By Jože Biščak
Dear Supreme State Prosecutor’s Office and District State Prosecutor’s Office in Ljubljana,
even though you are the addressees of the letter, the letter is public because it concerns a much wider circle of people and organizations. They too will recognize my distress and trouble, I hope they will also selflessly offer me help with advice. Nevertheless, you are the first, because the matter is so serious that I can be stuck in jail for many years.
In the week that is coming to an end, two police officers visited me at home to hand me an invitation and conduct an interrogation in connection with the 5th continuation of Aleksandar Škorc’s gloss (humour-commentary), which was published in the magazine Demokracija on 3 December last year. As in the satirical text some recognized racism and incitement to hatred on racial grounds, criminal charges – under Article 297 of the Criminal Code – have been brought against the three of us: the author Aleksander Škorc, me as the editor-in-chief and Metod Berlec as my deputy. The prosecution apparently accepted the charges in a literal manner and initiated pre-trial proceedings.
As I face up to two years in prison, I found myself in a kind of purely human distress, in a very difficult situation. What should I do, how should I act? I do not have in mind the fate of the crime charged against me, but the development of future events that may happen until this summer. Since I really do not want further complications, another emotional outburst of Gregor Trebušak on Kanal A, angry finger-pointing by almost all media and moralistic outbursts of various non-governmental organizations, I ask you to help me. I will immediately explain what I have in mind. Let me emphasize beforehand that everything I will write below is truth, pure truth, and only truth. A word of honor, really!
Perhaps the literary voice of our publishing house Nova obzorja (which also publishes the magazine Demokracija) did not reach you, but the fact is that my book was published at the beginning of last summer – the science fiction novel Potovati z Orwellom (Traveling with Orwell). With this book, I was also invited to Fanfest, the Slovenian Festival of Fantasy Literature, at the end of September. Unfortunately, due to fear of coronavirus, I did not attend the meeting in Celje in person. Nevertheless, something unexpected happened, unusual for me, at some other time and place I would probably be very happy about it. And this is where the real story begins, a story that makes me ask you for help. In the form of advice, of course.
On Wednesday, November 25, 2020, I received an email from the Fanfest organizer. He wrote to me briefly, »Maybe you might be interested. An interesting project.« He attached a letter from the main organizer of international meetings of science fiction magazines, saying that for 2021 they are preparing an international competition of authors (short science fiction stories) from Eastern and Central European countries. I replied to him that I would participate and send him the story by the end of February (the official submission deadline is otherwise mid-April 2021). I haven’t done that yet. Why am I procrastinating? Please, dear prosecutors and everyone else, pay attention to the continuation of the story.
At first I thought you could choose the topic yourself, but the more I read the letter (from the Romanian organizer, who is organizing the competition this year), the more it became clear to me that the topic has already been determined. Well, I admit, it seemed kind of logical to me that the the organizer of the competition determine the theme so that not everyone would write something of their own choice, and then a wreath of unrelated stories would emerge from all of this.
It was written as follows:
»The theme is as follows:
– the year is 2020-2030 (you can select a year in that period);
– in an Eastern Europe country, a case of a new viral hemorrhagic fever appears;
– the disease spreads like wildfire and a lot of people are starting to die;
– soon the disease is spreading, but interesting, only in Eastern European countries;
– these countries are strictly quarantined by the rest of the world;
– the story is located in the country of the author.«
I said to myself, ok then, I confirmed the participation, thinking it’s science fiction, whatever I write will be a product of the imagination anyway, no one will take it seriously, not even literally.
But the beginning of December came and turned the matter upside down: a satirical text that was clearly marked as a gloss was recognized as a text that spreads and promotes racism. In fact, it’s hard to list all the individuals and organizations that have come forward.
Despite the fact that Eastern Europeans and Central Europeans are now a politically correct target because they are moving away from the »fundamental values of Europe«, I am asking you, dear Supreme State Prosecutor’s Office and the District Public Prosecutor’s Office in Ljubljana, for help. By answering the questions below, you will give me guidelines so that I would not find myself in any additional (pre) criminal proceedings.
Can I even take part in this international competition? I ask because the subject of the call is that the virus only kills a certain group of people (Eastern Europeans)? And if it kills a specific group of people, then it is a kind of genocidal or racist virus.
Could writing on this topic in any way be labeled racism and prosecuted (ex officio) for promoting and spreading racism and nationalism or inciting hatred on a national basis?
If you think I can participate, what would be your writing guidelines? Can I send you a story for preview to do some sort of review and give me permission with a promise not to persecute me? Is that possible, please?
If I can participate and if you don’t want to do a preview, how do I mark it to make it clear that it’s science fiction?
I’m thinking in the direction of adding a footnote in parentheses after each sentence written: »This is science fiction.« There will indeed be nearly a thousand such warnings in a short story, but this avoids unnecessary misunderstandings of »tearing out of context«. Do you agree?
I hope the letter isn’t too long and that I didn’t take too much of your precious time. If I did, I really sincerely apologize. I will be very grateful if I can get the answers as soon as possible. I am already in a hurry to submit a short story, I want to write it completely relaxed, without any filter between my brain and mouth. I am also interested in where such a filter is bought by writers who have recently whined around the world that they are forced into self-censorship. I would like the latest model, the prototype model of the future. One that would filter out what can still be written or said now, but will no longer be allowed in the future.
From all that has been said, which is the truth, the pure truth, and only the truth, you have surely realized for yourself the distress and trouble I have found myself in.
With the best of regards, stay healthy,
Jože Biščak, editor of the magazine Demokracija