Politics against Poetry

The most important Croatian poetry festival Goran's Spring is fighting for its survival

Goran's Spring is the longest running and the most important poetry manifestation in Croatia which awards Goran's Wreath for poetic oeuvre and Goran for Young Poets, an award given for the best poetic manuscript written by an author under 30 years of age and which procures its publishing. Goran's Spring is a four-day event which has been held for several decades across Croatia, connecting Zagreb, Lukovdol (Ivan Goran Kovačić's birthplace), as well as other Croatian cities. During the last couple of years, the manifestation has become increasingly international, including in its main programme a considerable number of foreign poets (from Slovenia and Hungary, over France and Germany, to India, the US and New Zealand). Goran's Spring became a member of Versopolis, the influential European platform for promoting poetry, within which it hosted European poets and which enables Croatian poets to present their work at international manifestations in 13 countries every year. Every year, Goran's Spring hosts between 15 and 20 foreign and around fifty Croatian poets, publishes a comprehensive festival catalogue with poems by poet laureates and translated authors, a debut poetry collection by the poet laureate of the Goran for Young Poets award, as well as trilingual collections of poems by guest authors under the Versopolis platform, with a circulation of 1,000 copies. Goran's Spring is purely based on the volunteer work and enthusiasm of the programme committees in Zagreb and Lukovdol, as well as on the work of an extensive network of experts in the field of literature and philology – literary critics and scholars who sit on expert juries and translators without whom these kinds of events wouldn't even be possible. These are facts.
It is also a fact that the Ministry of Culture drastically reduced funding of the manifestation by two thirds. This news sent a message that could only mean one thing – shutdown of the manifestation in regard to its established significance and scope. At the committee's request, the Ministry slightly increased funding at the last moment, which meant that the manifestation could be held but in a drastically reduced form: the award money for Goran's Wreath was reduced in half, the funds were insufficient to cover the costs of the traditional trip to Lukovdol, as well as for the printing of the festival catalogue and other materials; the work was volunteer based even in the segments that were previously financially validated (the Wreath jury, photography, tech equipment), while the publishing of the awarded manuscript remains uncertain. The international part of the programme was given priority since the travel arrangements and translations were planned months in advance.
The Ministry of Culture responded to the criticism with a reply teeming with cynicism, falsehoods and bureaucratic platitudes. The cynicism is reflected in the Ministry's statements in which they nominally recognize the significance and importance of the Goran's Spring by “sincerely” congratulating this year’s laureates (without mentioning any names!) with a caveat that the festival has a significantly smaller public influence and value, proportional to the allocated funds. However, there’s no evidence to support these claims – except that the allocated funds are proportional to the overall, outrageously small budget allocated to all literary manifestation. But this too should be taken with a grain of salt since the funding of some manifestations remained the same while others received even more funding. The claim that “every year the Ministry in agreement with the organizers works on redesigning the format, increasing media presence and the quality of the manifestation” is, in regard to Goran’s Spring, a blatant lie because no agreement has been reached, while the notion that the reduced funds would influence the redesign or increase the quality of the manifestation is an absurd one. On the contrary, all attempts to communicate with the Ministry – always initiated by the Committee – have proven to be mostly one-sided and completely unproductive. There’s also the Ministry’s recommendation that Goran’s Spring, which has traditionally functioned within the student cultural association Ivan Goran Kovačić, should rely on other sources of funding – which points to the utter lack of understanding of the framework within which this manifestation functions, as well as to the tendency to shift responsibility for the public good, cultural heritage and the future of Croatian poetry onto market economy. With the platitude about “the impact factor” and the claim about the absence of “a rational and professional approach” in the organization of the festival, the Ministry wanted to give its words merit, but in fact it just propagates unsupported claims. 
The questions that remain to be answered are – who needs Goran’s Spring? Who needs poetry? Are there some who are bothered by the name and life of the great Ivan Goran Kovačić? Does the problem lie in the independent, rotating juries who cannot be manipulated? What is “the impact factor” which justifies the interest of the Ministry for a poetry festival; how does one measure it? Is it measured by the length of news coverage, commercial prestige, likes on Facebook, or by something else? Finally, is there any other poetry manifestation in Croatia which could be considered sort of influential and “more professional”? This year, Goran’s Spring was held for the 54th time. The manifestations has a huge symbolic capital at home and abroad, but current authorities do not seem to believe that the manifestation is worthy of public concern or funding. The same disregard, as it seems, is shown for the whole Croatian poetry and its rich heritage. Goran’s Spring managed to survive up to this day. And we will do everything in our power, on a voluntary basis, with poetry as our only interest, to keep it alive, despite cultural policies rather than because of them.