At THE HEIGHT of interest in Eastern Europe, some of us thought that interest in that part of the world was high. That was a mistake. The American people were not that interested. The media was.
I wrote a book about the dramatic events in Romania in 1989, which culminated with the execution of the dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu. Shortly after that, I gave a talk to an interested group and someone asked me a question. He began, "Can you tell us, Mr. Ceausescu . . .?" People laughed. I laughed. "Codrescu," I said, "Like secret code and rescue at sea . . ." "Oh."
Nowadays, whenever someone mistakes my name for that of the dead dictator, I take it as a good sign: At least, they remember something.
Media-induced amnesia is increasing geometrically on any issue but in the case of Eastern Europe, with its myriad difficulties and consonants, amnesia is instant. What we are supposed to remember and what we are supposed to forget used to be dictated by the delicate gravity of an oral response. One usually remembered what was important in one's scheme of things. But nowadays that scheme of things no longer contains a clear picture of priorities.
So it's no surprise when Colin Powell says that the United States shouldn't have gotten involved in the Balkans to begin with. He is not only reflecting the peoples' desires to forget the area, but also he is anticipating their plea to be spared the mess altogether.
If there is nothing to remember, there will be nothing to forget. Unfortunately, there is plenty hanging over us whether we remember or not; mass graves of civilians, mass rapes, shelling of city markets in Bosnia, razing of Chechen towns by Russian troops. Lining these dramas are economies in shambles, unemployment, fascist gangs, new mafias, unsteady nuclear weapons. Under all of it is a swelling ocean of bad feelings, a mixture of wounded national prides, disappointment in the West, nostalgia for dictatorships, fear and fragmentation.
These things are yet nameless and we couldn't remember them if we wanted to. But one day they will have names. And rank. And serial number.
Andrei Codrescu's book about the Romanian revolution of 1989, based on his reports for National Public Radio, is entitled "The Hole in the Flag."