When the word “deal” is used, it is mainly in regard to “business”, while in the Balkans it often also refers to a”lucrative business” which is done despite the unfavourable political circumstances. When the expression “excellent literature” is used, it is mainly in regard to the books topping the bestseller lists, while in the Balkans it often also refers to the books that succeeded to cross the borders drawn by the monopolies of the national markets.
Only a small number of people refer to a deal or to(the works of) literature which have succeeded – despite the unfavourable, often almost impossible circumstances – to transform the political landscape and the dominant ideological framework,to initiate the exchange of new ideas, at the same time instructing the bankers to make different kind of deals, instructing the publishers to change their business outlook, and enabling authors to meet each other in literary encounters that were inconceivable up until that moment.
Recent history has recorded two such moments. One has changed the image of the post-WWII Europe, the second did the same for the image of the Balkans. Namely, in 1963, eighteen years after the end of the Second World War, Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer signed the Elysée Treaty, which marked the end of the enmity between France and West Germany. The Elysée Treaty opened new possibilities for the coexistence of European people, but also made the exchange of ideas, books, material and cultural capital possible. The very notion of “reconciliation” came out of this treaty of friendship; new forums and institutions were established, especially in the field of defence, culture, education, environment, economics and finance. What paved the way for the treaty, however, was the cultural production, and literature above all, as writers started to grapple with the challenging war-time themes immediately after the Second World War ended. Both the feminist and left movements in France and the authors gathered around the Group 47 in Germany initiated the process that led to the Treaty, which started steadily to change the face of Europe.
In June 2018 an agreement was signed near the Lake Prespa, which ended the long-standing dispute between (North) Macedonia and Greece. The Prespa agreement was made possible thanks to the involvement and activism of Macedonian and Greek intellectuals and writers, who vehemently opposed right-wing regimes that were in power. The “Colourful revolution” in Skopje and the persistent protests of Syriza’s supporters, despite the party leadership’s betrayal of their revolutionary ideals, influenced permanent changes towards reconciliation in the Balkans.
Even though the Brussels agreement was reached between Serbia and Kosovo back in 2013, almost no progress in its implementation has happened. This year it will be twenty years since the signing of the Kumanovo agreement, which ended the Kosovo War in June 1999, but reconciliation has not yet taken place. On the one hand, the European Union is to be held accountable for insisting on negotiators who are not fit for the historical task, on the other the local political elites are to be blamed, as they ignore the current social and cultural reality, denying that the cooperation between Serbia and Kosovo’s independent cultural scenes even exists. Is the agreement between Serbia and Kosovo possible, after all? How strong is the literary deal between these two countries? Is it possible to transform the political landscape that brought life to the standstill? History is telling us that it is possible. Possible, of course, if the deal is not about certain individuals profiteering from the frozen conflict, but instead is about the victory of culture and progress of society over the destructive politics of the past.
From a literary deal a different future of Serbia – Kosovo relations could be forged, one based on trust and exchange of ideas and goods. This process is unstoppable. POLIP festival, which emerged as the result of an agreement between two independent literary groups from Belgrade and Prishtina back in 2010, is turning ten this year.In the meantime POLIP has managed to connect and to fuse with many literary associations and institutions, has grown out of its regional character and has become an international literary festival. This year, within its programme, the very first GRAN Fest (International Graphic Novel Festival in Kosovo) will take place.
The literary works that have been promoted at POLIP, the topics and issues that have been debated in public, our authors and their audiences, all of them are already part of the new future.