A town further up the Austrian mountain valley from the town where we are staying has become a cause for comment. A businessman bought up parts of the old town in the 1980s and left them to fall into dereliction, a state in which they remain. Some people from the town had been active members of the Nazi party in the Hitler era and the businessman was Jewish whose family had suffered badly. His actions might seem as vengeance served as a cold dish, but, seventy years on, it makes no more sense to blame the whole of a community for the actions of some three generations ago than to blame Jewish people generally for the depressed state of the town.
Hatred, though, has its own utility and such tales are used to serve a purpose. Jews and Freemasons are the targets of the prejudices of those who people the pages of Umberto Eco’s novel The Prague Cemetery. Anti-Semitism had been fostered by church teaching in the Middle Ages and had led to the expulsion of Jews from a series of European countries. In 19th Century France, even a century after the Revolution, the hatred continued; in some it was a matter of visceral prejudice, for others it was a more calculating piece of scapegoating. In Eco’s novel, Rachovsky, an agent of the Russian secret service, declares:
‘For the enemy to be recognised and feared, he has to be in your home, or on your doorstep. Hence the Jews. Divine Providence has given them to us and so, by God, let us use them and pray there’s always some Jew to fear and hate. We need an enemy to give people hope. Someone said that patriotism is the last refuge of cowards: those without moral principles usually wrap a flag around themselves, and the bastards always talk about the purity of the race. National identity is the last bastion of the dispossessed. But the meaning of identity is now based on hatred, on hatred for those who are not the same. Hatred has to be cultivated as a civic passion. The enemy is the friend of the people. You always want someone to hate in order to feel justified in your own misery. Hatred is the primordial passion. It is love that’s abnormal. That is why Christ was killed: he spoke against nature. You don’t love someone for your whole life – that impossible hope is the source of adultery, matricide, betrayal of friends . . . But you can hate someone for your whole life – provided he’s there to keep your hatred alive. Hatred warms the heart”. The Prague Cemetery, pp 333-4
Had the businessman read The Prague Cemetery he might have concluded that his actions would only assist those who thrive on hatred. “You can hate someone for your whole life – provided he’s there to keep your hatred alive”, says Eco. Barricaded buildings do nothing to bring justice and everything to keep hatred alive.