POLIP – International Literature Festival 2022
13 – 15 May 2022
POLIP – International Literature Festival 2021
10 – 13 September 2021
Literature in the Era of ‘Cancel Culture’
(A discussion about identity politics and the consequences for literature)
In recent times two issues have dominated public discourse, especially in the West: All identities have the same right to exist and to be treated equally, but sometimes the interests of certain groups appear to be in opposition to one other. Does taking a critical stance against an opinion with which we disagree constitutes “cancel culture”?
This raises the question: What is the relationship between freedom and freedom of expression, and when does the freedom of expression of one group threaten the freedom of another group?
Where does artistic freedom end and when does the necessity of being ‘politically correct’ begin in artistic creation? And can an artistic work be considered as ‘good’ if it overlooks the link between creative freedom and politically correctness? Can there be good literature that goes against these principles and that challenges this connection and these boundaries, which oftentimes are invisible? What is the border between creative freedom – who determines that border – and has this border been eroded or reinforced by the ‘era’ of ‘cancel culture’? Does art require an ‘ideological guardian?’ On the other hand, how are we supposed to ask for accountability from artists who abuse and hide behind their ‘creative freedom’. Peter Handke attempts to hide his fascist viewpoints towards the war in Bosnia behind ‘literature’ or as he puts it, ‘everything is literature’.
The debate is far from over. The protests against JK. Rowling, who was accused of transphobia for making fun of the term “people who menstruate”, saw angry trans activists burning her books, the author opposed on all sides. Doesn’t it limit the author’s freedom to attack her in this way? Hadn’t she been free to say these things in the first place? Who decided that? Are those who attack her on the Right or on the Left? Is burning books now a valid method of protest? And who decides this?
The Austrian cabaret artist and author Lisa Eckhart, who according to many critics uses anti-Semitic and racist stereotypes, was excluded from a festival in Hamburg because there was allegedly danger of violent protests by the radical Left. This was condemned as hindering the freedom of art and freedom of expression in general, but the debates about “cancel culture” often started on the Right, with the Left accused of displaying an allegedly anti-democratic attitude.
It is suggested that an excess of political correctness from the Left leads to the prevention of freedom, but under the guise of this freedom, the Right pushes the boundaries of what can be said. This often results in historical revisionism, racism, and anti-Semitism. “We will be allowed to say it” has become the rallying cry of populists and the Right, often used deliberately to spread anti-feminist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, and xenophobic slogans.
How do we, as writers, deal with these problems without restricting freedom of expression and without being offensive to other people who do not belong to this assumed “we”?
We live in an era of identities. Identity has overshadowed the notion of class, without bringing economic benefit: A small minority of people are still enormously rich and the rest enormously poor, and this division exists on a global level as well as within societies. The debate about identities shifts the focus from the economic to the cultural.
What are the consequences of these discussions for literature? Can an author who is not a lesbian write a novel from the perspective of a lesbian? A white man from the perspective of a black man? Would Shakespeare be allowed to write Othello today? Can straight actors play gay main characters in the theatre? Is it permissible to declare anti-Semitic slogans to be literature in the name of freedom of speech? May an author lie about historical facts in his work? How can one know whether it is part of an artistic process or ideological propaganda? Who is responsible for analyzing this? The debate in Western countries about who is allowed to translate US poet Amanda Gorman’s work showed how serious the question of identities is in comparison to, for example, theories of translation and literary reception.
At the Polip International Literature Festival 2021 we want to reflect both on the experiences of the Balkan countries and place them in the context of these global discussions.
POLIP – International Literature Festival 2020
11-14 September 2020
CHANGE YOUR LANGUAGE!
Linguists with expertise in endangered languages agree that more than half of all world languages are going to disappear, and that humanity is at a turning point in history given that the majority of world languages will most likely become extinct in the next two generations. Authors who use language for creating parallel worlds agree that the language they use in their literary works is the best one to express their deepest turmoil. Politicians consider the language they use on a daily basis (including English,used for official international communication) as the best sign system for resolving the issues their respective electorates encounter. The language(s) of mass media and social networks are becoming ever more dominant and it sometimes seems as if they actually shape our reality; these languages are in fact codes, comprising photographs, montage and message(s), with the visual aspect becoming a significant element of such languages. On the other hand, during this year the COVID-19 pandemic obliterated one crucial dimension from the human communication– namely, live personal contact, in which non-verbal expression and body language play an extremely important role.With the direct human contact diminished, the internet codes are becoming an even more omnipresent power, gaining frightening dominance.
The language used in literature and the one utilized in politics or the one employed by media and social networks, on the other hand, have never been the same. These are usually seemingly similar communication systems, but it always turns out in the end that the differences between them are substantial. There is a particularly significant difference between a kind of literature which strives to critically examine and reflect on our times, even during the pandemic, and politics. For this kind of literature to exist at all, it had to make its own language shift,especially in post-conflict zones, as was the case with the post-Yugoslav countries. The literature that has emerged in this region since the 1990s (and especially after the year 2000)has started a quiet revolution in discourse while attempting to distance itself from the 1980s literary production, which became way too close to the militaristic narratives of the mainstream politics. If the linguists, who deal with language extinction and language change, addressed this issue they would be able to notice a profound change in the use of language. This positive development in reshaping of the literary language is currently disrupted, and forcefully altered by the radical intrusion of the COVID-19 virus into the everyday spoken interactions, which are marked by the restrictive measures: social distancing reduced contacts, contact less communication, online mediation of experiences. Conversely, the new language, which emerged by re-ordering of priorities, re-shaping of discourse and imagination in the post-conflict zone of former Yugoslavia, additionally brought about a new sense of life and a desire for connecting in solidarity with authors, not only from the Balkans but also from around the world. It is this new feeling that we try to build our festival around, deeply believing in the importance of bringing together authors, both regionally and internationally, whose authentic languages are set against the flood of the often very problematic public discourses.
The language of politics in the post-Yugoslav societies remained rather trapped in the past, not having the capacity to even validly describe the issues those societies have been facing (not to mention that resolving them is impossible if we are unable to even name the problems). Limited vocabulary, rigid use of grammar with frequent use of polite form of address, as the only signifier of the pro-European agenda, have led to the exhaustion of possibilities for solving deep political problems. The change of language is the only viable form of the system’s reform. Not speaking like we spoke yesterday – not writing like we wrote the day before yesterday – means not thinking like we did in all those past decades. Is this leap forward possible? This question is particularly pertinent for writers and literary festival Polip has certainly been one of the dynamic answers to this question over the last nine years.
In its tenth jubilee year our festival, like the rest of the world, is facing an additional dilemma – how to transform the language so that it can enable deeper and more meaningful communication during the COVID-19 pandemic? We decided to adapt the presentation format to the new situation: local writers from Pristina and all those who can reach Pristina easily will read on the open-air stage, while writers from abroad and all those who are unable to travel because of the pandemic will partake in the festival either by their works being included in the “Beton International” newspaper, or via video recordings of their works or live readings via the Internet. Online availability of all content on our website will enable all those interested to both follow Polip events and make video-calls from all around the globe.
However, these changes in the presentation format do not change our conviction that in order to change undemocratic, nationalistic, racist and all other ideological, simplified, exclusionary and intolerant discourses, it is necessary to fundamentally change the language of politics, while persistently working on the vitality of the literary language.Just like people, languages are growing old, dying, changing or finding new speakers – or new writers, for that matter, who will use them to express their own fears and hopes. Thus, one of the most important tasks that literature has at this very moment is to influence the language change in the spheres of social and political life. Finally – or initially – in the communication sphere between I and You. The beginning of the language revolution starts exactly there, because it doesn’t happen between the We and You, as it is predominantly the case in politics. I and You or You and I have the power to change the language, and whoever changes the language has already changed yesterday’s world and opened it up for our shared future.
POLIP International Literature Festival Prishtina 2019
When the word “deal” is used, it is mainly in regard to “business”, while in the Balkans it often also refers to a”lucrative business” which is done despite the unfavourable political circumstances. When the expression “excellent literature” is used, it is mainly in regard to the books topping the bestseller lists, while in the Balkans it often also refers to the books that succeeded to cross the borders drawn by the monopolies of the national markets.
Only a small number of people refer to a deal or to(the works of) literature which have succeeded – despite the unfavourable, often almost impossible circumstances – to transform the political landscape and the dominant ideological framework,to initiate the exchange of new ideas, at the same time instructing the bankers to make different kind of deals, instructing the publishers to change their business outlook, and enabling authors to meet each other in literary encounters that were inconceivable up until that moment.
Recent history has recorded two such moments. One has changed the image of the post-WWII Europe, the second did the same for the image of the Balkans. Namely, in 1963, eighteen years after the end of the Second World War, Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer signed the Elysée Treaty, which marked the end of the enmity between France and West Germany. The Elysée Treaty opened new possibilities for the coexistence of European people, but also made the exchange of ideas, books, material and cultural capital possible. The very notion of “reconciliation” came out of this treaty of friendship; new forums and institutions were established, especially in the field of defence, culture, education, environment, economics and finance. What paved the way for the treaty, however, was the cultural production, and literature above all, as writers started to grapple with the challenging war-time themes immediately after the Second World War ended. Both the feminist and left movements in France and the authors gathered around the Group 47 in Germany initiated the process that led to the Treaty, which started steadily to change the face of Europe.
In June 2018 an agreement was signed near the Lake Prespa, which ended the long-standing dispute between (North) Macedonia and Greece. The Prespa agreement was made possible thanks to the involvement and activism of Macedonian and Greek intellectuals and writers, who vehemently opposed right-wing regimes that were in power. The “Colourful revolution” in Skopje and the persistent protests of Syriza’s supporters, despite the party leadership’s betrayal of their revolutionary ideals, influenced permanent changes towards reconciliation in the Balkans.
Even though the Brussels agreement was reached between Serbia and Kosovo back in 2013, almost no progress in its implementation has happened. This year it will be twenty years since the signing of the Kumanovo agreement, which ended the Kosovo War in June 1999, but reconciliation has not yet taken place. On the one hand, the European Union is to be held accountable for insisting on negotiators who are not fit for the historical task, on the other the local political elites are to be blamed, as they ignore the current social and cultural reality, denying that the cooperation between Serbia and Kosovo’s independent cultural scenes even exists. Is the agreement between Serbia and Kosovo possible, after all? How strong is the literary deal between these two countries? Is it possible to transform the political landscape that brought life to the standstill? History is telling us that it is possible. Possible, of course, if the deal is not about certain individuals profiteering from the frozen conflict, but instead is about the victory of culture and progress of society over the destructive politics of the past.
From a literary deal a different future of Serbia – Kosovo relations could be forged, one based on trust and exchange of ideas and goods. This process is unstoppable. POLIP festival, which emerged as the result of an agreement between two independent literary groups from Belgrade and Prishtina back in 2010, is turning ten this year.In the meantime POLIP has managed to connect and to fuse with many literary associations and institutions, has grown out of its regional character and has become an international literary festival. This year, within its programme, the very first GRAN Fest (International Graphic Novel Festival in Kosovo) will take place.
The literary works that have been promoted at POLIP, the topics and issues that have been debated in public, our authors and their audiences, all of them are already part of the new future.
International Literature Festival – polip, Prishtina, 18 – 20 May 2018
Two referendums for independence were held in Autumn 2017 in regions which had fought long-standing battles just to make voting possible. Eventualy, the days for casting votes arrived and the whole world followed the referendum processes in Catalonia and Iraqi Kurdistan. However, both referendums were met with fierce rejection by their home countries, Spain and Iraq, and, indirectly, by the European Union, Turkey and the international community. Kurdish President Masoud Barzani resigned, even though 90 percent of the Kurds in Iraq voted for independence, as the results backfired and triggered a regional crisis. Immediately after the Catalan referendum, President Carles Puigdemont fled to Belgium amid fears that he was likely to be prosecuted, after Madrid had declared the referendum illegal. While Kosovo’s declaration of independence in February 2008 was followed by the recognition of the new country by over a hundred states around the world, Kurds and Catalans were left unrecognized and abandoned. While he was stepping down from power, Mr Barzani repeated that old saying that “the Kurds have no friends but the mountains”, as his people were betrayed once again by the international powers.
In the shadow of these dramatic political processes, a very vibrant cultural and literary scene exists, together with the civil and NGO sector, which could surely offer some response to these events – especially on the question of the role of a writer in unstable political times and climate. It was quite interesting to observe the reactions of writers after the Catalan referendum, especially those who have inclined toward right-wing positions (as in the case of Mario Vargas Llosa). What happened to Kurdish writers during that turbulent referendum period, what is happening with Kosovan writers today and has freedom there finally “learnt to sing as the poets have sung of it’?
The repercussions of these political events on the lives of individuals and communities are both grave and long-term. These events will also affect the cultural landscapes of these regions and their immediate surroundings. Curiously, one region is in the very heart of the European Union, while the other one is in one of the most unstable and violent zones of today’s world. We witness the phenomenon of permanent wars and migrations, while at the same time walls are being rapidly built and state borders fortified; this being the case not only with the outer borders of ‘Fortress Europe’ but also with its internal borders, which are much less open now than they were only ten years ago. We also have the case of the United Kingdom and its departure from the EU. Can we draw parallels with some other movements for independence around the world? Are we allowed to debate on why Brexit IS possible, while independent Catalonia IS NOT, or does that debate makes little or no sense? We witness also the ever greater globalisation and seeming convergence of the world, although arguably mainly in the sphere of economy, while simultaniously the gap between the rich and the poor is growing on both the local and the global level. How do the attempts for independence of Kurds and Catalan people fit into these turbulences?
Even though certain political figures persist in reminding us about the singularity and uniqueness of the Kosovo’s case, we are witnessing the slowing down of the political resolution of the ‘Kosovo question’, as outlined in the Strategy for enlargement of the EU in the Western Balkans recently adopted by the European Commission. Does this mean that senior EU officials have linked the three Ks (Kosovo, Katalonija, Kurdistan) and tried to create balance at the expense of Kosovo?
The international literary festival POLIP will attempt to deal with this topic as a blind spot of the international community, which at one point turned to violence in order to preserve the status quo and existing order of nation-states. For this reason we invite authors from different countries to take part in POLIP debates and public readings, hoping that their engagement will cast some light on the recent events and offer some ideas regarding the challenges of our near future.
Therefore the POLIP Festival and its zone of influence could be seen as a certain Free Literary Republic, where Machiavelli’s Prince and Plato’s State, Elfride Jelinek’s Piano Teacher and Svetlana Alexievich’s Chernobyl Prayer meet, like in the eponymous Ray Bradbury’s story; but, above all, POLIP festival is a zone for people who wants to freely discuss the future of the world we all live in and which concerns us all.
International Literature Festival – polip, Prishtina, 12 – 14 May 2017
THE AGE OF BIGOTED
Literature in Exile/Elites in A Political Fever
The political arena has been shaken significantly in the year we have left behind– BREXIT, Trump’s victory, the rise of the right-wing populism across Europe – which,in turn, will bring about many changes. The Chinese ancient curse‘May you live in interesting times’, often quoted by Hanna Arendt in discussions on political crisis, comes to mind. A massive flux of refugees and migrants, with the right-wing on the rise, has exposed cultural, ethnic and religious tensions lurking beneath the surface in Europe. The post-Communist countries, including those in the Western Balkans striving to enter the EU, have also been deeply affected by the political turbulences, mainly because of their corrupt governments and the lack of tangible economic development.
A recent period which was marked by progress, albeit conditional, towards a more stable Western Balkans has now been replaced by a tumultuous phase of permanent provocations and suspended dialogue. In place of talks, the political elites chose instead high-risk performance acts. At the moment both Serbia’s and Kosovo’s political elites operate outside of The Brussels Agreement framework, while simultaneously maintaining their pledge that the process of normalization of their relations has no alternative. The relations between Belgrade and Zagreb, and between Belgrade and Sarajevo, are not much better either. The opposition in these countries offers no political solutions, while some representatives of the opposition demand radicalization of the relations or even for the dialogue to be completely abandoned. In such circumstances culture and literature are threatened by being subjected to ideological interferences and exposed to increased surveillance. Literature is,hence,forced into exile – both an external and internal one. In the spheres of culture and literature it is possible to look for the answers that politics is unable to offer, openly refusing to confront the problems in the first place. Finally, literature doesn’t offer solutions, that’s not its purpose, but rather proposes critical examination of the political and cultural processes, as Predrag Matvejević (1932-2017), one of the most prominent intellectuals of the Yugoslav and post-Yugoslav period, said in the past.
For many, if not for the majority, migration is the exit strategy from the political and economic crisis. Whereas some people from this part of the world want to leave ‘home’, others are forced to leave ‘home’ – predominantly people from Syria and other countries in the Middle East,thus confirming the state of exile as an inevitable part of the human condition.
The immediacy that characterizes the way we access information today, together with many other technological advances,adds a new dimension to the issue of exile and to our experience of political unrests. In line with this, one could pose a question – does literature adopt a new dimension of creation and consumption? How does literature respond to mobility (or a lack thereof)and to the idea of home or multiple ‘homes’? Simultaneously, saturation with images portraying political crisis, makes literature a space of possibilities, a bridge to plurality of experiences of the self in relation to others, of new spaces in relation to the known ones. The very use of language, being the sole medium of writers, enables us to grasp the complexity of human condition in a profound way.
‘Polip’, the International literature festival taking place in Pristina 12-15 May 2017 will bring together thirty authors from different parts of the world, some of them living and working in exile.
International Literature Festival – polip, Prishtina, 13 – 15 May 2016
LITERATURE IN THE DESERT OF THE REAL
How can we speak about the contemporary moment?
Although there is hardly a person on the European continent who can recall a period when there were no crises in Europe, and the citizens of the former Yugoslavia remembering also the horrors of their recent civil war, the refugee crisis over the last six months and the crisis of the European Union – with Grexit, Brexit, fear of a civil war in Poland (Lech Wałęsa has hinted at it recently), as well as questions over Dublin and Schengen agreements – create a painful impression that we are at the moment dealing with a very serious crisis.
Those full of hatred for Western Europe and its values, namely democracy and universal human rights, have started to emerge in abundance; those posing as defenders of Western values, who claim those values need protection from the rise of Islam, have emerged too and are pushing for the expulsion of all foreigners from the Fortress Europe or demanding an army on its borders. The countries of the former Eastern Bloc, which embraced the West after the fall of the Berlin Wall, are now turning their backs on the West and closing their borders because of the arrival of refugees, abandoning all Western democratic values and freedoms along the way. The rise of religion and the power of religious institutions, together with the rise of terrorism that uses religion as justification, are threatening secular society, which is the foundation of all modern states in Europe. Simultaneously, along with intellectuals and artists, many different groups in civic society are being mobilised. Without the work of numerous volunteers, the refugee crisis would have already escalated into an unimaginable catastrophe.
The region of the former Yugoslavia, with its so-called “Balkans refugees’ route“, is in a way a territory of intensive crises, which destabilise the whole of Europe these days. This region is interesting because we can observe here some of the phenomena of contemporary Europe in their most condensed form: the experience of exile and (re)integration of refugees; post-socialist transition; nationalism and populism as levers used by the political elites.
At the same time, the region of the former Yugoslavia is a geo-political sphere where at least two important imperialisms met (the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman Empires). Hence, when we talk about conflicts in the Middle East or crises in the Arab world, we often talk about the consequences of different colonial histories and imperialism, so it would be very interesting to compare existing narratives on these topics. However, whereas critical thinking takes place in the West when the imperialist and colonial past of various Western European states is discussed – even though it doesn’t influence their current policies and policy making – we could raise the question if intellectuals and public figures in Turkey and Russia, for example, are aware and critically orientated towards the imperial past of their own countries. It’s clear that certain patterns are been repeated, as we speak, both in the West and in the East.
On the other hand, in the former Yugoslavia, during its existence and its demise, everyone assumed the position of “victim“, but no one was the “guilty one”. To what extent is it happening again in the crisis zones where the refugees are coming from? And, generally, which esthetical, ethical and political values do refugees bring into the polyphony of European voices? And are we capable of understanding them?
There are no easy answers to complex issues. Therefore maybe art, in all its forms, is the most equipped to respond to the contemporary moment using the power of its expression. Given that every simplification undoubtedly leads to shallowness, which is – on the one hand – exceptionally useful for ideological manipulations, the question is whether literary responses to the crises are possible, and if the literary treatment of serious topics, spared of oversimplification but dealt with the necessary literary means, is possible? And, if it is possible, how likely is it that the literary voice, differentiated and distinct, could be heard and understood today?
22 – 24 May 2015
Opening: Friday, 22nd May, at 8pm
LET’S TALK ABOUT FREEDOM!
Literature post-Charlie Hebdo
The start of 2015 was marked by a terrorist act in Paris. The terrorist attack on the editorial offices of the Parisien satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo marked a new era of instability and threats to our freedoms, above all to critical thinking, satire and humour. On that occasion 12 people were killed. A great wave of support for the satirical magazine followed, but also an outcry, primarily from clerical circles, as well as from the political right. The new edition of Charlie Hebdo had until-now unheard of circulation of 3 million copies and it was translated into dozens of European languages. Due to all this, has Europe come to realisation of the importance of critique of liberal democracy? Has literature come to self-awareness of the indispensability of the never ending fight for freedom? Has terrorism recoiled? After the terrorist act in Paris, debates on the limits of freedom spread through Europe. At one such gathering in the middle of February, held in the Kruttonden café in Copenhagen, two hundred bullets were fired. The main target was the organiser of the gathering, the Danish cartoonist Lars Vilks. This situation is not new and it brings us back to the beginning of European civilisation, to the ancient poetics. Already Plato expressed in his Republic the hostility towards literarture that is able to undermine our world view, the organisation of the state and representations of the Gods. Many centuries later, Umberto Ecco based his cult novel In the Name of the Rose on the fictional destiny of the lost second part of Aristotle’s Poetics, which surprisingly dealt with questions of comedy. The literature that circulates today between Kosovo and Serbia is still underground, like all real literature around the world is underground. What does it mean to write despite intolerance and the walls of misunderstanding that are still going up in Europe? There is no other world apart from the one in whose making we participate ourselves. Literature is its constituent part and freedom is the heart of existence. After the attack on Charlie Hebdo someone said that in Europe today we need laughter more than ever. We also need the freedom of literature the POLIP Festival promotes more than ever. Let’s talk about freedom!
16 – 18 May 2014
Opening: Friday, 16th May, at 8 pm
“Hello! We are called POLIP. More than three years ago we had an ordinary life, we had walls that disabled any communication between neighboring cultures, we lived in a house of dreams, had an almost comfortable life. We also had the endless opportunity to not leave our country at all and to think that every national culture is the center of the world. Then we took the ownership of a very powerful tool for the surveillance of literature.
We can follow (convey) the communication between writers from different scenes at any given time of day and night. This is a power/ force that changes the course of the history of literature of the Balkans and Europe. This surveillance tool is called POLIP Festival 2014. Our center is Prishtina, but we are not far from Belgrade, Sarajevo, Skopje, Zagreb, Podgorica, Novi Sad and Ljubljana. We follow as literature is created during the big protests in Kiev, in the intensive demonstrations in the Athenian syntagma, in societies in transition, which have replaced the ancient incompatibilities with new insecurity. Our agents are everywhere, you can recognize them by the commitment with which they do their work of polip. Usually they work at night, while during the day they work something else. Most of them have a double life. Their main job is, in fact, the translation of literature, and so they help us immense on the comprehensive program of surveilling it. Many of them do so in the conviction that they can change the world. Exactly this is even happening before our eyes day by day. The until yesterday unfamiliar scenes of Kosovo and Serbia, today can eavesdrop each-other. A similar situation reigns also in the territory of Ex- Yugoslavia. And in Europe, also. It is not easy to obtain a literature that considers such a complex reality, in which the desire to establish genuine communication between cultures is in a scandal level.
We are called POLIP. We know about which cases You write. Also, about which themes you will write in the future. During the three night in May 2014 in Prishtina, we will present you the information we succeeded to provide…”
The festival will gather authors from the region, but also from Albania, Ukraine, Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Rumania etc.
Public readings, debates on actual political and literal themes will be organized. In the frame of the festival the special edition of the Beton International magazine will be published in English language, where the texts of the partaking Authors of the festival will be included.
The festival will last three days.