The annual literary festival in Berlin involves a lot more than literature. For eleven days, between 6th until 20th September, contemporary authors, lecturers, political scientists, activists and sociologists from all over the world are invited to this special event. New books, prose, poetry and graphic novels, are presented to the public in the original language. There is a plethora of events for all ages and interests including theatre workshops, debates, book launches and live performances.
For two days, as part of the ‘Specials’ programme, a congress is held from 8 until 10 September to talk about democracy and freedom and the challenges and opportunities that come with these. Daily debates with international thinkers from various disciplines analyse current political affairs, refreshen the discourse of democracy and share ideas for the future. The congress takes place in a spirit of resistance against fascism and support for democracy. Some of the speakers include Arjun Appadurai, an anthropologist and lecturer who focuses on globalisation, Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee, who joins via Skype, Amit Chaudhuri, a novelist and lecturer and Pia Mancini, a digital activist and co-founder of an online app which helps Argentinian citizens participate in democratic processes. Some upcoming debates are on the links between the rise of populism and neoliberalism and growing inequality (Populism - The Aftermath of Neoliberalism?), the effect of social media and digital technologies on democracy (A-Social Media - are digital technologies making democracy impossible?), youth unemployment, hopelessness and migration (Lost Generations - young, dynamic, unemployed) and the crisis of the EU (Europe - what’s next?). All of these events on democracy are free to attend for pupils, students and unemployed people.
The section ‘Science and the Humanities’ brings together scientists and writers in discussions to present and share new scientific insights. Each day, the Austrian poet Raoul Schrott talks with different scientists on the origins of life: of human life, sea life, the Earth, the Solar System and many more. The project ‘Reading the Currents’ focuses on water and sea life, whether it is being used as a dumping ground, the effects pollution, overfishing or climate change.
Other sections include ‘Speak, Memory’ that commemorate authors of the past, such as W.G. Sebald, Marcel Proust, Heinrich Boell, Marquis de Sade. The project ‘Worldwide readings’ calls out for people, theatres and institutions that care about justice and freedom to hold readings of certain, relevant texts such as the Human Rights Declaration and selected texts for Democracy and against Populism (such as Arundhati Roy, Max Weber, George Orwell and Susan Sontag). These texts are all available online on their website. Other call-outs for worldwide readings are in support of political activists, such as Ashraf Fayadh, Edward Snowden and political prisoners in Russia and Li Bifeng, a Chinese writer in prison on a fictitious charge. Furthermore, there is a call-out for the commemoration the still unacknowledged Armenian Genocide, the support for democracy and freedom in Iran and many other topics. As the website mentions: ‘The aim of the events and activities is to raise awareness of the form and content of political communication. Since lies belong to the equipment of political groups at the start of the twenty-first century, it is crucial that the strength of those who protest against them is not weakened.
Last but not least, the recent project ‘Refugees worldwide’ and the literary talks and readings by refugee-writers seek out to shift the public discourse from a Eurocentric perspective to a more global one.
Skimming through all these events, it made me realise the power of literature and the need for it. I feel that the power of the pen and paper has often become undermined and undervalued compared to the constant use of laptops (with each person seemingly owning one now). I only become aware again of the power of written words when I hear about writers who have been imprisoned by a fascist, oppressive regime. That is why there is such a need for literature and festivals: The dissemination and awareness-raising of what is happening all over the world, because we are so globalised and linked through each our actions. There are unheard injustices all over the world: They need to be read, shared and not forgotten. They need to shape our actions, rise our indignation against the few people in power, the oppressors, the demagogues.
The festival centre is at 'Haus der Berliner Festspiele', Schaperstrasse 24.
Worldwide readings: http://www.worldwide-reading.com/