A Sea of Words 2009. Short Stories of 30 Writers
Senén Florensa. President of the Executive Committee, European Institute of the Mediterranean
The project “A Sea of Words”, organised jointly by the European Institute of the Mediterranean and the Anna Lindh Foundation, began in 2008 with the aim of contributing to fostering dialogue between societies and citizens, men and women, especially youths, from the countries of Europe and the Mediterranean through exchange of knowledge and experiences between different local and cultural traditions. Through the call of a short story contest, the intention is to show the different realities and sensibilities that coexist in the Euro-Mediterranean region from the point of view of its youths.
After the great reception of the first initiative, the contest was held again in 2009 under the motto “Building Bridges of Trust to Overcome Conflicts”; bridges that are the key element that lead towards overcoming misunderstandings and stereotypes, replacing them with real reciprocal understanding, while opening up our surroundings to become more receptive to dialogue and dynamic. The youths, as a new generation, can play an important role in raising awareness of the importance of mutual understanding of different cultures as a basis for peaceful and mutually enriching coexistence.
The Mediterranean is a geographical area that has experienced and is experiencing conflicts of diverse kinds, whether political, social, cultural or religious. Intercultural action must prevent these conflicts from becoming crusades between cultural and national identities, contributing to the construction of a shared culture of peace and coexistence.
Particularly in the Euro-Mediterranean region, cultural interaction is an essential instrument for tackling problems that, as they are rooted in a lack of understanding, take on a political and socioeconomic nature. In fact, it is in the reciprocal links between these major themes where the point of balance must be found between the local and the global, essential for sustainable and lasting resolution of the regional crises and conflicts in the Mediterranean. Indeed, globalisation of conflicts does not mean a global response but rather the organisation and harmonisation of local responses that, to be sustainable, must be based on mutual understanding and a common language.
Literary language allows us to confront and interlink these very different themes, while entering into the everyday, discovering the private, the individual, together with the collective and the political. The short story makes it possible to delve into the complexity of differences without generalising them but by simply describing them. From this point of view, literary production is a fundamental medium for expressing and describing events, ideas and emotions that can be directly transmitted to and by youths throughout the Euro- Mediterranean region.
This book brings together the 30 winning short stories. All of them reflect individual or collective experiences of dialogue and trust and the search for peace, justice and mutual awareness. This is the basis for the resolution of conflicts.
Andreu Claret. Executive Director of the Anna Lindh Foundation
As I write this foreword, “A Sea of Words” has already reached its fourth year, thanks to the IEMed’s determination in believing in the potential of this programme and the cooperation of the Anna Lindh Foundation. “A Sea of Words” is a unique format of cooperation between the Anna Lindh Secretariat and one of its national networks, the “cross-network initiative”, where the two partners are sharing the design, coordination and implementation of the programme.
The second year of this Euro-Mediterranean short stories contest, whose best writings are collected in this volume, was devoted to conflict resolution, diversity and coexistence. 151 stories from 35 countries were received by the organisers and 30 were selected by the international jury. The level of participation in the contest has been growing continuously since the very first launch of “A Sea of Words”, a welcome sign of the rich creativity of young minds in sifting historical memories, depicting the contradictions of contemporary societies, and imagining a common future of hopes and opportunities.
Their writings explore the evolution of times and mentalities, and help us, in the adult world, to look at events with a sound distance, beneficial curiosity and critical spirit. The three winning stories, by Pierre J. Mejlak, Mirette Bahgat and Kyriakos Theocharous, start from the conflict between generations, where a mother or a grandfather warns their son or grandson of not mixing with or getting close to the “far different” or the “enemy”.
“Marry anyone you like, a Japanese, Russian, gypsy, but not a Muslim,” the Maltese young man in love with Samirah is told by his mother. “Don’t talk to them or look at them, they are bedevilled,” yells Rachid’s mother to her boy, who is fascinated by the beauty of the English woman and her kids, in the years of the British occupation of Egypt. “Listen, you have to check frequently on little George. It came to my knowledge that he keeps bad company. I saw him hanging out with the bums of the street,” George’s grandfather warns the teenager’s mother when he finds out that George was hanging around at night in a city of immigrants. Diffidence and fear, on the one hand, discovery and attraction, on the other; two worlds, two different ways of approaching the challenges of multiethnic societies, and of nations in collision.
The work of the Anna Lindh Foundation revolves around generational and cultural transitions toward the recognition, understanding and acceptance of the “the other”; often a difficult course, sometimes a successful one, where both old and new generations benefit. The Maltese young man will probably marry the Muslim girl, Rachid saves the kids of the British lady from an attack, and maybe even George’s family will get over the tragedy caused by the grandfather who injured his grandson in the dark with a revolver, thinking he was a black immigrant.
Literary art has this extraordinary power of pushing situations to touch on their unimaginable borders, and getting readers to compare their daily experiences with the extremes of Good and Evil. “A Sea of Words” is a tool which helps all of us to feel the importance of challenges such as dealing with diversity, surviving violence, hatred and wars, and opening our inner circles to other groups, cultures or nations; one of the greatest missions we have to face and engage in.
“Racism is man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.” This quote from Abraham J. Hescehl begins one of the winning stories.
Literary Language, Instrument of Dialogue
The contest “A Sea of Words” has reached its second year. Organised by the European Institute of the Mediterranean and the Anna Lindh Foundation, the motto this year was “Building Bridges of Trust to Overcome Conflicts”, in keeping with the mobilisation campaign the Anna Lindh Foundation was carrying out in region. The Mediterranean area, a space of continuous action and interaction, saw and is seeing how some of its main conflicts are not only not coming to an end but are escalating in terms of aggressiveness and ferocity. The conflict in the Gaza territories, for example, has meant a major growth in regional instability, and has generated tensions between peoples of different cultures and origins in the Middle East, Europe and the Mediterranean in general.
The call had two objectives: on the one hand, to show the different sensibilities and realities of the youths living together in the Euro-Mediterranean region and, on the other, to encourage social, political and cultural action in relation to the resolution of the conflicts. In total, 151 short stories participated, from 35 different countries in the Euro-Mediterranean area and the Balkans. A key element that contributed to the high participation was the chance to write the short stories in any of the official languages of the countries in the Euro-Mediterranean zone.
The broad scope of the call was possible thanks to its promotion by the more than 3,000 organisations that make up the 43 national networks of the Foundation, as well as other networks in the Euro-Mediterranean area, such as the Euro-Mediterranean Non- Governmental Platform, the European Youth Forum and the Euromed Permanent University Forum. Diverse organisations linked to some of these networks also strengthened the call through their own websites, newsletters and journals.
In order to carry out the selection process of the 30 winning short stories, there was a pre-selection at national level conducted by the network coordinators of the Anna Lindh Foundation in each of the 43 states. Later, the organisers called an international jury comprising Elisabetta Bartuli, translator and professor at the Ca’ Foscari University in Venice; Gemma Lienas, Catalan writer; Najwa Barakat, French-Lebanese writer, Jamila Hassoune, Moroccan writer and librarian, and Élise Blot, winner of the first contest.
The jury members and directors of the IEMed and the Anna Lindh Foundation – Senén Florensa and Andreu Claret respectively – gave a special mention to three of the contest winners for the high quality of their stories and the originality of their subject matter. These were Pierre J. Mejlak with his story I Want to Call Out to Samirah, Mirette Bahgat with the tale The Afareet, and Kyriakos Theocharous with his The Color of Skin.
The city of Barcelona hosted the awards ceremony and began a series of events that ended in the city of Toledo. The awards ceremony to present prizes to the 30 contest winners took place on 25th September 2009 at the Museum of the History of Catalonia in Barcelona. During the next two days, the 30 winners participated in the forum “The Short Story as an Instrument for Intercultural Dialogue”, during which they were able to share their experiences and sensibilities with the members of the jury. In the city of Toledo, thanks to the cooperation of the Fundación Simetrías, the youths visited the Cortes Generales de Castilla-La Mancha, located in the emblematic building of San Gil in the city, where they attended a talk on interculturality in Toledo, as well as the Regional Library and Borbón Lorenzana Collection, located in the Real Alcázar.
Beirut and Sofia were the next settings of the project “A Sea of Words”. The UNESCO National Commission (Lebanon) and the association International Initiatives for Cooperation (Bulgaria) hosted writing workshops, organised by the Anna Lindh Foundation networks in these countries. In these sessions, the youths worked with some local experts to improve their writing techniques, and the resulting texts have been published by the Anna Lindh Foundation.
The European Institute of the Mediterranean and the Anna Lindh Foundation wish to thank all the people who have contributed to the success of “A Sea of Words”: firstly, and particularly, the 151 participants of the contest and also the 43 national networks of the Anna Lindh Foundation who helped promote the initiative, the pre-selection of candidates and the translation into English of their works; the members of the international jury for their magnificent work and unfailing devotion; the Fundación Simetrías for welcoming the 30 young winners and organising different activities in Toledo; the Lebanon National Commission for UNESCO and the association International Initiatives for Cooperation for organising writing workshops; and all the members of the work teams of the European Institute of the Mediterranean and the Anna Lindh Foundation, especially their directors Senén Florensa and Andreu Claret.