Since its inception in 2012 Debates on Europe has been hosted in places where the idea of Europe is at stake; often in places of conflict, where a contested past is made active in the present, weaponizing politics and dividing societies, places where issues of borders and cultural, ethnic and religious identity are at the top of the agenda.
On 26th May 2022, Debates on Europe hosted two events at the Deutsches Hygiene-MuseumDresden as part of the spring meeting of the German Academy for Language and Literature. Focal point of the two panels was the war in Ukraine and its implications.
The first panel featured Kateryna Mishchenko, Nicolai von Ondarza and Piotr Buras and discussed refugees, EU enlargement, and European ideals. Mishchenko stated that only recently, talking to another Ukrainian in Berlin, they felt as if they were “ambassadors of a dark future … or past … or some other temporality. But I am afraid we are talking about the future”. She also stressed that solidarity should not only be extended to refugees pouring into other countries: “I stay mentally in Ukraine and I think of the people who are there. And they also need solidarity.” As for so-called European ideals, Mishchenko spoke about how she has grown disenchanted with them long ago, for example when she witnessed people being prosecuted for saving men and women from the depths of the Mediterranean Sea. The panel was moderated by Eric Maurice.
Panel number two saw Mark Leonard, Sylvie Kauffman and Anton Shekhovtsov discuss the geopolitical shifts and consequences of the war in Ukraine as well as the discrepancy in the reactions to it: in and outside of Europe. Leonard argued that the reaction of the so-called global south to the war has to do with the legacy of colonialism and the fight for sovereignty – points that are usually not taken into account when Europeans discuss Russia and Ukraine. Shekhovtsov added that, in this broader, global sense, Ukrainians sometimes fail to ask themselves the question “Why do you think that everyone should immediately be interested in what’s going on in your country?” But he cautioned against the discursive shrinking of Europe to just Western Europe when talking about colonialism and imperialism. Lastly, Kauffman underlined the importance of the war’s outcome on relations with China. The panel was moderated by Osteuropa’s Volker Weichsel.
In Eastern Europe, writers have for a long time played the role off truth-tellers and literature has been a corrective to repressive regimes’ twisted versions of both past and present. “Live not by lies” is the title of one of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s most famous essays. “Living in truth” was the dictum of Václav Havel, who thereby formulated not only a political programme, but also a literary project. This tradition is still very much alive and writers often engage in memory work neglected by media and universities.
At an event on 1 September 2021 in Gothenburg, Swedish and international writers read from their work and talked about what use literature actually makes of its often-apostrophized freedom. Participants included Sergei Lebedev (writer, Russia), IdaBörjel (writer, Sweden), OlaLarsmo (writer, Sweden), Sanne Kofod Olsen (dean of the faculty of fine and applied arts at the Gothenburg University), and CarlHenrikFredriksson (programme director, Debates on Europe).
In connection to the event in Gothenburg, there was a one-day seminar held at Jonsered Manor: “Freedom of Expression & Politics of Memory – The Battle for History and the Fight for the Present”.
Debates on Europe participated in the Italian festival of ideas ‘Lector in fabula’, taking place in Conversano from 19 to 24 September. On 23 September, an international panel, organized by Debates on Europe and Voxeurop, discussed the consequences of the war not only in Ukraine but in Europe as a whole. In Conversano to talk about this were Kateryna Mishchenko (Ukraine), Faruk Šehić (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Maarja Kangro (Estonia) and Carl Henrik Fredriksson (Sweden). The discussion was moderated by Marina Lalovic of Rai News.
This event drew on a series of essays on the impact of the war in Ukraine on neighbouring countries, published by Voxeurop. The series – available in five languages, including English and German – features texts by György Dalos (Hungary), Davit Gabunia (Georgia), Emanuela Iurkin (Moldova), Leszek Jażdżewski (Poland), Rosa Liksom (Finland), Tomislav Marković (Serbia), Faruk Šehić (Bosnia and Herzegovina), and Aro Velmet (Estonia).
“Listening to Putin was like getting into a time machine,” said Bosnian writer Faruk Šehić during our ‘Lector in fabula’ panel when recounting the déjà vu he had in the days before Russia’s attack on Ukraine in February. The same mechanisms that marked the war in the Balkans in the 1990s are at play today, he noted.
While recognizing the solidarity shown by many countries, Ukrainian writer and publisher Kateryna Mishchenko described a profound feeling of loneliness as one of the strongest characteristics of what it means to be a Ukrainian today. Ukrainians are in the end alone in this war: “They are getting weapons, they are getting money, they are getting promises of European integration – but it is they who have to die, to sacrifice their lives.”
A recording of our ‘Lector in fabula’ panel from 23 September 2022 is available here:
In a truly international event, journalists and commentators from all over Europe discussed the diverse encounters with the COVID-19 pandemic: from the start of the Belarusian revolution in the failed Corona measures, to the special Swedish way and the anti-vaxxers in France and Eastern Europe.
The recording of the Debates on Europe panel at ‘Lector in fabula’ festival is available to view online. The panel discussion took place on 25th September 2021 in Conversano, Italy.
Each year, Literaturhaus Zürich organises the International Literature Days, which push to the forefront a specific region in the world. In 2022, the festival took a closer look at the Caucasus. In collaboration with the Literaturhaus, Debates on Europe prepared a panel on the importance of literature and culture in conflict regions.
In what context does literature exist and flourish? How close or how far removed is literature from topical societal and political issues? And what can literature and art actually do in regions of conflict and in times of crisis? Due to the developments at the end of February 2022 these topics were more relevant than ever and the Ukrainian author Artem Chekh, who was planned to participate in the panel, wasn’t able to be with us.
The panel took place on 27 February and was held with Ana Kordzaia-Samadashvili, Maria Stepanova and Kateryna Mishchenko and was moderated by Zaal Andronikashvili.
In 2021, the German Hygiene Museum in Dresden organised the ‘Geteilte Heimaten’ congress. Initially planned to take place in 2020, the congress went ahead online from 10-12 May 2021.
Our panel, ‘Between Critique and Cohesion. Art and Culture in Divided Societies’, featured author Jan Carson (Northern Ireland), writer and academic László Földényi (Hungary) and journalist Iryna Vidanava (Belarus). The event was moderated by Carl Henrik Fredriksson.