On the journey from Ljubljana to the Sanje festival in Brda, I was feeling rather tense, a little cynical, and helpless. We crossed the Slovenian-Italian border twice, as freely as the breeze, carrying hundreds of passports we did not need to show. But it would take me a little time to tune in to the soft green pleasance of the Brda hills and the collective excitement of the festival. If the Mediterranean Sea is shaped like a stork with outstretched wings, we were driving close to the tip of its elongated beak, but I was present and absent at once, following developments 2,000 km to the south, at home in Malta, closer to the bird’s flaming tail.
After six nights stranded at sea, the voluntary rescue vessel MV Lifeline, with 233 refugees on board, had finally been permitted to disembark, yet the captain Claus-Peter Reisch was appearing in court accused of 'registration irregularities'. He had bravely disobeyed orders to return the rescued people to Libya, and the institutional intimidation was shamelessly evident. Emboldened by the new fascist government in Italy, the Maltese authorities are actively persecuting NGO rescue ships: after a number of years operating from the island, the Seawatch3 had suddenly been forbidden from leaving the Marsa port, whilst the Astral of Proactiva Open Arms was now no longer permitted to resupply in Malta. The message being channelled is clear - solidarity, compassion, putting human life before the 'national' or 'European interest', are not only to be discouraged, but considered criminal activities. "Let them dream, let them drown" is now officially declared government policy. That morning, my body was travelling in the car, but my spirit was among friends and fellow activists showing support for captain Reisch, with banners and lifejackets in front of the courthouse in Valletta.
Rather than a shroud and graveyard, or worse still, a genocidal weapon, the Mediterranean can be a bridge of optimism and social justice across continents. In the current climate of trial runs for a hyperconnected fascism, it is becoming ever more strenuous to maintain a stance in favour of universal freedom of movement (as opposed to privilege of travel or elite expat experience). In my case at least, the sensual positivity and hopeful impetus which, back in 2009 whilst walking in Chliean Patagonia, breathed life into the Passport poem, risk petering out completely if I allow cynicism to control my thoughts and emotions.
My tension soon dissipated once we arrived at Vila Vipolze. Sanja Fidler and Brane Solce, tasked with setting the scene, had improvised a ‘Kontrola’ checkpoint just inside the entrance to the palace, transforming two tall display cabinets of old books into an airport security body scanner. Cue the simple yet exhilarating idea we had been seeking, after 24 hours circling in vain. The ‘scanner’, the two columns of open books, could also be a portal to the realm of literature and utopia. This installation would be an ‘anti-passport checkpoint’. After collecting their poetic ‘Potni list’ from reception, each visitor passes through the portal. Once through, they are greeted by a no-border guard (actors Miha Razdrih, dressed ironically as a blackshirt, and Ivan Peternelj as a Bedouin), who asks them for their
passport, flicks through it silently, then reads out a random line from the poem. "No need to be blinded by a retinal scan...", "No need to cross the Rio Grande...", "No one to squint or glare at you...", etc. In Slovenian, as generously adapted by Vera Pejović & Peter Semolič for Sanje. The no-border guard then returns the passport, and invites the visitor to continue towards the performance hall.
This soft bolt of lightning set the tone of my experience of the Sanje v Medani festival over the following three nights. The humble sense of welcome. The quiet boldness of being open. The courage of imagination we so badly need. We should unabashedly dare to dream, to believe in humanity’s capacity to overcome its inner demons and co-exist in creative peace. Poetry, music, and of course, a little shared wine (and long walks in a Brda landscape), can help us cultivate the faculties we need to be invidually and collectively humble, open, and imaginative.
One evening two years ago under the tent of Kavarna Sem in Ljubljana, my backpack was stolen, together with my real Maltese passport. I am deeply grateful to the Sanje team, and to Vera and Peter, for now handing me a much better replacement, a trusty multilingual companion to be filled not with visa stamps, but with dreams.