Concept of the 36th Vilenica International Literary Festival: Europe is expanding and shrinking. Fear and Courage

The Vilenica International Literary Festival is a major European literary event which fosters awareness of the necessity of cultural pluralism and calls for peaceful co-existence in the world. From the very beginning, the Vilenica Festival has tended to reach beyond its borders: from the Vilenica Cave to the surface of the earth, from the geographical area of Central Europe to a larger international environment. On its way it has witnessed many social upheavals and historic events. Shifting its focus between 2020 and 2024 from reflections on the past to the present time, when we are faced with another socio-political crisis and an altered perception of existence in a pandemic world, the Vilenica Festival addresses the theme ‘Europe Is Expanding and Shrinking’. This theme having been launched in 2020 with the question ‘Quo Vadis?’, the motto for 2021 is ‘Fear and Courage’, the title of a short prose collection exploring the conflict between an individual’s historical mission and his or her humanity. The author of the collection, Edvard Kocbek, will be commemorated next year, on the 40th anniversary of his death.

The central question of Vilenica 2021, ‘Is fear simply the other side of courage?’, is a response to our time, in which we find ourselves plunged by the pandemic into physical, as well as growing social and psychological isolation: we are limited to virtual contacts and social bubbles, which are practically impossible to break through so as to form a public and social field without running afoul of the law or jeopardising our own and others’ health. At a time when the bravest act seems to be staying at home, an increasingly frightened world is witnessing new limitations, new forms of control accompanied by infringements on the freedom of speech and civic and human rights – infringements which partly stem from the re-emergence of nationalisms and totalitarian societies. Indeed, there is a virtual quality not only to our contacts but to the whole phantom idea of a united Europe, which has failed to rally even during the pandemic. On the other hand, the concept of ‘courage’ has been snatched from political and social activists by conspiracy theorists, promoters of anti-intellectualism and science sceptics, who have transformed it from ‘courage for others’ into an act of extreme (neo-liberal) individualism and selfishness.

Has the time come to revive the role of the writer or intellectual as a dissident? Does literature at this time still have the power to inspire courage, to transcend intimacy and individualism, and thus attain courage-as-a-social-revolt? How can writers be allies to other people if their act is not an imperilment of their own position or, indeed, life; if their text is not a courageous confession but mere fiction? Should the silence of the majority always be ascribed to fear alone, or is there also a touch of conformism, which forgets that the peace and time for private reflection, for writing and reading, discovered by some people in self-isolation, are kept alive by those who have been deprived of choice; whose ‘courage’ has been imposed on them because their work is vital to the maintenance of the system and society? How to withstand collective fear when the latter is presented as the only choice endowed with rationality and solidarity?

All these questions and many more will be tackled by the 2021 Vilenica Festival, with a diverse programme marked by a careful selection of international and national guests spanning several generations. Aiming for a live dialogue and for mediation between various literatures and cultures, the Festival events will be interwoven with literary readings, translation work, new publications and panel discussions, all intended to broaden the horizon and all attentive to smaller and larger literatures alike. The focus is on Portuguese literature, while the collaboration with our partner festivals will provide additional lively exchange between Slovenian literature, its neighbourhood and the world, for our Festival has always sought to introduce foreign literatures and cultures to Slovenia (and vice versa). By strengthening the international and national dialogues, by high-visibility activities and eminent awards (the Vilenica International Literary Prize, the Crystal Vilenica Award, the Young Vilenica), the Vilenica Festival will continue in 2021 to underline the necessity of courage in the midst of fear – a courage to forge a link between us, a courage to speak out when all are silent, a courage translated from written word to social act.

Translated by Nada Grošelj

(The concept was written by Aljoša Harlamov, president of the Vilenica Jury)