WSJ erupts

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Wed Oct 14 20:00:29 PDT 1998

[For those of you who missed this eruption from what Saul Bellow called the moronic inferno, for all the wrong reasons - this is from today's Wall Street Journal editorial page - Doug]

WALL STREET JOURNAL - October 14, 1998

Another Nobel Laureate's Stalinist Past


Well, they did it again. A year after they awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature to Dario Fo, a repulsive anticlerical buffoon from Italy, the Swedish Academy has continued its run of leftist nostalgia, handing the honor to José Saramago, a Portuguese novelist and unrepentant member of that country's Communist Party.

As with last year's recognition of Mr. Fo, Mr. Saramago's Nobel drew protests from the Vatican, where the daily L'Osservatore Romano criticized the award as "ideologically oriented," and protested that Mr. Saramago "remains an inveterate Communist." While the Portuguese Bishops' Conference defended their countryman, the Vatican was not alone in its dissent. Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, a real hero of intellectual integrity and 1980 Nobel laureate in literature, told the Portuguese daily O Publico: "I am not a supporter of the writings of José Saramago. It is a fashionable kind of writing, filled with humor--but low humor. I do not support this work."

Believing Catholics are understandably appalled at the Portuguese author's corrosive attacks on Christianity, as exemplified by his "Gospel According to Jesus Christ," published in the U.S. by Harcourt Brace in 1994. Mr. Saramago's Christ has a sexual relationship with Mary Magdalene, in a scene reminiscent of Martin Scorsese's film "The Last Temptation of Christ." What is up with the Swedish Academy? Are they, as representatives of an officially Protestant nation, fanatical pope baiters?

Mr. Saramago, even more than Mr. Fo, has pursued a political career that should have excited some concern among the Swedes. Mr. Fo was a fascist in his youth, then became a communist, and remains an extreme radical leftist. But his antisocial pursuits are mainly intellectual.

Mr. Saramago, on the other hand, as a militant member of the Portuguese Communist Party, brings with him a history of really sinister behavior in the interest of a Stalinist agenda. This novelist has behind him an unapologetic involvement in a serious attempt to destroy the freedom of the press in his native country.

Few today seem to recall that in late 1975 Portugal was poised to leave NATO and become a new Soviet satellite. The situation in Lisbon at that time was so dire that it was compared with Czechoslovakia in 1948.

On Nov. 25, 1975, the Portuguese Communist Party, under its hard-line boss, Alvaro Cunhal, attempted a coup in Lisbon, using leftist Portuguese army paratroops as its cat's-paw. The adventure failed, but the party had laid the foundation for the coup by a wide-ranging campaign against freedom of the press, a months-long effort that closely resembled the assaults on press freedom that accompanied Fidel Castro's rise to power in Cuba.

Mr. Saramago, who was then assistant editor of the Lisbon paper Diario de Noticias, played a major role in this provocative strategy. The future Nobel laureate was a strident promoter of "true socialism" against "bourgeois democracy," overseeing the saneamento or "purges" of so-called fascist elements from the Portuguese media.

As chaos deepened in Portugal, Mr. Saramago's colleagues began protesting that they were being forced to report according to the Communist Party line and that their articles were subjected to a censorial "fine-toothed comb" by Mr. Saramago. Verbal complaints continued, followed by the "Manifesto of the 24," in which a group of journalists working under Mr. Saramago denounced the internal climate at his newspaper. Twenty-two of them were fired.

Mr. Saramago, questioned about this incident in 1991, commented: "The newspaper had a certain line and could not be turned into a kind of free tribune where everybody could say whatever they pleased." With the failure of the Communist coup, Mr. Saramago was forced to leave journalism.

He never left his communist ideology. Last Wednesday, hours before he received his Nobel, Mr. Saramago spoke at a seminar during the Frankfurt Book Fair, on the topic "Being a Communist Author Today." Clearly a double standard reigns in Stockholm and elsewhere. Nobody would sponsor a seminar on "Being a Fascist Author Today," least of all at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

The Swedish Academy is using the Nobels in literature for the same end to which their Norwegian colleagues have committed themselves by awarding the Peace Prize to such unregenerate leftists as the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (1997), Timorese guerrilla supporters Ximenes Belo and Ramos Horta (1996) and Joseph Rotblat of the Pugwash Conferences (1995). The message is clear: The snobs of the Scandinavian academies, secure in their wealth and power, remain doggedly faithful to their leftist fantasies.

------------------------------------------------------------------------ Mr. Schwartz is author of "From West to East: California and the Making of the American Mind" (Free Press, 1998).

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