Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1999


R. Ruth Linden (1999) 'Deportations and Discursive Displacements'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 4, no. 2, <>

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Received: 22/06/99      Accepted:      Published: 30/6/99


This article begins a conversation about the consequences of deploying the Holocaust as a metaphor for specific instances of ethnic cleansing and genocide. It explores the rhetorical linkage between the war in Kosovo and the Holocaust, an analogy that looms large in discourse in the United States. I use the term "discursive displacement" to describe the process of signifying events in Kosovo with the metaphor of the Holocaust. This metaphor can both enlarge and constrain the production of knowledge. The use of metaphors is fundamental to the process of making meanings. Nevertheless, by disrupting the "transfer" of meanings from the Holocaust to Kosovo, my aim is to expand our understanding of the persistence and specificity of ethnic cleansing and genocide in our own time.

Ethnic Cleansing; Genocide; Kosovo; Metaphor; Refugees; The Holocaust


The past isn't history. It isn't even past. William Faulkner

Knowledge is a conversation. The analytic categories through which we struggle to understand the war in Kosovo set the boundaries of what we can and cannot know. In this sense-making process -necessarily situated, partial, and emergent-we tap historical discourse and individual memory as reservoirs of analogies and metaphors. These tropes enable us to "prefiguratively grasp" events that "resist description," events that would otherwise be unknowable and unthinkable (White 1973: 34).

As bystanders on several continents-consumers of print, electronic, and cybermedia; social scientists; journalists; and political analysts-we are deeply invested in the material-semiotic reality[1] of terms such as genocide, ethnic cleansing, civil war, refugees, exile, camps, human rights, and state sovereignty. Our stakes in these terms signify intellectual, political, and moral commitments as well as unarticulated assumptions about how the war in Kosovo is similar to and different from other wars in our own and past eras.

This article explores the rhetorical linkage between Kosovo and the Holocaust, an analogy that looms large in discourse in the United States. I use the term discursive displacement to describe the process of signifying the war in Kosovo with the metaphor of the Holocaust. Discursive displacement enables the transfer of meanings from the latter term to the former one. In this article, the condensation "Kosovo" refers to the deportation and ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians, NATO's bombing project, and the refugee crisis.

I examine a second analogy in this article, the Palestinian refugee crisis, instigated in 1947 during Israel's War of Independence and continuing for three generations into the present. This is the point of departure for my reflections on the Holocaust as a metaphor. I also discuss the Palestinian refugee crisis as an analog to the displacement of the Kosovars.

To begin, I pose four questions about the implications and consequences of discursive displacement. First, how is our "understanding" of events in Kosovo enlarged by refracting them through the metaphor of the Holocaust? Second, how is it constrained by this analogy? Third, how has NATO's bombing project been justified, rhetorically speaking, by juxtaposing it with the allies' failure to bomb Auschwitz (or the system of railroad tracks leading to Auschwitz and other death camps)-the allies' failure, that is, to intervene directly in and interrupt the smooth conduct of the Final Solution? Finally, how does our awareness of other refugee crises in Africa, Asia, and Latin America inform our understanding of and responses to the refugee crisis of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and other parts of Serbia?

I raise these questions in order to begin a conversation about the consequences of deploying the Holocaust as a metaphor for specific instances of ethnic cleansing and genocide, and for what is often called "radical evil." The use of metaphors is fundamental to the process of making meanings. While discursive displacement by Holocaust metaphors may be overdetermined at this historical moment, by disrupting this process, my aim is to expand our understanding of the persistence and specificity of ethnic cleansing and genocide in our own time.

This article is part of a conversation about the Holocaust that extends over most of my life and memory. Sixteen years ago I founded the Holocaust Oral History Project in San Francisco. It was the time before the Holocaust became the stuff of daily news reports and "Arts and Entertainment" reviews in The New York Times, before the opening of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. and the release of "Schindler's List" and "Life is Beautiful," before the "Holocaust remembrance industry" (Linden 1993) transmogrified the death camps into kitsch-theme parks in Germany and Poland.

With the oral history project I immersed myself in survivors' lives-their memories, voices, and stories. Eventually, I wrote about my encounters with them and their narratives, and the unexpected encounters with myself that our meetings provoked (Linden 1993, 1996).

The Holocaust as Metaphor: Berkeley/Jerusalem

[The trope of] Metaphor is especially useful for understanding the operations by which the contents of experience which resist description in unambiguous prose representations can be prefiguratively grasped and prepared for conscious apprehension. In Metaphor (literally transfer), for example, phenomena can be characterized in terms of their similarity to, and difference from, one another, in the manner of analogy or simile.... By Metaphorical identifications, phenomena are transformed into images that have no "meanings" outside themselves. As images, they simply resemble and differ from whatever surrounds them. (Hayden White, 1973, in Metahistory)

February 1999 Bat Shalom, an Israeli, feminist peace organization, sends periodic updates to its listserv subscribers. A rash of Palestinian home demolitions by the Israeli Defense Force/Civil Administration has been the subject of recent posts. Recently, I began to correspond with the organization's director.

Subject: Letter to the editor
Date: Mon, 22 Feb 1999 01:05:59 -0800
From: "R. Ruth Linden, PhD" []
To: bat shalom []

Dear Gila:

Attached is a copy of my letter to the editor of our local Jewish paper. The situation of the Abed and Muhammad Ajaj families sounds horrific. [The homes of these two Palestinian families, living in the village of Jabal Mukaber in East Jerusalem, were slated for demolition by the Ministry of Interior because they were built without permits. The Israeli government has a de facto policy of not granting Palestinians permits to build homes and of destroying those homes which are, of necessity, built "illegally."] As I try to imagine what these families might be feeling, I am reminded of a Dutch Holocaust survivor's description of waiting to be deported in 1942:

We were waiting.... It was as if the whole world was sinking from under you.... It was a time that felt like the whole world was just disintegrating. You didn't know where to get even a moment's peace, a moment's relaxation (Leesha Rose, quoted in Linden 1993, 115).

But such analogies are inflammatory and, thus, dangerous. Still, there is something to be learned about the bureaucratization of terror....

Though I am in California, my spirit is standing with you in Jabal Mukaber. May your presence inspire justice and compassion.


21 February 1999

Letters to the Editor
Jewish Bulletin of Northern California

To the Editor:

I very much appreciated Lynn Feinerman's (1999) guest commentary, "Unfair Demolition of Palestinian Homes Must Stop" (Jewish Bulletin, February 19). However, your use of the word "unfair" in the headline is most inappropriate.

Language is no trifling matter. Violations of human rights-in this case, the fourth Geneva Convention-are not typically regarded as "unfair." Albeit unwittingly, your headline trivializes the fundamental human right to decent shelter as well as the suffering caused by the Israeli government's policy of enforced brutality and terror under occupation.


R. Ruth Linden, Ph.D.
Beatrice M. Bain Research Group
University of California, Berkeley

Subject: Letter to the editor
Date: Mon, 22 Feb 1999 14:50:11 +0200 (IST)
From: (bat shalom)
To: "R. Ruth Linden, PhD" []

Thanks, Ruth, for your encouraging words. You're right about the Holocaust analogy, of course, but why does it always jump into my head? Let's hope we can do something more than witness in the next few days.


Subject: Holocaust analogy
Date: Mon, 22 Feb 1999 11:59:51 -0800
From: "R. Ruth Linden, PhD" []

Dear Gila:

I think the Holocaust analogy comes to mind for many Jews with left politics.... When I wrote that "such analogies are inflammatory and, thus, dangerous," I was being just a tiny bit ironic.

All thinking-everyday, historical, sociological, whatever-is comparative. If we cannot make analogies, then we cannot make sense.... So, if comparing ANYTHING with the Holocaust is regarded by many Jews-scholars and others-as inflammatory (and thus dangerous), then this implies either that: (1) the Holocaust stands outside of "history" and "society" and, thus, defies human understanding; or (2) there is something else that makes the Holocaust so unique that it bears nothing in common with any other event in human history. I cannot agree with either of these propositions.

My simple response to your (perhaps) rhetorical question, But why does it always jump into my head? is that... that's how we make sense of what's happening in our lives, our world. The fact that we are called Nazis (or the moral equivalent) when we challenge and/or criticize the Jewish mainstream reflects, in my opinion, the current, vicious struggle being waged by neoconservatives in the U.S. and the religious right (in the U.S., Israel, and elsewhere), who believe they hold a patent on the Holocaust and, thus, rightly control who gets to think about it and how it gets to be thought about. (I have been dragged into a rather ugly battle over this in the American press.) I imagine that this sort of demonization is all too familiar to you.


Subject: Holocaust analogy
Date: Tue, 23 Feb 1999 12:07:25 +0200 (IST)
From: (bat shalom)
To: "R. Ruth Linden, PhD" []

Dear Ruth,

As someone who lives in a country where waving the Holocaust flag is the prerogative of the right (to support militarism, jingoism, "transfer" of Arabs out of Israel, ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Jerusalem, territorial expansion, etc.) but not the left-"inflammatory," as you note-I deeply appreciate your analysis.

Just spent the morning with a sweet young man, his wife & 2 children, about to have their home destroyed. Salim lost his job as a truck driver because his boss couldn't wait for the home to be destroyed, when Salim will stop spending mornings at home in vain hopes of protecting it-or at least witnessing the event. Another villager destroyed his own home, preferring to do it himself gently, rather than await the brutal army bulldozer. (I hid my weepy eyes as Salim pointed to the rubble.) Anyway, as tragedy will have it, I will await the demolition before writing it up. Though maybe the waiting is even worse. It's so awful!


Discursive Displacements

Subject: SRO Feature on War
Date: Mon, 10 May 1999 20:30:54 -0700
From: "R. Ruth Linden, PhD" []
To: Liz Stanley []

Dear Liz:

In many news stories I've read about the war in Kosovo, there is, it seems to me, a conflation of historical periods and persons. The 1990s are not the 1930s and 1940s; the former Yugoslavia is not Nazi Germany. Milosevic is not Hitler; the Kosovars are not the Jews (although there are Jewish Kosovars). The ethnic cleansing taking place in Kosovo is not the Final Solution.

I say this not to make the point that nothing could be quite "like," and thus compared with, the Hitler era. That, in fact, is not my view at all. As you know, in Making Stories, Making Selves, I offer a strong critique of Judeocentrism in scholarship on the Holocaust and, more generally, the Nazi era.

I have been surprised to encounter numerous news stories that draw on analogies with the Hitler time to describe, explain, or interrogate the war in Kosovo and, apparently, thereby to justify NATO's intervention. Deploying the Holocaust in this way raises complex questions. After all has been said and done to "account for genocide" (as if this were actually possible), we are still left to struggle with the ineffable.

If "doing the right thing" in 1943 would have meant dropping bombs to halt the deportation and extermination of Europe's Jews, then doing the right thing in 1999 must mean dropping bombs over Kosovo to halt the slaughter of ethnic Albanians. Right? Well, I think not. Although I have been thinking about the question of doing the right thing in the midst of genocide for almost twenty years, I can't claim to know what is the right thing to do in Kosovo. Whether and to what extent Clinton, Albright, et al. actually believe their own human rights rhetoric is a question I cannot answer. Obviously, NATO's military strategy is informed by many considerations and "humanitarianism" (whatever that might mean under the circumstances) is, doubtless, one of them. But only one among many.

To be sure, in the current crisis there are echoes of the Jewish refugee crisis of the late 1930s and 1940s. But we must strain to hear the echoes of other refugee crises: in Palestine, the Sudan, Rwanda, Tibet, and the list goes on and on. It appears to me as though the Holocaust functions as a floating signifier, available to all-Jews and non-Jews alike-who wish to appropriate it for rhetorical ends that always belie moral and political agendas. How does this displacement contravene the possibility of comprehending (some of) the experiences of Kosovar refugees on their own terms?

Well, there you are. These are the sort of questions I'd be happy to have an occasion to ponder.

Love from Ruth

From The New York Times to The Nation, The New York Review of Books, Ha'aretz (Israel's liberal daily newspaper), and the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California, Holocaust metaphors play a key rhetorical part in accounts and analyses of Kosovo. This was especially true during the first weeks of the war. As I read the papers, repeated references to the Holocaust and the Nazi time evoked a stock set of images: starving Jews in cattle car transports, pleading with plaintive eyes for a drink of water; stacks of rotting, naked, emaciated corpses; a mountain of confiscated eyeglasses. I wonder, though, whether I might have conjured up these images on my own, without the metaphors. The Holocaust is omnipresent in North American culture. It is a floating signifier, waiting to attach itself to whatever comes its way. Did "history" begin in 1933?

9 April 1999 Just after the end of the Passover holiday and days before Yom-ha Shoa'h (Day of Holocaust Remembrance), the weekly edition of the Northern California Jewish Bulletin carried seven news stories and five editorials, op eds, and letters to the editor about the war in Kosovo. The front page was laid out in a way that made it nearly impossible to discern where the Holocaust ends and Kosovo begins. While the Holocaust was put into service as a metaphor for ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, the reverse was also true: Milosevic's ethnic cleansing project became a metaphor for the Final Solution. Readers were told an allegorical tale that could be summarized as "You have been warned." Or, in Elie Wiesel's words, "We could have foreseen Kosovo. Why didn't we?" (Rohde 1999)

Three cover stories were skillfully juxtaposed. Just under the masthead a headline read: "3 Bay Area Survivors Recall Life on Death Ship." This article, commemorating both Yom ha-Shoa'h and the 60th anniversary of the fateful voyage of the S.S. St. Louis,[2] was accompanied by a large photograph of two women, one of whom survived the St. Louis crossing. They were holding open the book, Voyage of the Damned. The caption read, "Miriam Michaells (left) and Hella Roubicek look at photo of Roubicek's mother, Edith Loevinsohn, aboard the St. Louis."

Running the length of the page was a story entitled "'Life is Beautiful': Real-Life Parallel." Placed between this headline and the masthead was another large photograph, this one of a young boy in what appear to be faded, striped pajamas. The caption read "Before immigrating to the United States, Joseph Schleifstein's parents made him pose in his camp uniform." The camp in question in Buchenwald.

Finally, nestled in the lower right-hand corner was a story about the Israeli government's virtual silence during the first two weeks of the bombing. The headline read "Why is Israel Waffling on Kosovo?"

Inside was a wide range of articles.[3] For instance, "Kosovar Jews Share Seder with Netanyahu" featured the Fetahis, a Kosovar family who celebrated Passover for the very first time this year (16). During the week before they fled Budapest, a way-station en route to Jerusalem, they "learned everything they could about the holiday." (A ritualized telling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt is the centerpiece of the Passover seder.) This article added a third term-the story of the Exodus-to the Kosovo/Holocaust equation, further eclipsing the boundary between the Jews (the ancient Hebrews, in this case) and the Kosovars.

I cannot help but wonder how the Fetahis made sense of the story of Exodus in the face of their own experience of terror and flight. Did it help them to view themselves as actors in the "Great Tradition" of the Jewish people? Or did this juxtaposition reduce their story to but one more example of the oppression of the Jews-the eternally suffering people[4]-a footnote in the "Little Tradition," whose meanings are locally situated and passed between the generations as part of their oral lore?[5]

A guest column by Sandra Butler, "Albanians Saved Jews-Now it's Time to Reciprocate," left no doubt about the reason that the Jewish community identifies so strongly with the Kosovars. She writes,

American Jews have a special responsibility to participate in relief efforts.... Not because we must feed those who are hungry, although that is central to our tradition. Not because we must clothe those who are needy, although that is required of us as well. Instead, it's because we must honor our debt to the Albanian people who protected and sheltered us. Before and during World War II, every Jew who fled to Albania was sheltered by Albanian Muslims and Christians. And 100 percent of the Jewish population there survived the war.... Unlike any other occupied country, Albania had more Jews within its borders at the end of the war than at the beginning (25).

Huge ads positioned identically on pages 15 and 17 occupied most of the three, right-hand columns from the top to the bottom of the page. The first one read "The Jewish Community Federation is accepting donations for Kosovo Refugee Relief." The second ad, framed by a story about the exodus of Yugoslav Jews to Hungary, announced a Yom ha-Shoa'h ceremony. It read "'Unto Every Person There is a Name.' Remembering the Six Million. They All Had Names. They All Had Lives. All Were Murdered." As readers flipped through the paper, their gaze continued uninterrupted from the call for refugee relief to the notice about the Yom ha-Shoa'h memorial event. This juxtaposition completed the blurring of boundaries between Kosovo and the Holocaust.

11 April 1999 In a New York Times "Week in Review" commentary, Michael T. Kaufman (1999) observed that "the conduct of ordinary Serbs is starting to attract the kinds of questions raised in Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's (1996) book, "Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust." This controversial work examined how some "eliminationist" myths within German culture predisposed "good" citizens to condone and often carry out the extermination of the Jews. Kaufman noted that "there are, of course, great differences of scale distinguishing what happened in Germany from what is happening in Serbia." Quoting former Secretary of State Lawrence Engleburger, he wrote, "Milosevic... has not acted alone.... The Serbian people are the willing instruments of his terror. There are, of course, many decent Serbs who decry the violence, just as there were decent Germans under Hitler...." Yet by drawing parallels between the conduct of "good" citizens in Germany and Serbia, this article highlights the common elements of complicity and obedience.

Thus far, I have explored several different but linked pair of analogies. My point of departure, described in my correspondence with Gila Svirsky, was the struggle over deployment of the Holocaust as a metaphor and the complex analogy between Israel's occupation of Palestine and the Nazi occupation of Europe. Next, in my reading of the Jewish Bulletin, I showed how the Kosovo/Holocaust analogy was pushed to its limits, thereby causing it to implode. The strategic use of allegory and discursive displacement rhetorically fused Kosovo and the Nazi time. I also discussed a Bulletin article that complicated the Kosovo/Holocaust equation by introducing a third shared term, the Exodus/flight from mortal danger. My final example in this section considered the analogy between the "good" citizens of the Third Reich and the "good" citizens of Serbia, who implemented the policies and practices of ethnic cleansing.[6] In the next example, I return to the analogy with which this article began, the Palestinian refugee crisis. This time, however, the Palestinian/Kosovar equation is introduced.

12 April 1999 In a Ha'aretz op ed, "Exile and Return, through Palestinian Eyes," Danny Rubinstein (1999) described this year's annual memorial marking the 1948 massacre of the inhabitants of the "famous" Palestinian village Dir Yassin. Rubinstein wrote,

This year's memorial was given additional relevance by world events: The Palestinian demonstrators linked Dir Yassin to the Kosovo atrocities. A caricature in the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds, for example, jabbed a sarcastic barb at Israeli assistance to the Albanian [sic] refugees: Palestinians are shown presenting the Kosovo refugees with their own rescue package, which bears the caption, "Palestinian assistance to Kosovo: 50 years of experience."

The analogy with Palestinian refugees exposes a difficult and contentious question that is moot in the case of the Holocaust and the Exodus: Why has ethnic cleansing in Kosovo created a tidal wave of response in and by the West, while other ethnic cleansing projects and refugee crises-in this case, in Palestine-have not? Or, to phrase the question in slightly different terms, Why hasn't the West mounted a massive, concerted response to the rash of recent (and current) refugee crises occurring outside of Europe? Some readers will find this analogy persuasive because they recognize an underlying similarity between the refugee crises in Palestine and Kosovo, while others will find it incendiary on the grounds that the terms are too different to warrant juxtaposition.

22 April 1999 At, Rabbi Michael Lerner, Tikkun editor and self-styled radical activist, mounted an unexpected defense of NATO's war. The article began,

Part of my family died in Auschwitz. All through my childhood I asked myself, "How could good people have known and done so little? How could the United States keep its doors closed to Jewish refugees-in more than one instance actually refusing to allow boats of Jews escaping from Europe to land on these shores?[7]

As in Sandra Butler's article, Rabbi Lerner's Holocaust analogy turns on a moral imperative. In this case, however, the ethic of reciprocity is not at stake. Instead, his argument (which space considerations prevent me from presenting) is legitimated rhetorically by two framing strategies: first, the privileged moral authority conferred upon Holocaust survivors, victims, and their families; and second, the innocence and, hence, righteousness of a child's incredulity at his country's indifference or patent cruelty. The metaphor succeeds in doing its job as long as these two sites of moral authority remain uncontested. I will elaborate on the question of Holocaust survivors' moral authority in the next example.

2 June 1999 At President Clinton's request, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel toured refugee camps in Macedonia and Albania in early June. "Administration officials said the visit was designed to focus attention on the moral argument that they say underpins NATO's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia," wrote David Rohde in The New York Times. Rohde further

noted that Wiesel refused "to compare what was happening in Kosovo with the Holocaust. 'I don't believe in drawing analogies,' he said. 'There were no [refugee] camps to receive us.'" Later in the article, in response to "the nagging question of whether anything had changed 50 years after the Holocaust," Wiesel is reported to have "insisted that it had, saying Washington's response in Kosovo was far better than the ambivalence it showed during the Holocaust."

Wiesel's mission is a fascinating site at which to examine discursive displacements. As noted above, a particular sort of transcendent moral authority is granted to Holocaust survivors. This authority works in a complex way. It stems, in part, from the romanticization, in the West, of suffering and victims, and of Holocaust survivors as a case in point. This romanticization itself turns on the belief that a person who has suffered to such an extreme degree would hold the highest moral code, including a commitment never to cause harm to another living being.

Wiesel's career is a quintessential example of how such authority gets invested in a single individual. His tour of the refugee camps is a testament to his power to represent the moral authority of Holocaust survivors. I suggest that he is a human signifier, a living term that can be juxtaposed with any situation where human rights have been violated, including genocide and ethnic cleansing, for the purpose of comparison and contrast with the Holocaust. Indeed, his statements that "There were no [refugee] camps to receive us" and "Washington's response in Kosovo was far better than the ambivalence it showed during the Holocaust" are exactly the sort of analogies in which he claims not to believe. However, drawing analogies is not a matter of belief; it may actually be impossible to think and communicate in any sign system without them. But if I am correct in asserting that Wiesel's public function is to serve as a human signifier, then what he believes may be irrelevant. In the last analysis, his presence is what counts.

7 June 1999 My final example of discursive displacement, "Kosovars and Palestinians" by Ghada Karmi, brings me full circle to my exchange of email with Gila Svirsky. This illustration reframes the issue of home demolitions and reinscribes its broader context: the displacement of 750,000 Palestinians between 1947 and 1949 and creation of a permanent refugee people. Karmi's (1999) article begins by asserting that

Many Jews have, understandably, seen parallels between the tragic events in Kosovo and their experiences of the Holocaust. But in fact it is not a good parallel. Milosevic, brutal though he is, does not have a genocidal strategy for eradicating Albanians as a race [sic].... For me as a Palestinian, his imperative to create an ethnically pure state brings the events of 1948 painfully to mind.... In April of that year, my family was forced to leave our home in Jerusalem under imminent threat of attack from Jewish forces.... Terrified for our lives, we left with nothing but our clothes and joined a long queue of other Palestinians also fleeing....

Among many articles I have read about Kosovo that employ Holocaust metaphors, this piece stands alone in dismissing any grounds for comparison. Karmi displaced the Kosovo-Holocaust analogy in order to seize the brief window of opportunity when readers were primed to apprehend the suffering of refugees worldwide. This is precisely what, for some readers, makes the Palestine-Kosovo analogy compelling. Other readers, however, may find it difficult to identify and sympathize with victims who have resisted and fought back. In the aftermath of the Intifada, they may find this analogy provocative. To be sure, Karmi's position is not innocent but neither is use of the metaphor of the Holocaust. Metaphors necessarily serve political ends. Indeed, in the agonistic field of discourse, their skillful deployment to leverage moral and material capital may be what matters in the end.

In light of my discussion of discursive displacement, I want to briefly revisit two of the questions I raised in the introduction, which I have attempted to answer in a preliminary way. First, how is our "understanding" of events in Kosovo enlarged by refracting them through the metaphor of the Holocaust? And second, how is it constrained by this analogy? When the boundaries of understanding are enlarged, however, it is notbecause of likeness between the two terms. Rather, it is because the process of discursive displacement becomes an occasion to contrast their differences. But when the metaphor of the Holocaust is deployed unproblematically, as though the "transfer" of meaning were transparent, then the possibility of making new meanings is foreclosed. When this occurs, discursive displacement and the displacement of persons through deportation and ethnic cleansing become conflated-"transformed into images that have no 'meanings' outside themselves" (White 1973, 345). The reality of lived experience is effaced.

George Steiner described the alternative to metaphor when he wrote that "the world of Auschwitz lies outside speech as it lies outside reason" (White 1992, 43). This is a view of catastrophe that I cannot accept because it renounces the possibility of conceptualizing, interpreting, and representing "an event at the limits" of history and human experience (Friedlander 1992, 3). This is no less true of Kosovo than of the Holocaust, for Steiner's despair bespeaks a loss of faith in discourse as a site of knowledge production. In conversation the possibility resides of changing one's mind and enlarging one's understanding of how things actually are and how they might be different. Ending the slaughter and hatred in Kosovo depends, not on bombs and ground troops, but on fostering the optimum conditions for those privileged kinds of conversations called diplomatic negotiations and their corollary between citizen-diplomats.


1 The conjunction material-semiotic is borrowed from Haraway (1988: 588).

2 In 1939, the luxury liner S.S. St. Louis left Germany with 907 Jewish refugees aboard. When it reached U.S. shores, it was refused permission to enter port and ordered to return to Germany. The ship's captain disobeyed, however, and arranged instead for passengers to disembark in Britain, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. About half of the passengers actually survived the war.

3 Articles and op eds not discussed in the body of this text include: "Fleeing to Hungary, Yugoslav Jews Hold Lonely Seder" (17); "Jewish Groups Mobilize for Kosovar Refugees" (18); "Israel Sends Off More Aid Missions for Kosovo Refugees" (19); "In Balkins, Both Sides Accuse Other of Nazi Tactics" (20); and "Kosovo-A Reminder of Yom HaShoah" (24).

4 "Many people have suffered, but none as much as the Jewish people," former Prime Minister Netanyahu told the Fetahis and other Jewish Kosovars at a welcoming reception" (Harman and Klein 1999: 16). As Jews and as Kosovars, one wonders how different members of the assembled group interpreted this pronouncement.

5 On the Little and Great Traditions, see Myerhoff (1978, 256-257), after Robert Redfield.

6 On "good people" doing "dirty work," see Hughes (1967).

7 Rabbi Lerner's (1999) question is no less apt today. According to United Nations and CIA data, as of the end of May, the United States ranked 26th on a list of 27 nations in offering refuge to displaced Kosovars as a percentage of population. Romania was ranked last (Hayden 1999)


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Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1999