It is my political and human opinion that children should not be slaughtered and that German cultural institutions should know better when it comes to genocide.
Last month, the award-winning Bosnian-Serbian novelist Lana Bastašić took the courageous (and almost unprecedented) step of cutting ties with her German publisher in protest against its silence on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
Bastašić, who won the 2020 EU prize for literature for her debut novel, Catch the Rabbit, walked away from “enough money to last me a year,” stating that it was her “moral and ethical duty to terminate my contracts” with the publishing house S. Fischer, citing the publisher’s failure “to be vocal about the ongoing genocide happening in Gaza,” as well as the (by now notorious) censorship of pro-Palestinian voices in Germany.
The repercussions for this inspiring act of solidarity have now followed Bastašić (an author with lived experience of ethnonationalist state terror) into the new year. As detailed on her Instagram account earlier today, the prominent Austrian literary organizations Literaturfest Salzburg and Literaturhaus NÖ have cancelled Bastašić’s upcoming residency and reading:
Thank you once again for your interest in the residency and reading in May 2024. Like many others, we have been closely following the discussion surrounding your decision to leave the S. Fischer publishing house, and we have engaged in intensive discussions on the matter over the past few days. As much as we appreciate your books, under the given circumstances, we unfortunately must withdraw our invitation. Your stay at Literaturhaus NÖ and participation in the Literature Festival Salzburg would inevitably imply a positioning on our part that we do not wish for and contradicts our role.
Josef Kirchner and Anna Weidenholzer
Bastašić’s response to this, the latest in a series of acts of moral cowardice from the Austro-German cultural and political establishment, was nothing short of spectacular. She accused the directors of Literaturfest Salzburg and Literaturhaus NÖ of adding themselves to “the long and infamous list of cultural institutions which cancel artists who refuse to stay silent when the world is screaming.”
As Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza continues apace, and as literary and journalistic institutions continue to punish and censor pro-Palestinian speech, the many silent authors of the West would do well to absorb her words and follow her lead.
Here is Bastašić’s blazing riposte in its entirety:
For the sake of truth and transparency, I would like to remind you that the interest was yours, given that you invited me. Your decision to uninvite me is a clear positioning on your part. Let it also be clear that this is a cancellation of a residency and an event we previously agreed on, based solely on my decision to leave a publisher. It is my political and human opinion that children should not be slaughtered and that German cultural institutions should know better when it comes to genocide. You should also know that you have now added yourselves to the long and infamous list of cultural institutions which cancel artists who refuse to stay silent when the world is screaming.
I do not know what literature means to you outside of networking and grants. To me it means, first and foremost, an unwavering love for human beings and the sanctity of human life. Given that you invited me to your residency and festival, you must have been acquainted with my work, which deals closely with the consequences war has on children. Perhaps to you literary works are divorced from real life, but then again you probably have never known war fist hand.
Thank you for uninviting me. I would not want to be part of another institution which not only cancels artists because of their activism, but seems to think silence and censorship is the right answer to genocide. While I am aware of the fact that the funding you receive within the system you inhabit must have made you forgetful of what art really is about, I still want to remind you that (fortunately for precarious writers like myself), you are not Literature. Your money is not Literature. S. Fischer is not Literature. Germany is not Literature. And we, the writers, will remember.