Thursday, August 24, 2006



We are getting used to Nobel prizewinners in politics and the arts turning out to be rather dubious figures. They are to be found among Peace and Literature Prize-winners. Sometimes they are already notorious, sometimes their notoriety is only gained afterwards. That is the case of the latest prizewinner scandal: Gunter Grass.
He spent almost a life-time on the moral high ground telling his fellow-Germans to face up to the past, assume their guilt for it and follow his example as a socialist. Now at long last he himself admits that he served in the Waffen SS.
Such was his fame as a prominent Left-wing intellectual that the revelation has caused a storm of discussion and acrimonious name-calling. What has deservedly provoked the greatest indignation is hot the fact in itself (after all he was a youth of 17 when he enlisted) but Grass’s pharisaical posture.

The question arises: which is worse, to be a pharisee or to be openly a scoundrel? A pharisee is necessarily a hypocrite and it is often said that hypocrisy is the tribute vice plays to virtue. Grass spent his life paying tribute to anti-fascism and in his case the Swedish experts can always plead ignorance.

But what about the open scoundrels? Pablo Neruda, the Chilean poet who wrote sycophantic verses in honour of Stalin? Harold Pinter who produced a vitriolic diatribe against America in his acceptance statement? The Portuguese writer José Saramago whom Fidel Castro calls a friend, and who did his best to bring communism to power in Portugal?