A Sea of Words. Short Stories by 30 Young Writers

25 setembre 2008 | | Anglès


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Senén Florensa. Director-General of the European Institute of the Mediterranean

The year 2008, declared by the EU as European Year of Intercultural Dialogue, ended with the announcement of Barcelona as headquarters of the Secretariat of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM). The city, which with its name and energy has symbolised Euro- Mediterranean cooperation since 1995, became the location of an international body that made it the de facto capital of the Mediterranean. It is the recognition of a long history and ongoing efforts since the start of the so-called Barcelona Process in 1995. Its Euro-Mediterranean involvement since then is indisputable.

The Secretariat of the UfM has, in principle, a technical mission of preparing, monitoring and fostering the projects approved by the ministerial summits or conferences. However, with headquarters in a city and a country believing firmly in the Mediterranean project, with the support of all their government levels and of a committed civil society, this new Union will have a broader development and will far more actively encourage the projects of Euro-Mediterranean scope. With headquarters in Barcelona, dialogue and cooperation will be strengthened. Barcelona’s involvement and drive will make the UfM dream a reality. These challenges consist of achieving peace, democratisation, a social and demographic transition, employment, sustainable development or collective security.

In this context, young people play a fundamental role, as they can act as a bridge between the two shores of the Mediterranean, with clear projection towards an egalitarian future, where the cultures of the region understand and respect each other in mutual enrichment.

Given that the youth of today is more plural, it has fractures which, in order to solve conflicts, can only be overcome through links of interculturality. This interculturality should not only be practised within the countries themselves and between those sectors that share a linguistic proximity, but also between the youth of the northern and southern countries, to facilitate recognition of diversity and encouragement of exchanges that enable greater mutual understanding. Young people, their dreams, realities, potential and actions can open new paths to reduce distances and go beyond stereotypes, something which is very difficult to achieve in other sectors.

Literary language allows us to confront and interlink these issues of such differing character. Moreover, the literary message enables us to enter into the everyday, to get to know the private, the individual, together with the collective and the political. The short story makes it possible to enter into the complexity of differences without generalising them, but rather by simply describing them. From this point of view, literary production is a fundamental medium for the expression and description of events, ideas and emotions that can be directly transmitted to and by youths from the whole Euro-Mediterranean region.

The project “A Sea of Words”, fostered jointly by the European Institute of the Mediterranean and the Anna Lindh Foundation, was developed with the intention of contributing to the encouragement of dialogue between peoples and exchange of knowledge and experiences between different local and international traditions. Through the calling of a short story contest, whose 30 winning pieces make up this publication, the aim is to show the different sensibilities and realities that exist in the Euro-Mediterranean region from the point of view of the young people who live there.

Because of this and especially the great reception given to the initiative by the youths of the Euro-Mediterranean countries, we believe that this is an experience that must be repeated over the coming years. The quality and enthusiasm of the contributions of the young participants enables us to guarantee and trust in an intensive continuity of this dialogue.


André Azoulay. President of the Anna Lindh Foundation

The Anna Lindh Euro-Mediterranean Foundation was founded in 2005 to foster dialogue between our cultures and peoples in order to reinforce the human and political dimensions of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, now fully embodied in the newly-born Union for the Mediterranean.

Considering the contemporary challenges of peace and war, socio-economic inequalities, migrations and multicultural towns, citizenship rights and empowerment, and the environmental crisis which particularly affect our region, it is time to resume the rich and continuous mutual exchanges that the communities living around the Mediterranean region have always pursued and built their civilisations upon. It is time to recover from the unacceptable notion of clash and conflict and be strong and active in a region that needs and deserves it.

This is the spirit which has given birth to the first “A Sea of Words” Euro-Mediterranean literary contest, and the Anna Lindh Foundation is very proud to publish a selection of short stories here.

Co-launched in 2008 with the IEMed, the Head of the Spanish Network of the Anna Lindh Foundation, within the framework of the “1001 Actions for Dialogue” campaign during the year dedicated by the European Union to intercultural dialogue, “A Sea of Words” has been marking a significant step in the willingness of the Foundation to develop cross-network initiatives and to work towards reinforced partnerships with its national networks.

Culture and creation are some of the most central tools for the Foundation’s intercultural work. We very much believe in the capacity of words and artistic creativity as a way to break down barriers and focus on mutual concerns and interests.

For the first “A Sea of Words” contest, we have witnessed the participation of many of our network member organisations, and have had the pleasure to submit the work of more than two hundred and ten youths from thirty-seven countries to the critical reading of a qualified international jury. This book offers you the thirty best short stories.

For me, it is significant that the book is published in English, Spanish and the original language of the stories. I see it as a sign of respect for the specificities and richness embodied in each language, which reflects the rich diversity of our region and personifies the feeling of each individual when expressing his of her thoughts. Then, as a mirror image of the original, an English and Spanish translation allows access to a much larger audience and emphasises the growing importance translation is gaining in our ever changing world.

The themes depicted in the winning novels are of great importance in an attempt to deepen our understanding of the factors that damage mutual trust and coexistence and they serve as a rich source of inspiration for the work of an institution such as the Anna Lindh Foundation.

The short stories reflect on the crucial notions of respect and knowledge as primary and essential steps towards engaging in living together on better terms.

They tackle issues such as the growing challenge, in a space characterised by increasing migrations, of feeling “uprooted” and of having to struggle to build new more coherent references adjusted to contemporary everyday life.

They refer to the greatness of travelling and opening up to “others”; they give access to some of the Weltanschauung of “others”, and have the potential to help change approaches and perceptions. They describe the courage of many youths, at the risk of their own exclusion and shame, in overcoming language barriers, social and political pressures, conservative or exclusive habits, to try and draw new lines for a common citizenship.

They reflect on the necessity to move away from the past and narrow-minded paradigms in order to establish a common ground so desperately needed by our Euro-Mediterranean region.

The first “A Sea of Words” contest was a success, not only because of the quality of the stories but also thanks to the engagement and the commitment these young writers have conveyed and which at the end of the day are essential for a concrete intercultural dialogue. The 2009 contest, devoted to the theme of restoring trust and facilitating reconciliation in situations of crisis and conflicts, will also, I am convinced, make the best of this cultural and social environment.

It is my great hope, as the President of the Anna Lindh Foundation and as an activist for peace and understanding, that “A Sea of Words” has generated a new window to express mutual concerns and to give readers seeds of hope for the future of the region and its new generations.

I wish you fruitful and enjoyable reading and invite you to engage and deepen your knowledge of “others” through any means you can.

Literary Language, Instrument of Dialogue

Fostering dialogue between peoples and sharing knowledge and experiences is the axis of the project “A Sea of Words”, organised by the European Institute of the Mediterranean and the Anna Lindh Foundation. This project was based on the idea of literary language as an instrument of communication, and consisted of a short story contest on intercultural dialogue as a way of resolving contemporary crises of a political, socio-cultural, economic and environmental nature.

The call has a dual objective: on the one hand, to show the different sensibilities and realities of the youths coexisting in the Euro-Mediterranean region and, on the other, to encourage collaboration between Mediterranean civil society while fostering stable spaces of debate and exchange with the citizenship. In total, there were 211 short stories from 37 different countries in the Euro-Mediterranean area and the Balkans. A key element that contributed to the high level of participation was the possibility of writing the stories in any of the official languages of the countries in the Euro-Mediterranean region. A particular feature was the number of stories received from youths in the new member countries of the European Union, such as Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic.

The broad scope of the call was possible thanks to the promotion carried out by more than 2,000 organisations that then made up the 37 national networks of the Foundation, as well as that carried out by other existing networks in the Euro-Mediterranean space such as the Euro-Mediterranean Non-Government Platform, the European Youth Forum and the Euromed Permanent University Forum. Several organisations linked to some of the networks also strengthened the contest call.

In order to determine the 30 winning short stories, the IEMed and the Anna Lindh Foundation had the benefit of a first selection made by the 37 national networks of the Foundation. The decision on the 30 winning texts corresponded to an international jury made up by Elisabetta Bartuli, translator and professor at the Ca’ Foscari University in Venice; Gemma Lienas, Catalan writer; Najwa Barakat, French-Lebanese writer, and Jamila Hassoune, Moroccan writer and librarian. It was clear to the organisers and members of the jury that in Western Europe intercultural dialogue is seen as an instrument for coexistence with the immigrant population. Moreover, in the new member countries of the European Union (Eastern Europe) the stories deal above all with the conflicts that persist between the ethnic minorities living together in these countries. Lastly, the youths of the southern Mediterranean write about matters related to the diverse existing conflicts, whether because of differences in identity (religious or ethnic) or lasting political tensions.

The members of the jury and the directors of the IEMed and the Anna Lindh Foundation – Senén Florensa and Andreu Claret, respectively – made special mention of three of the contest winners for the high quality of their texts and the unique subject matter. These were Élise Blot, with her piece Between Two Shores, Ilaria Mavilla, with the tale Muscmesci, and Eleni Skarpari, with the story The Cut.

The city of Barcelona hosted the awards ceremony and started a series of events that ended in Madrid. The awards ceremony for the 30 contest winners took place on 9th July 2008 at the Museum of the History of Catalonia in Barcelona. Over the following two days, the 30 winners participated in diverse events, such as the forum “The Short Story as an Instrument for Intercultural Dialogue”, in addition to several visits to the Biblioteca de Catalunya – located in one of the most important civil gothic buildings in the city –, the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona and the Agència Catalana de la Joventut of the Government of Catalonia. In the city of Madrid, two institutions in the Spanish Network of the Anna Lindh Foundation organised diverse activities including, most notably, the visit to the Casa Árabe to see the exhibition “Spain and the Muslim World. A Century of Relations in Pictures”, and participation in a writing workshop. The last event in the Spanish capital was a visit to the headquarters of the Spanish Youth Council to debate with its president the main problems affecting youths in the Euro-Mediterranean region.

Cyprus and Tunisia were the next settings for the project “A Sea of Words”. Nicosia University (Cyprus) and El Teatro Arts Centre (Tunisia) hosted writing workshops organised by the networks of the Anna Lindh Foundation in those countries: the Cyprus Centre for European and International Affairs and the Carthage Centre for the Dialogue of Civilizations. In these sessions the youths worked with 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 would like to express their appreciation to all those who have contributed to the success of the project “A Sea of Words”: firstly, and in particular, to the 211 contest participants; to the 37 national networks of the Anna Lindh Foundation who helped with the promotion of the initiative, pre-selection of candidates and translation into English of their works; to the members of the international jury for their magnificent work and full cooperation; to the representatives in Barcelona of the Biblioteca de Catalunya, the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona and the Agència Catalana de la Joventut; and, in Madrid, to those of the Casa Árabe and the Consejo de la Juventud de España for welcoming the 30 winning youths in different activities; thanks also to the Cyprus Centre for European and International Affairs, Nicosia University, the Carthage Centre for the Dialogue of Civilizations and El Teatro Arts Centre for organising writing workshops; and to all the members of the work teams at the European Institute of the Mediterranean – in particular Carme Coll and Alvise Vianello – and of the Anna Lindh Foundation, especially its directors Senén Florensa and Andreu Claret.