Grass welcomes acclaim

Guenter GrassGUENTER Grass, Nobel literature laureate, has welcomed the acclaim given to him in the run-up to his 80th birthday, saying he has recovered from the "hurtful" criticism in the recent past.

Grass was shaken by public reaction last year to the first volume of his autobiography, in which he set the scene for his later career as a democrat by exploring how he had been a keen Nazi as a youth.

He was mainly criticised for waiting till the age of 78 to reveal that he once served in the Waffen SS, the Nazi party army. "Considering my age and that I always seem to be having new ideas, Iím very well indeed," Grass said.

"Iím quite well too because I had the strength to survive some things that were hurtful and difficult in the past year with the help of my friends and the support I received from readers and others." Grass, who refused to accept a German government honour in 1979, voiced appreciation that German President Horst Koehler would be at the head of those congratulating him at an Oct 27 ceremony in the northern city of Luebeck.

"Since I have suffered from a great deal of mockery and nastiness in recent years, it does me good to see my six decades of work recognized, not only in Germany but abroad," he said. "At the start of October, my hometown, Danzig (the name of Gdansk when Grass was a child) invited me to a three-day colloquium of German-literature experts discussing my work.

"The programme included the premiere of a Polish dramatisation of my novel The Tin Drum and an exhibition of my drawings," he recalled.

Grass said he inherited from his mother his initial interest at the age of 12 in becoming an artistóhis career training before he turned to writing.

Asked if he had any choice as to why he wrote mainly about Germanyís Nazi past, Grass said: "I felt free in the way I approached it artistically, but the subject matter itself was obligatory for me to write about." He added, "Writing about it provides a way of recreating things like my hometown Danzig that are lost forever. That was one of the fascinating things about writing the so-called Danzig Trilogy." "Alongside my artistic creation, I have been politically active as a citizen of Germany for many years," he said.

He criticised efforts by Chancellor Angela Merkelís government to obtain legal powers to exploit Internet viruses to monitor terroristsí personal computers. "We were busy for many years establishing a democracy for the second time in Germany, with varying success, but it became secure in the end. "At the moment we are about to dismantle it again. Out of a hysterical fear of terrorists, we are gradually becoming a surveillance state and serving the ends of the terrorists by weakening precisely what the terrorists so hate, the democratic state ruled by law."

The novelist repeated his longtime criticism of US policy, saying it had failed in Vietnam, later in a series of small conflicts and now in Iraq.

"Even in Afghanistan, the partial success that has been achieved with the aid by Germany and others will be at risk if the US is allowed to keep taking the lead militarily," he said.

"That wonít beat the Taliban. That wonít beat terrorism. Behind the Taliban and terrorism are millions of people who feel disenfranchised and insulted for reasons that we donít want to understand, that maybe, in part, we could never even accept. But they do feel that way," he added.

Grass said: "All I know is that war doesnít bring any solution." óDPA