Writers Clara Obligado and Juana Salabert: There is no democracy without historical memory

The European project can still be saved if we say 'no' to bureaucratism and neoliberalism

Writers are different, some are interested in politics, some not. And the question is not whether you believe in politics or not. It would be worse to have no politics because then we will have to deal with dictatorship - and this is the worst of politics, say two Spanish writers who visited Bulgaria for a literary debate.

You both came to Bulgaria to take part in a discussion dedicated to the writer-reader relationship, organised by the Cervantes Institute. I would like to ask you not about how do you see your readers, but rather who do you want to see as your readers? For whom do you write?

Juana Salabert: I get in touch with my readers post-factum. I do not think about them at all when writing a novel. Because the novel is born out of my drive to write. Out of something I have already experienced, some story, some characters I have found. And it all happens months before this story is brought to life in a novel through language. But I do like to physically communicate with my readers after I finish the text.

Clara Obligado: Every writer has their own approach. In my case the readers themselves are building up the structure of my novel. Because I always think about a person who will read my text and so I am playing with them. This game defines the form of my texts. Actually I work with two types of Spanish - I am an Argentinian and for this reason my readers are bilingual. In fact, the reader whom I want to impress is I myself.

The Spanish community is rather split thanks to its recent and more remote past. How do Spanish writers look at this period, do they still see it as worth exploring?

Juana Salabert: I do not think that the past of a nation should divide it. However, your question strikes a personal note because I was born in France owing to political cataclysms in my country. The occupation of France by Germany and the Civil war in Spain - these events are ever present in my books, including the novels where the action unfolds in the present days. The death toll of the Civil war in Spain was a hundred thousand and these are only those buried in mass graves. These wounds will never heal if we do not tend to them. That is why it is so important to remember history. Some people would like to stop talking about this past. Reconciliation of the Spanish community is a good thing but there is no use denying this past, never! Franco is a murderer and the young people must know it. Knowledge about the past is a must if we want to live in a democratic society. And we, the writers, just like all other citizens of Spain, have our own demons and ghosts in our heads.

Clara Obligado: I am a product of the political developments in Argentina. That is why I am so sensitive when it comes to the historical issues or the division within the Spanish community. The subject of immigrants as another kind of fragmentation of society also excites me. The current marginalisation is hard to describe or understand. In Argentina, much has been done to preserve the historical memory and Argentinian writers have to pursue this goal. This is my personal theme - the mass graves in Spain. Yes, I do write about historical memory, about violence, the need to forgive and under what conditions forgiveness is possible. No one can be bigger than words, we have to talk about these things, let it out. Silence is tantamount to crime. And one more thing - it is not always possible to forgive but understanding is possible.

What does embarrass you most in the relations between men and women in the modern world, as women and writers?

Juana Salabert: I am not a 'chick-lit' writer. And I believe that it shouldn't matter who is the writer, man or woman. I have written many times about the relationships between man and woman in the family, about violence and conflicts in the family. I consider myself a feminist. And I think that the role of a woman is still changing. The writers, men and women, we are all writing about our environment.

On 28 April there will be parliamentary elections in Spain. Do writers feel involved in the political passions? Does the modern man have any hopes of politics or perceive it as the necessary evil?

Juana Salabert: I do not know whom can we call a modern person. There are so many different people. And the question is not whether you believe in politics or not. Politics is not the necessary evil. It would be worse to have no politics because then we will have to deal with dictatorship. And this is the worst of politics.

Clara Obligado: Writers are different, some are interested in politics, some not. I do feel committed and interested in the political processes and always voice my opinions in public. I believe that every author, as a citizen of a given country, should be committed and try to explain these processes. To me, politics is the indispensable part of our life. In recent years, however, the citizens feel that business rules over politics. This stirs high discontent and erodes faith.

Elections to the European parliament are also looming large in Europe, they are due in May. Do we all have common future as citizens of united Europe?

Juana Salabert: Back in 2015 I wrote a book about this particular issue. I was very pro-European and firmly believed in the united Europe. Currently I do not feel so certain about it. Not because I don't give credit to the European project, but because it has taken the wrong course. We have just to go back to the idea of the united economic community. At the core, the idea was fantastic. But what is not good is the way the Commission works. We do elect the Parliament but not the Commission, which meddles into the budget formulation of each Member State. This only fuels bureaucracy, populism and leads to abuse of power. The EU can still be saved if we all say 'no' to bureaucratism and neoliberalism, which are detrimental. And ensure freedom to the economic policies of every country. The European project is threatened by far-right populism.

Clara Obligado: I see Europe from the Latin American angle. Europe is a continent that witnessed many wars. The European project has managed to reduce tensions but in the sphere of culture Europe has lost its hegemony. Now it seeks to become a business leader. From the US we have imported money as the only value, and this is dangerous.

   

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Juana Salabert (1962) is a Spanish writer, literary critic and translator. She was born in France where her family fled after Franco rose to power, but she writes in Spanish. She majored in modern literature in Le-Mirail University of Toulouse. Her first novel Varadero was published in 1996 followed by other works, among them the novel Velodromo del invierno (1996) which brought her Biblioteca Breve et Avenir award. In her novels the action often unfolds against the backdrop of the Civil War and WWII.

Clara Obligado (1950) holds a licentiate in Literature from the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina. Since 1976 she has lived in Madrid, a political exile of the Argentine regime known as the National Reorganisation Process. She was one of the first to give creative writing workshops. In 1996, she received the Lumen Women's Award for her novel La hija de Marx. In her essay books she has addressed topics related to women and culture. In 2012 she won the Setenil Award with her short story book El libro de los viajes equivocados.

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