VIEWSnTHE PROMISE OF LIFEn”Give them hope, so they may fear.”n—The ApocryphanThere is no more Atlantis.n”Where,” I was asked in prison, by a Yugoslav StatenSecurity agent, “is this Atlantis you would like to live in,nSelic?” I didn’t tell him that I wanted to live in America, itnbeing alive and well, and still above the waters.n”How many foreign divisions are there in Yugoslavia,nSelic?” the agent needled me, and again I kept silent, notntelling him that none were needed, him and his likes beingnour own, homegrown Tartars. He had never heard ofnOrtega y Gasset, else he would have charged him, posthumously,nI suppose.nMy interrogator was a defender of the will of the people,nor so he felt. He, a peasant boy who had made good, and hisnbosses, whom the Revolution had placed in power, werenruling Yugoslavia as they were expected to. Not many pollsnare conducted there, but the rulers were men of acutenperception, who could hear the grass grow. Much of whatnthey did met with no disapproval, at least not statistically.nI see the dragon following me, across the ocean, carriednwithin the heart of my knowledge. In telling, there may be anfutility: customs haven’t changed much concerning bearersnof ill tidings. Indifference, and the will not to see, hear, ornknow are still my executioners, as they were where I camenfrom. Names had become crimes in Yugoslavia. If renamingnthe world could improve it, Yugoslavia would havenbeen a heaven. They hadn’t yet progressed to callingnparaplegics the “dififerendy abled,” or to appropriating “gay”nfor the exclusive use of homosexuals, but they had theirntriumphs. Orwell was a big hit in Belgrade, as elsewhere,noften with the very people who were dishing out thenhogwash.nThe State Security agent whose job it was to take care ofnme was neither horned nor fanged. As Leonard Cohen hadnsung of Eichman, he was merely a clerk, of destruchon. Henwas a Protector I couldn’t protect myself from, and ancomputer, inputting my loss to output social gain. It was ansimple trade-off in his mind, of many numbers against annentity. Before I had left Yugoslavia for good, I had talked tonmy friend, Srdja Popovic. A lawyer in a country where lawsnare regarded as impediments to revolutionary justice, henhad turned his tired eyes upon me and said; “Were Godnmeant to walk among us, why would we need the sky?” Inhad to smile with him then, and leave him at his task innBelgrade, for he was a courageous man, desperate beyondnMomcilo Selic is an expatriate Yugoslav writer.n161 CHRONICLES OF CULTUREnby Momcilo Selicnnnmy ability to suffer.nFor life to be possible, I suppose it had to be out of reachnof men, and many have written of that, including Dostoevski.nDreams and paradises when transposed to earth have annobstinate tendency to turn into hells and nightmares. Therenmay be a dusk descending upon all of us so coddled bynfortune that we have become nauseated by our ownnintestines. My State Security caretaker would have beenndelighted by the activities of various attitude police in placesnlike London, Toronto, and New York. Among other things,nhe was punishing me for not being underprivileged, incapacitated,nor average. He, on the other hand, was eminentlynaverage. Had he not been that, possibly he would have satnright beside me, and someone else would have interrogatednus both.nMy equality was to be reaffirmed by him and brandednupon me, as humanely as possible. After all, he and hisnbosses were no terrorists, but cynical and compassionatenguides into bliss. It had taken men thousands of years tonarticulate the idea of sin, but he was intent on abolishing it.nOnly one transgression was to be allowed to remain,nconceptually—that of pride—while excellence and expiationnwere to be dispensed only by him and those who hadninvested him.nNo nurture, I found, could turn a sable into a pelican,nbut my State Security godfather would have never subscribednto that. Though no Lysenko, he was committed tonbreeding virtue, the way Prussians effect their miraculous,nsquare-edged hedges. If the world spurns his efforts, sonmuch the worse for the world. He could, and would, bannany knowledge contrary to the beliefs he considered humanizing.nWhether it ever occurred to him that the world wentnsomewhat beyond humanity itself, I do not know. I suspectnthat it wouldn’t have mattered to him at all, for his will wasnto stamp his mark on everything, right down to housebrokennpets and mechanized people.nBefore my Eastern European, befuddled, emigre eyes,nshadows flitter at high noon. Democracies have existed asnlong as men, as well as attempts at freedom, and the two didnnot always coincide. The will of the people, as Kiplingnwrote, may not have much to do with the way of the world,nfor multitudes are as prone to make mistakes as individuals.nOur misconceptions, before man became mostly a computingnanimal, were a luxury allowed to us by our ownnimpotence. They were paid for by those who entertainednthem, not by the species as a whole.n