The Perils of Self-Righteousness

On Thanksgiving Day, a man whose anger is approaching rabidity posted a piece that claims that Peter Handke is a genocide denier or worse because he stayed for a night in a hotel outside of Višegrad used during the war for rapes.

His account draws on what he calls my “obscure monograph” — “A Reasonable Dictionary.” I won’t deny the fact that it remains obscure, but want to give Zarko full credit for his half of the book, the whole title of which is Vampires & A Reasonable Dictionary.

The fact that I too slept in that hotel implicates me as a fellow genocide denier.

I noted in my previous post that Peter Handke, as he had during earlier trips, lamented and documented ethnic cleansing done by Serbs in Višegrad. The self-righteous accuser, proud that he has linked our time in Višegrad to a hotel used for rapes, cites a couple of phrases from my account to locate us in the hotel, but ignores what I wrote about our time there. I open the section from which he quotes with my answer to a question by Handke that doesn’t accord with the accusation the rabid moralist is making:


Was denkt in dir? Peter asks.

What? I ask, unable to hear him over the noise of Milka and her band.

What is thinking in you?

Sorrow, I answer.

For two months in 1992 there was intense fighting here. Marauding Muslims. Marauding Serbs.

And now the town is devoid of Muslims.

Since we crossed the border into the Republika Srpska, I have been imagining Muslims and Serbs lying in bed those 60 nights. Worrying, as they lay there, about possible futures. About a sudden end to possible futures.

Tonight we sit at a long linen-covered table in the dining room of a large resort hotel tucked back into the forested hills above the town. Guests of the Mayor of Višegrad.


Later in my account, we return to Višegrad:

We’ll spend the night in the Hotel Višegrad on the bank of the Drina River. From the second-floor landing, I can see a long roof covered by bright orange plastic. UNHCR is stenciled on it every few meters.

Up the hill from the hotel, among houses and gardens, stands a small white Serbian Orthodox church, its copper-clad onion dome reminiscent of Austrian architecture. (It is Austrian architecture.) Next to it is a “Serbian Soldiers’ Cemetery.” Polished black stones stand in rows. A half-circle of varnished beehives, numbered 1-9, stands in the adjoining pasture.

The sound of a whetstone on a scythe blade.

The gravestones, each marked “Serbian Soldier,” reveal a chronology of violence:
















There are nearly 100 graves. One of every 200 citizens of Višegrad. One of every 100 Serbs of Višegrad. Where are the Muslims buried?

Each stone bears an image of the deceased. One young man stands in a suit and plays an accordion. Another, wearing dark glasses, sits spread-eagled on a stone. The man born in 1949, my birth year, wears a military sweater, a sheepskin hat, camo pants, a web belt holding a handgun and grenades, a vest with a dozen pockets, and boots. A heavy metal cross hangs from a chain around his neck.

Most of the graves have a glass of brandy and a cup of coffee next to the stone.

A young man wearing a sleeveless t-shirt enters the cemetery, walks to a grave, kisses the image on the stone, lights a candle, places it in a tin housing, crosses himself, and leaves the cemetery.

I walk back down to the river. Sorrowful for the dead men (and two women). Angry at the nationalist spectacle of the Serbian Soldier.

Let me repeat — for accusers who don’t or can’t read:

“For two months in 1992 there was intense fighting here. Marauding Muslims. Marauding Serbs.

“And now the town is devoid of Muslims.

“Since we crossed the border into the Republika Srpska, I have been imagining Muslims and Serbs lying in bed those 60 nights. Worrying, as they lay there, about possible futures. About a sudden end to possible futures.”


“Angry at the nationalist spectacle of the Serbian Soldier.”

About Scott Abbott

I received my Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University in 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I directed the Program in Integrated Studies for its initial 13 years and was also Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy for three years. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (REPETITIONS and VAMPIRES & A REASONABLE DICTIONARY, published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade and in English with Punctum Books), a book with Sam Rushforth (WILD RIDES AND WILDFLOWERS, Torrey House Press), a "fraternal meditation" called IMMORTAL FOR QUITE SOME TIME (University of Utah Press), and translations of three books by Austrian author Peter Handke, of an exhibition catalogue called "The German Army and Genocide," and, with Dan Fairbanks, of Gregor Mendel's important paper on hybridity in peas. More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and dance/yoga studio manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as an ecologist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a parole officer, as a contractor, as a seasonal worker (Alaska and Park City, Utah), and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett, with whom I have written a cultural history of barbed wire -- THE PERFECT FENCE (Texas A&M University Press). Some publications at
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4 Responses to The Perils of Self-Righteousness

  1. alex caldiero says:

    fine response.
    clear and incisive as is the sorrow of the whole thing. only words divide us. only words unite us.


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