n.27 December 2009

Serbian writer Danilo Kis once wrote of the Balkan people: "We're exotic, politically scandalous ...  [but] who on earth can ever find literature here?" Yet the region's literature is thriving, with new writers always cropping up. More pertinent than wondering whether literature exists is weighing what matters more, memories of bloody war, ethnic fracture and national dispossession, or producing tales that supersede ethnicity and conflict, substituting globalization for nostalgia. Different authors have strongly different viewpoints.

After each territorial partition in the Balkans something always remains either unhinged or incomplete. Divisions produce both errors and bad strategy while the "truths" offered by Serbians, Bulgarians, Greeks, Croatians, Albanians, Muslims, Catholics and the Orthodox are usually relative. Thus everything about the Balkans has become a matter of skewed opinion, leading to infinite misunderstanding and confusion

This year's Nobel laureates produced a wave of controversy, with skeptics insisting they were politically tinged. President Barack Obama's Peace Prize was prominently cited, as was Herta Müller's literature award. But those who don't know about Müller fail to fathom her effectiveness not only as a writer but also as longtime defender of personal freedom and the right to free expression.