Vilenica International Literary Festival is one of the leading European literary events and a celebration of the word that erases borders and honours freedom. This year’s 35th edition looks back at the festival’s beginnings in 1986 when Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain and at the path it has made since. There have been many shifts and milestones through the years: a divided Europe, the fall of the Berlin wall, calls to arms, the end of Cold War, ethnic and social conflicts and the emergence of free and independent countries, many of which are now part of the European Union. Vilenica festival has always been involved in the debate on current social challenges and changes, spreading awareness that cultural pluralism, mutual respect and peaceful co-existence are essential, and celebrating freedom both in and outside language.

As we reflect on the past we move to the present where we are again encountering different kinds of obstacles, both mental and physical. This year’s Vilenica will take place between 8 and 13 September 2020, in a time when our everyday life has been changed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has, at least for the time being, transformed the ontological space of literature and our encounters with it in this respect. Vilenica has not shied away from contemporary challenges posed by new reality. As we care about the future and the safety of visitors, and in view of the insecurity of international and in-country travel, we will, like many other European festivals, move our activities into the virtual world. To make it as diverse and attractive as possible, the programme will combine live and virtual events and remain committed to its core mission to promote literary and personal exchanges and establish contact between authors and audiences.

Vilenica will fulfil its mission by bringing a selected range of established and well-profiled international and Slovenian guests from different generations guided by ‘Quo Vadis?‘, the festival’s main question that is being asked by an increasingly greater number of people in the present situation. We will invite both the audiences and the authors to join in searching the answers through a series of virtual and live events. Vilenica’s motto that ‘Europe is expanding and shrinking’ will be highlighted through films about former festival events and  this year’s activities, intertwining diverse European literary voices and providing a view into a world further away, while creating a sense of closeness. Slovenian and international audiences can enjoy the festival by accessing video portraits of the authors and their readings in original languages and Slovene translations. Thereby, Vilenica will continue to fulfil its mission of intercultural exchange by presenting the most prominent global literary voices.

Since its beginnings, Vilenica has focused both on smaller and bigger literary landscapes: this year’s festival will highlight Icelandic literature. As always, this will include a publication of an anthology edited by Lucija Stupica and Sverrir Norland, which will introduce the most prominent Icelandic authors, who will also address Vilenica’s audiences via a video link. In order to connect different literatures and nations, selected international intermediaries from the Nordic countries will virtually meet Slovenian writers and publishers to facilitate possible future literary projects, bringing the world that is currently narrowed down closer together and re-thinking reality.

As the world is increasing restless and Europe is both expanding and shrinking, this year’s Vilenica will address major issues of the last 35 years, comparing them to contemporary challenges in a mix of the past and the present. This will be followed by a panel and enhanced by projects promoting social responsibility and the significance of culture and the written word. By strengthening dialogue, selecting the best of world literature, rethinking social challenges and urging human solidarity and peaceful coexistence, this year’s Vilenica will mark its anniversary and continue to fulfil its original mission written down 35 years ago, which remains as relevant today as it was at the beginning.

It should be noted that Vilenica has always moved beyond its outlines: both metaphorically from the Vilenica Cave to the surface and from Central Europe to a wider geographical area, as well as beyond literature, awarding freedom in all its forms by celebrating the best wordsmiths every year. Besides presenting its awards – the Vilenica Prize, the Crystal Vilenica, and Young Vilenica –  this year’s festival will focus in particular on two literary authors: Slovenian author in focus, Vinko Möderndorfer and this year’s recipient of the 2020 Vilenica Prize, Slovak poet Mile Haugova and present them with film portraits. In addition to a comprehensive presentation and a reading, there will be a combined ‘live and virtual’ conversation with the Slovenian writer, which welcomes participation from the audience.

Responding to this year’s challenges, modern technology will be used to make the festival more accessible, bringing together authors, critics and audiences, enabling live contact with the virtual world and between fiction and reality. In cooperation with many partners and supporter, the diverse and culturally enriched programme will enable the festival to   once again step from literature to the world and from the world to literature, celebrating free words and honouring them – even thirty-five years later.