The Belfast Debate on Europe will gather leading writers, experts, public intellectuals and representatives of civil society from Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and Great Britain as well as mainland Europe, especially from the German-language realm and Central and Eastern Europe.

In speeches, panel discussions and literary readings, themes of borders, conflict and community will be explored from both the local and a broader European perspective.

In the wake of the political drama surrounding Brexit, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has become headline news. But while the “backstop” has been a crucial part of the Brexit negotiations, the EU demand that the border between the North and the South will remain “invisible” has largely been discussed without historical background or context.

By making the European dimension of the Northern Irish issue visible and discuss this regional conflict in the context of similar divisions elsewhere, for example in the Balkans, the Belfast Debate on Europe will not only bring new perspectives into the local debate but also contribute to a truly transnational exchange about the future of Europe across borders and other dividing lines.

In addition to the S. Fischer Foundation and the German Academy for Language and Literature, partners include the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen’s University Belfast, the John Hewitt Society, Times Literary Supplement and the Tangerine.

All events free of charge. No booking required.


Friday, 13 September

Ulster Museum



Reading: Michael Longley

Perpetual Peace?
What Happened to the Idea of the EU as a Peace Project?

A discussion between Katy Hayward and Basil Kerski
Moderator: Misha Glenny

Saturday, 14 September

Great Hall, Queen's University


*for conference attendees only

Managing Conflict, Practicing Diversity
A panel discussion in three parts
Moderator: Nenad Šebek

Political agreements and transitional justice – Good Friday vs Dayton
with Senad Pećanin and Robin Wilson

Telling the past – cross-border historical narratives
with Andy Pollak and Dubravka Stojanović

Identity as trap and possibility – shared space, divided communities
with Jan Carson and Katri Raik


Between Lived Experience and Political Hotspot
A Times Literary Supplement panel
Moderator: Adrian Tahourdin

Featuring Alev Adil, Paul Bew, Garrett Carr and Durs Grünbein


Beautiful Babel
A Grand Tour Beyond Borders
A poetry reading curated and presented by Jan Wagner and Leontia Flynn

Poets include Simon Armitage, Frances Leviston, Michael Longley, Medbh McGuckian, Caitríona O’Reilly and Ana Ristović. Music performance by Duke Special.

Funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation.

Sunday, 15 September

Ulster Museum


Asking the People
Border Polls, Referendums and the Question of Democracy
A John Hewitt Society panel 
Moderator: Peter Osborne

Featuring Bob Collins, Angelina Kariakina, Naomi Long and Susan McKay


A European Autumn?
Rethinking the EU After Brexit
Moderator: Carl Henrik Fredriksson

Closing speeches by Marius Ivaškevičius and Fintan O’Toole

Speakers at the Belfast Debate 2019

Alev Adil

Alev Adil is a Cypriot academic, literary critic, poet and performance artist. She reviews for the Times Literary Supplement and is a co-editor of, and contributor to, Nicosia Beyond Barriers: Voices From a Divided City, published in 2019.

Simon Armitage

Simon Armitage is the UK Poet Laureate and was Oxford Professor of Poetry (2015-2019). His accolades include an Ivor Novello Award and the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. Armitage has published 28 collections of poetry, including his latest Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic (2019). His recent television film The Brink (2019), meditates on the relationship between Britain and EuropeHe is Professor of Poetry at the University of Leeds.

Paul Bew

Paul Bew is an independent crossbench peer currently serving as chair of the  intra-UK allocation review for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. He is the author of the Ireland volume in Oxford History of Modern Europe (2007) and teaches Irish Politics at Queens University in Belfast.

Garrett Carr

Garrett Carr is a writer and mapmaker. His work has recently focused on Ireland’s border. His book The Rule of the Land: Walking Ireland’s Border was published in 2017. Recently about 150 people who live on or near Ireland’s border came together in Belfast for an event called the Border People’s Parliament. Garrett took their comments and distilled them into a border manifesto, called The Yellow Manifesto. He lives in Belfast and teaches at Queen’s University.

Jan Carson

Jan Carson is a writer and community arts facilitator based in Belfast. Jan Carson’s works include a novel, Malcolm Orange Disappears (2014), a short story collection, Children’s Children (2016), and a micro-fiction collection, Postcard Stories (2017). Her novel The Fire Starters, released this spring, won the EU Prize for Literature for Ireland 2019. In 2018 she was the inaugural Translink/Irish Rail Roaming Writer in Residence on the Trains of Ireland.

Bob Collins

Bob Collins is former director general of RTÉ, the Republic of Ireland’s national broadcaster, as well as chairman of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) and the Equality Commission in Northern Ireland. He continues his engagements with the improvement of relations within Northern Ireland and between North and South. He is president of the Irish Association for Cultural, Economic and Social Relations and a member of the Executive Committee of the British-Irish Association.

Duke Special

Duke Special is a songwriter and performer based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. His albums include Little Revolutions (2009), Mother Courage and Her Children (2010), and Look Out Machines! (2015). Duke Special’s 2017 album Hallow is entirely based on the poetry of the eminent Belfast poet Michael Longley.

Leontia Flynn

Leontia Flynn is a Northern Irish writer and has published four collections of poetry with Jonathan Cape. Her most recent, The Radio (2017) was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize and won the Irish Times Poetry Prize. She won AWB Vincent Literary Award in 2014. She lectures at the Seamus Heaney Centre.

Carl Henrik Fredriksson

Carl Henrik Fredriksson is a Swedish editor, essayist and translator living in Vienna. Co-founder of Eurozine, whose editor in chief and president he was until 2015. He is the programme director of the Belfast Debate on Europe and permanent fellow at the Institut für Medien- und Kommunikationspolitik, Cologne. Former editor in chief of Sweden’s oldest cultural journal Ord&Bild.

Misha Glenny

Misha Glenny is an award-winning British and Irish journalist and historian. His books include The Balkans: Nationalism, War and The Great Powers, 1804-2012 (1999) and McMafia: Seriously Organised Crime (2008), a non-fiction book which was recently turned into a major BBC Drama series. A visiting professor at the LSE, Columbia University, UCL, Misha is about to take a year-long fellowship at the Berggruen Institute at the University of Southern California.

Durs Grünbein

Durs Grünbein is a German poet, essayist and translator, born and bred in Dresden. He has received numerous accolades for his work, including the prestigious Georg Büchner Prize in 1995. Grünbein is considered one of the most distinguished voices of contemporary poetry in the German language. He lives in Berlin and Rome. His most recent publication is titled Aus der Traum (Kartei) (2019).

Katy Hayward

Katy Hayward is a political sociologist based in Queen’s University Belfast. Recognised to be the leading academic expert on Brexit and the Irish border, she is a Senior Fellow of ‘UK in a Changing Europe’, a Fellow of the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security & Justice, and an Eisenhower Fellow.

Marius Ivaškevičius

Marius Ivaškevičius is a Lithuanian writer, playwright, and film director. His novels have been published in many foreign languages. His plays have been staged in Lithuania, Russia, Germany, Italy, France, and New Zealand, to name just a few, and directed by directors such as Kirill Serebrennikov, Oskaras Korshunovas, Rimas Tuminas, Mindaugas Karbauskis, Arpad Shilling, and Aleksandar Popovski. His accolades include 4 Best Lithuanian Play of the Year Awards and one Golden Mask Award for best play in Russia in 2017.


Angelina Kariakina

Angelina Kariakina is the editor in chief of the Ukrainian internet television station Hromadske TV in Kiev, which rose to prominence during the Maidan protests, when it became one of the country’s most noted news outlets. She has covered Oleg Sentsov’s and Olexandr Kolchenko’s trials in Russia as well as the refugee crisis in Hungary. In 2016, she launched the investigative documentary series Traces of Revolution with fellow journalist Anastasia Stanko.

Basil Kerski

Basil Kerski is a political scientist, author and journalist. Kerski was born in 1969 into a Polish-Iraqi family and grew up in Iraq, Poland and Germany. He has worked for, among others, the FU Berlin, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik, the German Parliament and the Aspen Institute Berlin. He has been editor in chief of the German-Polish magazine Dialog since 1998. Kerski has been awarded numerous prizes for his contributions to German-Polish relations. Since 2011 he is director of the European Solidarność Centre in Gdańsk.

Frances Leviston

Frances Leviston is a British poet. She studied at St Hilda’s College in Oxford University, where she read English. Leviston then began an MA in Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University. Her first collection, Public Dream, was published by Picador in 2007 and shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize. Her second collection, Disinformation, also from Picador, was published in February 2015.

Naomi Long

Naomi Long is a Northern Irish politician who has been leader of the Alliance Party for two years, after serving as Deputy Leader from 2006-2016. In 2019, she was elected as the Alliance Party candidate for the European Parliament, becoming the first ever Alliance MEP. She served as the second elected female Lord Mayor of Belfast from 2009 to 2010.

Michael Longley

Michael Longley has published eleven books of poetry. His most recent collection, Angel Hill, came out in June 2017, as did Sidelines: Selected Prose 1962-2015. In 2001 Longley received the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, and he has won the Whitbread Prize for Poetry, the Hawthornden Prize and the T.S. Eliot Prize. In 2017 he also received the PEN Pinter Prize. Michael Longley was appointed a CBE in 2010, and from 2007 to 2010 he was Ireland Professor of Poetry.

Medbh McGuckian

Medbh McGuckian has an MA from Queen’s University Belfast and is a Northern Irish poet. She has published several collections of poetry, including The Book of the Angel (2004) and The Currach Requires No Harbour (2010). She was awarded the 2002 Forward Poetry Prize for her poem She is in the Past, She Has This Grace.


Susan McKay

Susan McKay is a writer, broadcaster and journalist from Derry. She has been writing about all aspects of Northern Irish politics and society since the 1990s and has won several national media awards. Before that she was a community worker and one of the founders of the Belfast Rape Crisis Centre during the 1980s. Her books include Bear in Mind These Dead (2009) and Northern Protestants – An Unsettled People (2000). She is currently writing a book on borders.

Caitríona O'Reilly

Caitríona O’Reilly is an Irish poet and critic. She was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, where she completed a doctoral thesis in Modernist poetry. She is the author of three collections: The Nowhere Birds (2001), The Sea Cabinet (2006) and Geis (2016). She has received many awards, including the Irish Times Poetry Now Prize 2016. Her poetry has been widely translated.

Peter Osborne

Peter Osborne has been involved in political engagement, policy, participation, dispute resolution and reconciliation for over 25 years. He is a director of the Integrated Education Fund; is chair of the regional board of Remembering Srebrenica and a member of its UK Board; and is chair of the ARK Advisory Board, the research and social policy joint initiative of Ulster University and Queen’s University Belfast.

Fintan O’Toole

Fintan O’Toole is a columnist with the Irish Times and Leonard L. Milberg visiting lecturer in Irish Letters at Princeton University. His latest book is Heroic Failure: Brexit and Politics of Pain (2018) and he is currently working on the official biography of Seamus Heaney. He is the winner of the 2017 European Press Prize and Orwell Prize and contributes regularly to the New York Review of Books.

Senad Pećanin

Senad Pećanin is an attorney, publicist and editor. He is one of the founders of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He does research in the field of Human rights and democratisation in Southeast Europe.

Andy Pollak

Andy Pollak is a journalist, editor, writer and expert on cross-border cooperation in Ireland. He was the founding director of the Centre for Cross Border Studies, with offices in Armagh and Dublin (1999-2013). He is the author of the blog 2 Irelands together.

Katri Raik

Katri Raik is a historian and Estonian politician. Since 1999, she has lived in Narva, on the Estonian-Russian border. From 1999 to 2015, she was the first director of Narva College of the University of Tartu. In 2015-2018, she worked as the Rector of the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences. In 2018-2019, she was the Minister of the Interior of the Republic of Estonia. Since April 2019, she has been a Member of the Parliament of the Republic of Estonia.

Ana Ristović

Ana Ristović is a Serbian poet and translator. She has published nine collections of poetry and received many accolades, including the German Hubert Burda Prize, the Disova Award, and the Desanka Maksimović Prize. She was a Fellow of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Programme 2018-19. Her books have been translated into many languages.

Nenad Šebek

Nenad Šebek is a freelance media and civil society consultant. Previously: Director of the Belgrade office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, Spokesperson for the Regional Cooperation Council, Executive Director of the Center for Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeast Europe 2002-2014. A journalist for 26 years, 16 of them for the BBC including the posts of Balkans and Moscow Correspondent. Visiting core lecturer, postgraduate course in Human rights at Vienna University.

Dubravka Stojanović

Dubravka Stojanović is a historian and professor at Belgrade University. Her work focuses on democracy in Serbia and the Balkans, the interpretation of history in textbooks, social history, the process of modernisation, and the history of women in Serbia. She is vice-president of the History Education Committee and a consultant to the United Nations, working on issues concerning history, memory, and the misuse of history in education.

Adrian Tahourdin

Adrian Tahourdin is assistant editor at the Times Literary Supplement where, among other things, he oversees French and Italian coverage and the Letters page. He is a regular reviewer, mainly of fiction and literature. He reports annually for the paper on the Society of Authors’ multi-lingual Translation prizes.

Jan Wagner

Jan Wagner is a German poet, essayist, and translator. His accolades include the Georg Büchner Prize and the Leipzig Book Fair Prize. He is the co-editor of the anthology Grand Tour. A Journey through Young European Poetry, published this spring, a compilation of poems from the continent’s various regions and languages.

Robin Wilson

Robin Wilson is general editor of Social Europe and a longstanding expert advisor to the Council of Europe on intercultural integration. He is the author of Meeting the Challenge of Cultural Diversity in Europe: Moving Beyond the Crisis (2018) and The Northern Ireland Experience of Conflict and Agreement: A Model for Export? (2011).

Local Partners

Seamus Heaney Centre

Since 2003 the Seamus Heaney Centre has been home to some of the UK and Ireland’s foremost poets, novelists, scriptwriters and critics. Building on a literary heritage at Queen’s that stretches back to the 1960s ‘Belfast Group’, the Centre is dedicated to excellence and innovation in creative writing and poetry criticism.

From our prestigious Poetry Summer School, to our Post Graduate courses, we lead the way in creative writing teaching and practice. We host visiting International Poetry Fellows, a Children’s Writing Fellow, and award three annual Seamus Heaney Centre Fellowships to writers from the worlds of poetry, fiction, drama, and music, as well as a busy programme of events.

John Hewitt Society

The John Hewitt Society provides opportunities for individuals across Northern Ireland to explore issues of difference and identity through literature and creative writing. Inspired by the ideals and ideas of the poet and political writer John Hewitt, the Society was established in 1987 to promote Hewitt’s ethos of utilising literature and the arts as a medium for tackling prejudice, exclusive concepts of identity, and sectarian hostility.

Times Literary Supplement

Established in 1902, the TLS is the foremost weekly book-reviewing publication in the English language. Deploying a broad range of contributors, the paper covers literature, new fiction and poetry – as well as publishing original poetry. It also reviews books in the academic disciplines, from Anthropology to Zoology, and engages in political debates and with current affairs. Those who have written for it include Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, Martin Amis, Seamus Heaney, Ali Smith, Margaret Drabble, Julian Barnes and Joyce Carol Oates.

The Tangerine

The Tangerine is a Belfast-based magazine which includes fiction, non-fiction, poetry, photography, and illustration. Founded in 2016 and published three times a year in print, the magazine derives its title from Louis MacNeice’s poem ‘Snow’: ‘I peel and portion/ A tangerine and spit the pips and feel/ The drunkenness of things being various’. The Tangerine seeks to provide space for a plurality of voices: for new creative work, thoughtful discussion, and critical engagement with culture and politics in Belfast and beyond.