Aleks Farrugia disqualified by EU Literature Prize over SKS’s ‘Labour’ affiliation

SKS condemns disqualification of writer Aleks Farrugia by national jury of EU Prize for Literature

Aleks Farrugia
Aleks Farrugia

One of Malta’s main publishing houses has deplored a ban from the European Union Prize for Literature, for being owned by the Labour Party.

Labour’s SKS Publishers said it “condemned” its treatment by the EUPL after Malta Book Prize winner Aleks Farrugia (Għall-Glorja tal-Patrija) was disqualified from the EUPL shortlist.

The EUPL have claimed that the prize they award is “apolitical” and had to disqualify Farrugia because SKS is affiliated to a political party.

“This condition features nowhere in the award regulations the EUPL publishes on its website. It has never been mentioned or invoked before,” SKS said in a statement. “The award is intended for creative writers, not publishers. 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.

“But it seems to have been the way chosen this time by the EUPL – and by its Maltese jury which has colluded with the EUPL’s arbitrary say-so – when disqualifying Farrugia.”

The EUPL’s national jury is tasked with ensuring the prize is seen as “artistic” and not “apolitical”, and can exclude “any book which would put this principle in question”.

A European Commission source said that according to the EUPL guidelines, juries are advised “not to take authors publicly belonging to a political party or published by a publishing house owned by a political party. National juries have always the possibility to go against recommendations if they can justify their position. The Maltese jury did not question the recommendation of the consortium in this case. Those rules which have always been implicit considering the nature of the prize will be made more explicit in the future.”

Chris Galea performs a reading from Għall-Glorja tal-Patrija!: Kapriċċi Patrijottiċi (SKS) from #2020NationalBookPrizeMalta winning author Aleks Farrugia

The Maltese jury is composed of Arts Council Malta executive chair Albert Marshall as president, Prof. Stephen Bonanno, publisher Clive Perini, and radio host and book reviewer Rachelle Deguara.

SKS defended its reputation despite its party affiliation as having striven to achieve excellence in the publication of worthwhile texts in politics, economy, sociology, literature and history. “Though obviously publications with a political content were left-wing in scope, at no time did SKS seek to influence what its published writers wished to present, not just in creative fiction but across the board,” SKS said. “We would like to express their appreciation and solidarity towards Aleks Farrugia. He has been treated shabbily by the EUPL and in a way that contradicts the values of transparency and non-discrimination that the EU proclaims it stands for.”

On the 15 May, this year’s European union Prize for Literature will be awarded to emerging writers from a number of EU countries, including Malta.

Labour MEP Alfred Sant is demanding answers from the European Commission as to why writers nominated for the European Union Prize for Literature are automatically disqualified from the accolade if they have been published by a political party publishing house.

Sant, himself a prolific author published by SKS, tabled a Parliamentary Question to the Commission pointing out that “the particular condition excluding writers published by houses owned or affiliated to a political party does not feature in the rules published on the website of the European Union Prize for Literature”.