SWANEE'S SONG

AMBASSADOR HUNT LEARNS THE LESSONS OF ANTI-SEMANTICS.

State Department spokesman Aric Schwan echoes the sentiment. "I've been trying to convince ambassadors to do more of this sort of public writing," he says. "It's a way to reach more people in the country with America's message." He calls the Newsweek story "tragic" and adds, "This national magazine went on a secondary source and then really wrote this negative, stinging column." He also takes exception to Newsweek saying that the State Department "may issue a statement distancing itself from [Hunt's] column."

"Newsweek didn't contact anyone here..." he says. "I would have been the appropriate and obvious source, and I never talked to them. And the State Department is not distancing itself from anything."

In fact, he says, Assistant Secretary Richard C. Holbrook just fired off a letter to Newsweek "taking exception" to the story.

It is unclear just why Rabbi Baker reacted so strongly. According to Marc Fisher, author of the upcoming book After the Wall: Germany, the Germans and the Burdens of History and Washington Post Berlin bureau chief from 1989 to 1993, Baker is no hothead. "Normally, he's an extremely cautious guy," says Fisher. "He's someone who knows that part of the country really well...and for him to speak out that way must have meant he was really upset. I've seen him through the whole period of neo-Nazi attacks in Germany, and he was critical, but he was careful about criticizing the government. He used to tell me it really didn't pay to slap them around in public--you had to build working relations."

Building working relations is exactly what Swanee Hunt says she's trying to do. "I hope I'll be working alongside the American Jewish Committee for the rest of my life," she says. She has written to Baker explaining that she never did and would never make the sort of comparison of which he accuses her. In her letter, she goes on to admonish Baker, saying, "I wish...you had contacted me if you had concerns about my positions or my actions. Trial by national press doesn't seem to be a fair or helpful way for us to go about promoting the values we both care so deeply about."

Baker is unimpressed. "I don't think her letter clears it up," he says. "You still have that explicit reference to fifty years ago and Austrian suffering. You still have the association of victims."

Milton is stumped by that attitude. "They suffered, period," she says. "Are they disqualified because they're Austrian? This is nonsense."

This is a translation of Swanee Hunt's March 24 column in the Vienna newspaper the Neue Kronenzeitung:

"During Lent, our thoughts naturally turn to spiritual matters. Through the years, many have expressed these thoughts musically. I've done so myself, with `The Witness Cantata,' based on `the seven last words of Christ.'

"The cantata will have its European premiere tonight at the Augustinierkirche at 19:30 in Vienna and Sunday night at 20:00 at the Mariahilferkirche in Graz.

"I'm dedicating the performances to my dear friend and mentor, Victor Frankl, who's been such an inspiration to me. In fact, the message in Man's Search for Meaning is really the message of my music--that suffering can be a source of meaning in our lives.

"Although the cantata is a traditional form, I've used it to bring the message of the Gospels forward to contemporary times by drawing on several modern sources--the Russian poet Anna Akhamatova, a victim of Stalin's horrors; the German-American poet Theodore Roethke, who suffered from mental illness; and the Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. These writers all speak with the passion and engagement that arises from suffering.

"Fifty years ago Austria suffered in a way unfathomable to most Americans. But it was our privilege to participate in the resurrection of this beautiful land through the Marshall Plan.

"Maybe this cantata is best understood as one more American saying, `I care.'

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