Where is Europe going? This question is being asked with increasing concern. We live in a time when the European dream is at risk, a dream that emerged in the decades after World War Two and which seemed so unstoppable after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Seventy years earlier, Thomas Mann and Albert Camus warned that, although the war had ended, fascism had not been vanquished. Though the dead creatures of the novel “The Plague” reappear today in other forms, the sickness they bear, and which threatens to transform into an epidemic, is the same. National-populism, xenophobia, racism as hatred of immigrants or in the form of ever more brazen antisemitism, all these phenomena share a common denominator, they find political expression and considerable social support in almost all countries of the European Union, and they aim to ruin democracy, assisted by the guilty passivity or sometimes a sort of legitimising mimicry of an establishment that is ever more disjointed from society.

These phenomena, of course, also threaten the Balkans. The ashes of yesterday’s wars has yet to cool in our region, nor have the wounds in people’s hearts healed, and hatreds based on identity have not been extinguished, regardless of the aspirations for harmony and for a common democratic future. It is true that in these years the Balkan peoples have lived together in peace and that relations between their states were tending to normalise. Without doubt, the prospect of European integration has played an important role in this development, even though the improvement in our region is still fragile and brittle. And our situation becomes even more questionable when ghosts from a past that we thought had been overcome reappear on the European political horizon.

It is in this context that the Academia Balkanica Europeana was born, at the initaitve of a small group of intellectuals from Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Greece, Kosova, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Turkey. The purpose of this independent institution is to create a space for cultural communication and interaction in the region, in the spirit of the humanistic and liberal values of peace, freedom and European integration. This is the spirit of “The Bridge” too, published by an association bearing the same name, which is the bimonthly, online magazine of the partner organisation, the Academia Balkanica Europeana. Our means are modest considering the risks that threaten our aforementioned values, but perhaps this is where our strength lies. As Salman Rushdie said: “The pen is stronger than Le Pen”.

In this issue, readers can learn more about the Academia Balkanica Europeana from the interview with the Macedonian writer and General Secretary of the organisation, Jordan Pleves, and from the materials that accompany the interview. We have also started, in this issue, the Forum section, which has three articles on inter-cultural dialogue, by Vladimir Arsenijević (Belgrade), Amila Kahrović-Posavjlak (Sarajevo) and Doruntina Basha (Prishtina): three different, but also complementary perspectives. This is followed by the section titled The Gaze of the Other, a gallery of pictures from the ten Balkan countries, part of an ambitious, multi-year project by the Greek photographer Thodoris Nikolau. After this comes the Loc-alia section, (a title that meshes together the local with its opposite, through the latin word alia, ‘the other’, because one’s own locus, ‘place’, is of the other as well, or viceversa), which covers recent cultural activities in two Balkan countries: Turkey, with a bilocalisation between Istanbul and Berlin, written by Gonca Özmen, a direct contributor in this activivity; and Bosnia-Herzegovina, with a short chronicle of cultural events, again by the  young writer and journalist Amila Kahrović-Posavjlak. This section aims to facilitate a fresh viewpoint on the artistic and cultural landscape of these countries, and we intend it to move in turn, issue by issue, from one country to another in the Balkan peninsula. We have also created a poetry corner, with a series of poems from Ana Blandiana (Bucharest), a founding member of the Academia Balkanica Europeana, at one time an oustanding dissident; a painting corner, illustrating in this issue two world reknowned Balkan artists, the Montenegrin Dado and the Albanian Edi Hila; and there is an essay corner, where readers can find a critical reflection by Alek Popov (Sofia), who is also a founding member of the Academia Balkanica Europeana, discussing the rebirth of archaic national mythology in reaction to the modernising trends of European membership.

Translated by Alexandra Channer