Saša Ilić/ Polip Festival: Who Will Bring the Word to Me[*]

Saša Ilić is a writer, journalist, and social activist. He has published three short story collections, The Prevision of the Civil War (2000), Urchin Hunts (2015), Dušanovac. Post (2015) and two novels, Berlin Window (2005) and Fall of the Space Shuttle, Columbia (2010). He was one of the founders and editors of the supplement for literary engagement, “Beton,” of Danas, a Belgrade newspaper. With Jeton Neziraj, he coordinated the project of two-way anthologies of the new literature of Serbia and Kosovo (2011). His works of prose have been translated into Albanian, French, German, Macedonian, and Slovenian. In December 2013, with Alida Bremer, he founded Beton International – a Newspaper for Literature and Society. Ilić is a co-founder of POLIP – International Literature Festival, which takes place every year in Prishtina. He writes for the portal Pescanik.net and ELit (Literaturhaus Europa). He is an editor of the website Komunalinks.com. Lives and works in Belgrade.

Over the second weekend of May, the 9th International Literary Festival POLIP took place in Prishtina, organized by Qendra Multimedia from Prishtina and LINKS from Belgrade. Despite the rainy season and the deterioration of relations between Prishtina and Belgrade, we had an extremely nice weather and excellent literary gatherings, programs and concerts. One might wonder how it is possible for such a small initiative, which started in the underground, to last almost ten years and gather so many people, but all those who were in Prishtina during that weekend and opted for POLIP from a wide cultural offer, had a chance to make sure that this festival has long overcome its original frames. Those who remember the beginnings during 2010 know very well how difficult it was at the beginning, at the time when the work began on the preparation of two anthologies (From Prishtina, with love, and From Belgrade, with love). However, each of the authors who then gave credit to this small festival could only be rewarded with the good outcome of POLIP and an excellent presentation of literature, regionally and globally. A special curiosity of this year’s festival was a fusion with GRAN Fest – the first Comic Festival in Prishtina. The participation of a great team of comic writers – Hermann (BE), Dave McKean (UK), Frank Margerin (FR), Fumio Obata (JP / UK), Aude Samama (FR), Tom Kaczinsky (USA), Marcello Quintanilha Ranta (FIN) – including one of the world’s renown legend Hermann Huppen – could not remain unnoticed, at least not for the fans of the graphic novel and its documentary ranges, which were subject of an interesting debate (Creative vs. manipulative information) organized by internationally renowned Kosovo-born comic book author Gani Jakupi.

Like every year, POLIP once again had a program motto under which all the programs were carried out. This time the motto was “Literary Deal”. This phrase was not made up accidentally. It rather represents the cultural summary and the festival’s activist intentions, which for ten years worked on the establishment of literary connections, primarily between Belgrade and Prishtina, as well as regional ones. The literary deal or agreement was designed as a notice and a reminder that this type of communication is necessary in any form of coexistence and is based on mutual understanding, which is immanent for literature as art. A literary community cannot exist isolated from others, but only by interacting with the rest of the world, and above all with those who surround it, which – under the circumstances of post-conflict situation – are often represented as the furthest islands.

No participant at POLIP and no guest from the audience at this festival was an island for itself, but was part of the literature archipelago offered as a platform for reading and understanding cultures. The authors who participated at this year’s festival presented their poetry insights into regional and world trends in literature, and indirectly in politics. Whether we talk about the need for forgiveness in the immediate exYU context (Sreten Ugričić, CH, SRB), the story of migrants (Olga Grjasnowa, DE, Robert Prosser, AT), narratives on generational gaps (Azem Deliu, RKS), current cultural and political knots (Veton Surroi, RKS, Besnik Mustafaj, ALB), the lack of communication and loneliness in circumstances of ruthless transition (Jasna Dimitrijevic, SRB), the need for a loud articulation of the attitude in the world affected by the crisis (Sarah Hehir, GB, Marek Shindelka, CZ), the touching of suppressed topics such as motherhood (Tanja Reich, AT) or the reconstruction of intimate family worlds as the last stronghold of humanity (Lindita Ahmeti, MK), we are always talking about literature as an upgrade of the here and now. These are just some of the topics and some of the literary names POLIP offered to its faithful audience, which this year had the opportunity to take part in programs outside Qendra Multimedia as well, and this made the old fans dubious about the need for such a step forward, while it attracted the new audience in the context of urban spaces such as Modelarium (Faculty of Architecture) or Menza “Ramiz Sadiku” to hear the literary messages that came out of Prishtina underground and move towards the center, to reach even more people.

The literary deal which, as a motto, launched this year’s POLIP, has its own activist dimension, which is indispensable for the festival organized in a turbulent political context, such as the one between Belgrade and Prishtina. POLIP should therefore not be seen as just another festival in the former Yugoslavia, which aims to gather urban audience and provide it with some content as an extract of literary beauty that will at least briefly lead the citizens out of the current problems. On the contrary, POLIP invites everyone to deal with these problems differently through literature, and first of all through literary dialogue. There were many political agreements in the past (Elysée, Kumanovo, Prespa, etc.), some more successful than others, but the effort to include literature in the creation of space for true meetings of cultures should be understood as putting mutual understanding at the forefront, contrary to the politics which presents its priorities as purely personal requests. While literary communication, as well as the art of translation, opens up for other, different experiences, to accept them as their own for in essence all these experiences are universal, politics has little understanding for others. This is the key difference between literary deal and political deal, between socially responsible action on the one hand, and the protection of the interests of political and economic elites on the other hand.

The unforgettable segment of the festival’s program is the after party, reserved for music – IlijaLudvig, (SRB); Jazz Jam Session by comic book authors; Arshikët e Gjakovës (RKS) – and talks about new programs and summary of those that took place during the past days. Just before the official opening of POLIP, one such program, was held at Civic Energy Center in Gračanica, designed by the writer and co-editor of the Festival, Alida Bremer (DE / CRO) and titled “What kind of literature do we need”. This is at the same time a program and literary question, as well as a question of the common future of Albanian and Serbian communities in Kosovo. This was a significant step forward for the editors of the festival, which gave hope that next year in Gračanica a whole one-day program of the festival could take place, expanding in this way the space of the literary deal, and make POLIP closer to everyone who sees a joint platform for life with literature, which, however, changes our view of the world.


[*]The title was borrowed from the poet Lindita Ahmeti, who – by reading her outstanding repertoire about waiting which lasts for over a century – opened this year’s festival and invited the audience to change their perception.