Building Citizenship. Short Stories by 17 Young Writers
Senén Florensa Executive President, European Institute of the Mediterranean
The project “A Sea of Words” began in 2008, jointly promoted by the European Institute of the Mediterranean and the Anna Lindh Foundation. The objective was to help foster dialogue between the countries of Europe and the Mediterranean through the exchange of experiences and knowledge between young people. Every year, the contest adopts a different motto, and this sixth year we have chosen “Construyamos ciudadanía” / “Building citizenship”. Thus, the short stories explore participation, citizenship and democracy. In the framework of the European Year of Citizens and after the processes known as the Arab Springs in several southern Mediterranean countries, the latest contest has sought to focus on a theme that values the development of participatory democracy, freedom of expression and the rights owed to all citizens, both men and women. The participation of 240 youths from 35 countries renews confidence in the idea that young people realise that we can only build a society in which the expression of universal and shared values of liberty and modernity emerges out of the efforts and participatory activism of civil society.
The richness that comes from the existence of different cultures and traditions in the Euro-Mediterranean area deserves to be preserved as one our most valuable assets. Enhancing knowledge and education related to this great heritage is a necessary route to developing citizenship in each one of the countries and regions, both north and south. Therefore, it is important for the actions of dialogue to create greater interaction between individuals, whether they are possible “narrators” or potential “listeners” to written tales, just as we propose with the publication of the finalists’ stories.
Once again, the project “A Sea of Words” reflects the need to strengthen and prioritise a more structured cultural exchange in order to involve citizens from the Euromed zone – and, particularly, young people – in the management of the complexities of our socio-political reality and call their attention to the need for more direct intellectual involvement in the active participation of civil society. Thus, the short stories in the contest – both those based on reality and others that are purely fictional – deal with the development of social solidarity and the participation of civil society in the consolidation of the democratic processes that in many Mediterranean countries are beginning to tentatively move forward. Unfortunately, there is still much to do, and proof of this is the message we received from the finalist Sayed Ismail, living in Gaza, who told us why he could not attend the awards ceremony and the activities held in Barcelona for the 17 finalists of the contest. Sayed wrote: “I would be glad to be among you now in Barcelona, but I can’t. I am still in Gaza, because the Rafah border was closed six days ago. Going to Barcelona was a big dream for me as I would be able to explain the horrible situation in my country. To visit the Rambla market and eat delicious seafood, to see the statue of Columbus, the harbour from which the three ships set sail to discover the new world, to contact with many young writers from many countries and tell them that we can’t travel freely like them, and how we try to have our normal daily life, during wars, crises, and bloody conflicts, but there’s no chance…” This moving account reflects civil society’s struggle to ensure that in the future young people will not have to give up their dreams and be able to live freely, exercise their rights, learn and relate to each other without fear.
In their stories, the three young winners of this year’s “A Sea of Words” have clearly shown the spirit of open citizenship that we have encouraged at the IEMed. The short story “Zmajski Most”, by Daniel López Bončina, uses the first person to relate the experiences in the life of a young Argentinean man travelling to Slovenia, the land of his mother. There he has to struggle to adapt to the new country, language, work, friends and love. The second winning story, “Errors Allowed”, by the Greek Christoforos Pavlakis, describes the feelings and memories of a prisoner who gains his freedom and must confront a new world and a new life after 30 years in prison. The third award went to the story “Water City”, by the Montenegrin Dragana Tripkovic, and reflects how an old man sees the changes experienced by his city through his meeting with an immigrant girl.
The 17 short stories selected in the sixth “A Sea of Words” show the importance of and need for dialogue between societies and citizens as a basis for learning and coexistence. Therefore, at the IEMed and the Anna Lindh Foundation we will go on working in this direction, using the tools within our reach, in an effort to offer the young people of the Euro-Mediterranean region a future full of possibilities.