This year the poetry festival called “Struga Poetry Evenings” (“Strushki vecheri na poeziyata”) celebrates its 50th anniversary. It is one of the most prestigious poetry festivals in the world. It turned out that the two neighboring cities, Struga and Ohrid, known for their local rivalry created two equally competitive and excellent international arts festivals: Struga Poetry Evenings and Ohrid Summer.
Struga Poetry Evenings started in 1962 with a series of readings by Macedonian poets in honor of the two brothers, Konstantin and Dimitar Miladinov, teachers and writers, born in Struga in the beginning of 19th century. Konstantin Miladinov is considered the founder of modern Macedonian poetry. Every year the festival opens with a reading of the famous lines from his “Longing for the South” (“Tyaga za yug”).
In1963, when many poets from all over Yugoslavia joined the festival, the “Miladinov Brothers” award was established for the best poetry book published in Macedonia since the previous festival.
By 1966 the festival had turned into an international poetry event and, consequently, an international poetry award called “The Golden Wreath” was established. This prestigious award is given to a world-famous living poet for his oeuvre.
In the 50 years since its inauguration, the event has drawn more than 4,000 poets, translators, essayists and critics from 95 countries. Four winners of the Golden Wreath have also won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Pablo Neruda became the Nobel laureate in 1971, for a body of work that “with the action of an elemental force brings alive a continent’s destiny and dreams”. He went on to receive the Golden Wreath a year later. In 1973 and 1975, Italy’s Eugenio Montale won the same two awards, but in the reverse order. The 1987 Nobel Prize winner, Joseph Brodsky, won the Golden Wreath in 1991. Ireland’s Seamus Heaney was honoured at Struga in 2001, after receiving the Nobel Prize in 1995. The beatnik poet Allen Ginsberg who was awarded the Golden Wreath in 1986 was surely one of the most influential voices of his time.
The 1971 Golden Wreath was awarded to W. H. Auden. “I was here when the wreath was presented to Auden – in his carpet slippers – and I have the fondest memories of the Festival itself,” the US poet W. S. Merwin, the 2005 Golden Wreath winner, said. “Nowhere in the world have I seen a deeper and more unquestioned and natural love for poetry, both as literature and as the current of imagination, feeling, and compassion within us than I have seen here in Macedonia.”
The festival is famous for the spectacular events that attract the citizens to come out in huge numbers and greet the poets from all over the world with their hospitality. “The Meridians” and “The Bridges of Struga” readings traditionally open and close the festival. The latter is held on the bridge near the spot where the river Drim flows out of the Ohrid Lake. The portrait of the Golden Wreath laureate is traditionally held in Ohrid, in St. Sophia Cathedral. A boat trip across the Ohrid Lake and a visit of the St. Naum Monastery is also part of the established program.
The two multimedia events combining poetry, music and video called “Nights without Punctuation” feature experimental forms of poetic presentations.
Symposia on diverse and attractive topics and a translation workshop are also part of the working program. Every year the festival publishes a series of books in order to promote poetry by foreign authors to the Macedonian readership, thematic anthologies of contemporary Macedonian poetry and different national or regional poetry anthologies.
Not only did the festival survive the fall of Yugoslavia, war in Bosnia, political and economic embargos, closed borders, Kosovo crisis, and ethnic disputes in Macedonia in the 1990s and early 2000s, but it also played an important reconciliatory role by promoting peaceful politics.
The festival organizers say they are committed to further developing, modernizing and enriching the content of the event, despite the difficulties of the period of transition which the region has undergone. In 2003 Struga Poetry Evenings and UNESCO established a close cooperation and jointly promoted a new award called “The Bridges of Struga” for the best first poetry book by a young author from anywhere in the world.