him that Nietzsche had gone mad upon seeing a driver beatnhis horse.nFew people had ever been more suspicious of writers’nunions (in the East often peopled by Tacic-approved hacks)nthan I, a so-called dissident writer and a samizdat publisher.nThe Writers’ Club in No. 7 French Street, where Belgrade’snrich and famous could sip spritzers and eat the best tripe inntown, I hated with a passion. Writers, I thought, are eithernrecluses or misfits, and shouldn’t be hobnobbing with partynbigwigs and UDBA thugs in a nationalized villa — unlessnthey wished, one day, to exchange places with them.nMy friend Djordje Babic was a true poet of Belgrade, butnonly I and a few of his childhood buddies knew it. Djordjennever thought of publishing his two thick notebooks of verse,nreluctant to tread anywhere near the Writers’ Club. Nobody,neither, knew of Ilija Nikitovic, a painter who, in thencoal room where he lived, hovered over his miniatures ofnVermeerian beauty. Gently he’d smile at me and say, “Itntook me a year to find out the right mixture for this varnish.nNobody else knows it, and few care.” During the day, Ilijanworked as a sign painter, not because he couldn’t sell hisnpictures, but because he never even tried — at least not tonthe crowd at the Club, “Under the Lindens,” the “Greenery,”nor the Municipal Cafe.nWilly-nilly, writers—by the choicenof their profession—are thenseismographs of mankind. With truthnand power directly proportionalnto their talent, honesty, and honor,nthey tell us, often to their ownndismay, where the big ones arenrolling from.nSo, how was I to square what I knew from Belgrade withnPEN international, the Writers and Scholars International,nthe Index, or any other organization of artists promoting annagenda? When a Belgrade Committee for the Defense ofnFreedom of Thought and Expression wrote in the summernof 1988: “All the leading figures of the Second World Warn(Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, Hider) havenafter their death been assigned their place in history, yet thenpolitical role of the late President [Tito] of Yugoslavia hasnstill not been placed within the objective historical context,”nwas I to forget their silence when Tito was still alive?nIf the Belgrade revolutionary chic was anything as Inremembered it, then Milan Komnenic — a poet who hadnbeen the state’s witness against Gojko Djogo (a fellow poetnand a premature, unauthorized Tito-scoffer) — could benexpected to bare his breast in public, like a guerrillero in thenGoya painting. And, true to stereotype, that’s what he did:nhe gave a fiery speech against the Albanian writers forn24/CHRONICLESnnnsupporting their national interests, instead of the Serbs’. InnNo. 7 French Street Komnenic—long-time editor of anmajor government-controlled publishing house — had finallynacted brave, behind the bulwarks of the Serbian Writers’nUnion.nStill, aside from the nonliterary, bureaucratic language ofnthe Proposal for a Free and Critical Reexamination ofjosipnBroz Tito’s Historical Role, and Komnenic’s (and others’)npolitical past, I perceived their organized action as anwelcome attempt to reclaim at least some of the honor andnthe dignity of a profession, if not of its practitioners.nBut it was very hard for me to join my approval of a call tonthe barricades in Yugoslavia with what went on at the 1986nPEN International Congress in New York. There E.L.nDoctorow denounced Secretary of State George Schultz asnthe representative of “the most ideologically right-wingnadministration this country has yet seen,” while the presidentnof the congress, Norman Mailer, proclaimed that then”neurotic giants” of the USSR and the US were bothnnothing but “drunken parents,” spawning terrorists.nIdo not know whether Doctorow ever perceived himself anVaclav Havel, signing a Charter 77 in New York (I amnfairly confident that he never heard of Milan Komnenic); ornwhether Norman Mailer imagined himself a Solzhenitsyn,nor fancied his Marilyn comparable to Miklos Harazsty’s ThenVelvet Prison (written out of Budapest), but somehow I feltnthat neither Mailer nor Doctorow (or even Carlos Fuentes)nhad ever gone to jail for words, else they would havencertainly valued them more.nIn my Eastern European mind there could be noncomparison between anguish in freedom — even out ofnimpotence—and the mandated suffocation of writers innBelgrade, Budapest, or Moscow. In the US, I’ve seen CarlosnFuentes speak against America to Bill Moyers on AmericannPBS (in impeccable, American-educated English), and Inwatched Solzhenitsyn snubbed and calumnied by the Americannmedia, while a William B. Hoffman sang paeans tonhomosexual AIDS victims in The New York Times BooknReview; but none of that could, ever, be juxtaposed to evennthe plight of Milan Komnenic, in a “differently communist”nYugoslavia.nTo me, coming from a place where my UDBA interrogatorntalked belles lettres as he played with the shiny brassnbutton of his corporate navy blue blazer. Mailer’s professionalnand humanitarian concern for Jack Abbott soundednstrange, next to my knowledge of novelist DragoslavnMihajlovic’s seven years on the Adriatic Naked IslandnPunitive and Correction Camp, for “activities against thenpeople and the state.” Watching the men he knew disappearnone by one — either at sea, their corpses weighted withnmarble slabs, or into a hidden cemetery, with undressed,nunmarked marble headstones over some of the graves,nteenage Mihajlovic suffered his personal (and national)ntruth, art, and salvation in solitude and silence.nLike, I suppose, all human institutions, writers’ unionsnare no better than their members. To a George Theinernat the Writers and Scholars International, or a MichaelnScammell and a Mrs. Simson at PEN international, or anPhil Balla at the American PEN’s Freedom to Writen