„I am twenty-three years old. These years I have lived in Europe.
Yet I have never seen Europe.”
Those are the opening words of an essay by the young Ukrainian writer Tanya Malyarchuk.
On the evening of August 9th, 2006 she appeared on stage in Berlin in front of an audience of 350 - in the small auditorium at the city´s Konzerthaus at the historic Gendarmenmarkt square. She had arrived in the German capital just a day early and it had not been easy to get a last-minute visa for the trip. She's in the West for the very first time in her life. And, as she read her text, there was a detectable tremble in her voice. After all, the location and the sell-out audience were unfamiliar territory, too. She presented the first section of her essay in her mother tongue. Then one of the leading ladies of German acting, Martina Gedeck, stepped in to read the rest of the text in the German translation.
„A public reading of essays? That doesn't exactly sound very exciting. So people turned up for the evening feeling justifiably sceptical,” wrote one newspaper, the Stuttgarter Zeitung. „But all the doubts were dispelled in a matter of minutes. The atmosphere in the theatre was very special indeed ... dressed distinctly down, in sneakers and T-shirts, the six authors - two young women and four men - took to the stage. None of them have made it out of their twenties, but each has already published at least one novel. Each author read for at least a minute from their essays in their own language. Berivan Kaya - who acts on stage, on television and in the movies - adopted a cool, sometimes ironic approach in her readings, while TV detective Dietrich Mattausch was full of temperament. So what was it that made the evening such a delight? Perhaps the fact that people from six different countries were presenting their views; people with so much to say? People with such intelligent, sarcastic and provocative minds? This wasn't the usual 'blablabla' of the politicians. This was the real thing. It was utterly fascinating to be confronted with such diverse views on 'Europe' and 'freedom' and what these terms really mean. Camille de Toledo from France began with a polite 'bonsoir' and went on to describe himself as a 'child of Europe'. Tanya Malyarchuk from Ukraine greeted the audience in Russian and ... offered a sarcastic description of Ukraine's yearning to join Europe.
'Europe is when you can buy everything you want and then a bit more on top.'
Atef Abu Saif gave his Palestinian view of things. Here, too, the view of an outsider. For him freedom in Europe is what people who live somewhere else aspire to. For Denmark's Jonas T. Bengtsson, 'Freedom makes no sense to someone who doesn't have enough money to buy an egg.' Bengtsson is more an insider and therefore better equipped to explore Western Europe's internal contradictions. Petra Hulova from the Czech Republic, a formerly socialist society, attacked the manner in which consumer capitalism seeks to impose egalitarianism...
For Hulova something different is much more important: 'freedom of expression and freedom to travel'. But it is precisely these achievements that are under threat, she argued. They must be defended otherwise we'll end up living in a 'barbed-wire Europe, with women wearing burkahs. ' Rashid Novaire, the son of a Moroccan father and a Dutch mother, ... traced the confusion of identity that results when he describes his Polish grandmother moving from the town of Bottrop in Germany to the Netherlands, where she then discovers herself feeling like a German.” That review was, as we have seen, from the „Stuttgarter Zeitung” newspaper.
For our part, we are proud and pleased that the first tour of Germany undertaken as part of Young Euro Connect was so well received in a
number of important German papers. ”Despite the fact that these stories were all very different, the Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote, „there was nevertheless much common ground in the feelings expressed by the authors. These stories need to be heard in Strasbourg and Brussels…And that's good advice. Still, the conviction behind the commitment we share to both our music festival and the essay evening is that Europe is not only or not even primarily a matter for the politicians. Europe is a matter for and should matter to its citizens. They have to realise just how much Europe means before it ends up meaning nothing at all.
Art and culture, music and literature, are far more valuable to Europe than a thousand directives or a hundred summit meetings.
And this is where „our” modest essays have such great significance.