Friday, December 19, 2008

One World Festival, Bratislava, Slovakia, 14.-16.11.2008

One World Festival website


I have inexplicable bad luck with Slovakian food, as plates of over-salty food continually arrive in front of me. Either that, or the local food culture is very original. I also buy some spring water for the hotel, which turns out to be mineral water and very salty, Slovakian-style.

The remnants of the saltiest pasta in my life

My first dining experience in Bratislava, however, is a lunch at the Finnish Embassy, courtesy of the Ambassador, Mr Jukka Leino, and his wife. I left Istanbul early in the morning, and when I finally arrived at the Ambassador’s residence via Munich and Vienna, feeling more than a little stunned, I'm dying of hunger. The soup is excellent and quite balanced in terms of the salt level. The salmon is also ok, but there’s a salty slice of bacon on top of it. And I don’t eat so-called red meat. The bacon is taken away from my portion, but it remains, shrivelled from all the salt, as a ghost haunting my tired mind. From there onwards, all the dining in Bratislava goes downhill.

With Ambassador Jukka Leino and his wife Eva on the recidency's balcony on the banks of the Danube

I got to know Jukka Leino in New York, where he was working as the Finnish Consul. I organised a Finnish documentary film event, Norden Exposure, in New York in 2002, and it was supported strongly by the Finnish Consulate, headed by Jukka and the Attache Ilkka Kalliomaa. In Slovakia, Leino clearly wants to invigorate and support the presentation of Finnish culture, which sounds grand and is warmly embodied in his generosity this evening. Amongst the dining, Leino also introduces the interesting historical and geographical location of his residence: the Donau flows before it and, from the balcony, one can see directly to both Austria and Hungary. During the Communist era, many Czechoslovakians attempted to swim across the Donau to the West from this point, but were most often shot dead on the shore. A memorial has been erected nearby, which has the names of those shot in the Donau carved on it. It’s an excellent site for a human rights festival.

The festival is a positive surprise in many ways, and reminds me of the Lithuanian Human Rights film event. The programme consists of many great, well-known films, which at least mildly touch upon the human rights theme. Who knows how many times I have been to a festival with the same set of films, such as A Jihad for Love, Septembers, Up The Yangtze and Taxi to the Dark Side. Altogether 80 documentary films are presented at the festival. The films also interest the audience and the screenings have a strong turnout. The festival organisers estimate that the 5-day festival will gather 20 000 viewers, which is an incredible feat indeed.

The festival welcomes you

The discussion with the audience is also rewarding. For each festival we compile an information sheet on the country’s collaboration with the Turkmen dictatorship, which is also the case with Slovakia. The Slovakian foreign minister has instigated discussions with the Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov on developing trade between the two countries, and the collaboration began promptly. It is a common trend worldwide, and in Europe as well: very different states are all lurking for opportunities to collaborate with the oil-and-gas-rich Turkmenistan. Human rights issues are ignored. The plans for new gas pipelines create an even bigger urge for negotiations with the Turkmen president. The surface-level changes made in the country (the human rights and freedom of speech situation has in fact remained the same), as well as the president’s “facelift campaign” have increased the “security” as well as the sex-appeal for collaborating with this totalitarian state.

At the post-screening panel discussion

Some officials are very interested in our film, and the information on the Turkmen-Slovakian relationship. The head of Amnesty in Slovakia sees the information as a call to action. They have a meeting with the foreign minister within a couple of weeks, and aim to add to their list of issues the situation in Turkmenistan and the various problems involved in trade with dictatorships.

Bratislava’s One World is not a competitive festival, but the audience award is given out here as well. Apparently, the audience has taken a liking to our film, as it rises to second place in the poll. A film set in the Congo is the winner, which, unfortunately, I don’t manage to see. The sad fact when it comes to festivals is that (unless you’re a member of the Jury) the more activities there are for yourself and the film, the less opportunities there are for seeing other people’s works. It is often embarrassing, because at festival’s one constantly meets with new authors whose films one would like to see. In other words, the more you travel the more films you want to see. For someone having grown up in a Lutheran community it starts to pray on one's conscience.

The beautiful Slovakian banknotes will be replaced by the Euro in early 2009

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