14 September 2016 Statement of the directors of the Conrad Festival according to Zahhar Prilepin

Due to the increasing number of comments by writers and readers regarding the invitation of Zakhar Prilepin to this year’s Conrad Festival, the Festival directors have issued the following:

The Conrad Festival has for years been known for presenting different voices and different positions, not necessarily in line with the ideas and views of its Programme Committee regarding social and artistic reality. It is also known, in Poland and beyond, for the understanding of politics as an area of open public discussion on the most important problems of the contemporary world. We are not afraid to present authors who evoke sharp discord, or sometimes even distaste. Our goal, however, is not to cause controversy or provoke the audience. On the contrary, we express our deep conviction that the hot atmosphere and extreme artistic and political emotions (because we believe that art and politics cannot be separated) can and should be cooled with factual conversation that includes everyone interested. In a world of increasing conflict, where violence is displacing thought, there must be a discipline free from outbursts of uncontrolled emotions, from hasty judgements and overly confident superstitions. This discipline is culture, and literary festivals like the Conrad Festival are its best exponent.

Zakhar Prilepin is an artist with clear beliefs. He is a Russian nationalist, ideologically involved in the major conflicts of recent years – currently in the war in eastern Ukraine. He is also, importantly, a writer who has an enormous influence on the collective imagination of the Russians. It is because of this, because of his extreme ideology and persuasive language, that we have invited him to the Conrad Festival. This year, selecting “Intensity” as the main theme, we decided, inter alia, to discuss nationalism as an ideology that intensively imposes itself on collecting imagination. Among this year’s guests are determined critics of nationalism, intellectuals and writers from around the world, and thus, according to the ancient Roman principle of audiatur et altera pars, we have decided to listen to the other side. We do not approve of any version of the culture of monologue, which does not mean that we accept all views. We invited Zakhar Prilepin to the Festival not because we share his views and not because we wanted to publicise them during the Festival, but because the ideology he represents demands unequivocal criticism.

We often hear that a critical reflection on the phenomenon of nationalism is possible only from a distance, that representatives of this ideology cannot be invited into the conversation. We disagree, but we realise that such a conversation is difficult and painful, not only for people affected by the ongoing conflicts, but simply for everyone who thinks differently. However, direct criticism, conducted in a factual and clear language, is the only tool for defence against violence, the only hope for the abolition of tribal conflicts not only within a single society, but also in the international sphere. This, we believe, is the essence of the moderation role of culture. It is our duty as literary activists, intellectual and readers.

Sometimes, however, substantive debate needs to be put aside for another, better time. It is not his literature or views, but Zakhar Prilepin’s active involvement on one side of the Russian-Ukrainian armed conflict that precludes any discussion and causes a strong opposition in many of our friends. We have familiarised ourselves with their voices and we understand them. Culture is an area for disarming excessive emotions, not stoking them. Distancing ourselves from any form of militarism, we have decided to revoke our invitation for Zakhar Prilepin. We do not want the Conrad Festival to become a place of political antagonisms. We wanted a serious discussion about literature and ideology, but sometimes, the principles of a different nature turn out to be more important. We ask the many readers of Zakhar Prilepin for their understanding.

Grzegorz Jankowicz
Conrad Festival Programme Director

Michał Paweł Markowski
Conrad Festival Artistic Director