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Stanislas Pierret, Counsellor For Cooperation And Culture At The Embassy Of France, Director Of The Institut Français De Serbie

French Serbian Autumn

It is our great honour to have been chosen as the Guest of Honour country at the International Belgrade Book Fair and our wish is for our appearance to reflect the fusing of French and Serbian culture – the confluence. We want this to symbolise the entire autumn period in Serbia, which many partner institutions from all over the country will help us achieve ~ Stanislas Pierret

This year’s International Belgrade Book Fair, which features France as the Guest of Honour, will be opened by Mathias Énard, considered one of today’s most important French novelists and the recipient of many awards, the most prestigious of which is the Prix Goncourt.

Also arriving as our guests will be Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, who’s well known to Serbian readers, but even more famous among theatregoers, as well as novelist Catherine Cusset and economist Julia Cagé. Belgrade will simultaneously welcome world-renowned economist Thomas Piketty.

“At the same time, this year’s Fair will provide an opportunity to recall the galaxy of francophone authors, which includes writers who not only marked Yugoslav art with their creativity, but are also well known in France, such as Yugoslav novelist Danilo Kiš and French comic book writer Enki Bilal,” explains Stanislas Pierret, cooperation and culture counsellor at the Embassy of France and director of the French Institute in Serbia [Institut français de Serbie].

One of your exhibitions is dedicated to Serbian publishers who champion French culture. How has it been received?

In light of the upcoming Book Fair, our wish was to highlight the importance of the work of Serbian publishers and translators, given that they represent the fulcrum for spreading French thought. We decided to work, in cooperation with them, to organise exhibitions in the gallery of the French Institute, through which we will present published translations of French and francophone authors. We entrusted the first exhibition of posters, which feature authors and citations from their works, to publishing house Akademska Knjiga [Academic Book]. That exhibition opened on the same day that the Embassy of France in Belgrade hosted the award ceremony to present the Order of Arts and Letters in the rank of Officer to Mrs Bora Babić, director of this publishing house, which has spent almost two decades successfully publishing important works in the fields of fiction and social sciences. Following this exhibition, we are planning another with other publishing houses with which we collaborate.

To what extent has this series of events triggered the interest of new and existing lovers of the French Institute and its media library?

We are led by the idea of expanding the audience, who don’t have to be exclusively francophone. There are many existing areas where our two cultures come together, and sport is certainly one of them, particularly considering the upcoming Paris Olympics. I was astounded when Novak Đoković triumphed at Roland Garros and spoke French at the award ceremony.

Nine bilingual Serbian-French language departments that are attended by students in six Serbian cities demonstrate the development of that cooperation and represent another symbol of the fusing of our two cultures

The very idea of speaking the language of the country that welcomed him, where he competes, demonstrates his respect for that country, and that can only be an incentive to strengthen our ties. And if it is even appropriate to mention myself at this moment, I will say that I’ve also been trying to learn the Serbian language since arriving in the country, and I’m glad to have reached a solid level, which I will improve upon.

Another area of your focus is the youth and their exploration of French culture. Could you provide information on specific events in 2023 dedicated to the younger audience?

Young people remain in the focus of our activities throughout the entire year, and that will also be the case at the book fair. We try to familiarise them with French culture through sports, games and workshops. Children were happy to visit the circus workshops that we organised in cooperation with organisation Cirkusfera.

We will organise events, workshops, book promotions, readings and games at our stand on a daily basis, through which youngsters and their parents will be able to learn more about the French language and culture. I’m glad that the guests of the fair will also include famous French authors who’ve already found their place among young readers: Magali Le Huche, Florence Aubry and Tony Valente.

As we are all aware, sport, tourism, and gastronomy will also be in your focus. What role does the institute play in promoting the upcoming Olympic Games, which will take place in Paris in 2024?

We plan to sell books in French at our stand, which will also include books addressing the fields of tourism, sports and gastronomy. We would like to organise meetings with athletes. We are also planning to hold discussions about books dedicated to athletes, with the authors in attendance. One such book was published in France recently and we hope it will be translated into Serbian. The work in question is called Le Nageur (The Swimmer), which author Pierre Assouline dedicated to famous French swimmer Alfred Nakache, who was a champion in the interwar period and a participant in the Olympic Games, and who was deported to Auschwitz at the peak of his career, only to return. The book addresses the topics of overcoming oneself, resistance and the fight for survival, and represents a genuine life lesson in courage and endurance that we can only be given by great athletes.

The French language promotes values that are vital in today’s unstable world: liberty, exchange and tolerance. French is the official language of the Olympic Games and an influence vector around the world

We also plan to promote the Illustrated French-Serbian dictionary of sports, which will be published prior to the Fair by the Faculty of Sport and Physical Education of the University of Niš.

The rise of AI and its impact on various forms of culture is a widely discussed topic globally, including in Serbia. How are French cultural institutions, publishers and artists approaching this particular subject?

At the start of this year’s Book Fair, Serbian publishers will organise a professional summit and panel debates with French publishers, but also with representatives of other institutions related to books and publishing. We were happy to respond to the call for us to bring competent French representatives to participate in themed discussions. The themes to be discussed will include piracy in publishing, intellectual property rights and, of course, the ever more topical theme of artificial intelligence.

French culture is accessible in Belgrade, Niš and Novi Sad. Have you been considering expanding to other cities in Serbia?

The French Institute in Serbia can boast of the fact that it is a unique foreign cultural institute in Serbia in that it has branches in as many as two cities: Novi Sad and Niš. Our desire is to organise our activities nationwide across the country, to collaborate with representatives of culture in all Serbian towns and cities. After Čačak, which is this year’s Serbian capital of culture, we expect to also develop cooperation with Užice next year, which will carry this same title in 2024.