Reading and Discussion: Freedom of Literature. Literature of Freedom

What can literature do in times of war and crisis? How can literature as an artistic form and participant in discourse convey freedom? How free is literature in autocratic countries? And how free is literature in democratic countries where she has to follow the mechanisms of the market, of self-dramatization and the politics of subventions and grants?

The event will focus on the role and difficulties of literature in contemporary society. Between war, crisis, democracies in danger, subordination to the market, transformation to the digital age, and the emergence of new cultural formats, literature`s cultural (and moral) supremacy, function, and role in society changes. Especially in countries where populist and authoritarian forces are gaining power, however, there is a simultaneous call for new narratives not only in politics but also in literature.  

The panel will discuss the situation in Ukraine and Poland in particular. It will be a mixture of reading and discussion. First, texts on the war by the Ukrainian writer Serhji Zhadan, who is currently in combat, will be read in German translation by Burgtheater actor Nils Strunk. Afterwards, two extraordinary, socially engaged writers will read from their works in the original language: the Ukrainian writer Kataryna Babkina and the Polish author Sylwia Chutnik. Babkina herself had to flee the war in Ukraine in February 2022 and is now living in Poland. Sylwia Chutnik has been advocating for the rights of LGBTiQ people as well as refugees in Poland for years. The reading will be followed by a discussion among the participants about the questions of the event with insights into the personal experiences of the authors.

Translations in German and English will be available for all texts read.


Kateryna Babkina is a Ukrainian poet, prose writer, columnist, screenwriter, and playwright. She's the author of four poetry collections (Lights of Saint Elm, 2002, The Mustard, 2011, Painkillers and Sleeping pills, 2014, Charmed for Love, 2017, Does not hurt, 2021), a novel (Sonia, 2013), a novel in short stories (My Grandfather Danced the Best, 2019) and two collections of stories (Lilu after you, 2008 and Happy naked people, 2016). She has also written three books for kids (The Pumpkin year, The Hat and the Whale, and Girls Power (co-authored with Mark Livin), which are very popular in Ukraine. In 2018 she was the first Ukrainian author to have readings in The Library of Congress (USA). Her writings have been translated into English, Swedish, Polish, German, Hebrew, French, Spanish, Romanian, Czech and Russian. Her plays have been staged in Kyiv, Vienna and Geneva. She has written columns for Esquire Ukraine, Le Monde, Harper's Bazaar and other magazines. In 2021
Kateryna Babkina won the Angelus Central European Literature Award. Kateryna Babkina, her daughter and her mother fled Kiev because of the war in February 2022, their journey to Wroclaw, where they now live, took five days.

Sylwia Chutnik is a Polish writer, publicist, social activist and promoter of reading. She holds a PhD graduated from Cultural Studies and Gender Studies at the Warsaw University. She was a lecturer at the Institute of Polish Culture at the University of Warsaw and at the Writing Machine – the school of Writing. Further she is columnist of "Polityka", "Pani", "Wysokie Obcasy", "Gazeta Stołeczna"and many websites. She co-hosted the literary programs "Cappuccino with a book" and "Forget- recovered" in TVP Kultura. Her texts appeared in collective books and in many catalogs for exhibitions of contemporary art and theater programs (including the Grand Theater - National Opera, Gallery Bunkier Sztuki, Nobel Museum in Stockholm). Scholarship holder Homines Urbani 2008, Institute Books from Lithuania 2009, Ministry of Culture and National Heritage 2010, City of Warsaw 2010, Goethe Institute 2010. She is part of Olgas Rok Award Committee, "Polityka" Science Awards Civic Committee and Feminist Fund Committee, and is lead singer in punk band Zimny Maj. She has two podcasts: Radio Sylwia and Elgiebete TV.

Nils Strunk is a German actor and part of the Burgtheater ensemble. He grew up in Lübeck and completed his acting studies at the Ernst Busch Academy of Dramatic Art. This was followed by engagements at the Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz, the Deutsches Theater Berlin, the Staatsoper Unter den Linden, the Staatstheater Wiesbaden, the Residenztheater in Munich and the Volksbühne Berlin. He is a founding member of the Neues Künstlertheater Berlin. Nils Strunk is also a musician and composer of stage and film music and made his directorial debut at the Staatstheater Karlsruhe in the 2020/21 season. At the Burgtheater he can be seen in the title role of Schiller's DON KARLOS since the 2019/20 season. He joined the Burgtheater ensemble at the start of the 2021/22 season.

Serhiy Zhadan is an Ukrainian writer from the Luhansk region in Eastern Ukraine. He studied German literature, earned his doctorate with a dissertation on Ukrainian futurism, and has been one of the defining figures of the young scene in Kharkiv since 1991. He made his debut at the age of 17 and has published twelve volumes of poetry and seven works of prose. For The Invention of Jazz in the Donbass, he was awarded the Jan Michalski Prize for Literature and the 2014 Brücke Berlin Prize (together with Yuri Durkot and Sabine Stöhr). The BBC named the work "Book of the Decade." Zhadan lives in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Currently, he is actively fighting in the war in Ukraine and has written numerous texts about the war in Ukraine since 2014.
[not present in person]

Magdalena Baran-Szołtys is a scholar of Slavic and German studies, literature and culture. She works as a postdoctoral researcher at the Research Center for the History of Transformations (RECET) and at the Institute of Contemporary History at the University of Vienna. In her research she deals with travels, Austrian Galicia, memory cultures, postsocialism, narratives of inequality and transformation, the relationship between literature and politics, and the social and cultural history of East Central Europe.


In cooperation with the Burgtheater Wien.