Most of us have children. One has a small baby, another a slightly older one, a third has an adolescent, a fourth one’s is all grown up, a fifth is expecting. Loved children, fragile, unconscious, impudent, playful, defenseless. When we are separated from them voluntarily, we relax. When we are separated involuntarily, we suffer. It is no sin to be proud of your child. I’ll bet my life on that.
I have experienced childhood five times, so I know what I’m talking about. The first was mine, the second and third were my adult sons, the fourth I am intensely experiencing with my young son, and the fifth is the child of our commune, our little festival. I am a little tired and happy, like a father. And from today I´m grandfather!
I was born in 1968. During this dark period in our history, when I perceived only sounds and shapes, some 80 – 90,000 Czechoslovaks fled our country. By the time I was 20, another 130,000 had left. During 40 years of occupation, 220,000 Czechoslovaks emigrated! During this time, the “developed West” of the European Union had 12 member states. So if I count correctly, each state theoretically took in 18,000 Czechs and Slovaks without batting an eye.
In 1996, I was giving two young men a ride in postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina – they were children who had deserted form the army. They wanted to live and not to kill. I was taking them from one side of the border (i.e., frontline) to the other. Our car was filled with stench, silence, and fear. It was the first time in my life that I ever smuggled someone across a border. Those boys wanted to save their lives, because they didn’t want to live in a place where they would be forced to kill. They faced life in prison, if not the death penalty. I hope that today they are fathers and are not telling their children scary stories, but happy Bosnian fairy tales about the little dragon beneath the bridge in Mostar.
A few months later, I invited children and teenagers from the former Yugoslavia living in refugee camps to perform at our very first festival. Many in the audience probably found their documentary performance naive, but still truthful and brutally autobiographical. Those children had spent more than a year in a refugee camp without their parents or loved ones, under unbearable circumstances. Those who had survived had created a performance, and we were the first foreign festival to invite them. It was an important impulse for the future of our festival.
Inspired by their performance, I wrote into my diary:
Your home is burning
you run out the front
you run out the back
you run out the top
you run out the bottom
you run straight
you run all over
you run short
you run long
you run in spite of
and still you run
you run through fire
you run to the river
In 1996, the Czech Republic took in 23,000 refugees from the former Yugoslavia. If I remember correctly, it was organized by the People in Need Foundation, and without any interest on the part of society and the media. It literally made me cry! A country that had been our summer vacation paradise, completely ignored and written off. And yet, at the time there still existed a sense of solidarity.
It is 2015 and we are celebrating 20 years. In this time, we have invited more than 170 foreign artists from all corners of the world. Introverted, eccentric artists, tall, little, fat, black, yellow, white, freckled, curly-haired artists… there was even an Eskimo who spoke with a Moravian accent. Our festival was founded 20 years ago with the goal of inviting artists to our country in order to expand our mono-cultural and mono-ethnic society’s horizons. We were convinced that, if they wanted to, the people around us would understand and get to know other cultures, other ways and customs, and other forms of artistic expression.
It is 2015 and we are celebrating 20 years – confused and disillusioned. Nearly all our fellow citizens are silent, working in their gardens as if nothing was wrong. Unfortunately, many passionate mushroom gatherers committed suicide this year. But fortunately – to make up for it – not as many kayakers drowned this year. Miracles happen all the time. And I don’t think that there is anyone who does not have an opinion on the current situation in Europe. There is no immediate solution, no instruction manual, but I would still like to share a recent view expressed by the well-known Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek: “First, in the present moment, Europe must reassert its commitment to provide for the dignified treatment of the refugees. There should be no compromise here: large migrations are our future, and the only alternative to such a commitment is renewed barbarism.”
Perhaps I have written a much too somber introduction. But there is no other way. It is a reflection of this time, of this moment. Anxiety and instability. Unease and confusion.
The performances, exhibitions and other events at our festival reflect the present day far better than the texts in the program. Our festival lasts just nine days, and so I recommend – take the week off.
Welcome to our festival, where the clash of cultures has been taking place in peace, in the theater, and at the bar for 20 years now.
Remain faithful to us… and celebrate with us.
For the Four Days festival, Pavel Štorek