Report for Central European Fellowship for Young European Writer 2006

Goce SmilevskiFirst and foremost, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Central European Initiative and to the Slovene Writers’ Association for awarding me their Fellowship at the Vilenica International Literary Festival. This fellowship is not only a great support for an artist, but it is also an opportunity to feel oneself as a citizen of Europe, a case that is not usual for someone born in the Balkans. If one was to speak of a Europe without borders, then that would be tantamount to hypocrisy. I think that the characteristic smile that spreads across the faces of European politicians when they speak of the virtues of a united Europe, inspires a feeling of bitterness in all those Europeans who – purely by accident of birth – again find themselves on the wrong side of the European Union’s borders. In those who – yearning to come into contact with the cultural artefacts created over the millennia in the European region – are now subjected to absurdly unfriendly humiliation in the consular sections of embassies owing to restrictive visa regulations. We feel rebuffed, not welcome in collective life, alienated by a continent that confronts us with an impervious border. Perhaps then some of us harbour the idea of Europe not as one of territory, but as one of culture.

The novel I have proposed last year, with its working title Remains of a Life (that, I suppose, will not remain by the time I finish the novel), is born out of that idea, it is born from the idea that those Europeans who are separated from Europe have the chance not to choose the anger because of this separation, but to choose love for the Continent. The main character of this work-in-progress, Aleksandar, who is a writer, chooses a nomadic life. At the middle of 1990s, he, then 40 years old, leaves the Balkans and his homeland. He tries to find his new home in the countries of Central Europe. He receives support from Slovenia, Austria and Czech Republic for his project The Other Europe, a big overview of the culture and struggles of the countries that geographically belong to Europe, but at the same time are somehow alienated. While Aleksandar writes his book, it transforms from a scholarly work into a personal meditation on lost territories and home, on the syntax of memory that is broken, it becomes an effort to explore the meanings of exile, loss, and identity. The same as Aleksandar’s book transforms during the process of writing, in the same way my novel on him transforms during this period while I am working. It finds new solutions, new characters (both fictional and real), new situations, and I hope that at some point I will see the point when I will feel it is finished. Meanwhile, during my stay in Slovenia and Italy, I also worked and I have finished my novel that I started working on in 2003, titled Sigmund Freud’s Sister. Thus the Fellowship that I have received for creating one of my novels, actually supported the creative process of two of them.

With the Fellowship awarded by the Central European Literature and the Slovene Writers’ Association, I had not only the opportunity to spend three months working on my novels (finishing Sigmund Freud’s Sister and beginning Remains of a Life), but I also had the wonderful chance to feel Europe without borders. I spent three months in Slovenia (Ljubljana) and Italy (a few cities, but mainly Bologna). The choice of where to spend the three months was easy to make. I chose Ljubljana – that is one of the hearts of Central Europe, and Italy – the heart of the Renaissance. During my stay in Ljubljana I had a public reading at the Slovene Writers’ Association, organized by Miljana Cunta and Barbara Šubert, and moderated by Tanja Lesničar – Pučko, with the translator of my previous novel into Slovenian, Aleš Mustar. The responses and dialogue with the audience that attended it brought me new ideas about my writing. It was a meeting with wonderful interaction. I am convinced that the beauty of the cities that I saw and I enjoyed and felt to be their citizen during these months is going to be an inspiration for my writing even after I finish the project.

Goce Smilevski