Leya Prize’s writer 2017 João Pinto Coelho answers Poland Ambassador’s critic on his new book by Miguel Carvalho (translated by Cláudia de Sousa Dias) • Culture – VISÃO Magazine 27.11.2017

Original article here:


The interview of 2017 Leya Prize winner João Pinto Coelho to VISÃO Magazine on his new book, is still causing a great deal of controversy. We are publishing today the author’s complete response to the open letter, written by the Ambassador of Poland criticising the book Os Loucos da Rua Mazur [The Mad People from Mazur Street].

«What is supposed to shock us beside any other evidence is the criminal engagement of at least forty Polish citizens as well as the idleness of great part of the people from that council, who testified those atrocities, as it is described in the conclusions of the National [Polish] Memory Institute Research’s report».

This is one of the quotations from the writer’s answer to the Polish Ambassador’s open letter. In the same answer, stated in the copy which arrived today at VISÃO Magazine, and that we are now disclosing in its complete version, the writer refuses to discuss his fictional oeuvre in the same terms as it was treated in “a certain type of Polish press”. He rather emphasises his concern “towards the signs of intolerance” that History always advised him to keep an eye on. “Ignoring these signs is a civic irresponsible attitude as well as a total absence of uneasiness in its presence”, the writer explains.

João Pinto Coelho’s reaction is the follow up of the Polish Ambassador in Portugal, Mr. Jacek Junosza Kisielewski’s open letter, considering João Pinto Coelho’s statement to VISÃO about his historical novel as “ungrounded and outcast from its historical context” and based on “unfair extrapolations”. Having also contacted Leya Editorial Group, who published the book with the brand Dom Quixote to be launched this Thursday 29th November at Bucholz book store (Lisbon), and presented by Father José Tolentino Mendonça (also poet/writer) who added:

«The jury of Leya Prize has unanimously distinguished the book Os Loucos da Rua Mazur (The Mad People from Mazur Street) by João Pinto Coelho for its literary qualities, which Leya clearly attaches to this writer’s oeuvre, and whose reading recommends».

Here is João Pinto Coelho’s answer to Mr. Jacek Junosza Kisielewski’s open letter fully quoted:

«Just a small note to start with: since I do not consider pertinent to cross anyone’s path by taking the place of the article’s author [Miguel Carvalho], I shall not say a word about the data that came out as the output of this research, such as the quantification of the victims at the Jedwabne’s massacre or the number of cities where there might have occurred similar atrocities. My declarations – literally quoted here – are the outcome of concrete questions that were put to me, and it is also not my job to lecture on the background, context or any other journalistic criteria that was carried out along the interview. I also try to restrain myself to speak about my previous book [Perguntem a Sarah Gross/Ask Sarah Gross] since we’re talking about a fictional oeuvre, I shall not accept it to be desiccated within the terms I found in a certain type of Polish press.

In the open letter that was addressed to me by Mr Ambassador from the Republic of Poland it is referred the objective and balanced manner that in my previous book Perguntem a Sarah Gross [Ask Sarah Gross] I mention the harm done to Poland, by the German invader, between the years 1939-1945. I referred it in that same book as I do it now in the new one – Os Loucos da Rua Mazur – and I can’t miss the opportunity to emphasise that the example mentioned by Mr. Ambassador [Jacek Junosza Kisielewski] about the Jewish children kept hidden in monasteries and orphanages by Polish nuns is explicitly described in the final pages of my last novel. I have indeed been writing about it in the last two years, when visiting dozens of schools from north to south in my country, letting Portuguese students be aware of the little known details from this period of History, where we can find, with all merit included, the grief and the acts of heroism from the Polish nation, either during the Nazi German invasion or during those more than twenty months of the Soviet presence in the country. But, to be completely accurate towards the facts, I am compelled to say more than just that and this I why I’m also referring Jedwabne Kielce’s case, and some other things that should not have happened. And referring himself to this subject, Mr. Ambassador [Junosza Kisielewski] recalled – and in a very pertinent manner – the more than six hundred Polish distinguished as “Justs among the Nations by the Yad Vashem. Yet, I must emphasise that we are talking about the same institute which recognises the existence of thousands of Polish citizens who cooperated with the German invaders by blackmailing and denouncing their Jewish neighbours. Thus, it occurs to me to ask if by referring the former and to be silent about the latter, one wouldn’t place those ones “outside their historical context” or base them in such “unfair or unjust extrapolations”, exactly as I’m being accused of in the beginning of the open letter.

About the Jedwabne Tragedy

Until a better perspective [of these historical facts] comes out, what is now at stake here is to take into account something far beyond the militancy of those fewer locals agitators; what is supposed to shock us above all other present evidences is the criminal involvement of at least forty Polish citizens, as well as the idleness from a big part of the city who watched those atrocities, as it is documented in the research report conclusions from the National Memory Institute of Poland – the same institute Mr. Ambassador [Junosza Kisielewski] is quoting. Furthermore, one might add that this case of Jedwabne’s tragedy, mentioned in the Ambassador’s open letter, is the most well known case currently studied, but still raises many doubts on its development and responsibility and also on how can the rule of a Law process, in the civilised world, lead to the condemnation of the ones and only whose guilt has been proven.

Even though I allow myself to remind my readers that what was until now shown was considered proof enough for two Presidents from the Republic of Poland, namely Alexander Kawaśniewski and Bronislaw Komorowski, to go to Jedwabne in order – and in the presence of the victims’ relatives and diverse organisations – to apologize for the tragedy as maximum representatives of the Polish nation.

Finally, I shall clarify now what Mr. Ambassador is referring to as being an abuse. In my declarations, there weren’t any intentions of establishing any correspondence/link between this tragic past and the present migration crisis, particularly on the manner Poland chose to, either then or now, manage its frontiers. By listing the many countries that in the final 1930’s chose to close the doors to Jewish refugees, it is, precisely, my intention to remind the same entities that are pointing today their indexes to this obscure past, though forgetting their previous indifference at the time.

About the current times:

Last August, in a letter addressed to one Law&Justice Party founders – actually in the [Polish] Government – The Polish Jewish Communities Union, noted a significant increasing of anti-Semitic protests and the sensation of insecurity as an output of all this situation [the current migration crisis].

Also in the current year, the Prejudice Research Centre from Warsaw University presented a report in which a significant increasing of negative attitude towards Jews in Poland, since 2014, is mentioned. This attitude is expressed by a growing acceptance and popularity of the anti-Semitic discourse, especially within the younger people.

I have no doubts on the Polish authorities efforts in fighting racist and xenophobe protests, or [investigating] hate crimes reported, for example, in the last report from European Cooperation and Security Organisation and, especially, I am not underestimating the initiative that intends to recover the traces of Jewish culture in the country, or the efforts carried out by a considerable amount of people in promoting a debate and an open dialogue on this long-term relation, throughout centuries, between Polish and the Jewish people – this I witnessed myself since 2009, during several visits to the country. To be completely honest with myself [and the readers], which I always feel compelled to, I never perceived that I was myself in a situation of eminent danger, but I did notice a discomfort, underlying my growing worries towards the signs of intolerance, that History always advised me to keep an eye on. Ignoring them would be a civic irresponsibility, just like not feeling that same discomfort towards those signs at all. I look at the world around me, I observe what is happening in Europe and I find the same signs in many spots – and Poland is not, unfortunately, an exception.

Finally, Mr. Ambassador states that the article, speaking about the evil in extreme situations could arise in someone “just like us” is “lacking liability” and incurs in “callous extrapolations”. Shoa’s historiography, and the historiography in some other more recent tragedies is being increasingly based on portraying its perpetrators. By diving into their stories, one can find people disturbingly similar to any of us, ordinary men and woman, capable of loving their children, and whom in our days, if asked whether they would be able to commit those atrocities, would most probably deny it with the same confidence as any of us would. And yet, they did it.

Observing their example, attempting the similarities, between them and ourselves, before they reveal their monstrous faces, is in fact disturbing. And yet, that tiny little doubt on our own character, could be the best legacy one could be given by History itself.

João Pinto Coelho, author of Os Loucos da Rua Mazur (The Mad People of Mazur Street) in November 27th, 2017

A Note from the Journalist [Miguel Carvalho]

In an open letter addressed to the writer João Pinto Coelho (in which I am mentioned as the journalist who interviewed Leya Prize’ s winner, published last November 16th ), Mr. Ambassador [Jacek Junosza Kisielewski] refers an extrapolation, in his opinion unfair, about the massacre of Jewish people by Polish Christians during WWII. In the same letter, assertions on the principles and foundations that should rule a “reliable and guidelined” journalism are proffered. Absolutely flabbergasted, I have also read a few days ago, in a certain type of Polish press, that whilst author of the same interview I would have been aligned with the writer’s rhetoric, a situation that Mr. Ambassador most certainly ignores, but I am convinced of its utmost importance to be mentioned here for a complete awareness of the whole situation by our readers.

I’ll start to refer that, contradicting much of what has been said or may have been thought, I didn’t dig the issue only through its surface, nor was my amount of information on Poland, by the way. I’ve visited this country in two occasions (without including the huge amount of reading I’ve been thoroughly taking on this theme); I went to Warsaw, Cracow, Nowa Hut and, obviously Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau.. And I also did not ignore, in these two occasions, Oskar Shindler’s mill, the Galicia Jewish Museum, Bokhaterow Square, The Polish Resistance Museum, the magnificent Polish Jewish History Museum, as well as many other locations, whose preservation and broadcast are also the sign that marks Poland’s respect for its memory, identity and culture. What we know today about the heroic attitude of thousands of Polish people within the context of WWII is not, and will never be, at stake.

Furthermore I’ve witnessed the civic and cultural vitality in Kazimierz (Cracow’s Jewish borough) where the Jewish culture festival every year is still celebrated.

All this to reassure that I am not caught in bare feet stepping in the shrapnel from old times or being influenced [by current biased voices], all this for the respect I have to VISÃO Magazine’s readers, regardless of any controversy it may cause. As any other journalist honouring his job in a world easily inflamed by social media, sensationalism and immediateness, I try to do be best I know and can, my so-called “homework”. And the interview to João Pinto Coelho was no different. I didn’t just read his new novel and check the elements which could permit me to build up the writer’s profile. Or built any extrapolations from Wikipedia or imagining fantastic theories. The book’s theme came from fictional inspiration taken from historical events which compelled me to dive into a detailed research on Jedwabne and the twilight zone of this and other events at that time.

I have learned in journalism, in life, and in books that History in not in black and white. I’ve read, somewhere, and I take that into account in public or wherever there’s a chance, that memory results from the dialectic process involving the confrontation between remembering and forgetting. If one forgets everything, then that one is meaningless. If one remembers everything, one can not keep on living. But one can’ t surely build or conceal something through ignorance and silence over the facts. Unburrying the past and bringing it back to present life does not inoculate people against non-culture, fanaticism or stupidity. But speaking about that past, instead, bringing it into the sunlight, could be the best pedagogy against further arising of hate and violence.

It was this purpose that made me grab this job. Finally, and to be sure that there are no doubts remaining about the sources I used to collect the elements I used to sustain the so called most polemic parts of my article on João Pinto Coelho and his book, I’ll leave you here a list, though a short one, of the consulted sources.

With my best regards

Miguel Carvalho



Sources consulted:


The Legacy of Jedwabne (2005)

Documentary on the massacre, which includes contrasted statements on the events occurred at Jedwabne, by 10th July 1941, enhancing a former Mayor of the council’s statement, Krzystof Godlewski, recognising his own change of opinion on the massacre of Jewish people by their “neighbours” hands which gave its contribution to bring back to the light his town’s hidden past. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zOdb9ythfE

Vecinos – El extermínio de la comunidad judía de Jedwabne (Critica)

In 2001, the historian Jan Tomasz Gross, born in Poland and naturalised as north-american, born from a Jewish father and Christian mother, wrote thin controversial book (Neighbours) describing with detail what might have happened at Jedwabne, pointing to circa 1600 Jews killed during the above mentioned events.

Jedwabne Memorial book (1980) – Yizkor Book Project

Containing reports, statements and episodes, told by the Jewish community of Jedwabne, throughout decades. https://www.yiddishbookcenter.org/collections/yizkor-books/yzk-nybc313798

A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair (2003) – Vintage Books

A book by Daniel Goldhagen, author of the also polemic Os Carrascos Voluntários de Hitler (Hilter’s Willing Executioners) . In this oeuvre are referred the massacres of Jedwabne and the way the Polish Government and the Catholic Church managed and broadcasted the events of happened in the northeastern Polish city.

Interviews, articles and declarations by the Polish journalist Anna Bikont, author of the  investigation The Crime and the Silence, on Jedwabne, placing the number of victims between 600 and 900 people. Here is an example: https://elpais.com/cultura/2016/02/17/actualidad/1455736429_759806.html

Jewish killing by Polish

https://www.haaretz.com/world-news/europe/.premium-1.770707 https://elpais.com/diario/2002/11/04/internacional/1036364412_850215.html http://www.nytimes.com/2001/03/17/arts/poles-and-the-jews-how-deep-the-guilt.html

Extremist and xenophobe protests

https://www.publico.pt/2017/11/12/mundo/noticia/dezenas-de-milhares-de-nacionalistas-marcham-em-varsovia-1792259 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/11/12/pray-for-an-islamic-holocaust-tens-of-thousands-from-europes-far-right-march-in-poland/?utm_term=.2d7f0bcb73d7 http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-41958199


“Sarajevo 1992 – Barcelona 2017” by Ricardo Alexandre


(translation by Cláudia de Sousa Dias from Público 30th September  2017)


In those last days of that 1992 Spring in Sarajevo everything – the military conflict, the siege – started with gunshots, aiming a peaceful protest at a wedding party. But would it be that impossible if something similar could happen in Catalonia? I’m not so sure about that.

Some Catalans are voting this Sunday in a referendum on independence of this country. I write “some”, because many of them may not be willing to do so ( a fact that was later confirmed on that Saturday) and some others may not be permitted to. In any case, the responsibility for this failure of using this basic civil right must be pointed in equal measure  to the huge amount of irresponsible procedure either of Spanish or Catalan governments. The latter, for the rushed and unclear way of approving the Transition Act, colliding with the Spanish Constitution of 1978, in the regional Parliament by a and narrow majority; and the former, to make this intransigent law, dictated by their own convenience and leaving no space for discussion, serving the interests of their safety-legal-informative apparatus built to impede the Catalan vote. A strategy that unveils an authoritative despair which seems to exhaustively demonstrate how decades  of democracy fail to eliminate structures and ways of acting which are typical of an era that the Transition Period was supposed to have put an end to.


Quoting the notorious Manuel Cartells, in his “Observatorio Nacional” in La Vanguardia (September16th): “For the Nation is easy to use its repressive potential; it is quite harder to control the consequences of an unjustified intolerance”. It is also obviously pertinent to quote another Spanish intellectual, Fernando Savater this Saturday 30th September in El País: “If in a referendum a bunch of people elect themselves to share [between themselves] what belongs to everybody (excluding all the other non-Catalan Spaniards) that has to be seen as a lack of democratic education. And the non-educated people are not exactly that one-third of young people who didn’t finish their studies or got professional training (the Quevedo’s “mistaken and robust youth”) but those who have a career and Phd’s, which [in their case] is as if they were illiterate”.




I think about the Balkans. That is something I keep doing frequently. I’ll be told, in that Spring of 1992,  Slovenian independence had already taken place as well as its short-term war, atrocities were already happening in Croatia, whose independence had been hurried by the Germans and the Vatican. And that Kosovo’s and Vojvodina statute of autonomy had already been revoked; and that the bad functioning of the Yugoslavian political system was structural (I wonder if the Spanish one works properly…?) and, obviously, that Mariano Rajoy is not Slobodan Milosevic. All truth. But…


Milosevic was not seen and known worldwide before he had become after. At the beginning of the nineties, he was nothing but an ambitious politician who ruled the party in the most important of the Republics of a federative nation whose territorial integrity he was trying to preserve. In 1992, there was a referendum on the independence of Bosnia-Herzegovina that wasn’t approved by a lot of people, including an international platform of jurists, the so-called Badinter Commission, especially because a significant part of the people – the Bosnian Serbs – was rejecting it. European countries and the USA supported and promoted the referendum (there is no information that anyone has done the same for the Catalan one). Then, they rushed in recognizing its independence (which triggered a civil war, nameless atrocities, massacres as no one could recall in European soil since Nazism, with consequences that last until our days, in the way Bosnia exists as a nation.


In those days marked by high temperature levels of animosity in that Spring of 1992 at Sarajevo, everything – the military conflict, the siege to the city – started with gunshots after a peaceful protest and gunshots over a wedding party – , would it be so impossible for it to happen once again in Catalonia, in a context where the nation power turns police against policeman and citizens? Very unlikely.


Catalan pro-independence faction got less then 48% in the election of 2015, which take them away the legitimacy to summon the referendum the way it did, and one can’t believe that Puidgemont could think that from the side of European institutions, there would have been any other answer other than the one obtained from the president of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani: “Catalans are Europeans because they are Spaniards”.

Retrospectively, I keep asking myself, why weren’t the Europeans so firm telling Croats, Slovens, Bosnians, Serbians, Macedonians and Albanian-Khosovars, that they were Europeans because they were Yugoslavs. Other times, other wishes. That changed.


Joan Tapia wrote in El Periódico da Catalunha on September 16th: “the pro-independence faction has gone wrong. The nation should not do the same”  Tapia is asking himself how could it be possible to manage two conflicting laws, both Spanish and Catalan, claiming something the nation itself has been missing, that is, intelligence on Law’s ruling empire.: “Implementing a law without intelligence would be a disaster. And these are troubling issues that can create a real mess. To prosecute 712 mayors who authorised the locals to vote when, at the precise moment they did so, it was legal (the Constitutional Court had not yet nullified the referendum law) and threatening them with the police would have been all but proportional.




In the same edition of the Catalan morning paper, I can read Emílio Pérez de Rozas:


«Stop talking about the family issue, stop talking about all the work involving the process and there’s a long time since I established the rule that if one goes out in the evening for a meal, one can’t mention this issue. I never believe that a family whatsapp group, another of friends and another one of office mates, would turn on themselves into the mother of battles . And I could never imagine that the pro-independence “wonderful nephew”, a lad capable of carrying the weight of the world in his shoulders, a college graduated, solidary as few, a legged one, would end up in assaulting  in the family’s whatsapp: until the time I remembered him I was the brother of his late father».


That means the Catalan process is already imposing walls, establishing red lines, between Catalans inside their families, cities and villages in Catalonia. With insults from both parts which can reduce the space for back of or for a calm debate looking for bridges between both sides. For Jon Subirats, a political scientist from the University of Barcelona:  


«We are in the middle of a digital lynching vortex. And the erosion of respect between members of family, neighbours and citizens is much harder to restore than political erosion (El País, 07.09.2017)».


And just like Pere Vilanova, the head of Political Science from University of Barcelona sustains “when one enter in a spiral of great instability”, expectations from both sides are tending to accelerate to the realm of  collective passion”. And how would the Galician and the Basques, Andalusian and Navarran feel after Madrid’s answer to the pro-independence challenge? Certainly with the need to restraint similar boldness but at the same time with one doubt haunting them: is this a country( or a plurinational state) that I wish to live in?


In this context, Rajoy has lost, dragging Spanish constitutionalists to their defeat. Contrary to his attitude,during the post-electoral negotiations, the President of the Govern has lost here a great chance to be silent. And quiet. And learning a lesson from the Iraqi Govern with the case of Kurdistan’s referendum. Or from his colleague Cameron with the Scottish case. But he wasn’t quiet. He stated even: “We will not accept what you are proposing, do not underestimate the strength of Spanish democracy, it is very strong, Spain is a great nation”. And with a threatening tone: “you will make us do what we don’t want to”.


Serbian nationalism is symbolised in a sentence proffered in Khosovo by Slobodan Milosevic in 1989: “you shall never hit a Serbian again” (after being presented to an old man, allegedly hit by the police, mostly Albanian, at the time).

Are these two rhetoric different? For all these reasons and more, there will be a bigger amount of Catalans willing to vote this Sunday.


If it’s true, as Juán-José Lopex Burriol in La Vanguardia states, “Each ruler – either by action or omission – let a hard but not irreparable issue to (grow) rotten”, I believe it makes even more sense Carles Casajuana’s statement in the same article from this morning paper’s edition:

«It is hard to see how could mutual good faith be restored without giving in anyway, the word to catalan people».

Between the pro-independence faction and the pro-constitution faction  “there can only be established a consensus in a single issue: the situation is grave and no one knows how it will end”, Iñigo Dominguez wrote in El País. And, in the end, Bosnia-Herzegovina is so near us.


See original text here:


From the weblog ANTOLOGIA DO ESQUECIMENTO by Henrique Manuel Bento Fialho, 31.05.2017

Original text here: http://universosdesfeitos-insonia.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/a-desgraca-arabe.html

A translation of “A Desgraça Árabe”: a critic/review on Considerações sobre a Desgraça Árabe (Being Arab) de Samir Kassir, a Portuguese translation by António Gonçalves for Cotovia Editions, 2nd edition, May, 2017.


When I travelled across Egypt sometime ago, one of the most frequent questions I remember having listened to among tourists is: “why do these people hate us so much?”. One can imagine the same question issued away in any circumstance by any heir of the Arabic culture, either living in Baghdad, Aleppo or Kabul. I’ve faced the same problem, one more time, recently, in an excellent essay by the Lebanese historian Samir Kassir (1960-2005), murdered in Beirut, in a car bomb attack.

In Considerações sobre a Desgraça Árabe [Considérations sur le Malheur Arabe, Paris, Actes-Sud, 2004; Being Arab, London 2006, Verso Books], Kassir asks “Why do they hate us”?, coming from a reflection on victimization which, in great part, has been building the foundations of the Jihadist radicalism, putting in jeopardy a progressivist assertion of the Arabic culture in the world. By declaring his secularity the author shows no constraint on quoting Nietzsche to place this islamization in Arabic societies at the stage of a “vision of the religion as a system of cruelty” fed by the cult of blood and death. Well, the main reason one ask ourselves about an eventual hatred that has been building walls between the East and the West is, in my view, connected to a terrible ignorance on the other, distorted, here, within the ethnocentric prejudice that every good thing must carry the label of the Western civilization.

History could easily dismantle the prejudice, especially in the case of Portugal where the Arabic presence left us cultural traces strong enough to prevent it from oblivion (such as the language of our everyday life to begin with). That was a long time ago, obviously, and now incapable of avoiding “that the European view over the Arabs is exempt of emotion” feeding, in the same proportion, the anger amongst the Arabs for no longer being [dominant, hegemonic] after having been for a long time”. This is so evident that even when something beautiful and positive arrives here coming from those regions, one tends to justify the fact with the Westernalization of those peoples.

One internalizes daily the idea of the Arab world as something crystallized, stagnant, usually obsolete, facing the West, though prosperous in some localized societies, yet closed to social liberties, sexist, world of multimillionaire princes and wretched people, politically unstable regions, nest of fundamentalists capable of spreading terror internationally. The attacks of 9/11 in 2001 just made things worse, also making us forget, just as an elementary example, that one of the main architects of such attacks was a Westerner friend, once presented by the North American press as a hero at the service of liberty while fighting the advance of USSR troops across the Afghanistan. We must never forget this. Always good to remind it.

The recent visit of Donald trump to Saudi Arabia, followed by a strategic passage to Israel, is more significant than it may look like, by unveiling the hypocrisy of the realpolitik that rules the international relations between Western capitalism and the Middle East. Indifferent to their people, the leaders on each side cynically shake each others hands right after signing commercial agreements in which show no concern to any concrete issue with reality, be it the Israeli-Arab conflict as a root of constant frustration to the oppressed past, the islamization of the Arab quest and the re flourishing of fundamentalism in the sequence of the invasion of Iraq or, as a consequence, the war in Syria and the evident inability of the West in dealing with the herds of refugees coming from the conflict zone. Quoting Samir Kassir‘s text: “These issues that odd the future are concentrated here: the dictatorship, always traumatic even after having gone, the foreign occupation and, due to the skidding of [that same] occupation, the blind violence, justified by religious messianism” (p.37). The massacre continues, yesterday in Manchester, today in Kabul, tomorrow who knows where.

The democratic deficit, non-Arab exclusive, is probably the most serious of the problems that are obstructing the future, perhaps due to the combination in the Arab world “with a foreign hegemony, mostly indirect, sometimes merely economic, but in some more cases, the most extreme – like in Palestine and, now, in Iraq – resembles a new colonialism (p.49). Can you imagine a gentleman looking at an amount of slaves while asking himself: why do these people hate me so much? Maybe for feeling impotent before the dominant force, maybe. But Samir Kassir’s message is optimistic, it is anti-victimization. Without reflecting the Arab world optimistic past, and despite illustrating it with examples of progress and multiculturalism the Western historiography tend to leave in the shadow, he doesn’t forget to point the causes and effects of a process of decadence and deterioration of practically the whole Middle East. How to overcome the era of wretchedness?

«This implies, at first instance, a re-perspectivation of the statute of victim or, in other words, a relativization of the statute of victims to which the Arabic societies got used to: no longer nurture the logic of power or spirit of vengeance, but accepting the idea that, in spite of the defeats, the twentieth century brought the Arabs a certain amount of conquests which allow the to participate in the march of the world. But it is also necessary, simultaneously, to reject the pragmatism rooted in this cult of victim: if one can not accept the ends justify the means to the powerful, one must also know how to reject that premise to the victims as well. In practice, it means not mixing terrorism with persistence, just because the West often confuses resistance with terrorism “ (p.130).

To overcome wretchedness it’s necessary that authors like Samir Kassir gain their voice, and their reflections enter in people’s conscience like a virus and then install itself against the ignorance fed by religious discourse. Every religious discourse, for it is always fed by the other‘s ignorance, even if coated with tolerance – shattering the singularity of the human individual, and also linking the same individual to a supposedly universal absolute.

H.M.B.F. Translated from Portuguese by Cláudia de Sousa Dias

28th September 2017


  • Mesa 2 : Thursday 23.02.2017 10:00 a.m.



Participants: Cristina Norton, Ignacio del Valle, Karla Suárez, Teolinda Gersão and Tony Tcheka. Moderator: Carlos Quiroga.

Theme for discussion: “Nós jogamos com as palavras que nos deram” (We can only play with the words we were given).

One of the richest debates of the whole event, at this international meeting which gathers Lusophone and Hispanic writers during five days in this coastal northern Portuguese small town, was precisely this one, moderated by the Galician writer Carlos Quiroga. The contributions of the Asturian novelist Ignacio del Valle and the emerit Literature Professor and writer Teolinda Gersão, as well as the Guinean poet Tony Tcheka, were especially interesting, due to their sharp thought, geopolitical up-to-date knowledge and awareness, as well as the highest discursive accuracy and pertinence in their communications. On the other hand, others chose a more intimist approach: Cuban novelist Karla Suárez emphasized the ludic dimension of role-play and the practice of word games on creative writing relating an autobiographical situation whilst the Luso-Argentinian Cristina Norton preferred to maintain her focus on the fringe between the fictive construction of a narrative and the also biographical component of memorial writing as a raw material to be transformed into a literary production such as the cultural and linguistic background that shapes one’s writing.

The authors’ communications (detailed)


Ignacio del Valle, born at the Spanish Asturian town of Oviedo, discoursed on “El género negro” (The Dark Novel/The Crime Novel) as a direct allusion to his own books, particularly the last one, called Cielos Negros ( Dark Skies or as in the Portuguese translation Céus Negros). Del Valle showed himself concerned with what he sees as the “bastardy” within this literary genre and simultaneously interested in the close relationship between fictional literature and reality. He explores this bond thoroughly in his novels, as he sees it as to be crucial to give veracity and credibility to a novel. One considers the building of a character’s self. Ignacio del Valle prefers broken, shattered, troubled characters when structuring a plot around failure, grief or treason. These issues trigger his impulse to write because he sees them as “vehicles that bring back memory as well as hope”. The author states that these emotions and attitudes function as “windows to one’s memory, conferring nerve to a novel”. His fiction is often full of allusions or intertextualities taken from the German Romanticim, the poetry of Schiller, the prose of Göethe. It all has to do with a spiritual attitude of self-overcoming:

«When one controls completely a certain theme one must look for another subject to explore, just like Picasso used to do in the Arts (sic). And when Art is also contaminated by politics, then Art is screwed1 (and so is Literature).

This author is also interested in the Gothic style and the element of the fantastic in Literature which usually inspires him and his writing just like the element of transcendence in Art does:

«I’m not religious , but I’m all for the transcendent. Humour is also important, because reality is so harsh in our daily life that one must use humour as a healer, as a way out. I’m also deeply concerned with psychological [or personality] traits of the characters: their motives, their obsessions with glory, their relationship with sex. And I do not make a [semantical-linguistic] distinction between past and future, any longer. It is always the present tense, surrounded by its ghosts. And the construction of evil, captivates me as well. In my novels, evil is obscure. If there is evil, it always shows itself mixed with goodness. You see, bad people in life are usually mediocre. But one needs big evil in an evil character so there may also exist a hero. In fiction, evilness must lead the reader to a catharsis. Good characters may not always be very clever but if the hero is stupid the novel will lose its interest. So, the villain must be really evil (which in real life only happens randomly) but always clever.»


Grabbing the verse that illustrates these panel, Teolinda Gersão, who conquered the Fernando Namora 2015 Prize and the Vergílio Ferreira 2017 Prize, initiates her contribution stating:

«No one gives us anything. One must must conquer everything [words included], by saying things differently, even if the content is the same. I feel attracted to borderline cases. For example, the approach of a bilingual person to a subject is different from a monolingual one. The fluency on another language opens our spirit and deepens the skills on our own mother tongue.»

This Author expresses her admiration for two Brazilian classic novelists, Machado de Assis and Guimarães Rosa, to confirm that “despite the language is the same [as European Portuguese] their [Brazilian variant’s] huge variations transfigured it.»

But according to Mrs. Gersão, not only from Linguistics lives Literature. It is also fed by multiple facets of life, and the way it is daily affected by an endless amount of factors. Mrs. Gersão explores some of them:

«I’m also interested in the unconscious. I often recommend the reading of Carl Jung to my students. I prefer [Carl] Jung to [Sigmund]Freud. Freud didn’t like people. And to be a good psychoanalyst one must love people.


Memory is something without which there can not exist such thing as Literature. The great subject in Literature is Time. Writers are witnesses of their own time. The greatest riddle [in Literature] are the questions without answer: who are we?, where does our path lead to?, why does evil exist?»

The Author refers the extreme “perversity” of Lewis Carroll’s most famous book, Alice in Wonderland, which troubled her a great deal as a child, precisely for not answering the riddles it posts along the course of the story:

« But this is why it is so fascinating, for giving the readers someone that is not expected.


Writing a crime novel will never seduce me. It is the questions which are still to be answered that interest me. The innovation also captures my attention. Following a certain model or a formula does not attract me, like José Saramago who stated that novel would cease to exist in the future and the tendency is that novels will become more and more like essays, a perspective to which I don’t agree) used to do and [António] Lobo Antunes still does. I would bore myself to death if my books had to follow a certain path. I must always change the focus, or the structure…The themes are always the same: death, violence, sex, contradictions in life…»


Karla Suárez – The Cuban author, who chose Portugal to live in, presented her latest novel Un Lugar Llamado Angola (A Place Called Angola, with the Portuguese translation Um lugar chamado Angola) the day before, speaking about the Cuban presence in that country by the time of the Revolution and the following Civil War. But Ms Suárez chose not to speak about her own book in her communication and preferred to tell us a story, illustrating a situation of her life: the ability of playing with words as a game, which writers particularly enjoy and are used to as no one else does. The novelist spoke about her nephew she was taking care of while her sister was working to prove how far the ability on writing words and creative sentences can be stimulated in our early childhood and can be determinant for one to become a writer or at least to love writing and the Literature itself: as her sister’s child kept interrupting her writing in progress novel all the time, she decided that the same time spent with him wouldn’t be at all productive so, she thought it would be a lot better to spent it in a much more fun, interactive and creative way: creating sentences, rhymes, etymological associations. As a result, the child became a complete enthusiast of language games, and at end of the day, the little boy was trying to convince his mother to give up from her job and join them in their games. This situation does not, however, surprise Karla for she is fully convinced that “writing is the territory of the real freedom”, alluding to a time and place where “one can easily write anything but publishing may become a problem” as she had said the day before during the presentation of her book. And this is why, in Karla Suárez‘ perspective, “playing with words and telling stories is “the best game one can play; and that’s why I intend to keep on playing it during my whole life”.


Cristina Norton is an Argentinian writer who chose to live in Portugal after marrying a Portuguese historian and also a writer. Being a descendant of a Polish jewish family, Mrs. Norton told us that her memory did not recall the words of her ancestor’s language, spoken by her family in Poland. Only her Slavic nanny spoke Polish but she only occupied herself providing her basic needs without many interaction, besides showing herself always obsessed with food due to the traumatic years hunger during the Great War. Besides her nanny, everyone in her family spoke to her only in Castilian and French. Her own father used to tell her there was “no use on teaching her a language that would not survive”. Cristina Norton sees writing as an act of immense solitude, although playing with words, which implies theatralizing, is not at all a solitary act. Reading the classics which inspired her, playing with their words until finding her own voice, her own”musicality” inside her speech, was still a long process. And after eleven books published, Mrs. Norton is still surprised with new shades in her speech arising. However, in all her books there are three elements which are recurrent: Argentina, Portugal and Judaísm. That means the spatial location and her cultural roots and cultural environment are always present on her mind. And about this last issue she cannot help noticing: “the most terrible moments in history have always had a huge level of stupidity”.


For Tony Tcheka, the writer from Guinea Bissau, who greeted us with “mantanhas” (compliments in Guinea Creole language), explains us that the Portuguese word “palavra” (word) in Guinea language, also means “license to speak” (just like in Portugal) but can also imply conflict, and even the refuse to dialogue:

“The ‘palavra’ (word) came to us through women’s songs, lullabies, and in the moments of leisure at night, beside the fire. The word goes to nowhere to illuminate the darkest nights. It is a learning process, this access to the word. To knowledge. It comes to us through the looms, through the clothery, by congregating a whole History, a whole past, as the Cuba clothes are weaved in Congo, a process during which there is always a sharing of knowledge between man and women» (while the latter weaves the cloth the former imprints it with the family and tribe’s stories).

Mr. Tcheka kept speaking about how the words are spread and disseminated through space and time and their freedom of expression and circulation in these “dreary times”:

«It seems like a contradiction but this is only apparent. The ‘palavra’ (word) and the access to it, and also the opportunity to speak is more necessary than ever in these dread times. The word contains itself a visa, allowing it to enter in every country, using the highways of information. This is the reason why Raduan Nassar’s (winner of Camões Prize 2016) words reached every newspaper around the world. These times of darkness favour subservience of the Word itself, its depreciation, giving place to the overrating of the SELF and, simultaneously, its standardization to the single totalitarian view of thought. These are times of darkness, in which we live in. In every corner of this planet. Today, in the summit of power, the populism and the corruption rule. These are dark, very dark times.»


During the debate, a question from the audience was cast away to the table and triggered a passionate discussion about the 1990 Orthographic Agreement for the Portuguese Language involving the members from the Lusophone Community.

Teolinda Gersão expressed her indignation and complete refusal on this document and its unnatural use for speakers and misuse application for writers, which was imposed for political reasons and not for linguistic evolution. As a Professor with deep knowledge of the language Mrs. Gersão emphasized the “nonsense on erasing the etymology, because doing so, and choosing to follow merely phonetic criteria in order to give voice to the speakers’ language most recent changes, also implies erasing a great deal of the Portuguese cultural identity, such as expressed, for example, in the local toponymy as well as other countless historical references. This may not be so important for a country like Brazil, whose bond to Latin is not so strong, having other cultural and linguistic references (which are also important), but this should not prevent the language to follow different paths in both countries, since the linguistic richness of a language lies in its diversity.

Tony Tcheka, though, presented a different, benevolent, perspective:

«For us, Guinea people, this subject is not a priority. This new Linguistic Agreement does not seem to me a complete absurd, in spite of not being for me a major concern.»

For Ignacio del Valle, Karla Suárez and Cristina Norton, all of them Castilian-Spanish speakers, the position of the Hispanic countries is mainly inclusive on this matter. That means, accepting the differences, new ways of writing, introduction of new words, unusual phrasical constructions and new ways of saying things without any kind of authoritarian imposition of a rigid orthodoxy to the whole block of countries.

The second question to be put to the table had a sentence from Cristina Norton as a starting point to be explored: ‘The most terrible moments in history had always carried away the highest level of stupidity’. The statement had emerged in the author’s previous intervention about thirty minutes before, in a direct allusion to the Holocaust and the Second Great War, in the Norton’s latest novel, O Rapaz e o Pombo (The Boy and the Pigeon) whose protagonist is a young Jewish refugee in America who faces racism at school. The author was asked if it could be traced any parallel between the situation lived by her character in mid-twentieth century and the refugees from the Middle-East in our times, with the implosion of democracies around the world, the western world in particular.

Soon after some minutes of diversion – some authors thought they were being asked whether there was some autobiographical elements in their novels, Tony Tcheka grabbed the question by its horns and pointed his argument to the target, expressing major concern about the problem in the Middle East and the rise of the shadow of several types of fascism across Europe. Immediately after the Guinea author’s answer, Teolinda Gersão and Ignacio del Valle agreed that we are now entering an era in which those who rule are now determining the meaning of the words. Teolinda Gersão is even more audacious by by quoting Adolph Hitler’s own discourse: “We [the Nazi Intelligence] are the ones who decide who is Jew”. Ignacio del Valle points out that in order to contain the beast of Nazism [or other forms of totalitarianism] Europe must keep united, since its fragmentation will make us weaker. And to Del Valle‘s statement “Necessitamos más Europa” (we need more Europe) Tony Tcheka clarifies and adds:

«The problem is that in Europe there are already too many “Trumpinhos” and “Trumpinhas” (too many little Trump Boys and little Trump Girls). And the problem is not only Europe. The problem is global. To Ignacio’s sentence “More Europe” I would say “More World”. We need to act now. While there is still time.»

Póvoa de Varzim, Thursday23.02.2017,

Cláudia de Sousa Dias

Claudia a tirar notas Mesa 2

(All Photos were downloaded from the “Correntes d’Escritas” oficial site of CMPVarzim)

1“Quando el Arte es también contaminada por la política, eso significa que el Arte se va al carajo” (sic)

“4:30 a.m.” by Charles Bukowski and a translation to Portuguese by the poet and actor Luís Beirão

Luís Beirão is a poet, writer, actor and performer who gave us a brilliant version of Bukowski’s magnificent poem. The visual interpretation is also his choice:

“4:30 a.m”


(image caught from the web, author unknown)

the fields rattle
with red birds;
it is 4:30 in
the morning,
it is always
4:30 in the morning,
and I listen for
my friends:
the garbagemen
and the thieves,

and cats dreaming
red birds
and red birds dreaming
and worms dreaming
along the bones
of my love,
and I cannot sleep
and soon morning will come,
the workers will rise,

and they will look for me
at the docks,
and they will say,
“he is drunk again,”
but I will be asleep,
among the bottles and
all darkness gone,
my arms spread like
a cross,
the red birds

roses opening in the smoke,
like something stabbed and healing,
40 pages through a bad novel,
a smile upon
my idiot’s face


Charles Bukowski
And now, Luís Beirão’s translation:
Luís Beirão, photographed by Ana Almeida Santos


Os barulhos do mundo
com passarinhos vermelhos
são quatro e meia da
são sempre
quatro e meia da manhã
e eu escuto
os meus amigos:
os lixeiros
e os ladrões
e os gatos a sonhar com
e as minhocas a sonharem
os ossos
do meu amor,
e eu não posso dormir
e em breve vai amanhecer,
os trabalhadores vão levantar-se
vão procurar por mim no estaleiro
e dirão:
ele está bêbado novamente,
mas eu estarei adormecido,
finalmente, no meio das garrafas e
da luz do sol,
toda a escuridão acabada,
os braços abertos como
uma cruz,
os passarinhos vermelhos
rosas a abrirem-se no fumo
como algo esfaqueado e a cicatrizar,
como 40 páginas de um mau romance,
um sorriso estampado
na minha cara de idiota.

Charles Bukowski (traduzido livremente do inglês)

“The Pathway of Snails” by Ivar Corceiro


Photo: “Snails on the road”, uploaded from Google 

Translation (from Ivar Corceiro’s original version in Portuguese “O Caminho dos Caracóis”) by Cláudia de Sousa Dias

Coming from the underground station of Sofiska Sveta Gora towards the building where I work at, a wound of concrete rips a path along some fields where plants are spreading in a chaotic, random way. As the tube passes by, spewing anonymous workers, one can see people walking along that wound, queuing, like isolated elephant herds.

I am, sometimes, one of those elephants: I always stare at the ground, trying not to step any one of these snails which struggle to flee from the dawn’s wetness. But not everyone is that careful, and that’s why one can hear the cracking of a shell once in a while. This trip usually lasts about twelve minutes, during which I’m chatting to the ones I miss most, within an inner silence, that belongs to no one but me and them.

Any time you buy a one way ticket to another country, you’re not simply travelling trough the distance, but also, and mainly, through ourselves. I’m now much more aware of myself than I was two months ago. I am now aware of how I react to solitude and to the “saudade”. I know now how to face that occasional hostility that sometimes comes out from a stranger and how to warm up in the kindness of someone else’s smile – I know now how I grieve without crying or how to smile without laughing; and I know most of all, who are the ones that constitute that part of me that remained in Portugal.

In a way, our body is as vital as energy and this is why chatting on my phone or through “messenger” can not erase the “saudade”. It helps, but it can make it vanish. The body here belongs to other people. Voices, gestures and smells always belong to others, because Bulgaria is still a country where people are other. The others.

When I once was a child, long ago, when I could never imagine myself one day moving to Bulgaria, I used to play that bottle cap game, with other children from my neighbourhood, in the backyard of an isolated building at Aveiro, in a very similar concrete path to this one where I am now passing by. By that time, João had once started to crush some snails whilst singing some tune I can’t remember. I hit him. And he hit me back. I’ve never seen him again, yet I still now he does not belong to that group of “others” that I’m referring to here. He belongs to those I call “mine”, and this is the first time I have this absurd feeling of belonging to a homeland.

I will also feel it towards Bulgaria, sooner or later. I perceived it from the instant I received a phone call from a stranger offering me a room when I was more economically vulnerable. I realised it with the first time a woman held me in her arms in one of those central parks of the town and also in the smile of the lady clerk of the Ministry of Interior, who helped me in filling the forms of the Immigration Services.

When you’re alone, every sign of kindness is a gold nugget that you find, and no matter how tiny it is, you can never forget it. I think about all this in a the morning, whilst avoiding one more snail to whom I wish luck with the treading of the elephants that keep walking after me. We are all so small and it is so easy to be crushed that in the end one should bear in mind that this is what really unites us all.

Final Note from the Author: I have no internet but in my phone and that’s the reason why I haven’t written more often in this blog It is not easy to type. I’ll try to do it more frequently.

Find the original post in Portuguese here:


A Poem by Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen

A Translation by Sonia Oliveira



We shall rise again from under the walls of Knossos/

And in Delphi heart of the world/

We shall rise again beneath the harsh light of Crete/

We shall rise again there where words/

Are the name of things/

And where outlines are vivid and clear/

Beneath the sharp light of Crete/

We shall rise again there where stone star and time/

Are the kingdom of men/

We shall rise again to look earth in the eye/

Beneath the clean light of Crete/

For one must shed light on the heart of man/

And raise the black preciseness of the Cross/

Beneath the white light of Crete.


From the original in Portuguese:


Ressurgiremos ainda sob os muros de Cnossos
E em Delphos centro do mundo
Ressurgiremos ainda na dura luz de CretaRessurgiremos ali onde as palavras
São o nome das coisas
E onde são claros e vivos os contornos
Na aguda luz de Creta

Ressurgiremos ali onde pedra estrela e tempo
São o reino do homem
Ressurgiremos para olhar para a terra de frente
Na luz limpa de Creta

Pois convém tornar claro o coração do homem
E erguer a negra exactidão da cruz
Na luz branca de Creta


And also the previously translated version of Richard Zenith in the year of Sophia’s death:

We will rise again beneath the walls of Knossos
And in Delphi the centre of the world
We will rise again in the harsh light of CreteWe will rise where words
Are the names of things
Where outlines are clear and vivid
There in the sharp light of Crete

We will rise where stone the stars and time
Are the kingdom of man
We will rise to stare straight at the earth
In the clean light of Crete

For it is good to clarify the heart of man
And to lift the black exactness of the cross
In the white light of Crete

© Translation: 2004, Richard Zenith