33rd Vilenica: Mature, in a Different World
Veno Taufer, Poet, Founding President
How did it all begin?
The festival was founded in the wonderful Karst cave, Vilenica, as a dissident and so literally, an underground movement. Back then, Tone Partljič, the President of the Slovene Writers' Association, appointed me to greet writers and poets from the Primorska region, gathered at a literary evening organised by the poet, Aleksander Peršolja. The entrance to the Vilenica Cave, adorned with glimmering columns of dripstones charmed and enchanted me. Immediately on returning to Ljubljana, I wrote a letter to the steering committee of the Slovenian Writers' Association with the concept for the Vilenica Festival, which actually remains the same, although it matured during the turbulent and cruel years.
Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Vilenica was a gathering place for emigrant writers from CEE and domestic dissident writers. The Hungarian writer, Gyӧrgy Konrad, declared it "the spiritual capital of Central Europe"
Beyond Slovenia, where Vilenica presented the turmoil of civil society and a demand for democracy in the early years, its activities resonated in some other CEE countries. On the first page of Vilenica 86, miscellany was declared a heretic program of what was then considered taboo. The Vilenica prize should remind of the cultural heritage and promote the vitality of the integration principle of diversity in the European cultural community.
Over three decades, 1,000 or more poets and writers, from across the world, have met, listened, talked and established friendships, from Casimir de Britt from Portugal to Wang Jiaxin, a poet from China.
Today, the vital power of pluralism, integration of the diversity in art, culture and life, which at the beginning sounded strange in Central Europe or possibly even dangerous "ideological stupidity", has become the basic consciousness of European integration, existence and the future of the EU.
Ilija Trojanow, this year's Vilenica award recipient said: "... the list of winners is unbelievable... "
It's true! Romanian-German writer, Herta Müller, attended in 2002 and won the Nobel Prize in 2009, testifying to the quality of artistic participants. The winners of the first three Vilenica festivals established its concept: Italian writer, Fulvio Tomizza, Peter Handke from Austrian Carinthia and Hungarian author, Péter Esterházy, all bordering countries.
Andrej Blatnik, Writer, Editor, Lecturer, longstanding jury member
How did you become a jury member?
I was invited in 1995 by Veno Taufer. In 2007 I replaced Taufer as President of the Jury, with Lidija Dimkovska taking it over after the 2015 festival.
You are one of the most translated Slovenian authors, to what extent does the festival lead to translations?
There is more good literature in the world than writers can devour or literary mediators can notice. At festivals, a writer is in the spotlight for at least a few moments and that's how invitations and connections happen. I performed in China because the festival organiser heard me in New York. At the same time, a number of books have been published in Slovenia because of the Vilenica Festival.
Would you share some anecdotes?
Many times I remember something very personal and self-satisfying. When the phenomenal Canadian author, Patrick deWitt, came to Vilenica in 2014, I found the courage to ask him to sign a copy of his book, but his response was: "Are you Andrej Blatnik? Would you sign your book, please? " Sometimes we feel our writing doesn't reach far - literary festivals have the power of correcting this impression.
What was the guiding principle of your jury presidency?
The main question was how to preserve the specifics of the festival after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which Vilenica helped to demolish in its own way. I think that the focus on lesser known literature, highlighting its importance and thinking in a world that is becoming ever more materialistic is where we have succeeded.
Maja Kavzar Hudej, Festival Program Manager
How important are local partners?
Partners and supporters from the Karst region play a key role, both organisationally and with hospitality. Each year the festival also takes place in other Slovenian towns where local organisers help raise public interest. For example, this year an event took place in a well secured, underground military bunker, Škrilj in Kočevje. We try to connect attractive locations with live words.
Why the Karst?
The Karst is magical for me. I'm always enchanted when we arrive in Lipica, through the tree-lined autumn colours, and when we descend to the epicentre of Karst - into Vilenica Cave - one almost becomes a poet... These images remain with you forever.
How does Vilenica connect with other festivals?
From the beginning, Vilenica has been open to cooperation. We have established firm friendships with some of the most prominent literary festivals in the region and also from Lithuania, Ireland and Canada. These are vital to place Slovenian literature on the map of European and world literature.
This year's theme is Write and Survive, how important is a theme?
The festival wants to start a constructive debate about various cultural, aesthetic and social existential issues that connect our space, and also point to various relations in Central European cultures.
Your personal note?
As the program manager, I connect co-speakers. We also include performers from other artistic practices. Informal socialising is one of the main advantages of the festival, requiring a very personal approach which I am trying to adopt myself.
Ilija Trojanow was born in Bulgaria and writes in German. Torn between various languages and cultures, he accepts this distinguished recognition as "an alternative Nobel prize".
Ilija Trojanow joined Jáchym Topol (Czech Republic), Olga Tokarczuk (Poland), Savid Albahari (Serbia), Mircea Cărtăarescu (Romania), Dževad Karahasan (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Claudio Magris (Italy), Goran Stefanovski (Macedonia), Milan Kundera (Czech Republic)
"For me the award is a great honour, since it's international, European. A writer takes a look at those before them, the list of Vilenica Award winners is magnificent, I'm filled with joy"