About Balkan Witness                        Contact Balkan Witness



Articles on the Bosnia and Kosovo Conflicts


Open Letter to Peter Handke
By Marie Colbin
Originally published in the Austrian magazine
Format, May 1999

Introduction to the English translation
By Sylvie Matton
May 2021

In June 1999, a play by Peter Handke was about to be created in Vienna. It was during the NATO shelling in Serbia. In interviews, Handke gave negationist (revisionist) answers on the subject of Milosevic's wars while some actors left the show, feeding the debate. The German actress Marie Colbin, ex-companion of the playwright in the eighties, who could testify on a journey with him in ex-Yugoslavia, published an open letter to Handke at the end of May 1999 in the Austrian weekly magazine Format.

While answering the questions of a Format journalist, Marie Colbin confirmed the poet was violent with her and that the hiking boots on her belly and the fist in her face she mentions in the last paragraph of her text were Peter Handke's.

When for the purpose of his book Handke's biographer Malte Herwig asked him in 2011 whether he did beat his ex-companion, as she stated twelve years earlier, he answered, “Beating is an idiotic expression that sounds wrong. It was legitimate defense. And it was not in the belly, I kicked her in the ass. I think I also hit her below. I just wanted to work, and things were wrong.” (Meister der Dämmerung, Peter Handke, Pantheon Publisher, 2012)

The English translation below respects a grammatical anomaly wanted by Colbin in the initial version: to express maybe more precisely, with a fierce irony, her relationship with Handke and probably his psychological influence, she addresses him, in German, with a capital D in the second person singular, a usual practice in only one context - when addressing with great deference to the Lord, to Him.

Open Letter from Marie Colbin
by Sylvie Matton and Suada Tozo

Everyone says You love the country of the Serbs. I say: Above all, You love Yourself in this country.

I also love Tofu the cat (…). But when Tofu brings a bird and eats him triumphantly before my eyes and then kills him with relish, then all my love goes to the bird! And if the poor thing is just hurt or shocked, then I hurry and act! I try everything to save him, to help him, to heal him. As a preventive measure, Tofu now wears a bell around her neck. A tinkling alert signal for the birds.

Where is Your tinkling bell for the countless Kosovars massacred, displaced, and humiliated?

Gone with the wind your words, Poet? Aren't you equally responsible for this war? You have done nothing to give a chance to peace! Why not? One-sided, You concentrate only on Yourself, more and more.

Here is Handke photographed in front of a shelled factory in Belgrade. Oh, what a vain fuss, what ridiculous, empty pathos! The Indian on the warpath as the last Serbian. Do You feel like a hero in Your "dugout", and keep paddling?

Remember our story of "maneuvers"! It was twelve years ago, precisely on April 14, 1987, just before I left you forever, we went on the path in the Yugoslav Karst. All of a sudden we were startled by rumbling tanks and loud banging of gunshots. We were caught in the middle of a staged war. Back then You told me: “Everything is better in the war. One knows what it's at stake. '' Everything's better now, poet? I guess You are now feeling much better. To some extent, You should be grateful to this war because it satisfied Your perverse and insatiable thirst for public recognition. Your ego bloating far and wide makes me sick.

25,000 DEAD and two millions displaced out of Bosnia! Over a million people displaced out of the Kosovo! You the blind fool justifying the utterly nationalist, chauvinist, and racist regime! By the absurd twisting of reason and facts You legitimize a genocide and deportation. Deliberately You have swapped the role of the victims and perpetrators. And what is even more cynical and infringing, You've taken the images of horror responsible for the horror itself.

Are You not ashamed? When You go to Belgrade and are awarded for Your piece staged over there or for Your own person, noble Knight unfairly criticized, You deliberately approve the bloodthirsty regime of the dictator Milosevic! That is Your contribution to the “ethnic cleansing”! Sure, I can still hear Your banal and vulgar words: I shit on your Human Rights. I shit on your threatened people. Up your ass with the dead.

Whom do You think You are, to believe so in Your own importance? You are weak and without nobility, neither humble nor sincere. A vain author, that's what You are, who blinds himself while playing the part of the lonesome preacher. That's all there is now, Your call to join a criminal regime. You are an ideologue of modern Balkan fascism.

One more time Your kitschy, biased, and unfortunately simplistic worldview receives too much attention, and I wonder very much on what ground Your vulgar, drunken followers support You. Your little dramatic plays do not represent the real face of the war. They do not stand against the huge obliteration of individuality (and even the faces of the dead disfigured by baseball bats): they are only a discharge of Your aggressive vanity. I am a pacifist. And If I had my way, there would not be one single weapon on earth! But I know that as long as there are men on this world, men like You: one-eyed, relentless, hungry for power with an oversized ego, there will be weapons and thus wars.

I can still hear my head bouncing on the stone floor. I can always feel the hiking boot in my belly and Your fist on my face. No! You are not a man of peace!

The article in the original German

This article was reported in an Austrian publication, May 21, 1999
(In German - use Google Translate for English)

More about Peter Handke

See also:
Srebrenica: a genocide foretold, by Sylvie Matton
Interview with Carla Del Ponte, by Sylvie Matton

Balkan Witness Home Page

Articles index


Articles by Roger Lippman




Report broken links

About Balkan Witness          Contact Balkan Witness