Festival opening speech: Rage and hope
The novel "Sozaboy" describes the pure stupidity of war in a way I haven’t read in any other book.
The novel is written in what the author, Ken Saro-Wiwa, called rotten English – a mix of idiomatic English, broken English and Nigerian pidgin.
Sozaboy describes the civil war in Nigeria through the eyes of an ordinary young man, with no education – hence his “rotten English”.
Our man becomes a soldier because of the nice uniform, the shiny gun and to impress his girlfriend. He never grasps why he is fighting – or even who. Towards the end he is very confused.
This novel does what literature can do at its best: Make us not only understand on an intellectual level, but actually feel the utter disgrace of war.
Ken Saro-Wiwa was a businessman, a television producer, an author, and an activist.
He fought for environmental justice in the Niger delta against the oil company Shell and the corrupt Nigerian government.
In 1995, a mock trial ended with a death sentence, and he was hanged.
This year, we celebrate the fifth festival, and I wish that the theme – rage – wasn’t so fitting.
The first edition of LitFestBergen opened on 14 February 2019 – 30 years to the day that Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa over author Salman Rushdie.
At the festival opening that evening, Hissa Hilal from Saudi Arabia read “Evil Fatwa”, her poem against religious oppression.
A tear rolled down her cheek.
The following day, Saudi diplomats travelled from Oslo to Bergen to threaten her, and since her return to Saudi Arabia, the famous poet has been forced into total silence.
These attacks make us furious, but it is a rage that gives us strength and courage to continue.
LitFestBergen is located in a peaceful corner of the world. It not only gives us the opportunity, but also the duty to let voices that are silenced elsewhere, be heard.
When Saudi officials try to intimidate us by calling and messaging every year before the upcoming festival, it makes me smirk – in a grotesque way, I could maybe call it flattering.
I’ve said it before: We will never be a festival that seeks consensus. We will never be a festival that believes in only one answer.
We look at people and the world with an empathetic gaze. We listen without interruption. We search for beauty.
We seek truth in poetry rather than in the artillery of propaganda.
LitFestBergen is a festival where the known meets the unknown. It is a festival for literature that writes itself into the core of what it means to be human: Literature that reflects disillusion and desperation, but also lightness and love.
We create room for reflection and genuine conversation.
There are too many intentional misunderstandings in the public conversation today.
There is too much furious screaming.
There is too much rage.
But – by filtering rage through literature – both as authors and audience – we may create hope.
Let us create hope.