In the previous issue, The Bridge published an announcement for a Call of the European Cultural Foundation related to cross-border exchange of creative experience (it can be found here: https://bridge-magazine.net/?p=1032). We consider this kind of exchange highly important; we consider it indeed one of the most importantly inherent aspects of the universality of culture and of diversity as a condition of culture. In this issue, we are publishing the interviews that we made to the creative people in residency during 2021 (Tetovo, Belgrade, Istanbul, Prishtina, Tirana), in the context of READ1
, hosted by the partner organizations, which is one of the fruitful forms of cross-border cultural exchange. To all of them we put the following questions:
1. How important is for you the relation between your own creative activity and your Societal or cultural surrounding?
2. What is more important for you as a writer/artist/translator, your directly personal
surrounding, the town, or the country in which you live, and why?
3. What is your experience as a resident in the city you choose in the context of this
4. Why do you write/ make art/translate?
1. These are interviews with all of them, except one, Azem Deliu, from Kosovo, one month in residence in Istanbul. Unfortunately, he couldn’t answer (note of the editor).
DENIZ BESER – TURKISH ARTIST IN TETOVO, NORTH MACEDONIA
Deniz Beser (b.1986) is an Istanbul and Vienna based interdisciplinary artist, curator and independent publisher. He received his BA degree in Ceramics and Glass Design from Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, Istanbul and studied Painting at University of Sevilla, Spain.
He is founder and director of Fanzineist Vienna Art Book & Zine Fair and Open Studio Days Istanbul and the co-founder of the independent art publication Heyt be! Fanzin. His practice revolves around various mediums including painting, installation, zine, art book, music, video, and ready-mades. In his installations, he often combines these different medium of
art. He took part at numereous exhibitions throughout Europe and Asia.
- I think that it will create a handicap for artists to produce art in isolation and disconnected from their social and cultural environment. In this respect, I prefer to include social and political effects, cultural images and stories in my works. It is also a relationship that feeds me in terms of inspiration and takes my work to a different point.
- As a visual artist, my personal environment, the cities I live in (Vienna and Istanbul) and countries (Austria and Turkey) are very important to me. Our memories make meaningful the city that we live. The connection we establish with the city, and the social opportunities creates different dimensions.I believe that the personal environment is shaped according to the character of the person, the possibilities offered by the city, and the social class and economic situation of the person. Economic support and contributions are provided to artists and independent art organizations in Vienna, which is my official residence city. Unfortunately, artists cannot find this type of support in Turkey. There are many material and moral obstacles that Istanbul artists have to grapple with. Of course, that doesn’t mean that everything is easy and fast in Austria. There are difficult factors to exist as an immigrant artist in Vienna, pressure from anti-immigrant people and tight bureaucracy. It is a meaningful victory for artists to be able to go through all this difficult stage and continue to produce and receive artist support in Vienna.
- I am selected and invited to the READ guest program and his one-month stay in North Macedonia to reflect and produce on reconciliation and cultural diversity. During my stay I observed daily life, local culture, motifs and languages in North Macedonia. My research-based project consists of an exhibition created with different mediums, a fanzine workshop, an open studio event, and a ‘fanzine’ project as a printed publication. Questions and topics such as ‘What are our similarities?’, ‘How do we live with the differences we have between us?’, ‘Different languages, common words’ and ‘Similarities of Differences’ are the focus points of his research.After making observations about North Macedonia and researching its history, I produced drawings, comics, site-specific installations and videos on the subject of “Similarities of Differences” and the places I visited in Tetovo and Skopje. I documented and reproduced all these works in a fanzine (photocopy magazine – an independent publishing form). As a result of all this work and residency program, I held the “Similarities of Differences” exhibition in Tetovo, LOJA. In addition, I carried out collaborative& collective works with local people and students in Tetovo and held a collage & zine workshop. The participants of this workshop created their own fanzine and each fanzine will be a part of the exhibition. I have a special interest in fanzines and independent publications, see this publication form as an important tool for art practice and also organizes events to spread the fanzine culture such as Fanzineist Vienna Art Book & Zine Fair. Also, I designed fanzine shelves for some local cafes and various venues in Tetovo. Fanzine shelves gives the function of introducing zine culture with people who never met this publication form. And it will increase the visibility of such publications. I find the idea useful that these publications should meet a potential new audience. In addition, I collaborated with expats and local people for the video work included in the exhibition. This video work shows common words used in Macedonia, Albania and Turkey. Historically, Turkish, Macedonian and Albanian have shared a common area and political, cultural and sociological relations, and the number of common words in dictionaries is quite high. In this video art project, collaborators was saying the selected common words. I transformed all the spoken words into a musical form with video edits.
- Just as eating and drinking are important need for us, I add art production as my own need to these actions. For me, this is an indispensable activity in life. I continue to produce and share art in order to see and interpret the different details of life. I find it very important to open the doors of different perceptions as I share and to construct this as a communication method with people.
ALBAN TUFA – WRITER FROM ALBANIA IN PRISHTINA, KOSOVO
Alban Tufa is an author from Albania, graduated in Communication Sciences and completed Master studies in Journalism. He is engaged in critical writing and reporting on culture, literature and social life. At the same time, he is involved in literary circles with various creative writings in prose and poetry, participating in various trainings, debates and competitions, where he counts several national and regional awards. He is the author of the volume of poetry “An evening like last evening” published in 2020, as well as an author and co-author of several works related to research, in the field of audiences and media effects. He is currently employed full-time as an assistant/lecturer at the Department of Communication Sciences at Bedër University College. Together with the interview, we are publishing one of the poems that Alban Tufa read in the literary festival in Tirana.
- My literature, it must be said, is small, for the reason that I briefly turn 30 years old, but even as small as it is, it tends to touch as much as poetry, as well as some types of prose (essays, stories and a novel). I say this because even though I am still in this craft, I like most, not to say like any writer work with two elements: imagination and memory. Let me analyse these two elements very briefly. Imagination in my idea is an attempt to overcome reality, to escape from the reality that surrounds me, to pass to the current normal situation. These transitions or transcendences are experienced in the mind by means of our images or visual systems, which in one way or another, resemble those who aim at us as the first, and our mind has works of its own existence and functionality. While memory is the sum of our moments and experiences (strangely enough emotional experiences prevail), which come to mind in the most complex ways. Certainly driven by the stimuli of the present. Largely in my opinion, memory and imagination, the two basic tools with which the writer works, are cultural and social outcomes. Let me take an example: I grew up in the village and from there I ran away at the age of 20. Therefore, in my literature subjects and images are green, rural, peripheral. But what I notice lately, is that in my poems there is a lot of glass, pane, concrete, noise and lonely people, which is the derivative of my life in the capital (Tirana). These images are the product of my intimate concerns, which are at the same time inseparable from the social situation. On the other hand, as far as I have been told, in the prose and poetry I write, there is a certain irony and the same allegory that is obviously noticeable. This I believe stems culturally, because my grandfather, just as my father was a typical Dibra man, and I grew up with their allegorical end stories.
- This is a nice question, but the answer is extremely delicate and for the question to get the right answer, it has to be taken in a longitudinal way. However, I will try to be as concise as possible. I generally write about my concerns, but they also appear to me as a problem to someone and many. I think that a young writer or poet, when he starts writing, does it either because he finds it beautiful, or because he likes to be read by others, or to please a girl, or because, in the end, he want to convinces the literature teacher that he wrote well and loves literature and thousands of other reasons. It is important that few starts from personal concerns, much less from the social problems of his country or city. The first stage is beautiful, naive but fast. Meanwhile, the second phase comes and without realizing it, you get caught up in worries: you grow up, the girl you wanted no longer hangs you, your thoughts do not match with your parents, the high school teacher gets on your nerves, the world around you is not enough, you have neither money nor independence, and you start writing about the strangest things and worries. Your poems and stories come and go, and you still remain naive as you really start to think you are a writer, and worst of all, that with your writing you correct others. Thus, striving to fix yourself ends up writing about others and slowly you have given yourself a public role, which you probably also like. At this stage you have realized that writing only about yourself no longer makes sense, and together with yourself you write about others. If we should definitely mention what I write about myself, or which of the things I write stands closest to myself, it is poetry. So the most biographical thing that approximates me.
- Let me give two answers. The first answer, lightning, is that very well, wonderful. The second answer is certainly much longer. For the first time in Prishtina I was in 2019 with my uncle at a book promotion. It was Sunday. Pristina was quite quiet. No traffic and with fresh air as much as I felt like it was burning in my lungs. The second time I was in January 2020, also Sunday and very cold. I was with my girlfriend (already my wife). In 1998 I was 6 years old. In the village, we had a “Sharp” satellite receiver, and every day we watched on TV news about Kosovo (Pristina). The images were horrific: fleeing people, smoke, flames, people killed and bodies thrown away. Both times I was in Prishtina these images came to my mind. This place so beautiful, very close and very far from that war in a very strange way. The third time I was during one month, as part of the READ residence, throughout June-July 2021. I chose Prishtina for two reasons. The first, because it gives me an interesting place, new to the war and a rich cultural scene compared to Tirana. The second reason is the fact that I think (I was thinking at the time), that first I had to meet in Kosovo, make friends, etc., and after that to claim to have passed outside the Albanian-speaking territories. I was very well received at the Multimedia Center. I made many friends and met many others. I read poetry at the Oda Theater and at the Faculty of Literature and Philosophy at Hasan Prishtina University. I also did one of the most important things in my literature: I wrote my first novel, which I had in mind for several years, and which is already in the process of being published. The novel tends to explain or trace how a family where its members do not communicate with each other can rot irreparably.
- I have read some writers’ responses and even some essays where they try to explain the reasons why they write. I agree with most of the reasons, and the fact that I unknowingly agree may also come as my reason. Why I started writing, as I said in a question above, the sources of concern for a writer in the beginning, so I will not deal with this and will skip straight to the first reason why (I continue) to write. Gabriel García Márquez somewhere says that “if you can live without writing, then do not write”. Based on this wise saying, I think, or rather myself has proved to me, that I cannot live without writing. I have thought several times not to write, to deal with “normal”work, but every time I decide to do so, a book comes to me. I take it to read and I cannot read why I always think of two things: if the book is well written, I say to myself “oh I would have written this”; if the book is badly written, I say to myself “I would have written it that way” raising the chances of a better version. In short, my life is already conditioned by literacy. When I lived in the countryside, and my village is located in the Drini i Zi valley, the world seemed very big to me. So big that they caught my eye up to the horizon that stretched from the mountains. But when I grew up somehow, I learned that my world (Dibra) was quite small, even Albania was very, very small in relation to the world. When I started reading literature I was introduced to a magnificent world, and I realized that worlds can be magnified in books. So when you do not have this world, you can build it. So I recently realized that I write that the world is not enough for me, I write that its rhythm seems bad to me, that I write to have a world that I am having every day and more. On the other, I write hand because as human beings we are characterized by selfishness. Beyond the human aspects of literature and the art world, the writer is essentially selfish. The writer will be talked about, and if not spoken, his voice to be heard, his ideas to be read. Ultimately communicate and participate in the complexity and abstraction of ideas. Writing is, among other things, a process of recognition. It is the process of getting to know the world, ideas, others, but most of all getting to know yourself. When I was a student I always kept notes. I wrote a lot, i.e. everything the professors said in the lectures and not only that, but in addition to their words I also wrote my ideas for that point of view or concept. Therefore, I think I write to know and know more. I write, and that can sound like naive, because I think the world needs every perspective, whether mine or anyone else’s. I also write to live longer than beyond my age. Writing brings me closer to the Absolute Force: God, and every time I think about it, it seems to me that he totally agrees that I write and thus constructs my circumstances.
By Alban Tufa
Coming back, this opportunity to do things again, darling, occurs only to find peace. We know that a second chance is the way to repentance, after repentance comes disappointment, and so on concluding a returning circle. Coming back, especially sudden coming back, occurs due to forgetfulness to get the key, to see the details of a photo, to start things in the name of God. While some returns force to get the taste of yesterday, like the bee that returns every day in the same soil, in the same flower, like the man in the old house to renew some memories. So I come back to you every night mitigating all conflicts with the world as he soaks white clothes in water
and bread crusts in milk.
I don’t get tired of coming back to you as the night does not get tired returning to the day, quiet, without any metaphor. You are my day that defines me redefining the world a little, the self a little. Coming back is simple, darling, it’s the most beautiful obligation we have to fulfill. You know, written on the forehead every time you tell me: you should be back soon today. That’s enough to understand that you love me without noise and without pathetic words. We both know we’re growing, so instead of saying I love you, you write to me: Are you coming? I am convinced that in addition to water, meanings also take shape, that form of our worlds of escapes and returns. You know the tricks of returning,
therefore you never forget to write to me: I am coming back.
Translated by the author
DANILO STOJIĆ – WRITER FROM SERBIA IN PRISHTINA, KOSOVO
Danilo Stojić is a Serbian author born in 1981. He has published texts and stories (both
in Serbo-Croatian and English language) in different magazines, internet sites and collections of stories. From late 2005 to early 2008, From 2006 started working with video, both as narrative and experimental media. His first novel, Vreme poluraspada (Fallout period), was published in 2012. During the last few years, besides his usual writing, he has been in the process of publishing a collection book Ovde smo da idemo (We are here
to go). This project was officially initiated on the centennial of William S. Burroughs’ birth (2014), however it has been in development since 2008. The book is a result of his friendship with Udo Breger, translator and photographer from Basel, who spent time with Burroughs and also published some of his works (as well as translated them to
German). Together with the interview, we are publishing one of the poems that Danilo Stojic read in the literary festival in Prishtina.
- Well I think that it’s crucial in many ways, as something that cannot be avoided. Not that I would ever want to avoid or exclude my surrounding’s influence, on contrary – my work is always some kind of response to contemporary occurrences and gains from cultural and societal inputs. No matter how fictional the nature of the work is, it’s always provoked by injustice, unhealed wounds or anything else in society that I feel I need to deal with in my own way. Even if the nature of my dealing with it is metaphorical or purely symbolic.
- Always direct surrounding: city I live, cities, towns and places that I visit. They are all directly pouring themselves into my writings, very often as characters and not just as locations. Nature of my work is strongly based in mixing those locations with their atmospheres in new constructions that exist on paper in my writings as narrative maps and suggestions for playful usage of spaces around us. My process in that is trying to mimic uncertain and unknown mechanisms of dreams and combining known and remembered places as we do when we dream them. And regarding country in which I live – all I can say there is that I never had feeling of being a part of any country (no matter how many of those appeared and claimed me during my life so far) as much as I felt for myself and people around me as hostages of conflicts, bureaucracy and different kinds of misunderstandings. But also those conflicts have a lot of influence in my work, I would be ignorant to state differently. The main thing for me is, to put it simply like this: city (town, village, forest or any surrounding you are from) is a real place, and country (like nationality) is always make-believe concept, so it couldn’t never outgrew importance of something that is real.
- I had my residence in one of the tough moments of pandemic, the situation in Pristina (as well as a lot of other places) worsened, so the lockdown and strict measures were back in practice. So I was shortened to some of the features of the place and program, like going out after 10pm or enjoying cultural life in city, but didn’t let that bother me much. I got to know city pretty well, made some really good connections and what is most important, created a whole new piece of the puzzle that fits my new book perfectly. In lot of ways I’m thankful for unique perspective of the city in given circumstances. Shortly said – this experience gave me the idea for completion of my book, and that was the most important thing for me. And if we add the fact that I was part of wonderful polipfestival, heard and met so many interesting writers there, all of that just builds up my experience of residency to higher level. And for not meeting Pristina during the night, or in the full cultural swing, because of the pandemic restrictions, well let’s say that the city gave me enough as it did to come back and meet that side of it some other time.
- I was always writing. Always was in love with the written word and wanted to do something in that field, in fact, ever since my parents hooked me up to books. That is the simplest and easiest answer. But giving it a thought, writing is the field where I see myself as totally free, where I am in most control over my creation – not that I always have or want to have control. But that is where I see my expression in its purest form. I also work as video editor, and I do a lot of collage videos, which has influenced my writing a lot lately, so I approach this craft of writing also as a video editor sometimes, working with excerpts or short writings that I don’t see to fit anywhere as complete, so I edit them together and mix in experimental texts. But maybe the most accurate and direct answer to the question of why I write is that I find word document or piece of paper as my comfort zone, and all that I lack in social skills or intellect, I can hide and disguise into something with more worth when I start writing. Simply put: when I can’t express something or take full grasp on my thoughts differently, I write it down and it works. At least for me.
TAKE BACK THE FUTURE
Exploring the known town over and over again, can be seen as searching for the hidden treasures in your own backyard, buried and forgotten about in childhood.
Forgotten like a dream, that once seemed to hold the key for some very important door.
A method is walking the streets until the blisters on your feet start to cry, dragging your fingers across different facades until you come to difference of every grain of sand engraved in, mapping every crack in the asphalt on the road, connecting skylines into one, neverending broken line… all these exercises can easily turn into meditation of rearranging cities and places that you keep stored in your mind, making new places out of different quarters of cities, real or dreamed or only picked out from the movie screen… its a road to help you prepare for the future…
To be more precise – its the road for taking the future back. An old promise, a real progressive future… planet-city future in which the trains of the world are now just local transportation, one skyline roars the mountains and valleys and waters… super-bridges that are emerging from the oceans and the star sky is forever poisoned by the street lamps and open windows throughout which the neon songs of the TV programs are flickering against the dark, shining on the passer by planes and other flying vehicles…
And then you can just come to a halt, in front of a filthy puddle that oozes from the broken drain pipe in the middle of the street, and cannot but pause to contemplate the choices.
Sometimes the reflection beats the original. The open sky isn’t anything new as a sight, but when you spot it in a dirty, muddy hole in the ground you cannot but wonder how all that open space and mountain sized clouds managed to fit in this step limited lake beneath, and turn its few centimetres of deepness into real abyss…
Translated by the author
MEHMET BERK YALTIRIK – TURKISH WRITER IN TIRANA, ALBANIA
Mehmet Berk Yalttırık was born 1987. In 2010, he graduated from Trakya University, Faculty of Letters, Department of History. He completed his master’s degree at Trakya University in the Department of History in 2014, in the field of General Turkish History, with the thesis “Dasht-i Kipchak campaigns of Mongols”. He is continuing his doctorate, which he started in 2017, in the same department. He started writing stories on his own blog since 2009. Later, his research articles and stories were published on his various websites, fanzines and journals. He mainly writes historical horror stories about Balkan folklore. He worked as a history consultant in some fiction works, especially in some volumes of Devrim Kunter’s “Seyfettin Efendi” comics. Together with his interview, we are publishing the text that he read in the festival in Tirana, a framgent from his story “Blood owner”.
- My biggest source of inspiration for my writings and related fields has been either my own culture or neighbouring cultures. When writing historical stories, borders inevitably get mixed up.Along with my own history, I started to be interested in the histories and cultures of the Balkan nations. Folk tales, legends, superstitions, even motifs on dresses, daily life, food, folk songs are my main sources. I build my stories on this rich oral treasure. In a border city at the westernmost tip of Turkey; I have been living in Edirne for 21 years. In a border city at the westernmost tip of Turkey; I have been living in Edirne for 21 years.
- The city I live in impressed me more. It was important to search for old and new faces in a historical city, to read traces, to rediscover wars and migrations, to touch folk narratives. Living in a place and hearing people’s voices is more effective than learning from the pages of a book.My stay in Tirana this year through October 2021 is a very important development for me and for my writing career.
- Within the framework of the READ 2021 Recidency program, I was hosted by Instituti i Librit dhe i Promocionit in Tirana for a month. I was familiar with Albanian culture from history pages and folk songs. However, it was only after I got to know them that I could learn fully. In some of my stories, I have included figures from Albanian history. Living in Tirana directly gave me new inspirations, new story titles.
- I love re-imagining old stories and resorting to fantasy elements. I like to write about the unlived adventures of people I haven’t seen, and to fictionalize them myself. Horror stories are fun. In the past, our elders used to tell these stories to spend time by the hearth fire. I do this nowadays through pen and keyboard.
Blood owner (fragment)
By Mehmet Berk Yaltırık
While they were passing through ridgeways and valleys, they talked about “lesser evil” kind of topics in order to forget the fear of death. They were talking about the djinns’ weddings with booming drums echoing through the mountains, fairies choking brides by the river, vampires and upirs jumping from their graves with their shrouds from Serbian lands, the bloodthirsty voivods of Wallachia and Bogdan, which were all parts of Balkan beliefs. While they were watching the shadows, deserted villages, ruins of castles, and abandoned cemeteries, they passed through the storm and torrent and through the roads reeking death, praying countless prayers, thousands kinds of fears in their hearts.
Days later, when they reached Delvina, even though it was the evening time, the first thing they did was to visit Veli Pasha’s pavilion. After being accepted to his presence and showing reverence, they submitted that they solved the witcher issue. When Hamza Ali presented his services, the pasha accepted it: “Come after you have solved this problem. I will myself write a message with my own hands and send you to Yanya. I will get you accepted as a soldier under the command of our pasha father, as your wish!”
When they arrived at the Mesopotam village under the darkness of the evening, they headed for Resad Bey’s mansion. They had realized the eerie silence as they were passing by the houses. Hamza Ali was not aware of it since he was used to it, but Behram and Bosnali who went through the warzone, could see this dreadful detail when the warfare hit their own lands. It was the same silence with the silence of the ghost-like people in the migration convoys or the immigrant tents. The fact that they could not have come across with any patrols wandering in the town increased the uneasy feeling they had. It seemed that an unspeakable evil had settled down upon the doors, the windows with some rotting garlic and crooked crosses hanged, upon the houses no light coming out of their windows. Even the horses seemed uneasy with this horror. The men felt as if they had jumped into the jaws of death while trying to get away from it.
As they were climbing the hill towards the stone mansion, Behram, considering the earlier surprised face of Bosnali, told Hamza Ali that he should pay no heed to the appearance
of the Bey, and then continued to summarise the story of the “Bernusha” tradition and Reşad Bey. Hamza Ali was surprised: “I’ve heard it from Albanian brethren. But I did not know that they were granted the title of Bey. So, they are really counted as man!” When they arrived at the stone mansion, they saw that about forty soldiers were waiting beside the wall with torches in their hands instead of patrolling or being on guard duty. There were crosses and garlics hanged on the wooden door of the mansion. When the soldiers who were feeling extremely sleepy saw Behram and Bosnali, they ran with joy towards them, as if they have reached the remedy for their ailment. Behram asked one of the soldiers during the tumult: “Çfarë po bën këtu? Ku patrullë?” (What are you doing here, where is the watchman?). At that moment they saw the garden doors opening and Resad Bey himself coming directly towards them. First, Resad Bey invited the newcomers inside the garden: “Come in, I’ll tell you what’s going on…” Then, he turned towards the soldiers: “Don’t move anywhere. If you see that thing, shoot it!”
After the arriving party got into the garden, Resad Bey personally saw to the closure of the doors and ordered them to barricade the door with a log. When they saw that there were
crosses and garlics hanging on the windows and a huge wooden cross placed at the door, they wondered what had happened during their absence. They followed Reşad Bey into the mansion. With the order of the Bey: “Don’t remove your shoes, get in like that” they moved into chamber and stood hand and foot. When Resad Bey closed the door, they saw the garlics and crosses hung onto it even from the inside and began to worry. Behram, trusting the history between them, went to Resad Bey: “My bey, what has happened here?” Resad Bey was in a state of worry and fear of death which was extremely rare: “It showed itself…” As he looked at Hamza Ali who carries a janissary headgear, Hamza Ali ashamedly kissed the ground since he found this tradition of counting a woman as a man because she is dressed like one strange. Bosnali introduced Hamza Ali: “Hamza Ali, one of the janissaries of Belgrade, vampire hunter, vampirovic, dampir… Whatever he is…” It looked like Resad Bey’s eyes beamed for a moment: “Dampir? I should have known. The witch master smelt the earth, span a wood with a saint’s visage, burned some papers but could not find the blood sucking fiend.
When I was a little kid there were stories of dampirs finding out much worse things. So, you are one of the janissaries of Belgrade…” Hamza Ali gestured his desperation with his two hands: “There is neither Belgrade nor its janissaries left, my Bey. You asked for me and I answered. You said blood sucking fiend not coming from the earth. You’re afraid even though you are protected by the crosses and garlics?”
Resad Bey started to tell the story with fear in his eyes that he could no longer conceal: “The witch master told us to hang garlic so that it can protect. After Behram and Bosnali left, nothing happened for three days. Then my men patrolling the village saw an owl.
Someone waved his rifle at the animal, and its head turned into a crone and scared the soldiers. The night after that someone felt faint and opened a window and something grabbed her hands and tried to get her out. When she screamed, we all rushed outside. It had gigantic arms reaching out for the woman, and then it disappeared. We called for a hodja from the village and hired a priest to bless the houses. After that it started to come at night tapping with her fingernails to windowpanes or scratching the doors. The soldiers won’t leave the mansion. Even I cannot leave…”
Hamza Ali asked while he was playing with the handles of the swords and daggers on his belt: “This creature, does it pester other villages? “No, bre, only here.” “Got it, more. My bey, do you have a swine farm or a slaughterhouse here?”
Translated by Pelin Kut Belenli
MILENA SELIMI – ALBANIAN TRANSLATOR IN BELGRADE, SERBIA
Milena Selimi has a long career as a journalist, writer and translator, especially outstanding by her contribution for the mutual recognition of Balkan cultures. She has translated many novels of Balkan authors: Georgi Gospodinov, Nikola Madzirov, Alek Popov, etc. She has participated as a translator at the “Balkan Anthology” at the Goethe Institute in
Sarajevo. She was Artistic Director of the Festival “Tirana Gate”. Currently she works as Director at the Center for Openness and Dialogue, Prime Minister’s Office, Albania, Tirana.
- I believe that culture is the only space where borders don’t exist; where one can move freely without needing a pass; where instead of opposing one another, we can open the dialogue for new and difficult topics.By talking to diverse audiences from different cultural backgrounds we start to shift our way of thinking by allowing the creation of a new element in this cultural space that allows us to tolerate, coexist, respect the Other. Cultural diversity brings us together, teaches us empathy and transports us to foreign countries.
- Translation has nothing to do with where you live, but with the culture from which you translate. I translate from my mother tongue, Bulgarian, and half of me knows the Bulgarian culture, art and history and half other knows the Albanian culture. The same can be said for the Serbian culture and art. Being a translator in Albania, just like in Serbia, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, means that you are in continuous struggle to survive. I would like more policies and cultural strategies of our ministries for these small Balkan languages, with authors who have been awarded with the Nobel Prize’s. Our countries have not invested enough in the empowerment and the financial valuation of translators. Even more when this investment is towards small Balkan languages. The only way of keeping alive this Balkan communication and the acknowledgment of other languages is through European platforms such as Creative Europe, different networks like READ residency programme, Traduki, etc. As a translator of Traduki since 2009, I can’t express enough that this network has been and will forever be the main door to the European Union. It’s the perfect integration model where EU member states, and states that are in charge of different policies such as Germany, find that common ground and perfect balance to collaborate with potential EU candidates such as Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. Culture builds bridges that politics can never aspire to.
- I have contact with other authors during my stay and without doubt these meetings were the highlight of my entire residency. My most valuable encounter is definitely the one I had with the author I am translating. We talked and discussed about different phraseologies used in the book, the front cover concept etc. As a translator, I deeply value these kinds of meetings with the author, and I was very lucky to do so in Belgrade. I participated in the event with Đorđe Božović, from the Faculty of Philology, Albanian language and literature, to promote my work, and a translation workshop for students from the Faculty of Philology who participated the workshop and event.
Another important meeting took place at the University of Belgrade, Faculty of Philology where I had the chance to meet in person Professor Naile Mala Imami – Head of the Department of Albanian Language at the University of Belgrade; Professor. Merima Krijezi – Assistant Professor at the Department of Albanian Language at the University of Belgrade at the division on Albanian language. During this meeting we had an informal discussion with several Serbian students interested in the Albanian language and culture. The meeting I had with the While being in Belgrade I had the chance to catch up with the Serbian writer Jasmina Topic and Adrian Christian-Kyçyku, two important writers of Balkan languages.
- Literature is a connecting bridge. It is the only space where people from different cultures and nationalities are connected through storytelling and through the essence of being human.Literature is a breath of freedom within each and every one of us, no matter where we are from. While staying at the translator’s house I felt quite at home. As a translator, I felt like I was contributing to the continuation of this legacy. During the time that I will be given the opportunity to stay in the READ residency program 2021, I will be working on a book titled Srce zemlje by the Serbian author Svetislav Basar. This is an important project that I have started with TOENA publishing house in Tirana, Albania. This chosen author has an important place in Serbian and Eastern European literature due to his way of writing and the topics he chooses to write about. In his works, Basar reflects on the relationships between civilization and morality, religion and illness; he tears down several Serbian myths and defames the powerful with his ironic and grotesque way of expressing his thoughts. Basar has also received numerous literary awards. As translator of his work, it is important to me to surround myself as close as I can to the culture of the characters of his novel. Therefore residing in Belgrade and being close to an environment that is deeply related to the characters of the text would immensely help me to transcend Basar’s thoughts and words into writing.
NURIE EMRULLAI – WRITER FROM NORTH MACEDONIA IN ISTANBUL, TURKEY
Nurie Emrullai is born in 1992 in Kicevo, North Macedonia, and recived her BA of Albanian Language and Literature and the MA of Albanian Language at University of Tetova. She generally writes poems, most of them have been selected and published in important
journals of Albania and Kosovo.Her poems have been selected for the World Anthology of Young Poets, as well as in the Macedonian Anthology.Her poems are translated into these languages such as English, Macedonian, Hebrew and Esperanto. She has published two
books of poetry. Her third book will be published this year and is a study: “Exile, Identity and Nostalgia in the books of Milan Kundera”.
- I can’t think about this question in a separate form. My creative activity depends on my societal and cultural surroundings and vice versa. I am very sure that if I were in another place my writing would have different elements, even if the essence of writing will remain the same, because I write what I feel and not what I see. But for every artist there is a need to be in a place where the freedom of creation is not dependent on the other subjects.
- I have asked myself about these many times. Everything is important. All the things that you have mentioned because they are gathered in between. As a writer you can’t function only by the personal surroundings, or just the town. The writing is a live matter that changes and gets a form from everything that you get to know. And if a writer knows how to make all this in a form, I think that is a perfect thing and a great writer. I think the most important for a writer is to be conscious about the time, the things that happened between his life. Among these things, reading good literature is an important thing too.
- The experience was quite interesting. I met great artists and great people. it was inspiring too.
- Most of the time, when somebody has asked me this question, I always ignore this and preferred not to answer. Not because I didn’t like the question, but because somehow, I am afraid, and I don’t want to sound pathetic. But the truth is that I write for myself (to save myself), and the other who reads me to understand that he is not alone in this world, where loneliness is the biggest disease of the human being. I write to tell the others that for me too, the time hurts, and it hurts the people that I love too. It hurts and it’s saintly the moment that comes and it’s not repeated anymore. I write to remember. I write to know myself and you to know yourself too. I don’t want the other to identify me through my writing. Art is not a selfish thing. When I write I am everyone and I write for everyone that I have met, or I will meet one day. The writing – the only way to be alive.
ĐORĐE BOŽOVIĆ – SERBIAN TRANSLATOR IN TIRANA, ALBANIA
Đorđe Božović teaches theoretical and areal linguistics at the University of Belgrade Faculty
of Philology. He graduated with a BA and MA in general and Albanian linguistics and got
his PhD in theoretical and Balkan linguistics from the same institution. In the previous
ten years, he translated a numer of books and works of contemporary prose, essays, poetry and drama from Albanian, written both by the affirmed authors, such as Arian Leka, Luljeta Lleshanaku, Veton Surroi, Adil Olluri, Jeton Neziraj, and others, as well as by the emerging and rising authors on annual short story competitions “Biber”.
- As a linguist and literary translator from Albanian living and working in Serbia, I would say my societal and cultural surrounding is of utmost importance for my work. Literature is an integral part of the culture and the society in which it is produced and consumed; it is not written nor read in a vacuum. In this context, I see my work as a translator as a very pronounced form of social engagement. Every new work that gets translated from another language brings with itself a new perspective, and maintaing multiperspectivity is very important for this post-conflict society.There were times, not so long ago, when a translator’s job as mine would be impossible in Serbia. Nothing guarantees that such times won’t return, unless we prevent them. Translating is a prerequisite and a means of connecting the experiences and overcoming barriers that constantly threaten to be imposed upon us. In the end, I translate texts which ought to communicate with the local audience, and not just do it for my own pleasure.
- All those scales are important for an individual, but I must add to them the regional and the international level, too. At least for me, being a university worker and a translator working with languages, most of the work has to be carried on in an intercultural setting and in spaces beyond our parochial boundaries; otherwise it is not done properly.
- My stay in Tirana was very useful for my future work and activities. I got a chance to visit the Tirana Book Fair, which takes place every November, and to learn about the Albanian literary scene at its busiest place and time of the year. I also made a visit to the Faculty of Foreign Languages at the University of Tirana and held a workshop on literary translation for the students of various Slavic and Balkan languages. The workshop was very well attended. I met the students who are training to be future translators and language experts and their professors of Russian, Bulgarian and Turkish, with whom I had a very nice time.
- Some would say that there are no coincidences, but I did start translating almost by accident. By my primary vocation, I am a linguist with an interest in the Albanian language. That’s really a theoretical, not a practical endavour. So, I was never interested in actually becoming a translator, but the translation chose me, I guess. I started translating Albanian literature ten years ago and very soon it became my second career. In fact, I found it complements my work in linguistics well. By translating texts from one language to another, I get to dive deeper into the mechanisms of both languages. Translation is a hard manual labour, but it is also a creative and an exciting process, full of deciphering tasks and new discoveries. I don’t think that anyone, not even the authors themselves, enter that deep into the underlying structure of their own texts, decompose them entirely to closely examine each, even the smallest of their parts, and then rebuild them again, as the translators do. It is really a shame that, for the most part, this deciphering process stays confined to the translator and other people don’t get to see much often how the translations are actually made; they only get the final product. This is something I was talking about in the workshop with students and I plan to write more about this in the future.
ELENA PRENDJOVA – MACEDONIAN WRITER IN BELGRADE, SERBIA
Elena Prendjova is a poet, a slam poet and a poetry translator. She holds an M.A. in Philology Science and a B.A. in English Language and Literature. She works as an ESP teacher, an educator and mentor of creative writing and slam poetry workshops. She is the author of 9 full-length poetry collections and the editor of the “Anthology of the Macedonian slam poetry”. Prendjova was the 2016 national representative at the European Slampionship. She was a grantee of the 2015 monthly writer’s residency in Tirana,
Albania financed by the Traduki Network and the Ministry of Culture of Albania, as well as
the grantee of the 2019 i-Portunus and Creative Europe performing arts residency in Tartu,
Estonia and Maribor, Slovenia; and a grantee of the 2020 READ Writer’s and Translator’s
Residency Program in Belgrade, Serbia.
- It’s a two-way influence – my societal and cultural surrounding influences my creative activity and vice versa. Sometimes the influence is strong, sometimes gentle. When I was a student, I wrote an SF short story of the human race creating a new world on another planet and consulted the anthropology lecturer for opinion. She reminded me of an important aspect – that the people colonizing the artificial planet had their past knowledge acquired on Earth to use in the new surrounding. Thus, the relation between the artist’s creative activity and their societal and cultural surrounding is direct, deep, and crucial. The artist is shaped by their cultural and societal background, as well as their art, no matter how universal art is. After all, the first lesson any artist gets from the senior fellow artists, or life itself, is to write/create out of their personal experience; our experiences are based on our realities i.e. the culture and society we as persons belong to.
- To me, as a writer, freedom is most important; freedom of speech, freedom of thought, to have full liberty as a person, because, in my opinion, only the free person, the free spirit, enjoys the luxury of being creative. Freedom corresponds with creativeness on so many levels. However, in terms of the art scene, the geopolitical base of the artist is, unfortunately, indeed important. There are the world art centers, and if the artist is there-based, they get mapped in the global artist scene more easily. Globally, efforts are being made to decentralize all society’s aspects, but it’s an ongoing process. I am an urban poet, the motifs I use in my poems are deeply rooted in the social grounds, so the town, the country, and the social structure I belong to and live in have plenty of shares in my artistic activism.
- The project I applied with was a Serbian-to-Macedonian translation of the poetry collection ANTITELA(ANTIBODIES) by Nemanja Dragaš, Serbia’s most awarded young poet. ANTITELA won the 2020 “Spasoje Pajo Blagojević” national poetry award for the best poetic manuscript. The residency enabled me a direct author–translator collaboration, workshop-like. Spending time and discussing with authors is the key to good translations. Once, when working on the translations of my slam poetry, the Bulgarian/Macedonian-to-Italian translator Davide Fanciullo stated that he wanted to meet me in person so he would feel my energy, hear the nuances of my voice, and see my body posture – all that speaks volumes of my creative personality mirrored in my spoken word poetry. Thus, for me, as well, was very important to meet the poet I translate, to get to know the mentality of his speech, to understand why he chooses the precise words he chooses, and not synonyms, or why he uses the syntax he uses, which is not standard… these elements affect the choices I make in my translation.
As far as the residency itself is concerned, Belgrade offered me a unique experience. As a half-blooded Serbian with relatives living in Belgrade, the city has always been a way of a holiday home to me, escapism in the physical reality. Having Belgrade within reach for pleasure, I had never previously experienced it as I did during the residency. Due to the pandemic, I avoided public transport, and moving around a two-million city on foot is an act of pure adventure, even foolishness. Namely, walking enabled me to make smooth transitions in the city’s neighborhoods and contrasts; for example, walking out of the futuristic Belgrade Waterfront into historic Zemun is like walking out of an SF movie set into a fairytale movie studio. Furthermore, when you are stationary in a single place for a long period, you are inevitably introduced to new people that you would never have the chance to meet in the comfort zone of the city’s touristic paths. For instance, the beautician I visited during my stay there was literary the highlight of my stay and inspired me to create a character of the prose project I am currently working on. Last but not least, I had the time and pleasure to participate in several poetry readings (where I first met some of the fellow poets which added to my networking), one of which was a poetry slam gathering organized by my host organization K.R.O.K.O.D.I.L. Two months after one of the poetry readings, and a month upon my arrival back home, a third party contacted me on behalf of a couple present at the reading to ask for the lyrics of the poem I was performing. They even remembered some of the lines, how amazing!
- I write because I have to, I need to, I must. Creative writing is but an inner desire that can be tamed only by the act of writing itself. I agree with the feminist theory explaining that writing, and the creative process in general, is like the process of creating a child. The idea is conceived out of a sudden, oftentimes unplanned, and unexpectedly (in the past it was said it was sent by the gods); then the process of idea development follows, just like the process of baby growth during pregnancy. Soon after, the artist needs to work within deadlines, just like assigning the date when the baby is to be due. However, babies are not due when the calendar says so, yet when ready. Some are forced into the world much earlier and put into incubators, yet others need labor induction (because if the baby goes past its due date, they bruise the mother’s belly, just like the idea tortures the “host”, i.e. the artist). Still, sooner or later, once conceived, the baby can’t stay in the uterus forever. The process of giving birth is the most painful. Getting your idea out of yourself can be torture because you want it to be as perfect as it is in your mind. Then, you give birth to it and leave it into the world to find its place. I would also argue that the creative process is like a tumor as well. Once it appears, it just grows, and unless it is detached when the time comes (in the case of art, the idea from the artist), it becomes a parasite contaminating the artist’s peace of mind. My point is, the idea must be realized; it is powerful and must pursue its way; its driving force pressures the artist to create; the greater the artist’s resistance, the more powerful the pressure. Consequently, once the artist completes the idea, they feel relieved, reborn, ready for new ideas.
SHQIPE MALUSHI – WRITER FROM KOSOVO IN TETOVO, NORTH MACEDONIA
Shqipe Malushi is a writer, poet, performer, public speaker, gender adviser, an empowerment coach and leadership trainer, using storytelling to raise awareness, building leadership and peacebuilding through cross-cultural issues. Originally from Kosovo, she moved through transforming herself from an immigrant to the world citizen. Her stories have been published internationally, and her publications include a book of poetry “For You,” in Albanian; and “The Gift of the Prophets,” in English; “ The Secret of Dreams,” and “ Beyond the Walls of the Forgotten Land, Albanian Mythological Tales as told by her Grandmother!” Her work on women’s empowerment expanded beyond boundaries strengthening relationships in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iraq, India, Kosovo, Albania and USA. She is involved in humanitarian causes, overcoming racial, cultural and religious differences.
- My creative activity is very important for me. I have always lived my entire life a creative way especially being in the U.S.A. We had to work different jobs, and after work, study and write. Writing and creating was my soul’s fulfilment, thus I would forget the hard work required to survive. I was always involved with the Albanian American community, and creativity was so important to create events that gathered people and motivated them to be creative. With creativity always came positive thinking and belonging. Our identity was strengthened, our culture was always renewed by creative activities. We learned to create together, we shared stories of our homeland and our families and that was so beautiful and made us very proud. Now that I am back living in Kosova, I am so happy because I found myself belonging to the artists’ world. I am now part of a theatre group in Prishtina, filled with young talented people. I had a great chance to meet youth in Northern Macedonia through READ program with Center for Balkan Reconciliation LOJA; their creativity inspired me and helped build stronger ties with each other. Enhanced ideas and collaboration with one another with their team and their community. My life with creativity is like an ocean constantly moving and enriched every minute. I believe that artists add value to the cultural life of our country, and we are proud to represent our culture outside of our borders.
- As a writer the first important thing is my purpose of expressing the ideas and feelings, the second important thing is desire to change things for the better and at the same time reflecting on our traditional values. I write everywhere, the place is not so important, but beauty is.I get inspired and motivated when I am moved by the beautiful spaces, people, surroundings. Then I feel love and feel connected to the people that surround me. This feeling encourages me to give back to the community and share all I have with them in this case is my love, creativity, experience, and knowledge.
- To my dismay, it was a great surprise. When I was told I would be going to Tetovo, in Northern Macedonia, where I didn’t know anyone, I was clueless, but I thought I shouldn’t create a judgement before I go, and if I didn’t like it, I could always leave. I was so surprised to discover so much beauty in a city that portrayed itself as a very modest city with humble people. Meeting LOJA’s team was my great surprise, they welcomed me with so much openness and acceptance, so much respect and love. Each member of LOJA devoted time to introduce me to his or her projects; the leader of Loja, Bujar Luma, was incredibly welcoming, informative, and inclusive. This all made me feel and home. Slowly I made new friends, I discovered a poetry festival that was organized there for 25 years in a row and had a chance to meet many international poets. Also, Tetovo theatre was very active, I attended a classical beautiful play written by Anton Chekov “The Bear Proposal” and acted by many actors of Kosovo and Northern Macedonia. I participated in LOJA’s mobile library going to schools and spending time with young students from the 1st to 7thgrade, discussing reading and why was so important to read. Visited the Art Exhibit, talked to people on the streets, visited markets, attended a concert at Alliance Française, and discovered many monuments standing side by side like mosques, tekkes and churches. I also participated in two conferences that LOJA organized and discovered an extraordinary program that LOJA’s team conducts with their non-formal trainings at the Universities. They also use art as a tool for change. I had a very hard time parting from these people and this city. There was so much love and hidden creativity, so much culture and tradition, and so much hope for building future through new friendships. I finished my project with READ and we all celebrated. I am most grateful to the READ project that enabled me to be part of such elated and enlightened experience of creativity, exchange, and inclusiveness. This wouldn’t have been possible without READ program.
- I write because I see the world with beautiful eyes. I want to capture the beauty in every story, every moment, whether stories are sad or happy, easy, or difficult. Writing poetry helps me define my feelings, understand the reality of evolution of life and humanity. Poetry gives me energy to move and feel alive. Writing essays is part of my duty to observe and capture that which needs to be changed in our lives and our societies. Writing film scripts gives me an opportunity to become a window for others to see through the same eyes as I do. Hence, writing is a process that helps me learn, helps me express myself, helps me connect with others and helps me make a positive change. I believe that love is all there is.