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Proud Europeans

The Maltese are proud Europeans, they might not show it immediately, but centuries of war and national bloodshed is steadfast testimony to this. The Maltese have stood by their leaders and international partners or protectors in resisting Muslim/Turkish invasions that occurred so many times over the centuries, ousted out the French and relatively recently resisted bravely the invading Nazis and Italian Fascists. They stood up proud, hurt but victorious.

I feel that the Maltese are determined to discover their own relevance in the region, eager to appreciate their own identity as a recent, independent state, irrespective of their limited and humble geopolitical power.

The Maltese in the European Union are today waking up to a new reality. New opportunities, fallen barriers make way for fresh ideas, movement of new people, and an ever enriching experience that is set to leave its mark deep into our culture with lasting impetus...

What worries me is the lack of interest young people (particularly University students) show towards culture and the arts...The missing land mass between Malta and its European mainland does not help...And we cannot say that the over 1 million tourists that double our population every year actually do help spice up our cultural thoughts if not in other mundane ways...

Enough bragging for now...Tomorrow is a mystery that is looking interesting and worth looking forward to...

I came across this article (,,1206585,00.html#article_continue) about European culture and wanted to share it with you...

Continental shelf

Europe's roots lie in the Renaissance not in the single currency, writes Julian Evans. And the literature of the new member states is a remarkable testimony to our shared heritage

Saturday May 1, 2004
The Guardian

A curious fact about the expansion of the European Union is that in cultural terms, this is hardly progress. In the 19th century, no civilised person would have doubted that Moscow was part of the continent, or that the cities of the eastern Baltic and middle and lower Danube were as substantial as any to the west of Vienna. So as another step is taken in the remaking of Europe along economic lines, we may like to remind ourselves that our European heritage is a cultural, not a political thing.

The roots of modern Europe belong to the Renaissance, not the single currency. Cervantes and Rabelais are the draughtsmen of our commonality, not the diligent men and women who composed the Treaty of Nice. When 70-odd years of cold war produced a gulf in Europe, as the Lithuanian poet Tomas Venclova noted, the west continued to exist for eastern Europe, by virtue of its writers. There is no Europe without literature, without poetry and that mongrel art of the Renaissance, the novel; without that landscape on which, in Eliot's words, "All time is eternally present".
What are we as readers to make of the states joining today's political map? What is their connection to us? What is there, above all, to enjoy? This list of work available in English only scratches the surface, so spare some curiosity for the many writers unmentioned, as yet untranslated, but often as remarkable as those who are.


Writers' feelings in Cyprus about EU membership mirror those of the Maltese. Looking for exposure, they also fear that the Union wants consumers more than creativity. Greek and Turkish Cypriot writers are more united than their political leaders, for whom reunification remains a distant prospect. Their literary origins are one, the Turks as immersed in Homer as any Greek (though dislocation may run higher among the Turkish populace than the Greek).

For an introduction read Voice of Cyprus: An Anthology of Cypriot Literature, published in 1965 but still useful, or Weeping Island from the United Cypriots Friendship Association, available through the Moufflon Bookshop at Also try Cleft in Twain, the latest collection of poetry by Nora Nadjarian, a Limassol-born poet whose work is gaining followers outside Cyprus.

The Czech Republic

When the novelists of central Europe finally made their mark, they succeeded better than almost anyone else at overthrowing our old ideas of reality. Franz Kafka is the pre-eminent son of Prague, but the city was also home to the concerned satirist Karel Capek and to Jaroslav Hasek, author of The Good Soldier Svejk, who first gave a voice to modern Czech resistance. As Ivan Klíma puts it: "It means humour and loyalty on the surface, but disloyalty below" - the tradition that writers could not help overstepping after 1968, Milan Kundera at their head. Another was the master of samizdat, Ludvík Vaculík (A Cup of Coffee with My Interrogator and The Guinea Pig). Where capitalism has disappointed there is angry nostalgia, but for younger writers such as Jáchym Topol (City Sister Silver), the bad times were "like a very bad movie".

Read also Eva Pekárkova (Gimme the Money), Michael Viewegh (Bringing Up Girls in Bohemia), and the late, everlastingly funny Bohumil Hrabal, one of Europe's most overlooked writers (Closely Observed Trains, Cutting It Short, The Town Where Time Stood Still, The Death of Mr Baltisberger, I Served The King of England).


"If we cannot be great in number, then we must be great in spirit." Ruled for 800 years by foreign powers, Estonians claim a special resilience. The masterpiece of modern Estonian fiction is undoubtedly Jaan Kross's extraordinary The Czar's Madman . A Baltic German baron commits political suicide by telling Tsar Alexander I what is wrong with his empire, and a conflict of the past bears down on Estonia's communist era with wonderful lightness.

Read also Treading Air and The Conspiracy and Other Stories. Tõnu Õnnepalu's Border State is a novel of a life lived on the margins of Europe. In its focus on transition and rootlessness it echoes Kross's conviction that "in space we can return to things, in time we haven't the possibility to return to them. But I've always believed that somewhere history is conserved, and so in your best moments you can almost restore history."


Hungary was a ferment of drama and poetry, emblazoned in political colours, until the architect of modern Hungarian prose, Dezsö Kosztolányi, broke away from its defensive past in the 1920s. Anna Édes was his last and finest novel, an intimate but great European portrait of a declining class. Sándor Márai and Magda Szabo (whose The Door will be published soon) both acknowledged Kosztolányi as a master. Another admirer is Péter Esterházy, whose frankly vast novel of his family's history, Celestial Harmonies, is out this month.

Hungary's writers now probably think more in terms of subject and object than of the people or the nation, though Imre Kertész, the Jewish Hungarian 2002 Nobel laureate, has set the individual against the indifference of historical forces in Fateless. In that he too shares a bloodline with Kosztolányi, who, despite his concern for Hungary's destiny, said he would always choose "the babbling surface" over the "silent depths". Beyond events and the words to describe them, there is nothing.


Riga is booming, while Latvia's rural Livonian language is dying, though the astonishing quantity of rural songs and the quality of poets such as Janis Rainis (1865-1929) - who in another tongue might have been as celebrated as Neruda or Browning - testify to a flourishing age of verse. In translation there is Contemporary Latvian Poetry edited by Inara Cedrins; also try the folk-tale collections of Mae Durham and Edward Huggins.

I'd recommend the writing of Nora Ikstena and Pauls Bankovskis if only their novels ( A Celebration of Life, A Woman of Soviet Latvia ) were published in English. For now you will have to make do with the excellent Dalkey Archive Press's Review of Contemporary Fiction spring 1998 issue of new Latvian fiction, and an anthology, Nostalgia and Beyond: Eleven Latvian Women Writers, edited by Inta Ezergailis.


The Grand Duchy of Lithuania once extended to the Black Sea, but historical pride was no match for Soviet force. Many writers fled the occupation in 1944, and its literature is scattered. Half the novels and poetry written in the second half of the 20th century have appeared in exile. The first writer to return from Los Angeles to Vilnius in 1989 was the patriarch of émigré poetry, Bernardas Brazdzionis. Another is Tomas Venclova, a poet and essayist, whose Winter Dialogue contains a magnificent conversation between Venclova and Czeslaw Milosz about Vilnius, the city of their youth.

It is almost impossible to find work by Lithuanian writers in English, apart from extracts and poems published on the net - a strange state of affairs for the oldest living Indo-European language. Look in future, as translation funds become available, for the novelist Jurga Ivanauskaite, playwright and poet Sigitas Parulskis, and Saulius Tomas Kondrotas.


The words for "mother" and "writing" in Maltese are semitic, the words for "father" and "literature" from Romance roots. But 200 years of English influence have supplied Maltese culture with irony, understatement, nuance (and class snobbery). As a literary idiom Maltese superseded Italian in the late 19th century in the work of Dun Karm Psaila, a priest and Malta's national poet. Today, poets such as Immanuel Mifsud and Maria Grech Ganado write in Maltese and seek English translations; Mifsud is being translated by the Irish poet Maurice Riordan. The first literary novel in Maltese, Anton Manwel Caruana's social-political Inez Farrug (1889) was succeeded by a craze for Gothic tales with titles like Maria, or the Baron's Vengeance .

Maltese independence in 1964 may have liberated its writers finally to explore what being Maltese means - but until EU-supported translation funds allow them to be read in other languages, our best glimpse of Maltese life is in Trezza Azzopardi's unsparing but lyrical novel of a Maltese immigrant family in 1960s Cardiff, The Hiding Place.


No strangers to Europe's 20th-century complex of wars and atrocities, Poland faced trauma so regularly that its writers were among Europe's earliest avant-garde: traditional narrative failed, because life was no longer linear. Their leader was Witold Gombrowicz, whose existential absurdism makes him tricky; but there is much to be said for the gusto of his iconoclasm. Tadeusz Konwicki, author of The Polish Complex, A Minor Apocalypse, A Dreambook for our Time and Moonrise, Moon set, is Poland's greatest living novelist. Antoni Libera's Madame also stands out. I particularly like the writing of Magdalena Tulli, whose Dreams and Stones is published this month, and of the laconically comic Jerzy Pilch (His Current Woman).

There is nothing tentative about Polish poetry. Start with the 1996 Nobel laureate Wislawa Szymborska's Poems, New and Collected 1957-97: "With smiles and kisses, we prefer to seek accord beneath our star, although we're different (we concur) just as two drops of water are."

The Roma

Since their dispersal through Europe, from India through Mesopotamia and Asia Minor, the nomadic Roma have been the continent's "invisible people". Medieval Christians understood nomadism as a form of penance; the suspicion generated by closed groups of travellers rapidly fermented into racism and persecution (to which Roma sometimes responded with equal disrespect). At the worst end of the spectrum lies their attempted genocide by the Nazis - more than 500,000 were murdered in the camps; at best, recognition of the culture of about 2 million Europeans has been withheld. Literature has been subsidiary to oral culture, often because schooling was denied.

The foremost writer to change the perception of her people was the Slovak-born, self-educated Ilona Lackova (1921-2003), playwright and author of children's stories. Her autobiography A False Dawn, translated into six languages, may be proof of her words that one day "the truth of the Romani heart will win a good word from the world". Read also Louise Doughty's novel about a Roma family, Fires in the Dark, and The Roads of the Roma, a PEN anthology that allows the invisible people to step into the light.


East of Bratislava a few years ago, my car broke down. The recovery service call centre in Munich eventually sent a tow truck to somewhere in Slovenia. Both countries have that kind of diminished awareness to deal with. Slovak literature, despite its history, is one of the least known Slavic literatures in the English-speaking world. At least we have an anthology of recent Czech and Slovak fiction in Description of a Struggle: the Picador Book of Contemporary East European Prose, and a novel by Pavel Vilikovsky, Ever Green Is..., the fictional autobiography of a senile bisexual spy that is rife with mischief. (Another, if only a British publisher were bold enough to translate it, would be Peter Pistanek's comedy Rivers of Babylon, whose hero, Racz, is the most vicious and hilarious creation since Brecht's Arturo Ui.)

A rich vein of poetry can be sampled in English poetry magazines: look for Milan Richter, Jan Buzassy, Mila Haugova, Ivan Strpka, Jozef Urban, Peter Repka and Eva Kovacova.


See Slovakia. Though Slovenia catalysed the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991 - and succeeded in standing aside from the ensuing murderous decade - it remains a state awaiting recognition. Yet its literary antecedents go back to the Freising manuscripts of the ninth century, the first known Roman-script texts in any Slavic language. The best introduction today is Afterwards: Slovenian Writing 1945-1995, edited by Andrew Zawacki, an encompassing collection of poetry, essays and fiction. Highlights include Drago Jancar's Memories of Yugoslavia (his novel Mocking Desire is also available in English), an extract from Ciril Kosmac's novel A Day in Spring, and the poetry of Edvard Kocbek, who wrote these lines about the vanity of our leaders: "In vain the sacrificing of women kind, in vain / parades and volleys, volleys as greetings, volleys / as warnings, volleys for punishment, too many / bans, too many orders, as if there were / no sky, as if there were no man."

Also read the May 2004 issue of Orient Express, a twice-yearly anthology (, entitled "Unlocking the Aquarium: Contemporary Writing from Slovenia".

Literatures such as these - especially those of eastern Europe - may seem strange to us. Yet they are our ancestral relations: the stories of a modern Europe of picaresque risk, in which the individual is thrust into the unknown and rediscovered in the process, exactly as our fictional forebears, our Gullivers and Crusoes and Shandys, were sent out to venture everything a few centuries ago.


When you have the time keep posting more interesting blogs :-)
dainfomaster said…
You mentioned "Svejk" under your "Czech Republic" heading. You might want to look at, especially the section "Analyses".

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