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Victor Hugo on Serbia

For Serbia

It has become necessary that the attention of the European governments be drawn to one circumstance which seems to be so slight that the governments do not even consider it their duty to notice it! That thing is the following: they are assassinating an entire people. Where? In Europe. Is there anyone to bear witness? The witness is one: the entire world. And the governments, do they see it? No, they do not.

There is something above peoples, which is actually below them: their governments. At certain moments, the nonsense becomes obvious: civilization rests in the people, barbarism in the governments. Is this barbarism intentional? No, it is professional. Things that the human race knows, the governments ignore. It is the government that sees everything through myopia, which is called the reason of state; the mankind looks at everything with a different eye, with its conscience.

We shall certainly surprise European governments by teaching them something, and that is that crime remains a crime; that neither the governments, nor single individuals are allowed to become assassins, that whatever is done in Europe, is done by Europe itself, and that all barbaric governments should be treated like wild beasts; we shall show that at this very moment, and in our close vicinity, slaughter is taking place, extermination; that fathers and mothers are slaughtered and little girls and boys sold into slavery; those children who are too small to be sold are being cut in half by sabers; that families are consumed in the flames of their own homes; that an entire town, Balak (Aleksinac), in only a few hours, was reduced from nine thousand people to one thousand three hundred souls; that in the cemeteries there are more dead than can be buried, so that to those alive, who have brought the slaughter upon their heads, the dead are giving in return the plague, which is just as well; we shall show to the European governments that pregnant women are having their bellies slit open so that their unborn infants may be killed; that dogs roam the streets biting on the sculls of raped girls; that all this is so terrible, and that only one gesture from the European governments would suffice to prevent it all from happening; that the savages perpetrating these crimes are terrible, but that the civilized men who permit this outrage, are abhorring.

The moment has come for us to raise our voices.

From all round the world appalled voices are being raised.

There are moments when even human conscience can take the stand and it orders governments to listen.

Governments are stuttering their reply. We are well acquainted with this stutter. They say: it is exaggerated.

Exaggerated, of course. The city of Balak was not exterminated in a few hours, but in a few days; they say that two hundred villages were burnt down, and in fact no more than ninety nine villages were destroyed; plague is being mentioned, and in fact it is the typhoid fever raging; all women were not raped, and neither were all the maidens sold, several of them did get away. The truth is that they were castrating prisoners, but it is also true that they were chopping their heads off, which alleviates the thing; the child of whom they said to have been thrown from the top of one spear to the top of another, was in fact pierced with a bayonet; there was one case, yes, but you say there were two, etc., etc.

After all, why did that people want to rebel? Why a group of men does not accept being treated like a herd of animals? Why?…etc.

This manner of covering up the crime only increases the horror of the whole thing. There is nothing more miserable that torturing public bitterness. Alleviations are incriminating. Here the slyness defends barbarism. Byzantium is making excuses for Istanbul.

Things should be called by their true names. To kill a man in the forest called Bondiska Forest or the Black Forest, it is a crime; to kill an entire people behind that forest, it is called diplomacy, but it is, nevertheless, a crime.

Only a greater one. That is all.

But does a crime, the bigger it gets, become smaller? Unfortunately, this has already become a law in history! If you kill six people, you are a Troppman; if you kill six hundred thousand, you are a caesar. To be great in evil, means to be powerful among men. The proof: massacre of St. Bartholomew, which was blessed by the Pope; Dragonnades, glorified by Bossuet; December 2nd, welcomed by the whole of Europe.

But the time has come for this old law to be replaced by a new one. No matter how dark the night may be, the horizon at the end must bathe in daylight.

Yes, the night is dark and the ghosts are starting to rise. After Syllabus, here comes the Koran; one Holy Gospel can go hand in hand with the other; iangamus dextras; behind one Holy See there rises the Divine Porta. Rome already gave us the Middle Ages, Turkey is just about now to give us its own mediaeval times.

Thus, the things have come to pass in Serbia. Where will they end?

When will the torture of this small heroic people be over?

The time has come that civilization should impose a magnificent prohibition on its governments.

But they will say: we are forgetting that there are “issues”. To kill a man is a crime, but to kill a people is an “issue”. Every government has its own issues. The Russians have Istanbul, England has India, France has Prussia and Prussia has France.

Here is what we say in reply:

The mankind also has its issue, and that issue is greater than England, greater than India and Russia, it is the infant in the wombs of its mother.

Let us replace political issues with human issues.

It is there that the entire future lies.

And the future will, no matter what is being done, come to pass. Everything is in its service, even crime! What a terrible servant.

The current developments in Serbia demonstrate that there is a need for the United State of Europe. Let instead of the disagreeing governments come harmonious peoples. Let once and for all put an end to the murderous empires! Let us put a stop to fanaticism and despotism. Let us break down swords in the service of illusion, and dogma waving the saber in its hand. Enough with wars and slaughters, free thought, free exchange; brotherhood of men. Is the peace really so difficult? European Republic, continental federation, this is the only political reality. Thinking points at this, and so do events. When asked about this reality, which is a necessity, all the philosophers agree, and the executioners with their evidence support that of philosophers. In its own way, just because it is so terrible, the savagery bears witness to civilization. Progress was signed by Ahmed Pasha. What the bestialities committed in Serbia put beyond any doubt is that Europe needs a single European nation, a single European government, a single enormous brotherly electoral cord, democracy in peace with itself, that all peoples should be brothers with Paris, as the cradle and the capital, that light becomes the capital of freedom. In a word, the United States of Europe. This is the aim, this is the harbor. Until yesterday, it was only the truth, today it is a reality, thanks to the butchers of Serbia. With thinkers of the killers. Evidence was first provided by genius, now to be repeated by monsters.


The future is God dismembered by tigers!


Paris, August 29, 1876

Victor Hugo

Rappel (1876)

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