Last September, 150 writers, translators, critics, editors, and of course, publishers, descended on Lipica, Slovenia (home of the Lippizaner horses and the anatomically correct horse sculptures) for the the 15th annual Vilenica International Writers' Gathering. The festival was originally intended as a gathering for dissident Central European writers during the repressive 1980s, but turned even more international several years ago. In 2000, the festival included distinguished guests from as far as Israel, India, and Norway in addition to young and veteran attendees from Central and Eastern Europe. The official programme consisted of two round-table discussions, readings by invited authors, presentation of prizes, and a book fair. Events were graciously hosted once again by the Slovene Writers' Association, and organized by Iztok Osojnik; the official languages were Slovene, English, French, and German.
Renowned Slovene poet, Dane Zajc--a furry, sentimental lyricist who (unimaginably) under Communism was reviled as a dissident and bitter writer--opened the festival with a presentation of his popular traveling performance piece, which involved Zajc reciting his poetry interspersed with his co-performer playing the accordion and singing Zajc's verses--an early indication of the distinguished status accorded poetry in Slovenia and, arguably, Central Europe as a whole. This distinct popular literary interest and reception, (the first indication that I wasn't in the West anymore), was further evinced over the weekend by the turnout of interested Slovene citizens at every reading, round table, and event--and not just for the free (and might I add, exquisite) food.
Vilenica is (in)famous for the profusion of alcoholic beverages supplied--and consumed--and the ensuing heated debates, deterioration in communication, and cars driven over cliffs. (One unnamed Austrian editor holds the unchallenged title in this latter category.) But as the political situation has changed and stabilized in the Alpine Slovenia, so has the festival and its participants. The round-table discussions proved the least successful events, though participants admirably persisted (through UN-style translation headphones) in attempts to discuss the two topics: "The Meaning and
Role of Literature Today," and "Literature and the Media' In fact, the most lively and relevant discussions did not take place at the scheduled events at all--which seems partly the point of putting up 150 literati from around the world in a fancy hotel in the middle of the countryside with lots of wine and Lippzaner horses: to encourage true dialogue about the state of literature today, rather than merely presenting the topic a la conference paper.
Vilenica functions now less as a sanctuary (although it did serve as such for 26-year old Serbian attendee Nune Milorad Popovic, who had just fled his home country in fear of arrest), and is more of a forum for discussion across boundaries that one might not otherwise have the opportunity to cross. The discussions over Slovene wine, olives, and meat soups proved the most frequent and productive. …