29 October 2016 Knowledge instead of hatred – tensions at the Conrad Festival

“During a war, everyone becomes a criminal, and the experiences of a prisoner of war cannot be made into a myth”, said Richard Flanagan, revising notions such as patriotism and heroism.

Samar Yazbek spoke up for the dignity of the victims of the Syrian War, whose photographs are published in the TV and the Internet. She also reminded us that the Syrian revolution was monopolised, and that the Syrian people are under occupation. The notions such as fighting or heroism do not correspond to the situation of civilians in the country at all.

During the meeting titled “The Settlers”, Richard Flanagan talked to Michał Nogaś about his work on The Narrow Road to the Deep North and his decision to go to Japan and find guards working on the construction of the Burma Death Railway. “I knew they had to be alive”, he said. At the end, he managed to find three guards. One of them was a doctor. When asked about Australians, he said that they died because of their bad hygiene, and as a doctor he did not feel the obligation to help them, for he did not see them as people. “There are some moments in life, when you feel that the sadness of the entire world is crushing you”, the writer summed up. The second guard was very kind and said that he did not remember much. Among the prisoners he was called the Lizard, and known for his ruthlessness. “I asked him to hit me like the prisoners of war were beaten. He said it was ridiculous, but he agreed”. The 92-year old man immediately changed in front of the writer’s eyes, assumed a proper punching form and struck a proper blow. “The memory of punching remained in his body, in his tendons, muscles and nerves”. After three strikes, the writer felt that the entire room was shaking, pictures started falling from the walls and trinkets fell from shelves. “I thought that it was something in me that broke as a result of this meeting, but it turned out it was an earthquake, which struck Japan at the that very moment”. “Only God can play with such coincidences”, he summed up.

 fot. Hasenien Dousery | www.blackshadowstudio.com
fot. Wojciech Wandzel, www.wandzelphoto.com

Samar Yazbek joined us for another discussion, titled “The Heart of Syria”. The writer decided that the meeting would be conducted in Arabic. By doing so, she wanted to show us its melody and specific rhythm, as well as place it in a different context. She noted that Arabic is most commonly known from stereotypical information in the TV, and as such it is generally connected with the images of violence, while culture, art and philosophy is also created in the language. She emphasised that only knowledge of other culture can help us destroy hatred.

In her discussion with Olga Stanisławska, Samar Yazbek talked about the face of Syria that is not showed in TV broadcasts. “We dreamed of creating a democrativ future, and we never thought that these demonstrations would turn into a war, and that Syria will become an arena of a bloody battle”, she admitted, adding that talking about it is painful for her. “I was with the protesters; I wrote about them. I knew that I was bringing about the revolution – this is the role of an intellectual. The regime’s answer to words were tanks. Back then, I thought that it was the worst thing that could possibly happen to us. It was a period marked by fear, imprisonment and snipers, but today I know it was almost a beautiful period, combined to what is happening today in Syria”, the writer said. The discussion was interrupted by long periods of silence, during which the interpreters translated the words. The crowd was absolutely silent.

Another meeting, which attracted a huge audience was “Rumble. A reading and conversation with Szczepan Twardoch”. The meeting was hosted by Szymon Kloska. The writer discussed how working on a book looks like. He admitted that he starts from writing a short outline, where he also gathers graphic inspirations. Only after the outline “matures”, he starts writing down the ideas, but even that does not guarantee success. The books that he writes often surprise him, as he does not select topics consciously, and sometimes he knows that some stories just have to be abandoned. The idea for writing The King was with him for several years, during which he wrote other books. The writer dodged the question about his specific manner of writing. “Of course, everyone knows better how my book should be written”, he joked.

The day ended with the screening of The Hours at the Kino Pod Baranami cinema. The audience was welcomed by Michael Cunningham himself, who discussed what happened behind the scenes. That was the end of the day devoted to tensions. Today you can join us for the children’s section and a series of meetings featuring the most renowned writers: Eleanor Catton, Michael Cunningham, Richard Flanagan. We are also going to see Géza Röhrig again – this time with an introduction to The Son of Saul.


The Festival is supported by EDF Poland – the patron of the KBF, Volvo Wadowscy, PZU SA and the John Paul II International Airport Krakow Balice Ltd.