Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne At It Again for Lorna’s Silence

In the category of sudden and unexpected changes of scenery, the decision of filmmaking brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne to set their latest film, Lorna’s Silence, in the Belgian city of Liège, may be the biggest surprise since Woody Allen traded the Upper West Side for Europe. Beginning with their second feature film, the little-seen 1992 melodrama Je pense à vous, all of the Dardennes’ movies (including the Cannes Film Festival–winning Rosetta and The Child) have taken place in Seraing, the small factory town that the Dardennes call home. It is a landscape the brothers have captured so vividly that one begins to recognize certain locations from one film to the next. But Lorna’s Silence, whose title character is an Albanian woman living illegally in Belgium, called for a new backdrop, albeit one just a few miles down the highway.

“For us, there were two reasons,” says Luc, 55, the younger and usually more talkative of the two, when we met in the lobby bar of Cannes’ Carlton Hotel midway through this year’s festival. Although the Dardennes did not have a new film screening—Lorna’s Silence, which opens next week in New York, was shown in competition in 2008, where it went on to win the Best Screenplay prize—they had been selected to present the festival’s annual filmmaking master class, the “Leçon de Cinéma.” “The first reason was that when you’re an immigrant, you’re drawn to a big city—all the more so if you’re illegal, because it’s easier to hide, there is the possibility of meeting other members of your community there, and it’s also easier to find illegal work there The second thing, which was the principal thing, was the idea that Lorna would be a woman of the night, moving through the lights of the city, cars, buses, and advertisements. We always saw it like this, a bit like a film noir. Liège is not New York, obviously, but it’s a big city, and there’s more movement.”

The idea for the film grew out of an encounter the brothers had with a Seraing social worker, who told them of an incident in which her own brother, a drug addict, had been approached by members of the Albanian mafia and offered 2,500 Euros to enter into a paper marriage with an Albanian prostitute, plus another 5,000 Euros to divorce her after a specified period of time. “That would allow the Albanian woman to become Belgian, and then she, in turn, could marry a member of the Albanian mafia and make him legal as well,” says Luc. “His sister told him, ‘Don’t do it. Two drug addicts died of mysterious overdoses after marrying an Albanian prostitute, so it’s dangerous.’ So he didn’t do it. But this encounter stayed with us, and I talked about it with Jean-Pierre while we were in New York for the release of The Child, and we came up with the idea of this couple who is on the run.”

In the movie, Lorna (played by 30-year-old, Kosovo-born actress Arta Dobroshi)—no longer a prostitute, but merely a desperate woman caught up in a desperate situation—marries waifish, strung-out addict Claudy (Jérémie Renier) at the behest of her gangster patron Fabio (Fabrizio Rongione), hoping to use the money, and her new citizenship, to open a small snack bar with her boyfriend, Sokol (Alban Ukaj). But when Lorna discovers that Fabio intends to murder Claudy in order to speed along the process, she tries to find a way to save both her paper husband and her own fragile dream of success. It is a situation that the Dardennes have found themselves drawn to time and again: money and opportunity pitted against morality and conscience in a world where seemingly everything has a price. In their first internationally distributed feature La promesse (1996), a teenage boy (also played by Renier), working in an illegal human trafficking operation, must decide whether to compromise his father’s livelihood by reporting the death of an undocumented worker. In The Child (2005), an aimless young father (Renier again) sells his own newborn baby on the black market and then spends the rest of the movie trying to get it back.

“It’s true that we explore each time, in a certain way, the worth of human life,” says Jean-Pierre. “Of course, the worth of human life is priceless, but there are characters in our films—often the principal ones—who think that life has a commercial value. And they come to see that, yes, human life is priceless.”

In Lorna’s Silence, that discovery happens through the eyes of the remarkable Dobroshi, whom the Dardennes cast after an extensive search in Albania, Macedonia, and Kosovo, but who didn’t speak a word of French when the brothers traveled to Sarajevo to meet her. “We worked two days there with her—just scenes that were very physical but didn’t involve any dialogue,” says Jean-Pierre, “and we realized that this girl had something special about her, that she had a sense of mystery. What we also liked about her is that her face works in two ways. She’s someone who looks friendly, available, trustworthy, and, at the same time, she’s capable of looking very hard.”

Eventually, Dobroshi learned her lines by heart and even agreed to the brothers’ most demanding condition for accepting the role—that she trim her long hair to Lorna’s close-cropped cut. “She said, ‘I’ve always had long hair, ever since I was a little girl,’ ” recalls Jean-Pierre. “And we said, ‘We’re afraid you’re going to leave your childhood with us.’ “

In the film’s most striking sequence—which happens to be the Dardennes’ first sex scene—a frantic Lorna, having resolved to wean Claudy from his habit by locking him inside their apartment and tossing the key out the window, strips naked and proceeds to offer herself, for the first time, to her husband. When their bodies meet, it is not as fellow pawns in a devil’s bargain, but as two equally fragile beings seeking shelter from the storm.

“What happens to her is something totally unexpected,” says Jean-Pierre. “Lorna has planned everything, calculated everything, gone through all the possibilities up to this moment, and here, something happens that she hasn’t foreseen and that is uncontrollable. She wants to save Claudy. The manner to save him, she thinks, is to give herself to him. But it’s as if the trap she has set for him turns around and traps her, too. After all these months of living life as a pseudo-couple, in which she has refused his every attempt at intimacy, she finds herself trapped as well.”


Life. Support. Music. Sad. Story. Bad. Movie.

The material covered in the documentary Life. Support. Music. could bring any stoic to convulsive tears. The film’s subject, Jason Cringler, was a 34-year-old LES clubrock fixture, sought-after session axeman, and expectant father when, at a gig one night, he had a big ol’ brain-bleeding aneurysm, leaving his body curled and clenched like a Pompeii victim. The grinding struggle to regain the simplest motor skills was recorded by Jason’s medical personnel. Entrusted with this deeply private, wrenching footage, software-happy filmmaker and family friend Eric Daniel Metzgar (previous credits include James Blunt in Kosovo) has made a not-very-good movie marked by his consistent inability to let the material speak for itself. Photos of a young Jason are accompanied by a slightly creepy telegraphic litany of coming-of-age moments (“Parents’ divorce. Guitar lessons. Euphoria.”) When Jason goes back onstage for a neighborhood crowd, Metzgar voice-overs a streak of purple prose instead of letting the man’s playing speak for itself. (“Something exceptional and quite indescribable occurred”—well, you don’t need to describe it if you’ve got the feed from the sound boards.) Jason, for his part, consistently comes off as a low-key guy who, faced with the worst possible of circumstances, chinned-up and did what he had to do, as ever: “We did the gig.”


Wesley Clark Answers the People’s Questions

HUDSON, NEW HAMPSHIRE—In a rather bizarre appearance before about 500 townspeople in this southern New Hampshire town’s high school last night, General Wesley Clark joked that we might as well send George Bush to Mars and claimed that lobbyists keep America safe (video).

This capped an hour-long gathering that arranged mostly middle-class citizens in a large circle in the high school’s auditorium. Before Clark could come onstage there was the obligatory showing of a dreadful documentary film on the general’s brilliant career. The film, made in the style of Clinton’s lugubrious campaign flicks, touches all the bases: How young Wes helped his mom after his dad died. How he was an ace swimmer in high school, went to West Point, and married a strong woman from Brooklyn. How he was shipped to Vietnam, where he was badly wounded. You know the rest.

As the flick mercifully came to an end, the general strode into the room and started off by telling the cheering crowd that whoever really wants to know his programs should check out the website. He also said that one important factor in being president is your faith, listing all the denominations he’s dipped into over the years: His dad was Jewish. His mom, a Methodist. He joined the Baptist Church, and in addition to attending church two or three times every Sunday, went back during the week for another service and a first-class spaghetti dinner. Anyhow, this is where he learned the basic tenet of Christianity—you’ve gotta help those less fortunate than yourself.

Moving on to other topics, the general said he was so galvanized as a child by the Sputnik challenge and Jack Kennedy’s desire to get a man on
the moon that he tried to build his own rocket in the backyard, experimenting with different fuels till he got a decent bang. The general-to-be was sitting in an Arkansas barber shop when Kruschev threatened to bury America. That didn’t seem right, and sensing the first stirrings of patriotism, Clark got real mad.

People began to ask him questions: How come you got relieved of your command? Clark said he wasn’t relieved, but in the interests of helping the Kosovo people, he quit his job as supreme NATO commander. (Actually, he called them “Albanian people,” though people in Kosovo do not consider themselves part of Albania.)

A woman said she was plenty pissed at the Iraq war and didn’t want to send any of her sons over there unless there was “a damn good reason.” Clark agreed and said he hoped the draft wouldn’t return. “I promise you I won’t get us into another mess like this,” he said at one point.

Clark claimed we had to do something about health care and suggested building a national system modeled on the federal employees’ health insurance system—a plan long promoted by the right-wing Heritage Foundation.

After the army, Clark said he jumped into the private sector because he wanted to make money that he could give away. He became a lobbyist for a company that had put together a neat software system for catching hijackers. He said there was no reason to dump on lobbyists per se, because they help get things done.

Clark said losing American jobs to third-world countries was a big problem, especially sending thousands of software jobs to India. The general said he had learned there is a trapdoor in a lot of software programs, and for national security reasons alone he didn’t want foreigners stashing anything in software that’s crucial to our national defense.

When someone asked whether it was true he had been a Republican only a year ago, Clark said: “I was never a Republican,” adding he had voted for Clinton and Gore. “I live the values of the Democratic party,” he claimed. “There’s only one party for me.”

Additional reporting: Ashley Glacel


Wesley Clinton

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Some People say Wesley Clark is a Clinton stooge. Pretty soon they’re going to be saying he’s a tool for the Bush campaign.

Clark embodies just about everything the right wing hates, and he will no doubt become another ingredient in the president’s re-election strategy to fire up the conservative base. Clark is despised by various elements in the military as a grandstander. His battle tactics in Kosovo are questioned by numerous critics on both the right and left: he kept American casualties low by raining bombs from 30,000 feet on civilian targets.

Clinton denies it, but just about everybody thinks he and Hillary are behind Clark’s sudden appearance on the political stage. The former president’s old campaign staff and aides are pretty much running Clark’s operation. But Slick Willy always hedges his bets. Clark might have been the former president’s commander in Kosovo, but Clinton has been accused of forcing the general into retirement. You can be sure that if Clark stumbles, Clinton will drop him like a hot potato.

Defense Secretary William Cohen connived to block the General from attending NATO’s 50th anniversary meeting in Washington. Now General Henry H. Shelton, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, is also questioning Clark. He said recently, “I’ve known Wes for a long time. I will tell you the reason he came out of Europe early had to do with integrity and character issues, things that are very near and dear to my heart. I’m not going to say whether I’m a Republican or a Democrat. I’ll just say Wes won’t get my vote.”

Having the military against you can be unpleasant. In 2000, John McCain’s campaign was partly gutted by whispers from the military that he had a screw loose. In New Hampshire he was accused of misrepresenting his time spent as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. These were little more than nasty rumors, but during the primary McCain had to recruit former POWs who had been imprisoned with him to rebut the smears.

On Monday, Clark proposed a 5,000-person civilian reserve, which could be called up for emergencies both here and abroad. The reserve would be open to anyone over the age of 18, and could be mustered at the command of president and the Congress to handle crises like forest fires, earthquakes, and nation-building in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

This proposal has already been criticized as a redundancy, since Clinton’s AmeriCorps and Bush’s USA Freedom Corps have already spent large sums in efforts to boost volunteerism.

Clark’s corps would meet another need, though it’s unclear if this is the former general’s intention. The U.S. military is severely strained by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bush and Rumsfeld mock the UN, which means, among other things, we will have to shoulder the burden of running international peacekeeping projects when it is in our interest to do so.

This new corps, which would be run directly by the federal government, might help take the strain off the National Guard, but in doing so it would probably plunge the federal government into direct management of disasters at the local level. That is of questionable constitutional legitimacy, since disasters and ordinary operations of the Guard are supposed to be in the hands of state governors, not Washington.

Research: Ashley Glacel


The Filthy War

JAFFA—Can any of you fathom what we’re doing? My friends are all dumbfounded. I’ve asked everyone I know, running the gamut from right-wingers to bleeding hearts, and not one person can comprehend the logic behind the current military frenzy.

The superficial “why?” is easy. Israelis are fed up with atrocious terrorist bombings and want them stopped. Some want revenge. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is the kind of guy who thinks brute force can solve any problem. And, if he wavers in that conviction, the hard-liners know how to give him backbone—they threaten to bring down his government.

No more carrots, the hard-liners say. Just bring out the sticks.

But the underlying “why?” eludes us all. Sharon and his cronies are not stupid and must understand that the military havoc Israel is perpetrating has raised the pitch of Palestinian hatred for Israelis past the boiling point. Did they really think that unleashing the most ferocious military campaign Israel has mounted in years was going to quell the violence?

Israelis ask if we are demeaning ourselves by answering the filthy war the Palestinians are fighting against us with an equivalently filthy war against them. The answer is “yes.”

Israelis also ask if we are breeding a whole new generation of suicide bombers with our tactics. Again, the answer most certainly is “yes.” If you believe Palestinian propaganda, and on this point I do, hundreds if not thousands of young people are getting in line to blow themselves up for the cause.

And, if life is cheap, so are the explosives. One of the documents reportedly found in Yasser Arafat’s besieged Ramallah compound was a request for funds. It explained that the explosive belts worn by suicide bombers cost 700 shekels each (about $150) and between five and nine devices were needed per week, if the Chairman could spare the money. Thank you very much.

Suicide bombings and sniper ambushes by Palestinians during the month of March killed 129 Israelis. In the worst massacre of the 18-month-old Palestinian uprising or intifada, 26 people were killed at a Passover dinner in the seaside town of Netanya.

Reliable figures do not exist for the Palestinian dead, but March was the first month of the current intifada when Israeli dead outnumbered those of the Palestinians.

During the first intifada, which began in 1987, the ratio of Palestinian to Israeli dead was 25 to one. The ratio during the second intifada, which began in October 2000, was a steady three to one until recent events. The Palestinians believe that time is on their side and have made it clear that they consider their casualty figures acceptable. Gives you something to think about.

Also worrying is that the suicide bombers no longer belong only to Hamas or Islamic Jihad. They now belong to Al Aqsa, they are Fatah, they are linked directly to Yasser Arafat. And guess who gave them guns and weapons training back in the good old days when we were all basking in Oslo’s golden light. We did.

Speaking of Arafat, we are all anxious about him too, but you shouldn’t lose any sleep agonizing about his well-being. He’s reveling in all the attention. For him, the siege is as invigorating as a hit of methamphetamine.

The Israeli government has assigned one Lieutenant Colonel Amir Safri to take care of Arafat’s “humanitarian needs”: food, medicine, toilet paper, and other necessities. The guy is apparently efficient. There is water, electricity, and occasional telephone service, in case you want to call and chat.

No, it’s not Arafat’s comfort we worry about. We’re just concerned that he’ll trip down the stairs or have a heart attack or something. If Arafat croaks, all hell will break loose, making what’s happening now look like the proverbial calm before the storm.

No one has cared about Arafat since the jerk walked out of Camp David after Ehud Barak made an extremely courageous peace offer—an offer that cost him the prime minister’s job. Arafat considered Barak’s offer of half of Jerusalem and all of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, a sign of Israeli weakness. He made it clear that he wanted what he had wanted from day one—all of historic Palestine for the Palestinians.

Playing us for suckers, Arafat declared that he could accept no deal with Israel that did not include the “right of return” to Israel for millions of Palestinian refugees, something that would put the Jews in the minority and spell the end of the Jewish state.

The plight of Palestinian refugees is tragic. But while Israel opened its arms to Jewish refugees who were driven out of Iraq, Tunisia, Morocco, Yemen, and other Arab nations after 1948, most Arab countries have confined the Palestinians in squalid refugee camps for decades so they can supply political capital against Israel.

Now Arafat is trying to play us for suckers again. As soon as the “mighty” Israeli military machine began rolling toward Ramallah, Arafat announced that he was ready for a cease-fire. So Israel asked Arafat to do one simple thing: declare the cease-fire in Arabic and order an end to terrorist killings. Arafat refused. He’ll say anything the Americans ask him to say . . . but not in Arabic.

And no one understands why the Israeli government is going after Arafat and his gang but not Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who leads Hamas and is considered much more dangerous.

The wheelchair-bound Sheik Yassin was jailed by Israel from 1989 to 1997 for ordering Hamas attacks against Israeli targets. He is paralyzed in all four limbs, has breathing problems, and can barely hear. But the old coot still has a lot of power and a surplus of venom in his veins.

Anyway, it’s time to stop being polite to sovereign or would-be sovereign nations. It is time to impose an agreement. Washington will have to do the dirty work if the anguish on both sides here is to end.

As Yossi Sarid, the leader of the Israeli opposition Meretz party, wrote in the International Herald Tribune on March 29: “Superpower status, like nobility in the past, obliges.”

Washington, Sarid wrote, “should tell both sides that if in a few days they don’t achieve a truce, an international force under U.S. leadership will be sent to separate the Israelis from the Palestinians. . . . ”

“An international force under U.S. leadership,” he wrote, “would not only protect Israelis from Palestinians (and vice versa), it would safeguard the interests of the United States, the free world and moderate Arab countries, and would help the Palestinian Authority rehabilitate itself and the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza finally to stand on their feet.

“For many years, Israel rejected the idea of an international force, saying: ‘Excuse me? Are we Bosnia? Is this Kosovo?’ My answer is: Yes, we have become Kosovo. When victims fall every day and both sides are blinded by hatred and revenge, we are Kosovo. And a Kosovo-like reality demands a Kosovo-like solution.”


The Really World Wide Web

The last place to look for worldwide news is the mainstream American media. Instead, turn to the Web, where you can skip weeks ahead of our lame excuses for international reporting and, in a kick-ass minute, find out what’s really going on.

Though nothing has ever matched the BBC’s radio bulletins of the World War II blitz of London, when whole families huddled around the radio and strained to hear Edward R. Murrow’s reports over the exploding bombs, a mix of independent journalists and major media outlets have begun to create a new kind of reportage online, one that in tone and scope sets the stage for the future. During last year’s war in Kosovo, the British news corps’s speedy headline service far outpaced the efforts of the Associated Press’s stodgy dodgers. The BBC is a little centrist for some tastes, but it’s strong on breaking stories. This is the home of Britain’s Guardian, the most sensible paper in English. Another British paper, the Independent is unbeatable for foreign reporting. This press agency had the goods on Russian military operations during the Kosovo conflict and diplomatic bickering from the unhappy campers in NATO, namely the Italians. When the bombs fell over the Balkans, this site lobbed hour-by-hour (sometimes minute-by-minute) intelligence takes.

B92 Radio: Banned from Belgrade, this station was picked up and broadcast online at by Dutch backers. It provided lengthy reports on the toll of bombing within Yugoslavia.

Perry CastaƱeda Library Map Collection: Hosted by the University of Texas, this Web-based archive filled the gaps in online Kosovo coverage by providing aerial and ground maps that allowed the viewer to plot the course of any military maneuver, whether it came up from the southern staging points in Albania or swept down out of Hungary. Found at

Russia List: David Johnson’s daily listserv dishes out the most pointed stories from Moscow and the republics of the former Soviet Union. Johnson, an inspired researcher who works days at the Center for Defense Information, includes mercifully small doses of windy rent-a-professors.

He also compiles a weekly edition called the CDI Russia Weekly. Both are free. Just e-mail a request to Back issues of the CDI Russia Weekly are available at This English-language paper has been around since 1992, delivering news on everything from soccer to economics. An English-language business rag, The Russia Journal covers subjects from commerce to defense and politics.

International War and Peace Report: Found at, this site tracks what’s going down daily in places like Chechnya, where guerrillas continue to fight a dogged, determined battle. The Report is also strong on the continuing nightmare in the Balkans. Part of the up-and-coming European Internet Network, Russia Today offers a combination of news, analysis, and chat rooms. For most Americans, Europe stops at Vienna. But that’s where the new Europe actually begins its wild ride down the Danube all the way to Istanbul. Central Europe, a sister publication of Russia Today, offers the same mix of breaking headlines and cultural information, but with an eye toward countries like Hungary, Slovenia, Poland, and the Czech Republic. Another European Internet Network site, this one covers Chinese news, from politics to defense.

Central Europe Review: Found at, this weekly journal covers politics and culture, with an intellectual bent.

Central Asia Caucasus Analyst: This Johns Hopkins journal is a tad stuffy, but it’s a great source for information on the developments in the Caspian Sea region, where Kazakhstan recently confirmed a huge oil find, shoving the Middle East into the background. Found at The nonprofit foundation has its own take on the Caspian Sea oil play, and a ticker that at least makes a stab at providing news. Instead of watching the AP wires, keep a sharp eye out for this news agency’s terrific regional reports.

Agence France Presse: Like Reuters, is a strong source for speedy foreign reports. An English-language version of a Norwegian site packed with information on antinuclear issues. The American press barely reports on the international revolt against the financial practices of Western banks in the developing world. To follow the fight, head to Vandana Shiva’s Delhi Web site, which can give you a whiff of the revolution straight from the small farms of the subcontinent where it flourishes with an intensity seen nowhere else in the world. Walden Bello is probably the single most important figure in describing the effects of international financial capital on developing economies, especially those in Asia. Forty news organizations contribute to this site. The best of them is the Dakar-based PanAfricanNews Agency. This portal opens a door to all things African, including the Norwegian Council for Africa’s must-read Index on Africa.

Latin American Network Information Center: This portal, hosted by the University of Texas at, is the best bet for sorting out news and issues concerning Latin America.


Lucky Stiff

It’s almost too easy to make fun of Lucky, Condé Nast’s new magazine—after all, a journal that describes itself as “a new magazine about shopping” is hardly pretending to be The New York Review of Books. Surely Lucky’s “700 great finds, 245 summer looks, 71 cool stores, 39 must-visit Web sites” are meant only to provide a few moments of goofy pleasure, the literary equivalent of a half hour with Dharma & Greg or an assignation with a bag of McDonald’s fries. So why is Lucky so annoying?

Well, it could be that without the celebrity profiles, sex columns, self-help quizzes, career pointers, diet advice, and inspirational first-person essays that prop up other women’s magazines, Lucky, like its intended audience, is a little too thin and self-conscious. According to an open letter in the magazine from Kim France, editor in chief, “. . . Lucky is not a fashion magazine. Rather, it is a magazine about shopping. And shopping, I’d argue, is all about realizing your fantasies. In small ways, yes. But on days that are like most days in my life so far—days I don’t settle the conflict in Kosovo, win the lottery, or establish a system of economic and social opportunity that creates true equality for all—I’m willing to settle for the very real joy that there is to be had in finding the perfect kitten heel pump.”

It’s too bad this relatively unadorned prose and frank, if bizarrely argued, defense of shopping does not set the style for the rest of the editorial content. Instead, the bulk of the magazine employs a grating, cutesy tone, heavy with cool, groovy, and girl—a hard-thrusting infantilism that is just the kind of thing that makes you want to throw Jane out the window.

Or maybe the trouble with Lucky is that a lot of the things it’s gasping with enthusiasm about aren’t all that nice. After all, shopping, at least the kind Lucky has in mind, isn’t about buying things you actually need, it’s about the pure pleasure of dressing up, the fun of owning something new. (France admits as much when she says she thinks shopping is all about fantasy, just before her digression on Kosovo.) Lucky makes a lot of stabs in this direction, what with its 11 pages of shoes (“We love a comfortable shoe that’s cool. . . . “) and a two-page spread on a printed chiffon Prada blouse with a flopping bow that costs $600. The blouse is shown on four New York City downtown shop owners, who are asked to style this garment, an item that would suit a 60-year-old dowager if it weren’t semitransparent. The results are headlined “Edgy” (with a pair of jeans), “Slinky” (open over a tube top), “Fierce” (tucked into a tight skirt), and “Femme” (covered by a pointelle vest, buttoned over a lace dress, leaving only its inoffensive sleeves and the tails of its limp bow showing). Someday there’ll be a magazine that will tell readers what they really need to know about this blouse: that even the biggest size is too small for most people, that it’s going out of style very soon, that the 800 number for Prada at the top of the page will only give you a list of the stores near you, not bundle up $600 worth of chiffon and ship it to you in Lincoln, Nebraska, or Cedar Falls, Iowa, or other burgs far from Prada outlets.

But really, how much worse is Lucky than its fellow travelers, magazines like Allure, which elevates the application of cosmetics to the center of women’s existence, or InStyle, which insists that everything, even a barrette or a loaf of bread, bear the imprimatur of a celebrity? Lucky may have an article called “How to Dress Around This Bag” and a column called “Ask Dr. Shopper” and a page of “yes” and “maybe” stickers that you’re supposed to use to mark stuff you might want to buy, but at least it doesn’t pull a bait-and-switch the way Glamour does, running a letter from its editor that declares, “Who says women’s magazines make women feel bad about their bodies? This month’s Glamour will basically liposuction any desire for plastic surgery right out of your brain!” Unfortunately, this promise is reneged upon just a few pages later with “I Want a Beach-Ready Body,” a feature that catalogs a litany of familiar albatrosses. “I have love handles,” moans the copy. “I’m too busty. I’ve got back fat. My chest is too small. My butt’s too big. I’ve got a big belly. My arms jiggle.” What’s a girl to do but give up and go shopping?

Another Opening, Another Store

Gene negotiated exclusivity on the spot. He starts telling Isaia, we’ll give you a little area of your own, we’ll do this, we’ll do that, and I thought, oh my God, he’s lost his mind. But you know what? He was right. From that point onwards, I was selling hundreds of sex[y] sets a week out of the Co-op.

—a saleswoman reminiscing in Joshua Levine’s The Rise and Fall of the House of Barneys

“The old Barneys Co-op was the kind of place where Gene Pressman, scion of the family that founded Barneys, could anoint little-known designers like Isaia—at least until Pressman’s Armani-clad keister was kicked out of the business by the courts and the 17th Street Barneys was closed forever. Or so it seemed.

Almost exactly three years later, Barneys Co-op is back, Pressman-less, at 236 West 18th Street, trying to catch the wave of new money that is presently engulfing far West Chelsea. In fact, the new Barneys Co-op looks a lot like Jeffrey, the high-fashion store on 14th Street just off the river, what with its plain racks of bright clothes and flowing, open space. The merchandise is still pretty sexy, in a late-’90s, Sex and the City way: A recent sweep-through took in tie-dyed, bejeweled halters, $355 cowskin-printed pink feedbags, suede skirts with scalloped hems, and pairs of frayed Daisy Dukes trimmed with what looked like tiny red headlights by a company called Groovygirl, a brand that would be right at home in the pages of Lucky.


Kosovo— Was There Another Way?

While worldwide attention is being paid to rebuilding Kosovo, a civil war, beginning in 1983, has killed 2 million people in the Sudan. Most of the dead are black Christians and animists in the south of the country. They are victims of Sudan’s Arab Muslim government in the north.

As Aaron Brown reported on ABC-TV’s Nightline (July 5): “Just about every horror you can imagine thrives” in the south. “Starvation killed a quarter of a million people last year. There is disease—cholera, malaria, leprosy.” And, as I’ve often noted here, there is slavery—black women and children taken by Arab militias armed by the government.

Nightline focused on Susan Nagley, an American family physician who has been working to relieve the suffering there with extremely limited resources because the world, including this country, does not regard that form of ethnic cleansing to be worth its concern.

Yet, while 1.3 million people in Kosovo were displaced by the war, 4 million in
the Sudan are now homeless. Also, as Nightline revealed, while the infant mortality rate in Kosovo is 17 deaths per 1000, it is 72 per 1000 in the Sudan.

Why don’t we care? Dr. Susan Nagley keeps asking herself the same question: “People here see that the United States and the rest of the world are very concerned about the people in Kosovo. The Sudanese wonder, ‘Why isn’t anybody concerned about us here, too?”‘

Because they are black.

But as for Kosovo itself, there is another unanswered question. Was there another way to stop the killing except by our bombing, which increased the number of corpses on both sides?

In the spirit of Martin Luther King and other direct-action pacifists, James W. Doug lass has proposed another way in the June
18 Commonweal. It was developed by Nashville peace activists Karl Meyer, Pam Beziar, and Angela Schindler.

“As the conflict began to develop, the United Nations Security Council would define the principles for UN intervention and a just settlement.”

But words on paper would be the merest beginning. The secretary general would form a “nonviolent army” led by such “influential world figures” as:

“religious leaders, including bishops delegated by the pope, Orthodox patriarchs, Islamic and Jewish leaders;

“Nobel Peace winners, such as former Costa Rican president Oscar Arias, the Dalai Lama, Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa;

“retired world leaders such as Jimmy Carter and Mikhail Gorbachev;

“diplomats from Russia and all other European neighbors of Yugoslavia;

“experienced activists trained in nonviolent tactics, such as veterans of the American civil rights movement and the Christian peacemaker teams that have worked in the West Bank and Haiti.”

I would also suggest Cardinal John
O’Connor of New York, who publicly opposed the NATO bombing; David McReynolds and his longtime colleagues in the War Resisters League; Joseph Zogby, founder of the Palestine Peace Project; Ginetta Sagan of Amnesty International, if her health permits; and a member of B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights.

This nonviolent army would have divided into two units. “One,” as James Doug lass writes, “would have gone into Serbia to engage in dialogue with all sectors of civil society; the other would have gone to Kosovo to interpose itself between Serbian forces and the KLA and to begin dialogue and mediation between them.”

Pie in the sky? Well, as James Douglass says, this vision of peace created by people on the ground in the midst of the conflict is rooted in the conviction that “nonviolent resistance based on truth and supported by the world’s community can dislodge any unjust government’s popular support.”

And it should be remembered that “Milosevic’s hold on power was, in fact, shaky before the Dayton Agreement and the NATO bombing. The Serbian and Kosovar nonviolent movements were threatening his power.”

Remember the marches, strikes, and noncooperation of Albanian Kosovars during much of the 1990s? And the huge demonstrations in Yugoslavia—before the NATO bombings—by Serbian opponents of Milosevic’s regime? Our bombing paralyzed that resistance, turning many of its members into haters of NATO and us.

What if this nonviolent army had actually come into being? Would even Milosevic have fired on Mandela, O’Connor, Tutu, bishops, rabbis, Islamic religious leaders, Serbian Orthodox priests?

And if he had fired on them—with no NATO bombing or any other military actions against him—would he not have had to overcome immediate internal opposition to him that was rising before the bombing? And then, would his “cleansing” have had to stop so that that he could save himself? And would he actually have been able to save himself against a critical mass of his own people?

In 1962, anthropologist Loren Eiseley wrote in The New York Times: “In those great tribes which constitute modern nations…the aggressive and powerful threaten and contend, brandishing unheard of weapons against the breadth of seas. Still, the quiet go in fear of the violent, and women and children are afraid in the night.

“Our ways change but slowly, if at all.”

Martin Luther King knew that if our ways did not change, there would inevitably be more atrocities from the great tribes. Is it predestined that this dream of a nonviolent army will remain only a dream?

See you in a month.


Oh What a Lovely War!

NATO’s air campaign clearly represents the most accurate and discriminating use of air power in history.

—James Rubin, State Department, Daily News, May 22

Milosevic’s troops are out of Kosovo—and no Americans were killed during the eviction. Congratulations to all concerned.

New York Post lead editorial, June 22

Jason Vest’s “Human Shields for Clinton” (Voice, June 15) was a necessary exception to the general hallelujah chorus—by liberals and conservatives—celebrating the victorious end of the undeclared and therefore unconstitutional war.

Vest quoted former Nuremberg War Crimes prosecutor Walter J. Rockler skewering “the notion that humanitarian violations can be redressed with random destruction and killing.”

But this underside of the NATO-Clinton-Blair triumph is no longer in the news. We don’t hear any more, for example, of what happened to a town in Yugoslavia where—as The New York Times reported back then—antipersonnel bombs killed “five people, including Bozina Tosovic, 30, and his 11-month-old daughter, Bojana.” (As quoted in the July issue of The Progressive.)

Instead, the June 27 New York Times had a front-page photograph, in glorious color, of Bill Clinton, surrounded by admiring Kosovar refugees in Macedonia. And the American press, print and television, focuses on the increasing, horrifying evidence of Serbian savagery—mass graves and torture chambers. The lethal “collateral damage” to civilians in Kosovo and Yugoslavia has been forgotten.

Quantitatively, the deaths and maiming caused by our bombing do not compare with Milosevic’s crimes. But if our violations of human rights are so easily justified by us, it will be easier to embark again on a humanitarian mission without seeing the faces of the innocent we kill.

Unexpectedly, it has been Henry Kissinger who has most vividly tried to remind us of our own crimes in Serbia and Kosovo. It was Kissinger who was instrumental in orchestrating the 12 days of “the Christmas bombings” of North Vietnam during the Vietnamese War. In Hanoi the bombs fell during a Mass being celebrated in the city’s Catholic cathedral, and the Bach Mai hospital was destroyed. Over 2000 civilians were killed in Hanoi during that gruesome holiday.

But this year, during a May 25 forum at the New York Post, Kissinger said of Clinton’s war on the Serbs:

“Pounding away on a civilian population day by day is, in effect, saying that our moral principles stop at 15,000 feet.”

And on the June 11 Jim Lehrer hour on PBS, Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, hardly a pacifist, said that “the way the war was fought seemed to have implied that we put a much higher value on the post-bombing lives of our own professional soldiers than on the thousands of Kosovars and perhaps hundreds of Serbs. That I think has the effect of creating the impression of some sort of technological racism that motivates us.” (Emphasis added.)

Very seldom mentioned during the bombing—and hardly at all since—is the long-term collateral damage we have caused below 15,000 feet. Particularly with regard to our use of cluster bombs.

Steve Goose, program director of Human Rights Watch’s arms division, points out that “the submunitions inside cluster bombs have a high failure rate and can leave unexploded ordnance over wide areas, ready to detonate on contact—in effect becoming land mines and killing civilians even years after the conflict has ended.

“Because of the submunitions’ appearance—some are orange-yellow soda-can-sized objects and [others look like] green baseballs—children are particularly drawn to the volatile live remnants. On April 24, five children playing with colorful unexploded submunitions were reported killed, and two injured, near Doganovic in southern Kosovo.”

Milosevic and his cohorts are surely war criminals, but did we commit any war crimes? On National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation (June 3), Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies, citing “Milosevic’s terrible war crimes,” went on to say that “the NATO bombing violated specific rules of war. Our government has committed war crimes by bombing civilian infrastructures.

“Things like water-treatment plants,” she added, “sewage-treatment plants, and the electrical grid certainly have military capacity, but they also are a civilian necessity….The United States is responsible, along with its NATO allies, for having deliberately chosen those targets—knowing what the effect would be on the civilian population.”

As Dr. William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International, says of our bombing: “Those who act in the name of human rights bear a responsibility to see that their own actions scrupulously accord with human rights standards.”

In the July issue of The Progressive, Howard Zinn quotes an e-mail from a linguistics professor in Yugoslavia: “The little town of Aleksinac was hit last night with full force by NATO bombs. The local hospital was hit, and a whole street was simply wiped off. There were six dead civilians and more than fifty badly hurt. There was no military target whatsoever.”


Balkans Beachhead

Washington— It was late in the day when the industrial contractor called. “We’re ready to do business in Kosovo,” he told the senior administration official on the other end of the line. “Who do we talk to?”

The official paused. “I haven’t the faintest idea,” he said. “My advice: call Brussels.”

That was not the counsel the official had expected to give, but, he said, unlike the situation at the end of the Gulf War, it doesn’t seem that the U.S. government has made ensuring U.S. companies a piece of the rebuilding action in Kosovo a high priority. Nor does it seem probable, say numerous European observers, that the European Union— the body largely responsible for underwriting and overseeing Kosovo’s physical reconstruction— is going to look favorably upon American bidders, as most EU members are still quietly disdainful of the U.S. for essentially forcing them into military conflict with Yugoslavia.

In fact, they say, the contracting process could be a crucial part of Europe’s continued efforts to assert its independence from American authority. Yet the Europeans are likely to find their burgeoning sense of autonomy undercut by the U.S. through two other institutions that, ironically, could end up further complicating the Balkans situation: the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

“One could very cynically say one of the reasons for U.S. entry into the Balkans was the opportunity to impose its economic stamp on the region,” says Steve Helliger, president of the Development Gap, a Washington-based global economic watchdog. “The IMF and World Bank are still U.S.­led institutions, and what this means is we can expect— even in the countries not involved in hostilities— increasing openings to foreign investors at the expense of local investors, lower wages, more inequality, more concentration of wealth, and control of the economic agenda from the outside. And if the Balkans don’t accept that, they’ll be cut off from all international capital.”

In terms of physically rebuilding Kosovo, however, there’s little question that European firms are liable to dominate, thanks to adroit advance planning. Even though the EU isn’t likely to award the first tenders until later this summer, Britain’s Department of Trade and Industry— which took a public drubbing earlier this decade for failing to help get British contractors into Kuwait and Bosnia quickly enough— has already set up a public-private task force charged with lobbying the EU, and has dispatched a senior economic office to Japan to inquire about pitching joint British-Japanese contract proposals to the EU. Meanwhile, the German government— which sees Kosovo contracts as an avenue for reducing a 12 percent unemployment rate— is aggressively working to make sure that firms like Siemens, RWE, Hochtief and others are positioned to profit. (Having recently spent $114 billion on the massive reconstruction of Berlin, German firms are at the top of their game skillwise.) Swiss-Swedish engineering behemoth Asea Brown Boveri has made its intentions clear, and may have a leg up, as its CEO, Goran Lindahl, suggested before the war was over that the EU set up a rebuilding oversight authority. Even the Romanian government has its own public-private lobbying effort.

The U.S., by contrast, has merely announced plans to send a commercial service officer from the Commerce Department to Thessaloniki, Greece, to “make sure that U.S. firms have a fair chance in the bidding process,” as Commerce’s undersecretary for international trade, David Aaron, put it last week. Among international observers, there’s almost universal consensus that whomever Commerce sends will not have an easy time.

“Even though no one will say it publicly, the U.S.­led war in Kosovo has been very much resented by the European governments, and to have Clinton saying ‘we bombed and now you rebuild’ is unpopular indeed,” says Martin Butcher of the British American Security Information Council. “This approach by the U.S. of unilaterally imposing policies on its allies is not well-taken at all. What this means for U.S. businesses is that they’re going to be cut out.”

Although most mainstream analysts have decreed Kosovo a victory for NATO and hold that the alliance’s future is secure, Butcher and others believe that the American foreign policy establishment is failing to grasp just how uncomfortable and disillusioned the Europeans are. Trepidation has been growing since last year, he says, when Madeline Albright told a London audience that NATO should be used as a force for peace from the Middle East to Central Africa— a mission far beyond the scope of NATO’s charter.

While the British-led faction in NATO continues to favor a strong U.S. military role in Europe, the EU’s recent decision to create a European-only defense body shows that the more Eurocentric Franco/German-led bloc of NATO is prevailing. Publicly, the Clinton administration has taken a somewhat bemused and condescending view of the new EU defense plan.

To some extent, the attitude isn’t untoward, as conventional wisdom holds that the EU countries will never be willing or able to expand their defense budgets to enable military independence from the U.S. However, says Butcher, discussions at the EU summit focused on the obvious solution: reforming each country’s inefficient military buying programs and shifting toward joint procurement. “I think the U.K. thinks it can put the brakes on this policy, but that won’t happen, because there’s already an enormous impetus built up behind this,” he says.

Nevertheless, whatever power the EU attempts to exert in the rebuilding of Kosovo may be offset by the involvement of two institutions that, ironically, played roles in Yugoslavia’s breakup: the IMF and the World Bank.

Regarded by many in the developing world as global loan sharks, the World Bank and the IMF are happy to advance money so long as recipient countries submit to “structural adjustment,” a euphemism for cramming neoliberal Western-style capitalism down a nation’s throat. Under Tito, IMF money was rarely distributed equitably among Yugoslavia’s six republics and two provinces, and rather than pool income the enclaves that made the most kept it. Already hurt by the world economic crisis of the 1970s, arguably the last thing Yugoslavia needed was more IMF austerity demands; by the early ’80s, unemployment had skyrocketed, and by 1990 inflation had soared while wages had fallen.

Though the IMF and the World Bank weren’t the most prominent players in Yugoslavia’s breakup, “their adjustment policies certainly created tensions and contributed to pitting population groups against one another,” says Hellinger. “There’s anticipation that any program initiated in the wake of hostilities that’s managed by the World Bank or IMF will mean more adjustment, which is cause for concern because it means liberalization of trade, which wipes out small and medium-sized producers; liberalization of foreign investment laws, which lets multinational corporations buy up smaller firms; and labor market reform, which is another way of saying ‘undermining unions.’ ”

According to Hellinger, while the EU doles out contracts to construction firms and merchants, the World Bank and IMF can be expected to take advantage of Kosovo’s international protectorate status to make it a Balkans beachhead for neoliberal expansion, and it’s here that U.S. corporate hegemony is apt to assert itself. “Someone has to manage on privatization and rewrite foreign investment laws, and there’s likely to be a fight between the big U.S. finance houses, like Goldman Sachs and Merrill, for handling those privatizations,” he says. “This is their opportunity to impose the same economic agenda they’ve imposed everywhere else around the world.”