Remedial Theory 12:51 Ben Walker
Books for Slobo hand-delivered to the Hague.
Broadcast: Aug 6 2007 on HV PODCAST; Jun 13 2004 on PRI/WNYC The Next Big Thing Subjects: Literature, International, Politics, Justice
by Ben Adair
HOST: It is often said that through reading literature we learn to empathize with the experiences of others. So how do you explain the fact that a man now on trial for crimes against humanity is an avid fiction reader? Could it be that he’s simply reading the wrong books? During a recent trip to The Hague, producer Benjamen Walker decided to take on Slobodan Milosevic – with a reading list. Produced with TNBT’s Michael Kavanagh and Larry Massett of Hearing Voices. Walker produced an hour-long version of this piece for his radio show, “Your Radio Nightlight”.
SOUND: equipment being turned on..
BEN WALKER: check check..
This is Benjamen Walker.. is March 1st 2002. I have just taken the train from Amsterdam to The Hague because I well.. I have come to see Slobodon milosovec who is currently here standing trail for uh crimes against humanity…
So.. the first order of business is to find the palace of peace.. which is where the trial is being held – according to the gentleman on the train.. it’s where all the important stuff here in the Hague happens..
the only thing is I don’t have a map..
WALKER:.. excuse me can you tell me how to get to the palace of peace? That way?? Can I walk? Yes?.. thank you..
(walking and talking)
About three weeks ago – when the trial started – there were lots and lots of articles about Slobodon milosovec’s belligerent and defiant conduct – supposedly he was constantly berating the magistrates… making scenes. But one article in particular caught my attention.. it mentioned that the former dictator was doing a lot of reading in his cell.. books by john Updike, Ernest Hemmingway…
for some reason I couldn’t get this out of my head.. in fact the idea of this petulant war criminal lounging around in his cell reading literature drove me nuts.. and it wasn’t the fact that he was reading over-rated macho crap like John Updike – that made it funny like - like a cliched New Yorker cartoon.. but.. it.. to me.. to me the idea of a war criminal reading was not funny – it was tragedy.. something totally wrong.. it was something at odds with everything I believed in..
- TV - TV I could have understood.. but reading…
WALKER: Excuse me.. um is this the way to the peace palace??
Some man: Uh.. to go to the peace palace.. you walk the back side to it must go to the west in-fact
WALKER: The west? That way?
Some man: That way – you must go that way and then you will find it.. I don’t know the name of it but there are a a couple of modern buildings
WALKER: Alright thank you so much-
You see I have this theory.. I believe that reading is in fact the ritual that makes us human. When I think back on all the bullies, all the dimwits - all the robots I have known in my life.. not a single one of them read.. – they all watched TV or went to the movies… while all the kind hearted genuinely decent and sincere people I knew read books. So that’s how I developed my theory.. but don’t get me wrong.. I’m not saying that reading books makes you a better person – I’m saying that reading books makes you a person period. At least that’s my theory..
That’s why I’m so fascinated with Slobodon Milosovec.. he totally screws up my theory.. here we have the butcher of the Balkans – lounging around in his cell every night – listening to frank Sinatra and reading books.. but yet by day he defiantly harangues the court – refusing to accept any blame or guilt for his heinous crimes.. he even scoffs at the victims who are brave enough to testify of the atrocities he set in motion..
It didn’t compute.. but I refused to believe that my theory was wrong.. I decided that it was more the case that he just wasn’t reading the right books.. rabbit at rest? Please.. slobo needs some literature.. Mux…
I totally started obsessing over this.. It was all I could think of.. I started pulling out books from my bookshelves.. I started taking trips to the bookstore - the library – to help me you know decide.. decide what it was that I would bring him..
and then out of the blue.. my friend Chris invites me to meet up with him in Amsterdam for a few days... and so I go on-line to travelocity and buy a ticket that purposely puts me in Amsterdam a few days early.. so I can well.. take the train to the Hague and bring Slobo some books..
I’m now standing outside the palace of peace.. it’s a clear sunny day… I have to squint in order to see the spires on the towers.. It’s one o’clock in the afternoon.. so I guess lunch should be over.. and the trial back in progress.. but can I get in?
Excuse me.. this is the palace of peace.. where the trial is.. no? where’s that? I have to go that way??? How far down is that .. and that’s where his trial is.. the milosovec trial.. that way.. oh you don’t know where it is.. the jail.. the trial would be in the justice center? That way.. I have to take that tram.. ok thank you
hmmn.. the man on the train was wrong.. slobodon milosovec is not at the palace of peace.. I should have known better – never ask for assistance from a man in a Garfield sweatshirt.... especially in Europe. I mean what was I thinking.. am I that messed up??? (fade on this line???)
One of the books I have brought for him is “flow my tears the policeman said” by Philip K. Dick. I chose this science fiction novel primarily because of the scene that takes place at the end of the book. Felix Buckman, the policeman of the title, has just learned that his sister, who was also his wife has just overdosed from one of her designer drugs. He’s completely shattered. He’s flying around in his quibble car weeping. Then he lands at a robot gas station where a middle aged black man in a top coat is waiting for his car to be filled with petrol. Buckman gets out of his quibble and on a scrap of paper draws a little heart pierced by an arrow – then he gives this to the black man who of course has no idea what to say.. the little scrap of paper flutters to the ground, Buckman gets back into his car and takes off into the sky.. but then he turns around - lands again – jumps out of his car and gives the black man a gigantic hug. Then they have a conversation.. the man gives Buckman his card..
Here let me read you a bit..
the black man said slowly and firmly but also a little loudly “these places, these coin operated robot gas stations, are downers late at night. sometime later on we can talk more. where its friendly. I can sympathize and understand how you are feeling, when it happens that places like this get you on a bummer. a lot of times I get gas on my way home from the factory so I wont have to stop late. I go out on night calls for several reasons. yes, I can tell you’re feeling down at the mouth – you know, depressed. That’s why you handed me that note which I’m afraid I didn’t flash on at the time but do now, and then you wanted to put your arms around me, you know, like you did, like a child would, for a second. I’ve had that sort of inspiration, or rather call it impulse from time to time during my life. I’m forty seven now. I understand. you want to not be by yourself late at night, especially when its unseasonably chilly like it is right now. yes, I agree completely, and now you don’t exactly know what to say because you did something suddenly out of irrational impulse without thinking through to the final consequences. but its okay; I can dig it. don’t worry about it one damn bit. you must drop over. you’ll like my house. its very mellow. you can meet my wife and our kids. three in all.
I like to imagine slobodon milosovec trying to make sense of this scene – late at night in the darkness of his cell. I have this little scenario in my head – slobodon is in court – he’s listening to testimony from truck drivers, village shop keepers, soldiers, all people who have witnessed first hand the torture rape and murder that he wrought upon them in his quest for greater Serbia.
but his attitude is different. he’s no longer cross-examining the witnesses. he’s no longer dismissing their testimony or scoffing at their credentials. he sits in his chair with his head bowed.. every now and then he doodles something in his notebook. when a small Albanian girl tells the story of how the Serbian army killed her entire family, Slobodon milosovec doesn’t even look her in the eye. And when she finishes the harrowing account of how her mother and sister were raped and then shot up with assault rifles he lunges from his seat. the guards tackle him as he runs towards the blue chair where the girl is seated. they pry a piece of paper from his outstretched hand and pass it to judge may.
it’s a drawing of a heart pierced by an arrow.
according to the tram map on this placard.. there is something called the tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.. that has to be where the trial is.. and.. it looks like all I have to do is walk up this boulevard..
excuse me I’m looking for the Yugoslav tribunal what building is that
Dutch lady1:um.. Yugoslav tribunal..
Dutch lady two: Dutch?
Me: keep going?
Lady 1 – to the right go to traffic light.. to the left
Me: thank you
Lady 1: its on your right side. .so you walk .... its on the corner..
Me: thank you very much
The second book I have brought him is a collection of short stories by the Russian writer Andrei Platonov…
(still thinking this part out… its shorter than the dick excerpt but still at least two paragraphs.. )
mux fades out..
I’ve made it to the tribunal.. but unfortunately there is a sign that says no recording equipment allowed inside the court-rooms.… this is not good..
“ hello sir
what can I do for you
recording devices aren’t allowed in the building
are you the press?
yes I work for a radio station in the states
you want to go into the court session
you want to go into the court session
I’d love to
you can’t take recording equipment inside..
you can take notes
can I leave them with you?
We can lock them in a locker..
You will lock them in a locker..
Uh.. it looks like I am going to have to go in without you.. but I’ll take good notes..
A few seconds of mux…
Then ambi comes up from speaker monitors..
I’m now in the lobby of the tribunal.. they are playing on the monitors what I just witnessed in the courtroom and when I asked if I could bring my recording equipment into the lobby they said yes.. so I ran back out and retrieved everything from the locker..
Yes! I made it into the trial.. the pressroom is separated from the courtroom by a wall of glass and I sat pretty much directly in front of him.. he definitely noticed me.. and I .. uh.. I waved at him.. I couldn’t help myself.. but a guard quickly informed me that waving was absolutely not permissible so I refrained from making any further gestures.. even though I wanted to you know point at the books and point at him..
Ok.. I want you to listen to this.. the judge is going to ask about the timetable and then Slobodon will start railing.. you’ll hear the woman translate.. He’s not speaking in English today… ok here we go..
“Mr. milosovec is there something you want to raise.. yes I did want to say something - make you aware of some facts with respect to the time table – from 6 to 830 is the only time ..which .. I can use the telephone – which means 2 and a half-hours in the evening.. the possibility that I have to communicate with my associates will also be restricted - because that time is limited to 8:30 when everything closes down so I wont be able to use the public phonebox which exists in the corridor either after that time. Let me repeat I make no requests I don’t ask for anything. But I want it to be known what conditions I have been placed in. and If this is a way to abuse and mistreat the accused than I would like to have this understood in this way.. because in the time that I have at my disposal I m not able to see to my basic human needs especially as you intend to have this last endlessly.. but a human being does have the need to breathe fresh air, to eat and communicate.. but as I say let me repeat I’m not asking for anything I just want to this to be noted..”
Is that not amazing?? Slobo doesn’t get enough time to use the telephone???!!!
I’ve just delivered the books to the registry.. and they’ve promised me that they will give them to him early next week.. I wrote a little note in the front of the platonov book.. I wrote dear mr. Milosovec I understand you love literature so I have brought you these books.. I hope you enjoy them.. and then I signed my name and wrote my address .. which is insane.. because he could think I am mocking him and uh.. have me killed.. oh man.. I really shouldn’t have given him crime and punishment… um.. excuse me but I’m totally going to panic so lets just go...
Mux Outside ambi..
Ok.. ok.. everything’s cool.. just got a little freaked out.. it all sorta hit me .. uh.. what have I just did- I guess I didn’t think it through.. I didn’t expect to see him.. Back in 1993 94 when slobo and his Serbs were steam rolling through the safe areas.. I worked at in little magazine store and we would have NPR on all day.. and the news was nothing but massacre after massacre and I remember thinking how I wanted to get on a plane and find Slobodon and rip out his arms and beat him to death with them.. and now.. I’ve just come and brought him some books..
Then here is the part on crime and punishment…