Don’t cry for Harold Pinter
Harold Pinter, the British playwright and Nobel Laureate, has died. At this time of loss, it is worth remembering with what empathy and compassion Pinter responded to the loss and suffering of others. And how did Pinter respond to the tens of thousands of dead in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s; to the tens of thousands of women and children raped or forced into prostitution; to the Sarajevans left without limbs as a result of mortar fire; to the pain and bereavement suffered by the widows and orphans of Vukovar, Srebrenica and Racak; to the hundreds of thousands forced into miserable lives as refugees ? By joining the ‘International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic’ (ICDSM), that’s how.
For Pinter, it wasn’t enough that the people of the former Yugoslavia should suffer such loss; he wanted to deprive them of justice as well. On the ICDSM’s website, Pinter’s name appears eighth on the list of signatories to its petition, which demanded that ‘the Serbian authorities immediately release Slobodan Milosevic and all other Serbian patriots from jail.’ It went on: ‘We demand that neither Slobodan Milosevic, nor any other Yugoslav, be sent to the Hague Tribunal. We demand an end to the arbitrary kidnapping, arrest, harassment and persecution of Yugoslav leaders and soldiers and ordinary people whose crime was to set an example to the world by resisting NATO aggression. Free Slobodan Milosevic at once! End persecution of Mr. Milosevic and all Yugoslav patriots and soldiers at once!’
Lest it be forgotten, the Hague tribunal was established by a resolution of the UN Security Council. But in Pinter’s words: ‘ I regard this particular court as illegitimate and, in fact, with no proper international substance. I regard it as an American-inspired court, really. I mean, [former US secretary of state] Madeleine Albright kicked the whole thing off, so I think it’s a really partial court and has no proper legal foundation or substance.’
This is noteworthy, as Pinter also regarded the US invasion of Iraq as ‘demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law’, as he said in his Nobel lecture. And he accused NATO of ‘ignoring the UN’ by intervening in Kosova without its authorisation. Yet he had no qualms about himself calling upon Serbia to disregard the UN’s own war-crimes tribunal, in order to defend a mass-murdering former dictator from facing justice.
Nor was Pinter satisfied with attempting to deny justice to the victims of genocide and ethnic cleansing; he wanted to minimise their suffering as well. In his words: ‘When I say propaganda, there is an enormous amount of propaganda about Milosevic. We were told initially that he was responsible for the deaths of 100,000 people. That of course has never been proved, and is obviously not the case.’ But, of course, it was the case, and has been proved. When Pinter joined the ICDSM, The Guardian reported: ‘Although he believes that Mr Milosevic was “ruthless and savage”, he has long argued that he has been unfairly demonised as the “butcher of the Balkans”. He blames his former vice-president, the ultra-nationalist Vojislav Seselj – for much of the ethnic cleansing.’ A line of argument reminiscent of the Holcaust revisionist David Irving, who claimed that Himmler planned and carried out the Holocaust without Hitler’s knowledge.
Of course, apologists for Pinter will try to deflect criticism of his support for Milosevic by saying ‘Whatabout Tudjman ?’ But the fact is that nobody – NOBODY- on the British left did anything even remotely as shameful as setting up or joining an ‘International Committee to Defend Franjo Tudjman’. Those of us who supported the prosecution of Milosevic by the Hague tribunal also support the prosecution of Tudjman’s Croatian generals who have been indicted by the same body. Opposition to the Hague tribunal is something that united Milosevic supporters like Pinter with the Croatian-nationalist supporters of Tudjman. Readers may wish to contrast what I have written about Tudjman, or what my mother, Branka Magas, wrote about him, with Pinter’s defence of Milosevic.
So all in all, I am roughly as sad about Pinter’s death as Pinter was sad about the deaths of the tens of thousands killed by Milosevic or for the hundreds of thousands whose lives were ruined by him. Of course, it might be argued that, however obnoxious his politics or his actions were, Pinter deserves credit for being a great playwright. But I’ll never know if this argument is valid or not. I have never read or seen any of Pinter’s plays. And I never shall.
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