Vasilka Petrova Hadjipapa, Cyprus
IT IS ESPECIALLY HARD ON THE YOUNG GENERATION, WE LEAVE THEM WITHOUT DIRECTIONS AND ILLUSIONS
When looking back, can you clearly see the importance of the Cypriot and Bulgarian book for you?
My first memory connected with literature is a collection of poems and stories of the 50s, called Golden Pages, which I later lost and tried to find for many years. It comprised stories and poems of our classics, as well as many Bulgarian folktales. There, in the first memories of my childhood, lies my love for the magical world of literature, a richer, more generous world than the real one and infinitely more fascinating. Once attracted by the living water of literature (that story was included there, too), I remained its captive forever .
If there is such a thing as a soul, then I owe half of mine to books. The other half goes to my mother with he boundless love for beauty in literature, music and human relations. Later on, the German and the Greek book joined the Bulgarian.
Which books have given you the most, and from which books have you been able to take more than you believed it possible?
Just like people, books are better off without being included in some list. I will only mention my most beloved – Debelyanov, Liliev, Yavorov, Atans Dalchev, Shakespeare, Goethe, Hölderlin, Heine, Reiner, Maria Rilke, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Karl Krolo, Guillaume Apollinaire, Jean Cocteau, Robert Desnos, Seferis, Kavafis, Elytis.
What is the destiny of fine letters now and what could this destiny be in the near and the more distant future?
There has been a concern for the future of fine letters for many decades now. Democratization of education, along with the great advantages, brought about a new kind of ignorance. The number of readers rises at the expense of a change in taste. The common respect for classic literature is being displaced by outright preference for mass culture and all kinds of ersatz-literature. New battles are yet to come. And still, according to international surveys, electronic information and culture have not displaced literature. The interaction inbetween them acquires new forms, for example, the electronic book, but neither printing, nor literature show any signs of decline.
The cultural crisis of today has its causes and its signs, but it also has a remedy that is basically universal. Perhaps the purely Cypriot specifics of this remedy remain out of focus?
Cyprus is a unique phenomenon. It was not until 1960, much later than any other South-European country, that Cyprus became independent. It is not until then that education was democratized and the book entered more freely people’s lives. Today, what stands out is that there are signs of a quick recovery in terms of production, new names are born, and readers. Another interesting phenomenon is Bulgaria, where beginning with the security of state funding and the related difficulties for the writer to be frank with himself and his readers, now what is in demand are new ways of reaching the audience and building new relationships. It is very sad, though, that the blow, which the economic crisis inflicted upon culture as a whole, struck down both writers and readers. But where water has flown, it shall flow again…
There are many secrets to a book and the author’s mastership tends to be among the most mysterious. Have you reached a conscious explanation for yourself of everything you have created – as creative art, besides a pure will, is also the product of the artist’s instincts, of the artist’s enigmatic and mysterious self that he deciphers only partially in his text to the reader?
There is no recipe, no logical explanation, every person is unique, unique is also the approach of every writer. The case with me, no matter how unprofessional this may sound, is that poems, be they a cry or, rarely, a joyful exclamation, come and perch on my shoulder like a bird and bid me hear them and write them down.
What is your vision of Cyprus at the end of 21st century? What does Time mean to you?
Because of the political problem in the area it is difficult to predict what Cyprus will be like at the end of the century. There is hope, however, that it may resume its state of peace and liveliness of a Mediterranean life of past years along with our inevitably modernized life of today. But there is also much fear in people’s hearts precisely because of the problem…
What is the weight of values created over the last 100 years and what is the burden that these years have placed on us?
Where do we begin the hundred-year count? I guess that would be the past twentieth century. A giant technological leap. And many difficulties that came with it. How to synchronize morality with these gigantic changes? It’s especially hard on the young generation whom we leave without any directions, milestones and illusions. They have to find, just like every reasoning individual, new foundation, new groundwork for building of the new humanism.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the destiny of the Balkans and mankind? And why?
I am ambivalent about the future. Only a fool can be optimistic, having witnessed the arising universal control and random enforcement of rules and regulations in the world by a single power or empire. But man possesses an innate sense of resistance and in the end, the self-regulation of these only phenomenally democratic societies will give birth to new forms of communication.
As for the Balkans, they have paid dearly and are still paying for the different ideological experiments of humanity. And yet, after the initial shock and the first steps of democracy, there are signs of maturing and overcoming the crisis.
Is there a peculiarity of your character that you freely joke about in public? And does it happen frequently?
My sense of humor.
What would you choose – if you had to choose today – between a bag of gold and an eternal book? And what would have your choice been thirty years ago?
Non-existing dilemma, to save the eternal book. If this is collective memory, it will survive one way or another. As for gold, today it rules the world in the ugliest possible way.
Do you think that in these times when the path to the reader is difficult and uncertain, new names could emerge? Could the experience with your own public recognition be useful today? How did you gain recognition, was it easy?
Someone must definitely speak of “our unwritten grief” so that it will not wander alone in space…Recognition today is not recognition tomorrow, yesterday’s things are not eternal, so, in the words of Kavafis, the joy lies in the road, not in the final destination.
Would you disclose your own anthology or collection of names of masters of the prose whom you hold in highest esteem – names from Greece and the world, including Balkan literature?
Yordan Yovkov, Elin Pelin, Yordan Radichkov, Nikos Kazandzakis, Myrilivis, Ilias Venezis, Thomas Mann, Gustave Flaubert, James Joyce, Günter Grass and others.
The same questions were answered by some of Bulgaria’s greatest writers, the so-called living classics, who participated in another book series “The White Series – an Autographed Book” in April 1999. You have been able to read their answers – what is your comment?
Everyone with their life experience and creative hand. Interesting and honest.
Is there a refuge from the monologism and masochism of the Balkan people? What is it?
The street of progress and development is a one-way street. Humanity can survive only if the eyes and arms are open.
Which authors – Cypriot, Balkan and world – would be essential for an imagined anthology of chauvinism?
Every nation has its stains in history and its “patriotic” misanthropes. A special research is needed to point to what will aid us in the direction of the new humanism, which is the only hope for the salvation of humankind.
What cultural and literary complexes can you discern in Cypriots and their neighboring Balkan people? To what extent is that the result of the fact that the Balkan people missed the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Great Geographical Discoveries? How long will we continue to live as if we were alone in the wold, as if nobody else existed but us?
The fact that Southeastern Europe has not experienced the phases of cultural development, undergone by Western Europe, is regarded as a flaw, which has hindered progress in the region, that there is talk of a catching-up. Other people, however, take pride in this peculiarity of their country and the stronger bond of this culture to the national origins. The two traditions combine today to different extents and that brings about a native idiosyncratic art. Radichkov’s work comes to my mind here, something neither à Central-, nor à West-European country can produce.
How do you assess the role of Balkani, the private publishing house, for the Balkan literary and cultural cooperation, especially the role of the Balkan Library Series? Such a comprehensive series of all Balkan authors has not been published in Bulgaria since 1878. What hatred, prejudice and ideological taboos, what loss of time…
BALKANI publishing house has taken up a serious and noble endeavor to help surpass prejudice and why not hatred, stuck in many minds regarding nationalities and other qualities of neighboring countries. Culture is the strongest bridge in that respect, and from what we can see this endeavor is successful, well received and appreciated by the Bulgarian readership, as well as by the cultural public abroad.
What do you think the Balkan people cannot divide?
It seems that so far we have not been able to find the political powers to popularize what unites Balkan nations. It seems it must have been more profitable to stress the historical moments that divide them. The new situation around their belonging to Europe is a ray of hope in overcoming the bitterness of the past. Something, which has already been accomplished, for example, by the Germans and the French. If they looked back, they would only speak of the bloody rivers that flowed between them for centuries.
What bigger opportunities do you see in this initiative and what new partners and participants, besides your highly respected involvement?
The initiative of publishing house “Balkani” must find supporters and followers in the neighboring countries as well; it must expand and lead to a spiritual closeness among these similar in history and traditions nations.