This month, from the 22nd to the 25th of February, Bucharest hosts the 9th edition of the Odesa International Literature Festival, a long-standing project that has become a touring event due to the war. During the four days of the festival, the public in Bucharest will have the opportunity to participate in no less than 20 events, with a wide variety of activities: from debates on highly relevant and diverse topics to poetry recitals and public readings, along with film screenings and musical performances.
Hosted at the Goethe-Institut Bucharest (Calea Dorobanți 32), this year’s edition of the Odesa International Literature Festival opens on Thursday, the 22nd of February, at 17:00, with a message from the two founders of the project, cultural managers Ulrich Schreiber (Germany) and Hans Ruprecht (Switzerland), followed by a message from Laura Napolitano, head of the Italian Institute of Culture in Bucharest and president of EUNIC Romania, the institution behind the project. The inaugural speech will be delivered by Radu Vancu, writer, essayist, translator and professor at “Lucian Blaga” University of Sibiu, and one of the most prominent civic voices in Romania.
„Europe we have to build with our words: a Europe in which words are used not to build death, or ideologies of extermination – but a Europe in which words are witness against barbarity. Where words stand witness that people can be murdered – but not destroyed. Where we keep our words in the service of fellow humans, and not of ideologies. Because we now know: where words fail, history fails. And it becomes horror again.
We have to build a Europe where words do not fail the human. Not again. Or else everything literature ever stood for, everything arts ever stood for – was simply a lie.The only Europe which is not a dead civilisation is this one: a Europe where words to not fail the human.” (Radu Vancu)
The same evening, at 18:30, the public has the opportunity to meet Philippe Sands, British writer and lawyer of French descent, professor of international law and director of the Centre for International Courts and Tribunals at University College London. Freedom of expression, human rights, the roots of genocide and crimes against humanity are just some of the topics he will discuss with journalist Marian Voicu.
At 20:00, poetry lovers will be able to enjoy public readings by Paula Erizanu from the Republic of Moldova—one of the best-known writers of the new generation and an esteemed European journalist in the cultural arena—together with Ukrainian writer Iya Kiva—poet, translator and graphic designer, concerned with topics such as language, wordlessness, identity and memory, collective and personal experiences of war, trauma and alienation—and Vasyl Makhno—poet, essayist and multi-award-winning translator, who explores the concepts of homeland and memory in his books, revealing the polyphonic past of his birthplace. The moderator of the evening will be the Romanian-born German writer and translator Ernest Wichner.
The musical highlight of the evening will be provided by the musician Florin Bica, an artist known to music lovers thanks to his presence at important events such as Bucharest Jazz Festival or ”George Enescu” Festival, but also as a constant collaborator of the Big Band Radio Romania.
On the second day of the festival, Friday the 23rd of February, at 14:00, literature lovers in Bucharest will have the opportunity to meet Yury Vynnyciuk, a living legend of Ukrainian literature, considered the most versatile of contemporary Ukrainian writers, a tireless critic of the political system, who anticipated today’s war in his works. He will be in dialogue with Ukrainian poet, essayist and translator Vasyl Makhno.
At 15:30, there will be a meeting with the Swiss writer Ariane von Graffenried, author and spoken word performer, member of the duo “Fitzgerald & Rimini” and curator of the Basel International Poetry Festival. Ariane von Graffenried is a versatile writer who transitions with ease from Swiss German to standard German, mixing it with French, English or Albanian; she is a writer who is capable of traversing broad literary landscapes, writing about forgotten and unrecognised female figures and combining the fantasy with facts.
Under the motto “Populist Planet—Voices of a World in Turmoil”, a meeting with the Swiss writer and essayist Jonas Lüscher will take place at 17:00 and will be chaired by Joachim Umlauf, head of the Goethe-Institut Bucharest. What unites populists around the world, what sets them apart and what impact does this have on life in each case? Are the promises and temptations of populists similar? And if so, what kind of world and society do populists promise? These are just some of the questions that will be answered in the meeting with Jonas Lüscher.
At 18:30, there will be a dialogue on a highly interesting topic that has been the subject of dozens of research papers over the years: war and drugs. A theme that is very much present in the history of the Second World War, but also reminds us of the notorious “War on Drugs” declared by Richard Nixon in 1972, drugs that have claimed tens of thousands of lives around the world, and the helplessness with which this war is fought. The special guest is Norman Ohler, author of two major books on the subject, the first of which, Der totale Rausch: Drogen im Dritten Reich (2015), translated into more than 30 languages and added to the New York Times bestseller list, describes the consequences of drug abuse among military and political leaders. His latest book, The Strongest Substance (2023), sheds light on the history of the rise of LSD and explains the difference between the drug’s three functions: as an intoxicant, as a mind-control tool and as a cure.
The evening ends with a virtual encounter with acclaimed German writer Daniel Kehlmann at 20:00. He will read a short excerpt from his novel TYLL, one of the most successful German literary novels of the last five years, nominated for the International Booker Prize in 2020 and currently being screened for an upcoming Netflix series. The novel, published in Romanian in the collection Anansi. World Fiction from Pandora M Publishing, translated by Maria Irod, was extremely well received by Romanian readers.
The dialogue with Daniel Kehlmann will be chaired by cultural journalist Matei Martin.
Ukrainian literature will be the subject of a worldwide reading on the third day of the festival, Saturday the 24th of February at 12:00, to mark two years since the outbreak of war. The occasion will include readings of poems by Ukrainian writers Viktoria Amelina, Maksîm Krîvțov and Volodimir Vakulenko, all of whom perished during the war. Important names of the international literary scene such as Vasyl Makhno, Svitlana Bondar, Yury Vynnyciuk (Ukraine), Marie Iljašenko (Czech Republic), Jan Konnefke (Germany / Romania, online), Halyna Kruk (Ukraine, online), Daniel Kehlmann (Germany, online), Héctor Abad Faciolince (Colombia, online), Nichita Danilov, Dan Sociu (Romania) will participate online and in person.
On the same day, at 15:00, writer and journalist Olivier Guez, awarded the German Film Prize for his screenplay Der Staat gegen Fritz Bauer, talks to writer Norman Ohler about Europe’s past, present and future, about the taken and missed opportunities in achieving the European dream in a time of deep political and cultural change.
At 16:30, the film Scarred Hearts (2016) will be screened. The film was directed and written by Radu Jude and is a screenplay of the novel of the same name by Max Blecher. At 18:00, the screening will be followed by a dialogue on the same subject between literary critic Doris Mironescu and Ernest Wichner.
At 19:30, there will be a public reading—poems by Ernest Wichner, one of the most important German poets of Romanian origin, Marie Iljašenko from the Czech Republic, a multi-award-winning author whose poems have been translated into over 15 languages, and Nichita Danilov, a Romanian writer who captures in his books the spiritual and metaphysical heritage of his homeland Romania in a surrealist poetics with playful and ironic expression. The host of the evening will be writer and translator Horațiu Decuble.
The last event of the evening will take place at Cinema Elvire Popesco, at 20:00. It is a screening of Photophobia, a 2023 docudrama written and directed by Ivan Ostrochovský and Pavol Pekarčík. The film premiered at the 80th Venice International Film Festival as part of the “Giornate degli Autori” section, where it won the Europa Cinemas Label Award. Co-produced by Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Ukraine, Photophobia was filmed in Ukraine during the Russian invasion and was later selected as the Slovak entry for Best International Feature Film at the 96th Academy Awards.
The first event of the last day of the festival, Sunday the 25th of February, starting at 11:00, is a dialogue between the Italian writer Ilaria Gaspari, known for her passion for podcasts dedicated to the works of famous writers: a blend of memories, quotes, excerpts and poems, some of which are original recordings of readings—the material also includes a search for traces of Ingeborg Bachmann’s life in Rome—and the poet, cultural manager and journalist Răzvan Țupa.
At 12:30, it is time for Black Sea Stories, a project of the Goethe-Institut and the Goethe Centre Yerevan. Five writers from Black Sea countries will meet for an exchange of views on regionality, identity, and the possibilities of a common language in the context of current crises in literature: Lavinia Braniște (Romania), Eka Kevanishvili (Georgia), Anush Kocharyan (Armenia), Halyna Kruk (Ukraine) and Ina Vultchanova (Bulgaria). Chair: Arevik Ashkharoyan, with an introduction by Jan-Tage Kühling (Goethe Centre Yerevan).
At 14:00, the programme will include a dialogue with Karl-Markus Gauss, Austrian writer and publisher, winner of the prestigious Leipzig Book Fair Prize for European Understanding in 2022, known for his books in the field of travel literature. An expert on the countries and landscapes of Eastern Europe and described by the critics of the Wiener Zeitung as “a great philosopher of disappearance, who wants to save people and things, the silenced and the forgotten in our memory”, Karl-Markus Gauss will discuss this special form of literature with Romanian writer Marius Chivu.
At 15:30, the audience will meet Romanian writer Nora Iuga and the host of the event, poet Ernest Wichner, translator of Nora Iuga’s poems into German. The beloved Romanian writer and award-winning translator of German literature will read from her poems, first published in 1968.
At 17:00, the German writer Norris von Schirach, famous among Romanian readers for his novel Blasse Helden (Romanian edition: Cei mai frumoși ani din viața lui Anton; Humanitas Fiction, translated by Victor Scoradeț, 2021), will have a dialogue with the writer and translator Horațiu Decuble.
The events will conclude with a double public poetry reading, scheduled for 18:30, bringing together writers Nichita Danilov and Dan Sociu, hosted by Ernest Wichner.
Readings and debates at the festival will be held in English, Ukrainian and Romanian, with translation. Public access to the event is free of charge. The full programme of the festival can be found on the official website: www.litfestodessa.com.
The festival is jointly supported by the Jan Michalski Foundation, Culture of Solidarity Fund powered by the European Cultural Foundation, EUNIC Romania, Pro Helvetia, Goethe-Institut Bukarest.
Partners: Instituto Italiano di Cultura Bucarest, Austrian Cultural Forum, Czech Centre Bucharest, French Institute in Romania, British Council Romania, Embassy of Bulgaria in Romania, Cărturești Bookstore, The University Bucharest, The National Museum of Literature Bucharest, One World, Cinema Elvire Popesco.
With the support of: Sâmburești, Aqua Carpatica | PR & Communication: Headsome Communication