Dušan Šimko: Košice is important to my literary work

Life brings about various paradoxes. A book on Košice by an author born here, but living in Switzerland, coming out in its Czech version, might as well be one of them. It surely, however, is not the only one in life of the writer and publicist Dušan Šimko.


In a few weeks, your book Košický maratón (The Košice Marathon) will have been published in its Czech translation. Could you tell us more about it?
It is a short-story debut of mine. It was first published as Maratón Juana Zabalu (Juan Zabala’s Marathon) in 1984 in the exile-publishing house Rozmluvy based in London. I worked my way among authors such as Milan Šimečka, Jan Beneš, Václav Havel a Milan Kundera. All stories in the book tie to Košice.
After the fall of the regime, a reprint of the book came out from Východoslovenské vydavateľstvo in 1991. In 2004, a superb Hungarian translation by F.Kováts Piroska was published in Kalligram publishing house. In October 2008, the Czech translation by M.Zelinský came out in Volvox Globator publishing house, in the edition called Symposion (www.volvox.cz). My exile published Alexander Tomský (Rozmluvy) returned to Prague in 1991 and directed Academia publishing house for some time. I convinced him to start publishing works of Sándor Márai, a native to Košice. His books have been coming out in the Czech translation ever since.

You have been living in Switzerland since 1968. Do you still perceive yourself as a person native to Košice?
I am native to Košice. My city of birth represents an “Archimedean point“in my life. It is also important to my literary work. My debut Slovak prose – Gubbio – kniha udavačov (Gubbio – book of informants) works partly with Košice as a theme. It will be published at Daniel Rybár’s publishing house in March 2009. My grandfather’s house is on Mlynská ulica. My grandfather, Mudr Ľudovít Šimko founded the ENT wards in the Košice State Hospital. My late father, Mudr Štefan Šimko, who was head of surgery, started a burns unit in Šaca hospital. By the way, Jakub Moškovič (1838-1902) who worked as an official city doctor is one of my predecessors, too. Now, Košice is a place where my parents’ graves are.

What fascinates you about this city most?
It would be the multilingualism and multiple levels of culture, which have altered over time, but still survived the numerous historical catastrophes that befell the city.

How did you feel when you found out Košice would be the European Capital of Culture 2013?
I was overjoyed and felt hopeful that would lay solid foundations of a dynamic and critical-thinking urban culture that would be sustainable and would engage all people living in it.

On what should the city focus when it presents itself in the direction of Europe?
I think it should build on the creative legacy it has worked up through coexistence of various cultures and multilingualism.

We have been collaborating with Schengen very intensely. We would like to become a city, which presents culture from beyond the border to people in Schengen. What is your perception of such a goal?
Boundaries in culture equal mental boundaries, which usually survive longer than the actual political and geography borders. Our city has all prerequisites to become a center of communication between the East, West, and the Pannonian cultural space.

What do boundaries mean to you?
I could not visit the city of my birth between 1968 and 1989. Boundaries attained harsh and absolute meaning due to bureaucracy of the realistic socialism. For this reason, I valued open borders around Switzerland for two decades even more. Basel lies by the river Rhone, almost miraculously on the border between the German Baden and the French Alsace. Considering Košice’s vicinity to the borders with Hungary and Ukraine, it is slowly developing a similar status.

Dušan Šimko (*1945, Košice)
Slovak writer, publicist, dean at the University in Basel, Switzerland. He has been living in exile since 1968. More information at http://www.litcentrum.sk/40004

Roman Sorger

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