Daring to Remember

Daring to Remember

South Eastern Europe is “… that multi-national region in which the cuisines are not the only things that are sharply distinguished from each other – and nonetheless blend.”
– Günter Grass

The ‘volcano’ of the Balkans

It is quite a risky project to decide to assemble the literary voices from Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania and FYROM/Macedonia as well as Bulgaria and Romania, Greece, Turkey and Cyprus under the joint heading of “remembrance”. Not only because of the sheer volume of the project, but also because of the unpredictable and sensitive problem area touched upon in the quotation by Günter Grass.
To this day, the word “Balkan” is regarded as synonymous with “volcanic”; the countries of the region of Southeastern Europe cultivate their historical diversity and have developed strongly ethnic-national identities. Intact neighbourly relationships do not exist. National currents represent a severe obstacle to attempts at integration into a pan-European zone of liberty and stability. There are frequent envious looks in the direction of Brussels, but the direct neighbours tend to be ignored.
The tendency to charge intellectual debates with emotion through memories of war, pogroms, refugees and enforced migration is gradually dissipating. The view of history in each case is invariably stamped with nationalism by the constant references to history in social dialogue, and is often interpreted as a history of the loss of greatness and importance.

The construction of “history”

Southeastern Europe is tortured by its past. Memories, the creation of an identity, coming to terms with the past – all these are, without exception, a highly charged subject in each of the countries within the region. They all share a strict specific state policy with regard to history, including wide-ranging symbolic specifications. Ethnocentric historical images dominate, and at the same time historical arguments are highly significant in day-to-day political conflicts. Everywhere the writing of history is characterised by “organised innocence” – no one was the perpetrator, and all are victims of the others. Historical research and the teaching of history do not serve to provide historical enlightenment, but have the task of underlining the individual national identity in line with the desired guidelines.
And so, in all the countries of Southeastern Europe, we find collective memories which are almost identical with whatever will serve the self-assurance of the society in question, in whatever form that may take. Correspondingly, public debates rarely take place, and academic dialogue is rare. – ‘Dissenters’ are taking a risk.

The “impossible” anthology

It is important to know this in order to understand the meaning and the meaningfulness of an undertaking which has invited prominent authors from the countries of Southeastern Europe to join in the collective gamble of presenting in literary form experiences which are still historically burdensome and emotionally charged, thereby perhaps even making a processing of the subject matter accessible for the first time.
More than 20 authors and over 50 translators have joined together in an ambitious gamble. The wide-ranging and complex preparation, the organisation of the translations into the languages of all the countries from which the contributions came, and much else, could not have been carried out without the network of the Goethe Institutes and their expertise in the field of languages and translation. The printed edition of the anthology was published in 2010 as no. 239 of the magazine „die horen“.