Thursday night was an important EU night – not just for taxpayers and prime ministers, but for cultural reps too. In a Brussels already crowded with black limousines and police escorts, we made our way across the city to the Albert Hall, an ex-cinema and venue for the EU Prize for Literature award ceremonies.
As a publisher of two of the previous prize-winners (Montenegro’s Andrej Nikolaidis and Serbia’s Jelena Lengold), I had been invited to the ceremony, along with the jury members and the winning authors. We arrived to welcome drinks and a chance to meet the writers as they assembled before the ceremony. Not knowing anyone in the room, I found myself chatting with the Hungarian winner – Viktor Horvath, whose name somebody wittily translated as ‘Viktor the Croatian’. Viktor’s novel – The Turkish Mirror – is a remarkable overview of the borderlands of the Turkish empire as it encroached on the Hungary of the 16th century; told not through the eyes of the Hungarians, but of the occupiers.
The ceremony itself saw the winners from 12 countries each read short extract of their book in their native tongue, translated for the audience into French and English subtitles. The ceremony was introduced by Mrs Androulla Vassiliou, who has the extended title of ‘Commissioner in charge of Culture, Education, Multilingualism and Youth’. Far from platitudinous, the commissioners speech showed a real love of literature and an appreciation of the ‘rich fabric of cultural interconnectedness’ which the prize embodied. MEP Doris Pack, too, spoke with passion and a great deal of learning about the meaning of the prize, peppering her speech with quotes from Llosa, Miljenko Jergovoic and even one of the prizewinners themselves – Ana Kim from Austria.
After the ceremony, of course, it was time to mingle with the authors again, along with agents, publishers and members of various ministries of culture. Lada Zigo – pictured above – was Croatia’s winner this year with her harsh look at ‘transition society’, Roulette. She was accompanied to the ceremony by her proud publisher, Robert Sipek. The occasion gave the three of use an opportunity to meet up in person and discuss ideas for cooperation, so expect to hear more from this exciting writer later…..
All in all, it was refreshing to be part of such a positive gathering of creative people and to see them awarded for their talents. Let us not forget that the prize is not just a question of prestige, but also carries a financial bonus, of equal importance to writers working in struggling economies.