They’re haunting, Svetlana Alexievich’s interviews with people who endured the ethnic wars when the Soviet Union was falling apart. Haunting & disturbing, because it is recent history, because these are testimonies of individual people’s suffering, lacking the soothing distance of abstraction.
In the chapter titled “On a time when anyone who kills believes they are serving God” – a woman relates the arrival of civil strife in Abkhazian: how, all of a sudden Georgians and Abkhazians, started to attack and kill each other.
“They walk around like zombies, convinced that they are doing good”. From one day to the other, neighbours, class mates, colleagues turned onto each other. “So fast! So inhumanly fast! Where has all this been lying dormant?“
(Svetlana Alexievich – « Second-Hand Time»)
The 7th century, by contrast, is far away. History becomes less personal then. However vivid Wim Jurg’s account of that turbulent era, however evocative his descriptions of the feuding & the warring – empathy is (mercifully) not called upon.
But one acquiesces with weary pessimism when he paraphrases a 7th century poet commenting on the first Arab civil war:
“one person hates another and believes that is religion. When they accuse us, we accuse them, when they tell bad things about us, we tell bad things about them”
(Wim Jurg – « De lange zevende eeuw »)
And the present? Is it represented by the breaking news on new year’s day? By the terrorist attack on a new year’s party?