Prague Writers' Festival - currently underway - discusses the 'New EU'

24-03-2004

This year's Prague Writers Festival - the 14th since its inception - is now underway in the Czech capital, this year bringing yet another group of world-class authors to Prague. Authors including South African Nobel prize winner Nadine Gordimer, German poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger, and Russian-born American author Gary Shteyngart, to name just a few. Czechs are of course also represented by several authors, including former dissident Eda Kriseova - the author of a biography on Vaclav Havel.

As for how the festival has been going so far? Let's get the skinny from Jan Velinger who joins me in the studio now:

"Thank you Kay. Well, it is with nervous expectations that literature fans in Prague awaited this year's festival - especially after reports surfaced last year suggesting it might be in financial straits - speculation that for the time being has been quietly dispelled. Although putting together such an event must always be a nail-biter, the festival crew have once managed with bravura - creating not only a unique forum for authors and their readers during the so-called International Evenings, but also providing room for discussions and debates."

What debates or discussions were you able to attend so far?

"I was able to attend several events but particularly enjoyed a debate on Tuesday titled "The Still Unborn about the Dead" - on upcoming European integration. The discussion panel was made-up of Austrian novelists Robert Menasse and Norbert Gstrein, American publisher Peter Mayer, and Czech author Eda Kriseova, along with Der Standard's Gerfried Sperl. Perhaps the most provocative though was Robert Menasse who described the EU as the culmination of a Marxist project - he meant this in a positive sense - because, as he saw it, the EU would ultimately lead to the elimination of nation states, erasing borders, and stimulating a greater social consciousness as well as a very real need for a wide-spanning social safety-net. At the same time, Mr Menasse expressed worry over the other side of the coin - encroaching globalisation that he felt could lead paradoxically to the very erosion of democratic principles unification purports to uphold."

"If the development of my country, my continent, of my globe is producing tendencies which we are accepting as 'unique possibility' without any other choice, then it is basically an anti-democratic development. I would never like to become a member of a club in which I had no other choice but to be a member of this club!"

Poets Miloslav Topinka, Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke, Michael Hofmann, Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Michael March discussing in the theatre Minor, photo: CTKPoets Miloslav Topinka, Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke, Michael Hofmann, Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Michael March discussing in the theatre Minor, photo: CTK So there should always be choice...

"Of course, although some among the writers insisted some choices were clearly better than others! That was perhaps the driving spirals of the discussion overall, an engine fuelled by author Eda Kriseova, who of course knows full well what it was like to live under a totalitarian regime. She, for example, indicated the EU was the only good choice for the Czech Republic, regardless of whatever teething pains!"

Alright Jan - so much for the debate - what about the International Evenings themselves - I understand those are the main attraction of the festival over all?

Spiros Vergos, photo: CTKSpiros Vergos, photo: CTK "That's right they certainly are and it is from these evenings that we will be bringing you more reports this week. However, I regret to say I have been a little disappointed. So far I've seen only Polish author Tadeusz Konwicki and novelist Norbert Gstrein, too soon to reach an overall verdict, but I hope the rest of the festival takes a somewhat different turn, since it's a real opportunity to see these authors in person. My sole gripe is that any such evening should feature really strong personalities to introduce and dissect authors' works and themes - last year's Spiros Vergos a positive example. With Tuesday's guests this kind of "presenting" was unfortunately lacking despite the presence of, for example, academy-award winning director Jiri Menzel. The discussion was simply too free-flowing and not imaginative enough with regards to the writer's work. Perhaps most damning of all was a failure by the organisers to ensure a reading - any reading - of Mr Konwicki's work. Everything else is just talk, right, and we want to experience the authors' writing - not just personal stories and how he or she feels about the Czech Republic. To sum up though, it has to be said every new evening has its own magic and its own potential, so we'll see how the festival comes together in the next couple of days. If it's anything like last year it should come together very strongly."

24-03-2004

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