The normal thing to do

Inaugural address at the 20th European Meeting of Cultural Journals, Sibiu, 21 September 2007

Dear Mr Mayor,

Your excellencies,

Distinguished guests, speakers and panellists,

Dear friends and colleagues,

We have come a long way since 1983, when the German broadcasting journalist Hans-Götz Oxenius gathered a handful of editors of cultural journals at the conference centre of the World Council of Churches in Bossey, Switzerland. This was the beginning of what we now know as the Eurozine network.

The editors that came to Bossey all travelled there from countries in Western Europe. Just as those who took part in the next meeting did, two years later in Urbino in Italy.

In these and the following early years of the emerging network of European cultural journals, Europe was a very narrow concept. Participants from the countries behind the Iron Curtain were odd exceptions at these meetings – anomalies. And for those few who were in fact invited, the every-day reality was a very different one from that of their western colleagues. In most cases, they had to decline the invitation – for example because they needed to concentrate on getting to enough paper to be able to publish their next issue…

Yes, things have changed. Places have changed. Places are changing. Europe is today a different and much broader concept – for Eurozine obviously also much wider than that of the European Union. Since the mid-nineties – long before any of the recent “enlargements” – participants from Eastern and Southern Europe no longer appear as anomalies at these meetings, but as perfectly normal people. As normal as editors, writers and intellectuals can be.

I have been asked several times – from all sorts of people – why we organize this year’s Eurozine meeting in Sibiu. There are of course many possible answers to this question – the reasons for coming to this small but exciting city are legion – but my first answer, our answer, is always the same. It is the same as in Istanbul two years ago or in Tallinn the year before that: Why not? It’s the normal thing to do. Just as normal as to meet in London (which we did last year) or in Paris (which we will next year).

The theme of this the 20th European Meeting of Cultural Journals – “Changing Places. What’s normal anyway?” – can thus also be interpreted as an introspective attempt to reflect on this winding history of the Eurozine network. But it is of course much more than that.

In the next few days, we will have the chance to look at the concept of normality from many different angels. From Mircea Vasilescu’s observation that the “search for normality” has been relocated from the spatial or geographical realm to the temporal – wich he will present in his opening speech in a moment – to Slavenka Drakulic’s closing speech on Sunday evening, in which the most intimate of spaces, the bathroom, will be turned into a stage for an, at least partly, tragic mix-up comedy in which normality is mistaken for paradise.

“The man who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is a foreign land”. These words by the 12th-century clergy man Hugh of Saint Victor (who will play a minor role in the session dedicated to the second of this meeting’s main themes: exile and writing out of place) can also serve to describe the Eurozine experience. We are not yet perfect, but we are already strong. The soil of Sibiu becomes – at least for a few days – also our soil. For us who have worked with this conference, this is a very concrete experience of feeling welcome. I hope that you all will have the same feeling.

Published 21 September 2007
Original in English
First published by Eurozine

© Carl Henrik Fredriksson / Eurozine


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