The Tower of Babel Shall be in Malta | Kenza Sefrioui, Valletta 2018 Foundation, Karsten Xuereb, Adrian Grima, Malta Festival of Mediterranean Literature, Alice Guthrie, Human Rights Watch
The Tower of Babel Shall be in Malta Print
Kenza Sefrioui   

 

The Tower of Babel Shall be in Malta | Kenza Sefrioui, Valletta 2018 Foundation, Karsten Xuereb, Adrian Grima, Malta Festival of Mediterranean Literature, Alice Guthrie, Human Rights Watch

A place for contemporary writing and cultural heritage, for the sharing of Mediterranean and European imaginaries as a whole new common space, open to writers and researchers the world over, complete with a library holding texts in literature and the social sciences, with residencies, workshops…” This is the dream of Algerian poet and translator Samira Negrouche. For two days, this dream was analysed and debated by a group of around thirty writers, translators, cultural activists and representatives of cultural policy organizations. The participants were all united in their wish to give life to the project. Coming from Algeria, Bulgaria, Catalonia in Spain, Egypt, France, Lebanon, Libya, the Netherlands Turkey, Malta, and of course Wales and England in the United Kingdom where the co-organizer of the conference, Literature Across Frontiers – European Platform for Literary Exchange, Translation and Policy Debate, is based, they see the project as a possibility to create a forum for literature-focused dialogue not only within the Mediterranean region, but, more importantly, across the wider Euro-Mediterranean cultural space. The discussions ranged from concrete aspects: what existing experiences (such as the activities of LAF, Transeuropéennes, Babelmed, and TLhub) encourage us and how can keep them going and build on them? How should we activate our networks of artists, associations, universities, and foundations in order to link the shores of the Mediterranean with Europe? What is the right economic model for this project? How do we best anchor it in the local, Maltese context? What policies should we develop and what programs should we offer to which target groups? These conversations were an opportunity to share experiences, to determine what kinds of activities are necessary, to talk about how to strengthen book distribution and cultural product circulation patterns, as well as discuss author and translator rights and mobility across the region…

//Karsten XuerebKarsten Xuereb

The idea to create a Euro-Mediterranean hub, both physical and virtual, dedicated to literary exchange and translation, is not a new one. Alice Guthrie, manager for Arab world and Euro-Mediterranean projects at Literature Across Frontiers, speaks of a long-standing desire to “come up with a global action plan of which the hub is just one part.” A physical space for combining existing structures and facilitating exchange is indeed a necessity. “We have festivals and literary gatherings here in Malta, but we don’t have a dedicated space”, explains Karsten Xuereb, project coordinator at the Valletta 2018 Foundation. “It is essential for us, so that we can find our place in the regional context, but also in order to explore the plurality of our own identities”, suggests Adrian Grima, Maltese poet, translator and activist from Inizjamed, an association founded in 1998 in order to promote Maltese culture. This conference is the continuation of a discussion that began some years ago. In 2005, an initial conference co-organised by LA and Inizjamed around the topic of literature in the then newly enlarged EU made it possible for Inizjamed to joint the LAF network of partners. This cooperation further gave birth to the Malta Festival of Mediterranean Literature, now in its seventh year.



In May of 2011, at a LAF conference held in Istanbul, the idea became even clearer. “We decided to organise a series of strategy workshops”, explains Alice Guthrie. In 2012, in Beirut, festival organizers publishers, writers and translators in the region got together, and later that year, in October, another similar meeting was held in Istanbul on the occasion of the Istanbul Tanpinar Literature Festival, another outcome of a LAF partnership, this time with the Kalem Agency and Cultural Association. Finally, plans were made for the concluding gathering in Valletta, with “a strong drive to come up with a concrete plan of action.”

 

 

 

Valletta as the European Capital of Culture in 2018

 

The Tower of Babel Shall be in Malta | Kenza Sefrioui, Valletta 2018 Foundation, Karsten Xuereb, Adrian Grima, Malta Festival of Mediterranean Literature, Alice Guthrie, Human Rights Watch

Throughout the ongoing two years of discussions, the idea emerged of Malta as the ideal location for the project. The archipelago is indeed at the very centre of the Mediterranean. A member of the European Union since 2004, the history and language of the Maltese nation bears witness to the exchanges and migrations that have influenced and continue to influence the region: Maltese is the only Semitic official language of the European Union. Its foundations are Arabic, with influences from Italian, Spanish, Turkish, and English. Its capital, Valletta, is the EU’s choice for one of the two European Capitals of Culture in 2018. This is a golden opportunity for breathing life into the project of a Euro-Mediterranean literary hub. Karsten Xuereb speaks of the plans: “By 2015, we aim to have a consensus between Literature Across Frontiers, Inizjamed, the Maltese government and the sponsors. From 2014-2015, we will work on developing the concept and attracting investors. Then, in 2016, we will be in action.” The task is momentous, both in terms of fundraising and getting the partners together. “There are local funds and a tremendous political will, which is a wonderful start, but we will also need co-financing”, anticipates Alexandra Büchler, director of Literature Across Frontiers, who is ready to solicit help and expertise from LAF’s network of NGOs, universities, festivals and foundations, and to explore possibilities of EU support for this ambitious plan. For Adrian Grima, the key to success is to get not only the local actors and stakeholders involved, but also the local community on the ground. “All our efforts need to be concerted, and we need to convince people at the local level. And this is where we need the support of the grassroots community, otherwise we’d risk turning the hub into a kind of island on an island.”

//Basma El HusseinyBasma El Husseiny

Despite the sheer size of the challenge, Karsten Xuereb remains confident in the strengths of his country and its capacity to deliver: its geography, its long history of exchanges with the North and South, but also the fact the Malta seems immune to today’s crises. “We don’t have budgetary cuts, and the new government’s cultural policy contains a strategy for the cultural industry. We have people trained abroad who come and make investments in Malta in terms of human resources, ideas and creativity.” The desire to contribute, via literature and translation, to intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding in the region multiplies the energies at work. The project is also a plea for new relations with the Southern shores of the Mediterranean. For Malta in particular, denounced as it was by the Human Rights Watch for its treatment of illegal immigrants1, this is vital. “Not all major initiatives for Europe should be coming from Brussels, Paris, London, or Berlin”, Alexandra Büchler insists. “Taking a close look at how the wider Europe relates to the South-East Mediterranean will help us redefine key issues. Literature and culture can play a role in taking a different approach to the Euro-Med partnership and giving the economic and political project an important dimension that can hugely contribute to social development.” For Adrian Grima, “nobody here imagines that the hub will only serve to write and translate books. We are talking about political and cultural activism here!” Participants of the conference are already at work to come up with a strategy and to develop the physical and virtual Euro-Med literary hub. The presence, at just several hundred meters’ distance from the discussion table, of Caravaggio’s work portraying Jerome of Stridon, the patron saint of translators, symbolically contributes to this determination…


 

 


 

Kenza Sefrioui

 

English translation: Jill McCoy





A place for contemporary writing and cultural heritage, for the sharing of Mediterranean and European imaginaries as a whole new common space, open to writers and researchers the world over, complete with a library holding texts in literature and the social sciences, with residencies, workshops…” This is the dream of Algerian poet and translator Samira Negrouche. For two days, this dream was analysed and debated by a group of around thirty writers, translators, cultural activists and representatives of cultural policy organizations. The participants were all united in their wish to give life to the project. Coming from Algeria, Bulgaria, Catalonia in Spain, Egypt, France, Lebanon, Libya, the Netherlands Turkey, Malta, and of course Wales and England in the United Kingdom where the co-organizer of the conference, Literature Across Frontiers – European Platform for Literary Exchange, Translation and Policy Debate, is based, they see the project as a possibility to create a forum for literature-focused dialogue not only within the Mediterranean region, but, more importantly, across the wider Euro-Mediterranean cultural space. The discussions ranged from concrete aspects: what existing experiences (such as the activities of LAF, Transeuropéennes, Babelmed, and TLhub) encourage us and how can keep them going and build on them? How should we activate our networks of artists, associations, universities, and foundations in order to link the shores of the Mediterranean with Europe? What is the right economic model for this project? How do we best anchor it in the local, Maltese context? What policies should we develop and what programs should we offer to which target groups? These conversations were an opportunity to share experiences, to determine what kinds of activities are necessary, to talk about how to strengthen book distribution and cultural product circulation patterns, as well as discuss author and translator rights and mobility across the region…

 

The idea to create a Euro-Mediterranean hub, both physical and virtual, dedicated to literary exchange and translation, is not a new one. Alice Guthrie, manager for Arab world and Euro-Mediterranean projects at Literature Across Frontiers, speaks of a long-standing desire to “come up with a global action plan of which the hub is just one part.” A physical space for combining existing structures and facilitating exchange is indeed a necessity. “We have festivals and literary gatherings here in Malta, but we don’t have a dedicated space”, explains Karsten Xuereb, project coordinator at the Valletta 2018 Foundation. “It is essential for us, so that we can find our place in the regional context, but also in order to explore the plurality of our own identities”, suggests Adrian Grima, Maltese poet, translator and activist from Inizjamed, an association founded in 1998 in order to promote Maltese culture. This conference is the continuation of a discussion that began some years ago. In 2005, an initial conference co-organised by LA and Inizjamed around the topic of literature in the then newly enlarged EU made it possible for Inizjamed to joint the LAF network of partners. This cooperation further gave birth to the Malta Festival of Mediterranean Literature, now in its seventh year.

 

In May of 2011, at a LAF conference held in Istanbul, the idea became even clearer. “We decided to organise a series of strategy workshops”, explains Alice Guthrie. In 2012, in Beirut, festival organizers publishers, writers and translators in the region got together, and later that year, in October, another similar meeting was held in Istanbul on the occasion of the Istanbul Tanpinar Literature Festival, another outcome of a LAF partnership, this time with the Kalem Agency and Cultural Association. Finally, plans were made for the concluding gathering in Valletta, with “a strong drive to come up with a concrete plan of action.”

 

Valletta as the European Capital of Culture in 2018

 

Throughout the ongoing two years of discussions, the idea emerged of Malta as the ideal location for the project. The archipelago is indeed at the very centre of the Mediterranean. A member of the European Union since 2004, the history and language of the Maltese nation bears witness to the exchanges and migrations that have influenced and continue to influence the region: Maltese is the only Semitic official language of the European Union. Its foundations are Arabic, with influences from Italian, Spanish, Turkish, and English. Its capital, Valletta, is the EU’s choice for one of the two European Capitals of Culture in 2018. This is a golden opportunity for breathing life into the project of a Euro-Mediterranean literary hub. Karsten Xuereb speaks of the plans: “By 2015, we aim to have a consensus between Literature Across Frontiers, Inizjamed, the Maltese government and the sponsors. From 2014-2015, we will work on developing the concept and attracting investors. Then, in 2016, we will be in action.” The task is momentous, both in terms of fundraising and getting the partners together. “There are local funds and a tremendous political will, which is a wonderful start, but we will also need co-financing”, anticipates Alexandra Büchler, director of Literature Across Frontiers, who is ready to solicit help and expertise from LAF’s network of NGOs, universities, festivals and foundations, and to explore possibilities of EU support for this ambitious plan. For Adrian Grima, the key to success is to get not only the local actors and stakeholders involved, but also the local community on the ground. “All our efforts need to be concerted, and we need to convince people at the local level. And this is where we need the support of the grassroots community, otherwise we’d risk turning the hub into a kind of island on an island.” Despite the sheer size of the challenge, Karsten Xuereb remains confident in the strengths of his country and its capacity to deliver: its geography, its long history of exchanges with the North and South, but also the fact the Malta seems immune to today’s crises. “We don’t have budgetary cuts, and the new government’s cultural policy contains a strategy for the cultural industry. We have people trained abroad who come and make investments in Malta in terms of human resources, ideas and creativity.” The desire to contribute, via literature and translation, to intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding in the region multiplies the energies at work. The project is also a plea for new relations with the Southern shores of the Mediterranean. For Malta in particular, denounced as it was by the Human Rights Watch for its treatment of illegal immigrants1, this is vital. “Not all major initiatives for Europe should be coming from Brussels, Paris, London, or Berlin”, Alexandra Büchler insists. “Taking a close look at how the wider Europe relates to the South-East Mediterranean will help us redefine key issues. Literature and culture can play a role in taking a different approach to the Euro-Med partnership and giving the economic and political project an important dimension that can hugely contribute to social development.” For Adrian Grima, “nobody here imagines that the hub will only serve to write and translate books. We are talking about political and cultural activism here!” Participants of the conference are already at work to come up with a strategy and to develop the physical and virtual Euro-Med literary hub. The presence, at just several hundred meters’ distance from the discussion table, of Caravaggio’s work portraying Jerome of Stridon, the patron saint of translators, symbolically contributes to this determination…

 

Kenza Sefrioui   

English translation: Jill McCoy