Balkan Day: A Celebration of Creativity and Identity, a seminar organised by Istros Books, Wasafiri Literary Magazine, Kingston University and British Library in London was a real feast for both Balkan and book lovers.
The programme of the event was divided into two parts: morning and afternoon sessions. During the introduction, Dubravka Ugrešić, a famous novelist and essayist born in Croatia splendidly summarized the essence of the event, problems of Balkan creativity and identity: I am a traumatized literary personality; our mother tongues and national literatures are our homes; translation into foreign languages is a refugee shelter. I write in a language split into 3: Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian; translators keep me alive. It is a marriage. My admiration for translators is immense. I often feel invisible too, like translators. Only literature written in major languages enjoy borderless travel. Others travel on dubious passports.(1) Whereas Vladislav Bajac, a Serbian novelist and publisher, focused on the Balkan literary marketplace, which is, according to him, in danger of commercialism.
Dubravka Ugrešić also took part in a following panel discussion chaired by Christina Pribićević-Zorić, a literary translator. Together with other participants, journalists and novelists Andrej Nikolaidis and Muharem Bazdulj, novelist and senior research fellow at Edinburgh University Igor Štiks, and associate professor at Literary and Cultural History of Modern Europe UvA Amsterdam Alex Drace-Francis, tried to solve the mystery of Balkans attractiveness and on the other hand, its negative perception in the UK media. Muharem Bazdulj was asked to sum up the positives about the Balkans, the land of honey (Tr. bal) and blood (Tr. kan). He mentioned, among others, Greek mythology and positive attitude to life. Referring to Russian critic, Mikhail Bakhtin, Bazdulj designated Balkans as a Carnival part of Europe.
The afternoon programme began with Milan Grba’s presentation, Balkan Culture in ten items from the British Library collections. The curator at the British Library presented scans of beautiful, old manuscripts from the region of Balkans, as well as other treasures, e.g. Henry VIII’s notes on Marko Marulić’s Evangelistarium. Next speaker, Nebojša Radić from the University of Cambridge Language Centre, in an entertaining presentation, tried to answer the question ‘What are we talking about when we talk about the Balkans?’ According to him, the knowledge about the region consists of facts and myths. He illustrated his opinion with an article: How to write about the Balkans, published in Balkanist, which starts with an advice: Begin with some dramatic, vaguely dangerous-sounding scenery. For instance,”steep cliffs plunging directly into the sea”, “a vampiric maw of limestone peaks”, or “beauty infused by danger”.(2)
After a short break, Vesna Goldsworthy, a writer and professor at Kingston University, presented a special Balkan issue of Wasafiri Literary Magazine, which she was a Guest Editor of. The summer edition contains poetry, fiction, drama, several articles, interviews and art feature from the Balkans. Among the authors are David Albahari, Milena Marković, Mileta Prodanović and many others, including the guests of the festival. One of them is Igor Štiks who introduced himself, this time as a poet, and read one of his poems A History of a Flood published in the magazine. The reading was followed by Mark Thopmson’s introduction to Danilo Kiš’s life and output. As his biographer (Birth Certificate. The Story of Danilo Kiš) prepared a special Alphabet for Danilo Kiš, published in the issue. Whereas Muharem Bazdulj presented one of his stories and mentioned his article on Young Bosnia, which was published in Wasafiri.
The guests had also a chance to see a short, moving fragment of Frozen Time, Liquid Memories, a film by Dragan Kujundžić, a professor of film and media studies, Jewish, Germanic, and Slavic Studies at the University of Florida.
In the panel called Balkanisation: the pick of recent Balkan fiction in English, Rosie Goldsmith, a BBC journalist introduced three writers from the region: Dubravka Ugrešić, Vladislav Bajac and Andrej Nikolaidis. All of them read fragments of their books recently published in UK, Europe in Sepia, Hamam Balkania and The Son. The readings were followed by a discussion on the writers’ (unidentified) identity, Yugoslav, post-Yugoslav, Serbian, Montenegrin, Croatian or Dutch. In the end, the guests of the event had a chance to watch a Bulgarian film, World is Big and Salvation Lurks around the Corner, based on the autobiographical novel by Ilija Trojanow.
The Balkan day was a day of outstanding literature, interesting discussions and finally a day of great enjoyment. Hopefully it was the first event of the annual Balkan celebration.
Written by Joanna Michta
Edited by Alicja Zajdel
Photos courtesy of Kinga Macalla
1. Rosie Goldsmith,Brazil or the Balkans, http://www.literaturhauseuropa.eu/?p=1622, 26/06/2014.
2. Lily Lynch, How to write about the Balkans, http://balkanist.net/how-to-write-about-the-balkans/, 26/06/2014.