The 2020 Ruritania Prize for short fiction

In 2020 Panel hosted the first Ruritania Prize contest for original short fiction from Central and Eastern Europe. The competition was open to short pieces (between 1000 and 4000 words) of English-language fiction, translated or otherwise, so long as the pieces are previously unpublished.

The winners of the 2020 Ruritania prize:

1) "Just You Wait," Karol Lagodzki
2) "Swimming Lessons in the Adriatic," Adrian Markle
3) "The Spot on the Corner of the Bathtub," Shel Merlow

More about the winners you can read in the issue #6 of Panel and in our blog here, here and here.


"Feeding the Wolf," Izzy Varju
"The Writer," Karl Hiltner
"PAxD-CS," Matthew Groeger
"Where the Danube and the Sava Meet," Cosima Armstrong

The first place winner received 350 euros and publication in Panel's issue #6. Second and third place received 50 and 20 euros respectively and publication.

Judges of the contest were:

Mitchell Atkinson (Warsaw)

Daniel Lamken (Prague)

Duncan Robertson (Budapest)

The next Ruritania Prize contest will be held in 2021.

Why The Ruritania Prize?

In 1894 Anthony Hope published The Prisoner of Zenda. Set in the fictional kingdom of Ruritania, it was a swash-buckling adventure that involved mistaken identities in a small Eastern European country. The book, which became a bestseller, spawned a genre, the Ruritanian Romance. These were books and films—sometimes unselfconscious capers, sometimes self-aware parodies—that were set in imaginary countries that were supposed to exist somewhere in Central and Eastern Europe. Other notable entries included Frances Hodgson Brunett's The Lost Prince (Samavia), The Marx Brothers' Duck Soup (Freedonia) and Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire (Zembla).

Ruritanian fiction has always been emblematic of the West's view of Central and Eastern Europe, crowded by small, unstable states that are full of breathless intrigue, unusual customs and ethnic strife. For those of us that inhabit the real places these fictional countries are said to occupy, the genre is a reminder of the misapprehensions and prejudices the West, as well as the resonant absurdities of life in the East. By its very nature it’s a lazy archetype; Ruritania's quirky locals, hapless foreigners, and strongmen leaders are based on peoples and places spread over more than a million square miles. The Ruritania Prize, then, is a prize for those writing from a place that doesn't exist, English-speakers who are struggling to find their role in a contradictory literary tradition which is simultaneously patronizing and affectionate. Its judges are drawn from a variety of major Central and Eastern European cities, to better reflect the real diversity of the lands in which the Ruritanian romances were (and are) set.