The Defiance of Celebrating Literature in the Midst of War

How this year’s Lviv BookForum in Ukraine became an act of solidarity.

Books are seen among the debris in Borodyanka, Ukraine, on April 6. HENNADII MINCHENKO/ UKRINFORM/FUTURE PUBLISHING VIA GETTY IMAGES


LVIV, Ukraine—One of the most profound images to come from the siege of Sarajevo was the stark image of the cellist Vedran Smailovic playing Tomaso Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor every day at noon, sitting elegantly and defiantly in black tie in the midst of the wreckage of Bosnia’s National and University Library.


The library had been bombed by Bosnian Serbs on Aug. 25, 1992, destroying 90 percent of its 1.5 million volumes of precious books, including rare Ottoman editions. A 32-year-old librarian was killed that night as she desperately tried to save books. The scene of book pages burning and ashes rising in the air was an indelible image of the cruelty of war and a symbol of cultural destruction.


The beautiful, Moorish-inspired City Hall building, called Vijecnica, which housed the library, was more than a place to find books—it was a potent symbol of multicultural ethnicity. That, above all, is what the Serbs tried to destroy: the cultural ethos of what made up Bosnia.


A similar phenomenon is happening now in Ukraine. Russia seeks to destroy Ukrainian identity, and that includes monuments, libraries, theaters, art, and literature.


First published at Foreign Policy. The full story is available here.