Thank you, European Writers Conference 2016

Elina - Mittwoch, 11. Mai 2016

A couple of months ago I came across the European Writers' Conference and literally applied for accreditation within minutes. Luckily, they accepted me and I was able to join in on the last two days of panels, discussions, fabulously dark jokes and witty observations on what writing can, should or ought to do in our current day and age.

When I entered the amazing and impressive building of the Akademie der Künste at the Pariser Platz, right by Brandenburg Gate, I was asked to turn on my laptop for the security guard. I have to admit, this was a first. "We just want to check if it's really a laptop or if it'll go boom!" Hum. Well, thanks for making me feels really safe. I quickly realised that this guy right here was also present and maybe that might have been a reason for the heightened security measures. (It was, the next day, nobody gave a crap about my Laptop.) Not to get too political here, but he is kind of responsible for the implementation of this event, so thank you Mr. Steinmeier and golly, that was one heck of a great hot pink tie!

The initiating group in discussion: Tilman Spengler, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Antje Rávic Strubel, Nicol Ljubić and Mely Kiyak.

Honestly, if you ever have the chance, please visit this place. There's exhibitions and events open to the public all the time.

#Montag #hustle #monday #work #itsokaythough #berlin #gibtschlimmeres

A photo posted by @schnitzelundschminke on

But it wasn't ties and buildings that impressed me most when the conference started. It was this:

Panel I - What Do European Values Mean Today?
Joanna Bator (Poland), Doris Kareva (Estonia), Shumona Sinha (France) Not pictured: Kefah Ali Deeb (Syria).
© Dirk Bleicker

When I am at events like this, I do take notes, but I also tweet, not necessarily to inform the rest of the world (I only have 61 followers no one cares about my tweets) but to remember, for myself. So this is what I found tweet-worthy:

Mind you, for the rest of the day, I did not tweet a single thing. I was immediately captivated by Shumona Sinha, her presence, her humour, and that fabulous outfit. It's not fair though, she is from Paris, so style inspiration must hit her daily. Hopefully she did not find fashion lame Berlin too dull. But I digress, as I tend to do.

These women were discussing what European values mean today. I think it was Kefah Ali Deeb who started the panel with statements on refugees in Germany. She herself is a refugee, but oftentimes, when she mentions this to (German) others, the reply with: "Oh, you don't even look like one". Oh, micro aggressions and casual racism, always there when you least need it. She questioned what people thought refugees had to look like, in order to be legitimate. Refugees come from all kinds of different backgrounds, a lot of them were very wealthy or well-off in their home country, intellectuals, professionals, and by continuing to refer to this unbelievably diverse mass of humans beings as "the refugees" one is generalising what cannot be generalised. I nodded, so hard. I have trouble referring to myself as a refugee, since my family didn't exactly flee from a war or immediate danger. We took a train, Germany was expecting our arrival and we had prepared for months, if not years to leave the Soviet Union behind (meanwhile the Soviet Union left themselves behind).

Actually, per definition, we were prime examples of the so-called economic migrants, everyone is bashing these days. Yes, as ethnic German emigrants, or resettlers, we had certain privileges, but still, we left one country for another, for some identity reasons, but mostly due to the economic turmoil in the Soviet Union.

Kefah Ali Deeb made another great point that I would like to share. She said that intellectuals are not close enough to the pain of people. I suppose that one could add a "sometimes" or "often" or "tend to" to this statement, but it is a strong statement that doesn't need any relativising. I agree with her completely. The best books I read are the ones of pain and of experience. If you grow up sheltered, privileged and secluded from this world's pain, then I envy you for the bliss of comfortable ignorance to what is going on. But I cannot read empty stories, that are pretty, but not beautiful.

I spoke with Shumona Sinha about how whitewashed a lot of these events are. Older, affluent, educated, white intellectuals are sitting in the audience, are representing on stage, are moderating panels. Same same, never different. Where are all the other voices? Where are the people that read these books, the books written for them? Where are the people experiencing this pain? Or are these books not written for them? Are they to educate the educated on the pain of the people?

Can you find me? I'm one of the white people with a college degree.

Shumona also said that migration is not always a physical process. It can also be the desire for white culture within a People of Color Community. Sending your kids to a "better" (English, or international) school, choosing a woman with a fairer complexion over a dark skinned woman, chemically relaxing your hair, these are all signs of migration, of wanting to be or join the other.

She chose her new life in France. She chooses to write in French, as do I right now with English. I am more comfortable with English sometimes because I chose this language and I chose to live in the USA for as long as I did. It was no fight between German, Russian or my mother tongue Low Mennonite German, but it was me giving it all up and finding a new voice through a new language. The conference elaborated immensely on the aspect of languages and what they mean for Europeans and the European heritage. Some said, what makes us European is the diversity of language, some said not writing in English is a huge statement and that translation is the actual lingua franca in Europe.

There is nothing like knowing a culture's language to know the culture truly, or more truly. I of all people get that. We are blessed in Europe with the diversity of languages, of idioms and the beauty of difference. But that is also where we lose some of the diverse aspects. Ivana Sajko held a mind opening plea on the current state of the arts and culture in Croatia. According to the audience's reaction, not many knew what had been going on in the last two months since Zlatko Hasanbegovic's inaugural as culture minister. Spoiler Alert: Nothing good, he's hunting down artists.

Why do we not know about these things? Why do we not read more diverse books? Why don't we take a break from Netflix and these ridiculous Parent Blogs and Fashion Shows and Reality Television to get a grip on what matters in life? I was part of that baby bubble, I wrote baby content and I enjoyed myself. But I am yearning for literature, politics, football, pain, conversations about life and this world, with adults. Don't you? Don't you sometimes stop with what you're doing on a daily basis, and think, how important is this right now?

Germany truly impressed me last summer. But what about the burning refugees homes? Weren't you shocked? You cannot shock me with racism, but I think it's cute that some of the more privileged people in this country thought Nazis, racism and discrimination was some kind of East German low-class issue. Newsflash, it's not, it's a human condition, as is prejudice. Racists do not join some secret mini club that meets up monthly and discusses their next steps of action, it's a deeply cultural and human condition to be full of prejudice, and fear of the unknown. Literature can fight that, so can art and so can just talking to people who are different than you.

I am very excited to have had the honour of listening to all of these highly diverse, intelligent and impressive voices. I am even more excited to read their work and to expand my horizon and to learn more about life and the tragedy and beauty that can come from hearing about other people's journey. I will start with Shumona Sinha's "Erschlagt die Armen!", and not just because her outfit was perfection.

Schlagwörter: Europa, Literatur, Migration, Migrationshintergrund
Kolumne