‘We defended SKS as publishers’ says jury chair Albert Marshall over EUPL disqualification

EU literature prize disqualification: Maltese jury that presented short-list to Brussels says it went back to EUPL with letter justifying SKS’s record as publisher

Aleks Farrugia (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Aleks Farrugia (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

The Maltese jury for the European Prize for Literature has said it was ‘Brussels’ which took the decision to disqualify National Book Prize winner Aleks Farrugia from its shortlist for the EUPL, over the fact that his book Għall-Glorja Tal-Patrija is published by Labour-affiliated publishers SKS.

But it defended the corpus of work published by Sensiela Klabb Soċjalisti, in a letter to the EUPL detailing the corpus of work it had published and which included both works of fiction as well as political and party publications.

Jury chair Albert Marshall, who took the place of poet Leanne Ellul after she resigned the post, said it was the EUPL which confirmed that it would not accept an SKS publication because of its party affiliation.

Albert Marshall
Albert Marshall

The disqualification has caused some consternation in Malta’s writing and publishing community, with Labour MEP Alfred Sant formally protesting the disqualification.

The EUPL’s governing body in Brussels has said the prize they award is “apolitical” and had to disqualify Farrugia because SKS is affiliated to a political party. But this requirement is not clearly stipulated in the rules of the prize.

“You will understand,” the EUPL governing body told Alfred Sant in a letter, “that the apolitical positioning of the Prize is indispensable as we work together with the Parliament, the Council and the Commision to promote the emerging authors selected by independent juries in the participating countries.”

The EUPL prize is financed by the European Commission’s Creative Europe programme, and the EUPL consortium itself is composed of the European and International Booksellers Federation (EIBF), the European Writers’ Council (EWC) and the Federation of European Publishers (FEP).

But Malta jury chairman Albert Marshall said it was not the national panel’s decision to disqualify Farrugia. “In the rules we were given, nowhere was it stated that the nominees had to be ‘apolitical’... it was the EUPL itself that informed us after we presented our short-list, that the award was ‘apolitical’ and that therefore we could not forward Farrugia’s book in the short-slit.”

Two other authors in the short-list were also removed by the EUPL: Gioele Galea’s In-Nar Għandu Isem, which the EUPL did not deem as suitable for the fiction category, and Clare Azzopardi, for having authored more than the EUPL guidelines’ “two to four fiction books” criterion.

The jury’s names were recommended to the EUPL by Creative Europe Desk Malta, as the national representative of the EC’s Creative Europe desk. The jury was solely responsible to present a short-list of five books to the EUPL for them to vet according to their rules.

“Their feedback was that we should not consider these three books (Farrugia, Galea and Azzopardi) and that we were told that as a European prize we had to avoid any suggestion of political affiliation... but this requisite was not part of the online rules as were made available to us,” Marshall said.

Marshall told MaltaToday that the jury defended SKS’s work in a letter sent to EUPL to question their decision. The EUPL still insisted on the disqualification.

Farrugia’s disqualification was deplored by SKS, which pointed out that the condition featured nowhere in the award regulations the EUPL publishes on its website. “It would be totally unacceptable if the EUPL attempts to constrain the freedom of writers to choose what to say, how to say it and where to say it. That is not the European way.”

While SKS listed some of its celebrated works of fiction and translation, the publishing house was primarily instituted in the mid-1980s to publish works on Labour Party history and propaganda. MEP Alfred Sant, one of its founders, wrote its first publication. In the 1990s and later, it published works based on journalistic investigations that took the Nationalist administrations of the time to task.

National Book Council chairman’s statement

Mark Camilleri, the executive chairman of the National Book Council, expressed surprise that Marshall as executive chair of the Arts Council, got drawn in to preside the jury. “As far as I know, the local administrator is the Akkademja tal-Malti. The Akkademja tal-Malti is not a representative organisation of local authors – it used to be the language academy before it was replaced by the Language Council. It took the opportunity, back then, and rightly so, to join the European Writers’ Council and manage the Prize in the absence of a proper authors’ organisation in Malta. The National Book Council has never had any objection to this.”

Camilleri said the National Book Council has been trying to get a seat in the European Writers’ Council, without prejudicing the Akkademja tal-Malti. “However we were negated this opportunity on the grounds that we are a government entity. These grounds can be easily appealed if the legal reforms we are proposing to the Maltese government are approved.”

The reforms were presented by the Writers’ Congress convened in September 2019 by the National Book Council.

But Camilleri said the Book Council could not take a position on the EUPL. “The National Book Council may change the rules of the Prize if we are members of the EWC. This step is only possible if the government accepts our legal proposals. My proposal to you is simple: we should leverage this situation and ask Brussels to commit themselves to increase the funding for the EUPL on certain conditions.”

Camilleri said this should be discussed at the next Writers’ Congress on 29 May.