (Instagram) there. Today I have decided to stop publishing texts on Facebook and also not to comment anymore on postings of others in the future.

For a very communicative person like me, who travels a lot due to his work and who has lived in different parts of the world, Facebook as an idea is not a bad thing. Such a platform basically offers the opportunity to share certain information with his friends and acquaintances in an easy way and to catch up with what’s going on in the circle of your friends and acquaintances. And in principle, it would also have the potential to bring people together who do not know each other in real life, but who share common interests and values. And in a few cases, that’s exactly what happened: through Facebook, I made the acquaintance of some people who have become important to me today. But this is – if I look back over the period of more than 10 years Facebook presence -, the exception rather than the rule. Unfortunately, apart from these rare personally enriching experiences, Facebook has become a place where I am confronted with more and more misery, anger, hatred, rage, and ugliness.

The business practices of Facebook are by now probably well known; I do not want to revisit them here. If you want to read something intelligent and really brilliant and witty about this topic, I highly recommend you Jaron Lanier’s book Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. Lanier is one of the few thinkers who deals with the consequences of the developments of modern media and information technologies, and his sharp rejection of the “for free” culture, which is spreading more and more, I share wholeheartedly. I do not want to review the book here, but whoever has a social media account should read this insightful and instructive book. After that, probably only a very few people will actually delete their social media accounts – Lanier himself does not have any illusions about that – but almost everyone who will read the book will be much more aware of what and where he posts something, and it will probably be much clearer to most people, how Facebook et al. are trying to manipulate every user in the interest of their paying clientele. Lanier’s ideas about how social media that work in the interest of their users, and not their paying customers, should look like are also worth to be discussed. Food for thought!

In addition to the serious objections regarding the business practices and privacy violations of Facebook and the structural defects of the platform itself, something else comes into play, which is also addressed by Lanier, something that every Facebook user has probably already experienced many times. It concerns the often very unpleasant and aggressive communication behavior of many FB users.

Everyone who’s on FB knows them: the narcissists who post almost exclusively selfies; the trolls who, with every contribution – whether it suits the topic or not – address their favorite pet theory and who would like to hijack every discussion even when it is not even remotely linked to the topic of the original posting; the racists, anti-Semites, xenophobes, homophobes, misogynists, conspiracy theorists, climate change deniers, Greta-bashers, sectarians, supporters of right-wing extremist parties, which I mercilessly delete from my circle of Facebook contacts, but who are apparently procreating like rabbits lately, so that you can hardly keep this plague in check. And what I also noticed time and time again: the way people address each other on Facebook, even and especially among people from whom one does not expect it per se (intellectuals), is frequently very uncultured, rude, insolent, insulting.

Over the last few months and years, I’ve been receiving threats to my physical integrity, including death threats, following some of my Facebook posts and comments. After my recent report about the revisionist activities of a Bulgarian writer, I received the most incredible insults – ad hominem attacks are by far the most common “argument” of many FB participants – and was the victim of a virtual pogrom of an apparently mentally disturbed woman, who despite being known as a pathological liar has apparently the ear of many of my Facebook friends. (It goes without saying that I only in very rare cases received any support even from close personal friends, when I was subject to such extreme cases of abuse and threats – so much for friendship!) And these are not just a few unique cases. If you only voice a single critical remark on a specific topic, you are immediately subject to abuse and unfair attacks even by people with a high formal education (including in some cases, writers and professors); even the friendly hint to a friend who asks where he can find a certain recording that is out of circulation is sufficient reason for a third party to jump in with snide remarks from the sideline.

I’m tired of all that. What I have to say to my friends, I will tell them in person in the future or through other, more private communication channels. And things that I would like to make public, I will post here on my blog. I will not delete my Facebook profile and maybe even occasionally share one or the other link or a few photos. But there will be no texts and comments from me on Facebook anymore in the future. No reason to be sad – in the contrary: I will have more time again to take care of more important things.

Jaron Lanier has no Social Media Accounts – but a cat! He is probably a happy person 

Jaron Lanier: Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, Picador 2019

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-9. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

18% Brown: the downfall of a Bulgarian intellectual

The countries of Eastern Europe continue to struggle with the classification of their history and the people and currents that shaped it. This is especially true for the legacy of the time immediately before the Communist seizure of power. In many Eastern European countries, since the 1920s, there were fascist or openly National Socialist groups that enjoyed widespread popular support; they generally combined radical anti-communism with a totalitarian idea of society and eliminationist anti-Semitism modeled after German National Socialism.

From these groupings, the Nazis gained before and at the outbreak of WWII many fanatical supporters for their policy of violence and extermination, a policy that aimed at the complete eradication of whole races, especially the Jews and Roma. The prejudices and social exclusion that had prevailed for centuries, as well as the existing willingness to use violence against these population groups in Eastern Europe, were taken up by the Nazis and made serviceable for their barbaric extermination project. The anti-Semitic and fascist organizations of the “elites” in these countries disappeared apparently later with the Communist seizure of power, but the persons and attitudes of course remained largely unchanged.

While many leading members of fascist groups settled in the West in time, and others being executed or sentenced to lengthy prison terms in trials that were usually not according to the standards of constitutional democracies, there were also many who remained undisturbed. Among other things, the collapse of the communist bloc in Eastern Europe led to the formation of political groups that deliberately leaned towards pre-war organizations and that see themselves as following the values of such organizations. As a rule, the anti-communism of these pre-WWII groups is emphasized, but the totalitarian-fascist and anti-Semitic tradition is often concealed or relativized.

Hard-boiled anti-Semites and racists who have survived the communist regime and who are still proud of their (mis)deeds against Jews, and who in some cases spent decades behind bars in a communist prison, were suddenly revered by many despite (or perhaps because of?) their open advocacy of the ideology of their youth as anti-communist martyrs and heroes and role models for 21st century youth. And frequently, there are willing intellectuals who wholeheartedly support this revisionist narrative.

I want to report on such a case here. The focus is on the Bulgarian writer Zachary Karabashliev, whose novel 18% Gray is also available in English translation.

What is it all about? On his Facebook profile Karabashliev describes a visit to a 97-year-old retiree, and he provides photos and explanatory text. This encounter has, in his own words, strongly impressed him. The old man, apparently still astonishingly vigorous for his age, was harassed several times by intruders in his home and probably also physically abused. Karabashliev demanded in a letter from the competent ministry a better protection and an increased pension for the war veteran, who also spent many years in a prison of Communist Bulgaria as a regime opponent.

So far so good. There is no one who does not regret the poor living conditions of pensioners in Bulgaria, and also the frequent lack of recognition that many innocent victims of the communist system (in)justice have received in today’s Bulgarian society. So quite a noble action, which honors also the initiator, one could believe at first glance. Another picture, however, comes to light when you are digging a bit deeper.

The old man, whom Karabashliev praises, and whom he has repeatedly dubbed in public statements – even on television – as a hero, is called Dyanko Markov. Markov was imprisoned in communist Bulgaria for political reasons and was rehabilitated in the years after 1989. He was then a member of parliament for a right-wing party and became the most prominent living symbol of the political Right in Bulgaria because of his strong anti-communist stance. Markov wrote his memoirs, he often appeared as a speaker at public events (for example at the European Parliament) and was repeatedly interviewed. He is not just any pensioner, but in Bulgaria a well-known figure of public life. We are dealing with someone whom many – Karabashliev, for example – consider to be an exemplary hero and as such he was and is always present in the Bulgarian public.

In the first version of his Facebook post, Karabashliev also mentioned in detail and admiringly a part of the biography of Markov, which he interestingly later edited and completely deleted. This section referred to Markov’s membership in the so-called “Legions” and his alleged heroic deeds during World War II.

The Union of Bulgarian National Legions was an anti-Semitic and openly fascist paramilitary organization led by Hristo Lukov from 1933 on (he used the title “National Leader”). The youth organization of the Legions used the swastika as part of their emblem, the uniforms of the Legions and also the program were directly based on the blueprint of the German SA and also otherwise this movement was regarded as an arm of Hitler in Bulgaria and was strongly supported accordingly by Nazi Germany.

Eliminationist anti-Semitism was particularly actively promoted in Bulgaria by radical groups such as the Legions. Lukov, who eventually rose to become a general, Minister of War, and the “gray eminence” in the background, used the Legions as a base to gain more and more political influence and power; the Gestapo seriously debated whether they should support a coup d’etat by Lukov against Tsar Boris III who was for opportunistic reasons – the defeat of the Nazis was already forseeable – reluctant to carry out the Final Solution in Bulgaria; a replacement by a dictator Lukov, would according to the reasoning of the Gestapo, “deliver” the Jews for extermination without any problems. Before these ideas could be carried out, Lukov was assassinated by Violeta Yakova, a 19-year-old Jewish partisan (she was later brutally raped and tortured to death by Bulgarian security forces); the strong resistance of many Bulgarian citizens, some politicians (such as Dimitar Peshev) and the Orthodox Church in Bulgaria meant in the end that Bulgaria did not extradite their own Jewish citizens to the Nazis.

The Jews in the Bulgarian-occupied and annexed areas of Thrace, Macedonia and the Pirot region of Serbia were less fortunate: they were the only inhabitants of these areas who were formally declared as non-Bulgarians, and with this “trick” the Bulgarian authorities had laid the basis for deporting them. The deportation in these areas was organized and carried out by Bulgarians, members of the Union of Bulgarian National Legions were particularly eager, since the murder of the Jews corresponded to their own program. More than 11,000 Jews were deported to Treblinka and murdered on arrival.  

The founder and “leader” of this organization, which carried out much of the dirty work in the murder of Jews, Hristo Lukov, is the idol of many neo-Nazis in Europe to this day, he is “honored” with a torchlight parade every year in the center of Sofia by groups of neo-Nazis from all over Europe. Lukov is also the idol of Dyanko Markov, and he still propagates the ideas and “values” of the Legions to this very day. His memoirs sing a song of heroism of this organization. The Holocaust in the territories occupied and annexed by Bulgaria was commented by Markov in a speech in the Bulgarian parliament in 2000, in which he stated that the deportation of a “hostile population” was not a war crime. In 2018 he added that the deportation of the Jews to Treblinka was “relatively humane”. Almost at the same time Markov received from the Bulgarian state a high Order of Merit. One wonders, however, for what exactly…

At this point lies the real scandal, in the center of which Karabashliev has now maneuvered himself, probably out of the deepest conviction from the bottom of his heart.

If he and his notorious co-propagandists had wanted to draw attention to the fate of the veterans, the former inmates and victims of the communist regime of injustice or, in general, the shameful situation in which many elderly people in Bulgaria have to vegetate, one could easily choose almost any older person in Bulgaria as an example. The fact that a Dyanko Markov of all people is chosen to make this point, a person whose appearance in the European Parliament triggered a major scandal just a few years ago, after his continued advocacy of an inhumane organization and ideology and his Holocaust relativization became known, is, of course, a hint to the fact that the small group’s political program that keeps repeating Dyankov’s instrumentalization aims mainly at a complete rehabilitation of criminal fascist organizations from pre-war Bulgaria, a rehabilitation on which the group obviously plans to capitalize politically.

Anyone who points out that an inhumane ideology is being propagated here, the ideology of a group whose main historical aim was the mass murder of certain population groups and a cruel war of aggression in the East, anyone who questions why such people should be made into heroes must be prepared for a few things, from – in the end unsuccessful – slander trials to vicious, hate-filled personal attacks from the camp of Karabashliev’s co-propagandists. Unfortunately, such tendencies are probably in the spirit of the times, because in Bulgaria, which is governed by a coalition of right-wing and right-wing extremist parties, intellectual currents that relativize or deny the Holocaust and who claim that it is “the Jews” who need to be blamed for all atrocities of communism (which, as a matter of course makes their mass murder an excusable response); even the age-old anti-Semitic topos of the Jews as Christ-killers celebrates resurrection, e.g. in the columns of the once respected portal “Kultura”. The fact that Bulgarian writers such as Karabashliev and a few other second- and third-rate figures are initiating or supporting such shameful acts is a declaration of moral bankruptcy.

The case Karabashliev weighs particularly hard because of its influential position in the Bulgarian publishing industry. Significantly, with the exception of Angel Igov, who has contradicted the account of Karabashliev and his allies with reference to the facts, and Lea Cohen, who as a Jew is a traditional target of the Bulgarian anti-Semites, no other author has to my knowledge yet intervened in this scandal. Too big is obviously the fear to lose access to publication outlets in the small Bulgarian book market, or to estrange readers, of which a considerable part probably sympathizes with Markov‘s and Karabashliev’s historical revisionism. One may call this cowardice or complete dullness towards moral values; in any case it is a tragedy and a worrying symptom of the state of Bulgarian society these days.

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-9. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

18% Braun: Vom Fall eines bulgarischen Intellektuellen

Die Länder Osteuropas tun sich nach wie vor schwer mit der Einordnung ihrer Geschichte und der Personen und Strömungen, die sie gestaltet haben. Das gilt vor allem für das Erbe aus der Zeit unmittelbar vor der kommunistischen Machtergreifung. In vielen osteuropäischen Ländern gab es seit den zwanziger Jahren des 20. Jahrhunderts faschistische oder offen nationalsozialistische Gruppierungen, die sich grosser Unterstützung in Teilen der Bevölkerung erfreuten, und die in der Regel einen radikalen Antikommunismus mit einem totalitären Gesellschaftsmodell und eliminatorischem Antisemitismus nach nationalsozialistischem Vorbild verknüpften.

Aus diesen Gruppierungen erwuchsen den Nazis vor und bei Kriegsausbruch fanatische Unterstützer für ihre Gewaltpolitik, in deren Zug sie ganze Rassen ausrotten wollten, allen voran die Juden und Roma. Die seit Jahrhunderten verbreiteten Vorurteile und gesellschaftlichen Ausgrenzungen, sowie die vorhandene Gewaltbereitschaft gegenüber diesen Bevölkerungsgruppen in Osteuropa wurde von den Nazis gerne aufgegriffen und für ihr barbarisches Ausmerzungsprojekt dienstbar gemacht. Die antisemitischen und faschistischen Organisationen der „Eliten“ in diesen Ländern verschwanden zwar scheinbar später mit der kommunistischen Machtergreifung, die Personen und Geisteshaltungen aber blieben selbstverständlich weitgehend unverändert.

Während sich viele führende Vertreter faschistischer Gruppierungen rechtzeitig in den Westen absetzten und mancher auch im Rahmen von Prozessen, die meist wenig rechtsstaatlich waren, hingerichtet oder zu langjährigen Gefängnisstrafen verurteilt wurde, blieben viele auch unbehelligt. Der Zusammenbruch des kommunistischen Blocks in Osteuropa führte unter anderem auch dazu, dass sich politische Gruppierungen bildeten, die sich bewusst an Vorkriegsorganisationen anlehnten oder in deren Tradition sehen. Dabei wurde in der Regel der Antikommunismus dieser Gruppierungen in den Vordergrund gestellt, die totalitär-faschistische und antisemitische Tradition aber gerne verschwiegen oder relativiert.

Hartgesottene Antisemiten und Rassisten, die das kommunistische Regime überlebt haben und bis heute stolz auf ihre (Un-)Taten gegenüber Juden sind und die in einigen Fällen Jahrzehnte hinter Gittern in einem kommunistischen Gefängnis verbracht hatten, wurden von vielen plötzlich ungeachtet (oder vielleicht gerade wegen?) ihres offenen und ungeläuterten Eintretens für die Ideologie ihrer Jugendjahre als antikommunistische Märtyrer und Helden und Vorbilder für die Jugend des 21. Jahrhunderts dargestellt. Und immer wieder finden sich willige Intellektuelle, die dieses revisionistische Narrativ aus ganzem Herzen unterstützen.

Von einem solchen Fall will ich hier berichten. Im Zentrum steht dabei der bulgarische Schriftsteller Zachary Karabashliev, dessen Roman 18% Grau auch in englischer Übersetzung vorliegt.

Um was geht es konkret? Auf seinem Facebook-Profil berichtete Karabashliev von einem Besuch bei einem 97-jährigen Rentner, den er mit Fotos und erläuterndem Text versah. Diese Begegnung hat ihn nach eigenen Worten stark beeindruckt. Der alte Herr, offenbar noch erstaunlich rüstig für sein Alter, wurde diesem Bericht zufolge mehrfach von Eindringlingen in seiner Wohnung belästigt und wohl auch physisch misshandelt. Karabashliev forderte vom zuständigen Ministerium in einem Brief einen besseren Schutz bzw. eine erhöhte Rente des Kriegsveteranen, der zudem auch viele Jahre in einem Gefängnis des kommunistischen Bulgariens als Regimegegner einsass.

So weit, so gut. Es gibt wohl niemanden, der die schlechte Versorgung von Rentnern in Bulgarien und auch den häufigen Mangel an Anerkennung, den die vielen unschuldigen Opfer der kommunistischen Systemjustiz gegen Regimegegner in der heutigen bulgarischen Gesellschaft erhalten, nicht bedauert. Also durchaus eine edelmütige Aktion, die dem Initiator zur Ehre gereicht, könnte man auf den ersten Blick glauben. Ein anderes Bild jedoch ergibt sich, wenn man etwas tiefer gräbt.

Der alte Herr, von dem Karabashliev berichtet, und den er mehrfach in öffentlichen Äusserungen – auch im Fernsehen – als Helden tituliert hat, heisst Dyanko Markov. Markov war von im kommunistischen Bulgarien aus politischen Gründen inhaftiert und wurde in den Jahren nach 1989 rehabilitiert. Er war danach Parlamentsabgeordneter einer rechten Partei und wurde die prominenteste lebende Symbolfigur der Rechten in Bulgarien wegen seines unbeugsamen Antikommunismus. Markov schrieb seine Memoiren, trat häufig als Redner bei öffentlichen Veranstaltungen auf (u.a. auch im Europaparlament) und wurde immer wieder interviewt. Er ist also nicht irgendein Rentner, sondern in Bulgarien eine sehr bekannte Figur des öffentlichen Lebens. Wir haben es mit jemandem zu tun, den viele – so auch Karabashliev – geradezu für einen mustergültigen Helden halten und als solchen immer wieder der Öffentlichkeit vorstellen.

In der ersten Version seines Facebook-Posts erwähnte Karabashliev auch ausführlich und bewundernd einen Teil der Biographie Markovs, den er interessanterweise später redigierte und komplett strich. Dieser Abschnitt bezog sich auf die Mitgliedschaft Markovs bei den sog. „Legionären“ und seine angeblich heldenhaften Taten während des 2. Weltkriegs.

Der Bund der Bulgarischen Nationalen Legionen war eine antisemitische und offen faschistische paramilitärische Organisation, die ab 1933 von Hristo Lukov geführt wurde (er benutzte den Titel „Nationaler Führer“). Die Jugendorganisation der Legionäre nutzte in ihrem Emblem das Hakenkreuz, die Uniformen des Verbandes und auch das Programm waren direkt an das Muster der nazistischen SA angelehnt und auch sonst wurde diese Bewegung als Arm Hitlers in Bulgarien angesehen und entsprechend von Nazideutschland gefördert.

Der eliminatorische Antisemitismus wurde in Bulgarien besonders aktiv von radikalen Gruppen wie den Legionären propagiert. Lukov, der schliesslich zum General, Kriegsminister und zur grauen Eminenz im Hintergrund aufstieg, nutzte die Legionäre, um auch politisch immer mehr Einfluss zu gewinnen;  die Gestapo diskutierte ernsthaft, ob man einen Staatsstreich Lukovs gegen den bei der Judenvernichtung in Bulgarien aus opportunistischen Gründen – die Niederlage der Nazis war bereits absehbar – zögerlichen Zar Boris III durchführen sollte und an seiner Stelle Lukov als Diktator, der die Judenvernichtung in Bulgarien „liefern“ würde, unterstützen sollte. Dazu kam es am Ende nicht, Lukov wurde von der 19-jährigen jüdischen Partisanin Violeta Yakova bei einem Attentat getötet (sie wurde später von bulgarischen Sicherheitskräften bestialisch vergewaltigt und zu Tode gefoltert); der starke Widerstand vieler bulgarischer Bürger, einiger Politiker (wie Dimitar Peshev) und der Orthodoxen Kirche in Bulgarien führten dazu, dass Bulgarien die Juden im eigenen Land nicht an die Nazis auslieferte.

Die Juden in den von Bulgarien besetzten Gebieten Thrakiens, Mazedoniens und der serbischen Region Pirot hatten weniger Glück: sie wurden als einzige Einwohner dieser Gebiete nicht als Bulgaren angesehen, und mit diesem „Trick“ hatte man die Grundlage geschaffen, sie zu deportieren. Die Deportation in diesen Gebieten wurde von Bulgaren organisiert und durchgeführt, Mitglieder der Bulgarischen Nationalen Legionen zeigten sich besonders eifrig, entsprach der Mord an den Juden doch ihrem eigenen Programm. Mehr als 11000 Juden wurden überwiegend nach Treblinka zur Vergasung deportiert.

Der Gründer und „Führer“ dieser Organisation, die Hand- und Spanndienste beim Judenmord leistete, Hristo Lukov, ist das Idol vieler Neo-Nazis in Europa bis heute, er wird jedes Jahr mit einem Fackelzug gewaltbereiter Rechtsextremisten aus ganz Europa auf den Strassen von Sofia „geehrt“. Lukov ist auch das verehrte Idol von Dyanko Markov, und er propagiert bis heute das Gedankengut der Legionäre. Seine Memoiren singen das Heldenlied dieser Organisation. Der Holocaust in den von Bulgarien besetzten und annektierten Gebieten wurde von Markov in einer Rede im bulgarischen Parlament im Jahr 2000 dahingehend kommentiert, dass die Deportation einer „feindlichen Bevölkerungsgruppe“ kein Kriegsverbrechen sei. Im Jahr 2018 ergänzte er dazu noch, dass die Deportation nach Treblinka „relativ human“ gewesen sei. Fast zeitgleich erhielt Markov vom bulgarischen Staat einen hohen Verdienstorden. Man fragt sich allerdings, wofür…

In diesem Punkt liegt der eigentliche Skandal, in dessen Mittelpunkt sich Karabashliev jetzt, wohl aus tiefster Überzeugung selbst manövriert hat.

Wenn es ihm und seinen einschlägig bekannten Co-Propagandisten darum gegangen wäre, auf das Los der Veteranen, der ehemaligen Häftlinge und Opfer des kommunistischen Unrechtsregimes oder generell auf die schändliche Situation, in der viele betagte Menschen in Bulgarien vegetieren müssen, aufmerksam machen zu wollen, hätte man sich ohne weiteres fast jeden beliebigen älteren Menschen in Bulgarien als Beispiel aussuchen können. Dass man ausgerechnet einen Dyanko Markov, dessen Auftritt im Europäischen Parlament vor wenigen Jahren einen grossen Skandal auslöste, nachdem sein ungebrochenes Eintreten für eine menschenverachtende Organisation und Ideologie und seine Holocaust-Relativierung bekannt wurde, ist natürlich politisches Programm der kleinen Gruppe, die ihn immer wieder instrumentalisiert, um verbrecherische faschistische Organisationen aus dem Vorkriegs-Bulgarien zu rehabilitieren und daraus letzten Endes politisches Kapital zu schlagen.

Wer darauf hinweist, dass hier eine inhumane Ideologie propagiert wird und eine Gruppierung, deren Hauptziel nach eigener Aussage der Massenmord an bestimmten Bevölkerungsgruppen und der Angriffskrieg im Osten war, zu Heroen aufgebaut werden sollen, muss sich auf einiges gefasst machen, von – am Ende erfolglosen – Verleumdungsprozessen bis hin zu geifernden, hasserfüllten persönlichen Angriffen aus dem Lager von Karabashlievs Gesinnungsgenossen. Leider liegen derartige Tendenzen wohl im Zeitgeist, denn in Bulgarien, das von einer Regierungskoalition rechter und rechtsextremer Parteien regiert wird, gibt es seit einiger Zeit auch unter Intellektuellen Strömungen, die den Holocaust relativieren oder leugnen, und die „den Juden“ die Schuld am Kommunismus und seinen Verbrechen geben (und insofern den Massenmord an ihnen als entschuldbare Reaktion darauf interpretieren); auch der uralte antisemitische Topos von den Juden als Christus-Mördern feiert Wiederauferstehung, z.B. in den Spalten des einstmals angesehenen Portals „Kultura“. Dass sich bulgarische Schriftsteller wie Karabashliev und einige andere aus der zweiten und dritten Garnitur dazu hergeben, ist eine moralische Bankrotterklärung.

Der Fall Karabashliev wiegt besonders schwer aufgrund seiner einflussreichen Stellung im bulgarischen Verlagswesen. Bezeichnenderweise hat – mit der Ausnahme von Angel Igov, der der Darstellung von Karabashliev und seiner Bundesgenossen mit Hinweis auf die Fakten widersprochen hat und von Lea Cohen, die als Jüdin ohnehin traditionell eine Zielscheibe der bulgarischen Antisemiten ist – meines Wissens bisher noch kein anderer Autor zu dem Vorgang Stellung genommen. Zu gross ist offenbar die Angst, auf dem kleinen bulgarischen Buchmarkt Pulikationsmöglichkeiten zu verlieren oder bei Lesern anzuecken, von denen wohl ein beträchtlicher Teil mit Markovs und Karabashlievs Geschichtsrevisionismus sympathisiert. Man mag das Feigheit oder komplette Abgestumpftheit gegenüber moralischen Werten nennen; ein Trauerspiel und ein besorgniserregendes Symptom für den Zustand der bulgarischen Gesellschaft ist es auf jeden Fall.

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-9. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

What If Our World Is Their Heaven?

Although I’m not a big Science Fiction expert, occasionally I also read books of this genre. My preferences are here mostly with authors from Eastern Europe (Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Stanislaw Lem, and a few others), but now and then I also discover something new – lately often from the borderline between classical SF and “serious” literature or “speculative” fiction, such as the works of China Miéville or the novel The Future of Mars by Georg Klein, or works by authors who are brand new to me such as Arthur C. Clarke or Philip K. Dick.

If I say Clarke or Dick are new to me, then I have to admit that that’s not exactly true, of course. Every moderately informed moviegoer is familiar with their works in their respective cinematographic version. Especially Dick is particularly popular with filmmakers, just think of Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Impostor, Paycheck, or A Scanner Darkly, to name a few examples.

In January 1982, just months before his death, Dick gave a series of tape-recorded interviews that have been transcribed and published in the book What If Our World Is Their Heaven?

Two of the recordings deal with the movie Blade Runner, which is based on Dick’s book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? During filming, Dick was in the final stages of writing a new novel and so did not accept the invitation of director Ridley Scott to attend the shooting. The two interview clips in the book deal with the relationship between the original novel and the film, and with how Dick judged the result (he saw a not yet finalized version in a private performance, the film was not yet in the cinema at the time of his death). In short, Dick was strongly impressed by what he saw and had the highest praise for both the director and the film crew and performers. Although an essential part of the action of the original book was dropped in the film, Dick saw clearly that this was the only way to realize an adequate film adaptation of his material.

I was also interested in Dick’s co-operation with his agent and the sheer volume of inquiries from various merchandise producers he had to deal with – including a comic book version of Blade Runner. Although Dick didn’t live to see the great worldwide success of Blade Runner, he could at least be glad to know that it was a wonderful film adaptation. Until today, Blade Runner is a milestone in film history.

Of interest to me were also Dick’s comments on the creative process of an SF writer. Dick was at times an extremely prolific writer. When he had made up his mind about the concept of a new book, he sat down, and then literally worked day and night, neglecting everything else, including sleep and the intake of food. We can imagine him as an absolute workaholic, who felt completely drained after the completion of a book under such circumstances. The famous writer’s block, if it ever happened to him, was to Dick – contrary to most other authors – a blessing, not a curse. Literary works rarely served as a source of inspiration to him – he read hardly any novels -, but technical, philosophical or religious works – the latter in particular after a “spiritual revival experience” as a result of a serious illness of his son – triggered his literary output.

The transcription of the tape recordings is true to the original and virtually unedited. As a result, there are many redundancies, and every stutter of Dick or the interviewer is printed in the book. A careful editing would have made the text much more readable. In addition, the interviewer unfortunately repeatedly breaks off the conversation when it gets interesting, or interrupts Dick when he is in the process to explain something important. She is also occasionally inattentive and does not listen closely, often asks for things that Dick had said shortly before, and so on. It’s a pity that the interviewer is rather unprofessional and not very focused at times.

In spite of the above-mentioned objections, this is a book that I can recommend to all readers with an interest in one of the major SF authors of the 20th century. Contrary to my expectation, Dick comes over in these conversations as a rather grounded and sometimes self-ironic and warm person without the usual grandstanding attitude of many successful authors.

Gwen Lee and Doris Elaine Sauter (eds.): What If Our World Is Their Heaven? The Final Conversations of Philip K. Dick, The Overlook Press, New York 2000

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-9. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

pluralismus

das gedicht des toten juden
steht unmittelbar neben dem
des lebenden antisemiten
die nennen das pluralismus

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-9. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Tale of Tala

Tale of Tala is a novel by the young Palestinian-Canadian author and journalist Chaker Khazaal. The book tells the story of three people. Henry, the narrator of the story, is a successful American novelist from a very wealthy family; Fatima – who reinvents herself later as Tala – is a young Palestinian woman from a refugee camp in Lebanon; and her husband Bilal, her childhood friend from the same camp.

Henry, who some time ago has had his first failure as a writer, was brought up according to the values of his businessman-father: you have to be a winner, and of course Henry is supposed to be a winner! His first unsuccessful novel and the public and critical reaction to it is therefore perceived by him to be a shattering defeat. Still under shock, he travels to Amsterdam and later to Ljubljana to distance himself from his life as a writer and media person and to indulge in to him new experiences, a life of drugs and sexual encounters with prostitutes, usually procured with the help of some sleazy hotel managers. But everything changes when he meets the gorgeous Tala, a prostitute of Palestinian origin.

Henry develops a strong infatuation with this woman, who tells him reluctantly her life story. A story that leads her and her later husband Bilal from a refugee camp in Lebanon to Turkey. They fall in the hands of criminals who separate them, with Bilal disappearing somewhere in Anatolia – he has been tricked to cross the border to Syria as it later turns out – and Tala hardly surviving an ordeal that finds her finally forced into prostitution. Henry, who is not only infatuated with Tala, but also hooked to her story which he plans to develop into a new book, a book that will be of course a success again, offers to help Tala to find Bilal. But his offer is motivated mainly by strong self-interest. He travels to Anatolia to find out what happened to Bilal and if he is still alive…what follows is a story full of action and deception.

The book touches on many interesting and important topics that are frequently not highlighted by the media, especially the hopeless situation of the stateless Palestinians in Lebanon. They vegetate there already in the third of fourth generation in refugee camps without ever having a chance of finding work and a normal life. The exploitation of the refugees from Syria and other countries by human traffickers, organ harvesters, and pimps, and the indifference or even hostility of the Western world is also a theme of the novel. The book has his strongest scenes when the author describes Tala’s and Bilial’s lives in the camp in which they grow up, and the ordeal Tala and two other girls have to go through during their attempt to reach Europe, with two of them (probably) dead and Tala forced into prostitution and separated from her husband. The author grew up in a similar refugee camp. He has extensively reported about the refugees and interviewed many of them, and it shows; these parts of the novel are much stronger than the description of Henry and everything he does and says.

With Henry I had several problems. First of all, I didn’t like him. Not a single bit. He is manipulative, has an inflated ego, and thinks of himself as a great writer, and a winner. I am mentioning this again because as readers, we are again and again reminded – in every chapter several times -, that he, Henry, is born to be a winner. If it suits him, he lies, deceives and even gets people that are in his way killed – and why? Just to satisfy his ego and his lusts. And to have another success as a writer.

The other problem with him, apart from being a self-righteous prig without any moral is that as a character in a novel, he is completely implausible. He discovers his talent for writing in his youth just like that, writes a masterful story (or what he thinks is masterful), but gives up writing immediately without sign of rebellion when his father tells him not to write but to become a businessman; then the father dies in an airplane crash, and wham!, Henry starts to write again and his novel is of course a success and bestseller. And so it goes novel after novel, he is just a great, successful writer with a lot of money, although the text we are reading (and which is authored by Henry) is frequently poorly written and full of clichés, very much in the unbearable self-congratulatory pseudo-philosophical style of a Paolo Coelho. The numerous clumsily written sex scenes make the book unfortunately a candidate for the Bad Sex in Literature Award. And the over-simplistic winner ideology of Henry is hammered way too frequently in us readers in sentences such as:

“For a man born a winner like me, every winding path is presumed to victory. For a loser, roads are often blocked by their despair; decisions are frightening things. For those who live between those two routes, doubt and uncertainty are roadblocks to overcome.”

Sigh. Henry is a prig and the author reminds the reader on almost every page of this fact. I was glad when I had finally finished this book.

I could see that the author is not without talent when he feels comfortable with his material; but as a novel the book is a complete failure in my opinion.

Chaker Khazaal: Tale of Tala, Hachette A .Antoine/Al Ahlia, Amman 2017

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-9. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Christoph Hein und “Das Leben der Anderen”

Christoph Hein ist ein Autor, den ich sehr schätze. Über seinen Artikel in der Süddeutschen Zeitung vom 24. Januar “Warum ich meinen Namen aus “Das Leben der Anderen” löschen ließ” (ein Vorabdruck aus einem bald erscheinenden neuen Buch von ihm) habe ich mich aber sehr geärgert, beim zweiten Lesen sogar noch mehr als beim ersten.

Zunächst: ich will hier gar keine Filmkritik zu „Das Leben der Anderen“ schreiben. Wie bei jedem Film, Buch oder sonstigem Erzeugnis im schöpferischen Bereich kann man bei seiner Beurteilung zu unterschiedlichen Ergebnissen kommen. Ja, der Film ist melodramatisch – das kann man mögen oder auch nicht. Ja, in dem Film gibt es einiges, was sich genauso in der DDR nie hätte zutragen können. Auch das kann man verschieden sehen, entweder als fehlende historische Genauigkeit oder als künstlerische Freiheit des Autors, in diesem Fall des Regisseurs Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Ich fand den Film gut gespielt und unterhaltsam und sicherlich auch für Zuschauer außerhalb des deutschen Kontexts sehenswert. Aber darum geht es mir hier nicht. Es geht mir hier um Heins Text.

Der Text beschreibt eine offensichtlich sehr tiefe (narzisstische?) Kränkung, die der Autor Christoph Hein erlitten hat und für die er sich mit diesem Artikel mit sehr großer Zeitverzögerung rächen möchte. So lese ich es jedenfalls. Im Fußball würde man von „Nachtreten“ sprechen. Schon die Tatsache, dass er Henckel von Donnersmarck nie beim Namen nennt – es heißt durchgängig „der Regisseur“ – ist auffällig, besonders da er im Gegensatz dazu den Schauspieler Ulrich Mühe, nein seinen „Freund Ulrich Mühe“, mehrfach beim Namen nennt, obwohl dieser für den Sachverhalt von dem die Rede ist nicht von zentraler Bedeutung ist. (Allerdings frage ich mich auch, ob die Freundschaft wirklich so groß gewesen ist, da Mühe anscheinend nichts davon verlauten ließ, dass der Film nicht die von Hein erwartete Hein-Lebensverfilmung werden würde. Ein Freund hätte wohl im Lauf der Dreharbeiten oder schon vorher vielleicht mal angerufen oder darüber gesprochen, wenn – wie Hein es darstellt – klar war, dass dies ein Christoph-Hein-Film werden sollte.) Mit Verlaub, das ist unhöflich und wirkt arrogant, werter Christoph Hein. Sogar ein sehr großer und sehr junger Filmregisseur aus Westdeutschland (offenbar sind all das für den Autor Hein schwere Charakterfehler) hat es verdient, mit seinem Namen erwähnt zu werden. (Der einleitende fettgedruckte Satz stammt wohl von der Süddeutschen Zeitung, ebenso wie die Artikelüberschrift.)

Ich staune auch sehr, wieso Christoph Hein annimmt, dass sich Henckel von Donnersmarck mit niemand anderem als mit ihm unterhalten hat, bevor er den Film machte. Zudem muss man schon ein sehr großes Ego haben, um zu glauben, dass „Das Leben der Anderen“ als Christoph-Hein-Biopic angelegt ist. Henckel von Donnersmarck ist kein Breloer, und es ist für mich geradezu absurd, dass Hein uns allen Ernstes weismachen will, dass der Regisseur eine Verfilmung seines (Heins) Lebens in der DDR geplant hatte. Wenn er schreibt „Im Kino sitzend hatte ich erstaunt auf mein Leben geschaut“, dann nehme ich ihm dieses Erstaunen nicht ab. So grenzenlos naiv und unverständig kann Christoph Hein, der ein sehr intelligenter, kluger Mann ist, nicht gewesen sein. Ich finde diesen Satz extrem unglaubwürdig.

Ob Henckel von Donnersmarck tatsächlich davon gesprochen hat, dass er Hein „unsäglich dankbar“ ist, kann niemand entscheiden. Entweder hat sich Hein diese sprachlich missglückte Ausdrucksweise ausgedacht, oder wenn Henckel von Donnersmarck es so gesagt haben sollte, verstehe ich nicht, warum er diesen offenbaren Versprecher gleich zweimal herausstellt. Es soll wohl heißen: der Regisseur, der es nicht einmal wert ist, dass ich ihn beim Namen nenne, ist eben nicht nur ein sehr großer, sehr junger Westdeutscher – er kann auch noch nicht einmal richtig Deutsch. Mit so einem ungebildeten, unkultivierten Kerl hatte ich, der geniale, unfehlbare Christoph Hein, auf dessen Lebensverfilmung die Welt wartete, es zu tun.

Ganz schlechter Stil, werter Christoph Hein. Ich wundere mich, dass Sie so etwas nötig haben!

Wenn Christoph Hein allerdings davon spricht, dass er vermeidet, Äußerungen von Henckel von Donnersmarck als Lüge zu bezeichnen, weil es neben der Wahrheit auch noch die melodramatische Wahrheit und „alternative Fakten“ gebe, so ist das kein schlechter Stil mehr, es ist infam. Und es fällt auf den Autor Christoph Hein zurück, der zwar behauptet, dass er seinen Namen aus dem Vorspann des Films löschen ließ, der aber jetzt eingestehen musste, dass das nicht stimmt. Diesen Vorspann gab es nie, und im Nachspann ist Christoph Hein als historischer Berater bis heute genannt, zusammen mit vielen weiteren Namen von Personen, mit denen der Regisseur in diesem Zusammenhang ebenso wie mit Hein sprach. Und auch der Dialog zwischen Autor und Regisseur selbst fand zu einem Zeitpunkt statt, als das Filmprojekt schon sehr weit fortgeschritten war. Eine “Kleinigkeit”, die Hein ebenfalls verschweigt.

Ob man den Text Heins daher als Wahrheit, melodramatische Wahrheit oder „alternatives Faktum“ bezeichnen will, ist jedem Leser selbst überlassen. Ich habe mir meine Meinung dazu auf der Basis der Fakten und von Heins Text gebildet.

Christoph Hein schätze ich als Autor nach wie vor, ein Autor allerdings der in diesem Fall jegliche intellektuelle Redlichkeit vermissen lässt; der Mensch Christoph Hein ist mir nach diesem Artikel deutlich unsympathischer geworden. 

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-9. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Dovlatov – The Film

A film about the Russian writer of the same name, that depicts a few days of his life in Leningrad in the early 1970s. Beautifully shot, this film has received mostly positive reviews. Nevertheless, I am somewhat disappointed; the wit and the power of Dovlatov’s books are almost absent in the film, and the plot is a faint reflection of what the writer himself has described in his autobiographical books, especially in The Suitcase and Pushkin Heights. The Dovlatov in the film is a rather colorless character and the artistic milieu of the film is very clichéd. Who wants to know who Dovlatov was, must read his books. And they are anyway by far more entertaining than the movie.

Dovlatov – Russia, 2018, 126 minutes; Director: Aleksei German jr.; Screenplay: Aleksei German jr. and Yuliya Tupikina; Actors: Milan Marić, Danila Kozlovsky, Helena Sujecka, Artur Beschastny, Anton Shagin, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Elena Lyadova et al.

I read the following three books by Sergei Dovlatov recently, and I can recommend them wholeheartedly:

The Zone, translated by Anne Frydman, Alma Classics 2013

The Zone

The Suitcase, translated by Antonina W. Bouis, Alma Classics 2013 

The Suitcase

Pushkin Hills, translated by Katya Dovlatova, Alma Books 2013 

Pushkin Hills
© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-9. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Blog Statistics for 2018

It is already a tradition to start the new year with a little bit of statistics at Mytwostotinki.

According to the WordPress statistics feature, the blog was visited 4235 times in 2018 (compared to 7154 in 2017). The blog had 3285 unique visitors (4979 in 2017).

The visitors came from 95 different countries. Most of them are from the USA, Germany, Bulgaria, the United Kingdom and Moldova (last year: USA, Bulgaria, United Kingdom, Germany, Turkey).

I published 49 blog posts (24), of which 32 were in English, 12 in German, and 5 in Bulgarian.

Most viewed posts in 2018 were “The Devil within”, “Tschick or Why We Took the Car”, and “The Bleeding of the Stones” (as compared to “Logic for Democrats”, “The Devil within”, and “Tschick” in 2017.).

The original languages of books mentioned or reviewed last year on the blog: German 74(5), Bulgarian 50(7), English 16(2), French 2(0), Albanian 2(0), Russian 1(0), Serbian 1(0). (Last year there were 2 books from Turkish and one each from Japanese and Italian mentioned/reviewed on the blog.)

The blog had at the end of the year 2018 1221 followers on Twitter (1202) and 797 on Facebook (686).

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-9. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Good-bye 2018, welcome 2019!

2018 was for a number of reasons of private nature a quiet year here on Mytwostotinki. I even had to skip my planned participation in German Literature Month, my favorite literary event in the sphere of blogging about books.

Nevertheless I was during a considerable part of my free time busy with things that are in a wide sense related to literature. For the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative I curated a Bulgarian Literature Month, and this was so far my most challenging but also most rewarding experience as a book blogger. A number of readers that otherwise would have never picked up a translated book by a Bulgarian author, decided to give it a try and I am sure that some of them will follow new books by Bulgarian authors also in the future. This was of course a joint effort, and I would like to thank again all contributors to this event!

Right now I am working on two translation projects, and also one book project for Rhizome, the publishing house I founded with my close friend Elitsa Osenska. I had also for the first time one of my poems printed in three anthologies (in Bulgarian, English and French translation) and was also for the first time a member of a jury for a poetry award (see last blog post).

Next year will hopefully be again a more active year here on the blog. I intend to publish more reviews, but I don’t want to make any forecast how regularly I will be able to do it. From January on, I will also write a monthly column for the blog of the Global Literature in Library Initiative on Intellectual Freedom issues, and I am looking very much forward to this new experience. There will be also news from the publishing house in which I am involved, but I prefer to reveal the details later on when things become more concrete.

Additionally, 2019 will also bring a new professional challenge for me. As you see, there are quite a lot of interesting things ahead of me next year, not included those which you can’t foresee anyway…

To all readers of this blog I wish a Happy and Healthy New Year 2019!

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-8. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.