Dutch journalist Chris Keulemans opened the discussion on hatred, which happened to take place on the International Day of Tolerance but, at the same time, at a time of rampant hatred and lies, as witnessed by a demonstration held earlier that day in Bratislava and in the wake of a wave of protests against austerity in Greece and Spain. He invited the three panellists – writers Andrzej Stasiu (Poland), Vladimir Arsenijević (Serbia) and Jens-Martin Eriksen (Denmark) to give examples of hatred from their own countries, and to reflect on wider issues related to hatred and intolerance.
Chris Keulemans. Photo: Peter Župník
Hatred is the only thing the recent Independence Day demonstrations and counter-demonstrations in Warsaw had in common, said Andrzej Stasiuk, suggesting that hatred is present in all societies and human beings, in fact people might need it to construct their identity and find their place in the world. 50-70 years ago hatred found an outlet in wars: “People say that we live in a wonderful world, Europe is proud of having managed without wars, however, we don’t know what is happening to those feelings. We have yet to find a way to deal with it.” On a recent visit to China Andrzej Stasiuk was struck to see a society which, while hardly a democracy, is very dynamic and the people seem happy, which raises some provocative questions: “Maybe democracy is just another fetish? Although it may sound horrible, what if democracy is not the end of it all? The Chinese are not interested in our democracy, they are interested in our technology. Maybe the West can manage to create a new system that will impress the Chinese?”
Andrzej Stasiuk. Photo: Peter Župník
Vladimir Arsenijević also believes that every society is filled with hatred, it’s just a matter of how it is controlled. In the 1990s hatred exploded in ethnic struggles but in the last decade it has turned non-ethnic, its main target being gay people. Strikingly, it is prevalent mostly among the young generation. Although the Balkans are synonymous with hatred, in fact the hatred only dates back to the 20th century. “In the Balkans it is difficult to draw dividing lines – the ‘leopard-skin’ structure of the society has produced the greatest problem” since people from different ethnic groups know each other well yet they hate each other. “It is the hatred of small differences, which springs from the fact that we recognize ourselves in the other.” People are stuck within their ethnic system, for example in Bosnia: if they can vote only for their own ethnic party democracy strengthens ethnic identity. “We have seen democracy twisting and turning into unthinkable things.”
Vladimir Arsenijević. Photo: Peter Župník
The Prophet Muhammad cartoon crisis in Denmark has been replaced by the massacre in Oslo as the most egregious example of hatred and violence in Scandinavia, raising the question of Anders Behring Breivik’s sanity and motivation. In Jens-Martin Eriksen’s view he was not a lone lunatic but was motivated by a Christian fascist idea, a mirror image of the Iranian system. “When culture becomes ideology you get culturalism. The root of all evil in this context is that in a tightly-knit network people have to meet all the cultural markers: they fall into the culture trap.” Bosnia is as an example where democracy works only formally, with the three political parties divided along political lines; the situation in Malaysia is similar. “When politics become ethnic you take politics out of politics and it becomes perverted.”
Jens-Martin Eriksen. Photo: Peter Župník