"Those in the dark are not seen" - a final discussion at the Prague Writers' Festival

Viktor Erofeyev, photo: CTK

The 15th annual Prague Writers' Festival wrapped up on Wednesday. But before it ended the festival offered one last discussion, with the promising title "Those in the dark are not seen". Featuring authors like Israel's David Grossman and Russian literary star Viktor Erofeyev, the discussion was nothing less than fascinating.

Every year the Prague Writers' Festival is a reaffirmation that there is still interest in literature and authors in the Czech capital. Its round-table discussions are sometimes hit-and-miss, but when they are "on" they are among the best the festival has to offer. Before it winked out for another year, this year's final discussion looked at "those in the dark", led by the wonderfully gruff Greek author Spiros Vergos, who moved ideas along with characteristic ease.

"You can interpret it in a lot of ways - a phrase like that - those in the dark, the masses are the people not seen... What is the dark?!"

For nearly an hour authors on stage characterized darkness either as a place where victims are forgotten, where shadowy figures pull the strings, or as a place within - "Evil" as an intrinsic part of human nature. While one visitor complained the ideas were clichéd, there were plenty of others who found the discussion worthwhile. The authors usually went beyond their given theme, using the metaphor only as a position from which to unfold further questions, or as a mooring point. Mostly, the discussion "bubbled", thanks to Viktor Erofeyev:

Viktor Erofeyev, photo: CTK
"I just finished a new book, 'The Good Stalin' and I just told you that in my country Stalin killed millions and millions of people and still, in my country this title is not provocative enough. More than 60 percent in my country still believe he was a positive figure! When I was signing the book at the bookstores old communists were saying 'Finally, someone wrote a really good book! I said 'Listen, babushka, if you want to live don't buy this book. You'll have a heart attack!"

David Grossman, meanwhile, talked about literature versus the news culture and the loss of meaning in language. Darkness in this case, as the refusal to see the truth and a paving over of real pain. Only literature, and not the media, he indicated, can show us what's really going on.

"I worked as an anchorman for the main government news magazine in Israel - we had then only a governmental radio - and we had a special use of terms in order to 'buffer' what Israel was doing in the occupation. Since most of us are moral people, unless they are psycho, it is unbearable for them to know that they are supporting by their taxes or their silence all kinds of injustice and even atrocities. So, there was, for example, this sentence: 'During disorder a local youngster was killed'. Every word in this sentence is a lie. During disorder - as if there is any kind of natural order in an occupation. Youngster - he could have been three years old. Locals - god forbid don't say Palestinians, don't mention their name! And last: were killed. Nobody really took a gun and killed them, the passive form is very comfortable for that. It abolishes responsibility."

One last 'lighter' note about the dark: there are some, who after having spent years in the spotlight, now have trouble regaining their privacy. And "darkness" doesn't help: shortly after the discussion began, a former president tried to slip into the auditorium unseen. But, someone shouted out "President Havel!" straight away.

That moment directly contradicted the talk's title: those in the dark were exposed.