Issues of time lag were written about best perhaps by Kafka, who came from the darkest place and lived in the shadow of the castle. Kafka’s characters want to bring back the ancient time – the torturer in the short story In the Penal Colony, Wilhelm II and George Bush – when time has passed them by. France, living in its own shadow, has a tendency. It finally gets onto the rising Ronald Reagan era – building big, useless Airbus planes that nobody wants and electing Sarko – just as the Reagan Era has fallen into twilight.
But Kafka would find a true home in Kosovo. The region is vortex to Europe’s Four Grandfathers: Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox and Islam. And ancestral Jews as well. And they all hate each other. But I blame the trouble today on Frank Zappa. He trumped Muhammad, the Black Madonna and even Joseph Stalin’s dark charm in the region’s hinterland.
Youth wants to know: Who the hell is Frank Zappa? Just another God that Failed; a charming and witty troubadour who once compared his masculine aspect – which Canadians call a tool – with a Harley-Davidson (" . . . you kick it to start.").
They were called Velvet Revolutionaries and other things rather elegant and fey for a region where next door neighbors stoned one another to death once the dictator turned his back. But they listened to Frank Zappa and Lou Reed who was even hipper and they were the darlings of an age that was unbearably light. They were featured on NPR and championed by the English Department. When the ancient regimes on the edge of Russia were suddenly cut loose from Stalin’s post-war grip, it was widely thought to be because of Frank Zappa.
To recall the first wave, in 1991, when the Soviet Union fell, there was a rush of entrepreneurs from Europe and America sent in to get them on track. What they wanted, it was said, was not Trotsky and Lenin. They wanted America. And not just Jefferson and Lincoln. They wanted Michael Jackson and Calvin Klein. They wanted Frank Zappa.
The Contract with America and the neocon model – Newt Gingrich and McCain’s current advisers Kaplan and Kristol - - appeared to make sense. There were a lot of Poles, Czechs, Serbs, Latvians, Bosnians, Herzegovians, Abkhazians and South Ossetians, and whatever in America, no? Let’s hook up with them. Forget the Chinese hordes and the pesky Pacific Century. This would be the basis of a new American global empire; the Project for a New American Century.
The new diplomatic dogma had a simple plan; it was that we, the Americans, would find a dissident in every desert and swamp in the world that had one and send in the troops. Now that the Iron Curtain had fallen, there were a whole group of them over near Austria somewhere.
And these places would become American pseudo-states like Guam and Puerto Rico; Poland, Czech Republic, Kosovo and hey, all of Islam, starting with Saddam and he will fall in a week. But some of the smaller-minded, lacking the vision thing; the weaklings, pig dogs . . . even some at the NYTs – reflected modestly that to actually hold territory in such a vast empire one needed more than an Air Force. One needed soldiers, and to hold a bunch of territory like this one needed proletariat. You couldn’t fight these global wars with undocumented Mexican day workers like those doing the real work in Silicon Valley. And the U.S. no longer had proletariat.
Not a problem. It was actually suggested; it was actually imagined by these people, that India could supply a few million of its extra untouchables and fight for Frank, Michael and Cal, much as the Gurkhas fought for England. All you had to do was throw those sissy French manboys off the Security Council and put India there instead. This was a plan.
Congress really got into it (it was the end of time, one Pentagon bodhisattva proclaimed). In 1996, everyone in the world wanted to be an American and George Soros, a rich guy, made the point that everyone in the world really was a kind of American; everyone is really an American by degree. So Clinton took the Gingrich playbook. Bombing the beast chilled it for awhile and NATO – Don Cherry’s Euro-wimps – was sent in to keep the peace. But today, as Peter Finn of The Washington Post reports:
. . . the NATO troops that moved into Kosovo after 78 days of airstrikes have since become guards around sealed Serb enclaves . . . At a Serb monastery in Pec . . . Italian troops protect the holy site, which is surrounded by a massive new wall to shield elderly nuns from stone-throwing and other abuse by passing ethnic Albanians.
Youth wants to know: Who the hell is Newt Gingrich?
Kind of makes you wonder, in a land where Orthodox Christians have traditionally hated Jews and Muslins have hated Christians and visa versa; indeed, where everyone hates one another from neighborhood to neighborhood, how long Frank Zappa, Cal Klein and Michael Jackson would hold on as god-kings. Soon, all the Frank Zappa guys might be stoning the Michael Jackson guys.
In Kosovo today they are waving American flags. They are yelling, "We love you Bill Clinton." It was indeed President Clinton who, when the Soviets fell, pressed into Holy Roman Empire and promised to line the edge of Russia with nuclear weapons. And it was 90 U.S. Senators who voted to do this on Clinton’s watch although it was called "a mistake of historic proportions," by George Kennan and the best foreign policy minds of the day. Even Jesse Helms, my old Senator in North Carolina, had to ask if America was willing to commit troops, alienate Russia and start a new round of nuclear proliferation for such small and relatively insignificant stakes when Russia appeared weak and broken.
Much as they cited Zappa as the true revolution, he was only, in the end, a modest comedian and a minor figure to everyone else of his generation who wasn’t beholding to the CIA. And these were not really revolutions. In a revolution, the mice kill the cat and territorialize her turf. Here, the cat just died and America and its NATO allies claimed the cat’s turf on behalf of Frank Zappa and his dissidents.
But like that charming children’s song delightfully dramatized by Sesame Street's Muppets, the cat came back.
("But the cat came back/She wouldn’t stay away/She was sitting on the porch the very next day . . .")
And today the dollar is crashing while the ruble is soaring. And from then to now the same neocon playbook that sent NATO and America to Russia’s edge has followed another dissident and sunk into the sand in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In the late ‘90s in Kosovo, America challenged Russia, advancing the geopolitical playbook written at Yalta to the peak of its vision. Kosovo today is either an end-game of Yalta or the beginning of World War III.
I think the first. It worked in the Middle East because there was that Armageddon thing; then there was the git Saddam thing; there was that jump start the Second Coming of Christ in the Holy Land thing and there was 9/11.
But big war as with Russia in the Balkans no longer holds the broader American imagination on its wandering path. Possibly it was a generational thing and those generations have passed.
Nor would America after Bush, Rove, Perle and Wolfowitz get all that fired up to defend such exotic and esoteric minorities as those scattered throughout the Balkans.
I think it was Chris, the young teen-age hood in Tony Soprano’s gang, who showed a kind of diffident interest when Czechs started coming to New Jersey at the fall of communism in the Soviet Union. Like most new immigrant groups, they formed their own economic under-culture and one of them, Emile (who Chris called "E-mail"), wanted to join Tony’s gang. He graciously explained to Chris how Czechs had just risen up in revolution and cast off the Soviet boot. Chris asked:
"What’s a Czech? That’s a kind of Polak, right?"
Somebody tell them in Kosovo: Bill Clinton is no longer the President. Frank Zappa is dead.