Europe Is Expanding and Shrinking. How far away is home?

Not only is Europe shrinking, Europe is cramping. For refugees, families fleeing war, but also for those fleeing the dire economic conditions that have been abetted by Europe’s imperialist interventions in the Middle East or by Europe’s persistent looking away; Europe has once again become a Fortress. On its shores, before its walls, are drowned people, and in the forests around its technical barriers, people who are being held hostage by European countries’ political games are freezing before our eyes. The free movement of capital, which is one of the democratic ideals behind the walls of the Fortress – although for the most part this is unequivocally one-way – takes a hypocritical precedence over the free movement of people, which is one of the foundations of the European Union. The so-called pushback, whereby refugees and migrants are forced back over a border without any possibility to apply for asylum, is a new kind of soft, permissible crime by which Europe is proving that it has learned nothing from its own past. And Europe is showing immense unpreparedness for the horror of the future that is already at the gates – among the consequences of accelerated climate change are the first climate refugees who will soon appear in front of the walls of the Fortress that is Europe, one of the greatest beneficiaries and exploiters of industrial revolutions.

But in any case, a fortress does not have homes; it has bunkers. Events on the edge also affect internal events in, so to speak, the very soul of Europe, and the epidemic has made it clear that border fences always also mean internal fences;. The militarization of the civilian spheres and the restriction of political and human freedoms are rapidly turning inward as well. Europe is once again disintegrating into individual national islands, with some islands becoming increasingly authoritarian within their confines. Here, too, borders are re-emerging, and the flow of people across them is – let’s not be naïve – predictably one-way: the brain drain, most damagingly consisting of medical staff in recent years, is mostly from East to West; the elderly and sick in the North are cared for by workers from the South, who, as a second-class workforce, also build our roads, pick our hops, perform underpaid, exploited work, often without basic labour rights. The South of Europe, meanwhile, remains outside the Union, in the eternal waiting room, because that’s what suits the North.

Do we European writers still remember Europe’s dark history? Do those of us who co-created the soul of Europe, those of us who can imagine all that is possible and impossible, understand the demands of tomorrow? Migrations have always been also a cultural matter, a matter of enriching cultures, creating poleis, ennobling ideas and thoughts, expanding horizons – though these are now irrevocably shrinking in a mocking cynicism. How can refugee writers, asylum seekers, immigrant writers, writers who write in a non-native, language contribute to the dialogue on refugees today by sharing their stories and experiences? Do we read their stories? Do we read them as separate from reality?

This year’s Vilenica will ask question about refugeeism – what was it? what is it? what will it be? who have been refugees? who are refugees? who will be refugees? Refugeeism is also a question of language, that central tool of writing. It is a question of appropriating a new language, preserving memory and identity, stories and experiences from the past. A question that demands to be answered, a reflection on our common future – at a time when literature is breaking through national confinements, when publishing has undoubtedly become a global industry. But, let’s hope, not only the global entertainment industry. The issue of foreignness is also a universal question about the writer’s role in society. Writers as critical intellectuals are intellectuals in every historical moment, and in every society there are a kind of intellectual aliens, speaking from the relative distance of the observer, whose literature reflects society and the world. Literature that must not and cannot consent to shrinking.