December 2000, No 8
Editor: Hella Rottenberg
Croatia’s bookstand at the Frankfurt Book Fair had a glossy look. The Publishers’ Association and the Ministry of Culture had prepared smart pamphlets about Croatia and the publishing business, including the Guide for Book Lovers in English and Croatian. After ten years under the nationalistic regime of Franjo Tudjman, Croatia was presenting itself in a fresh, pluralistic and democratic manner.
But behind the slick facade, the reality is very different. The book market has been greatly disrupted. The figures tell the tale. Ten years ago, Croatia had two hundred bookshops. Now, there are only seventy left. Most of them sell other products, such as office supplies or confectionery, in order to survive. The number of new titles has shrunk considerably. 2 500 titles are published annually with an average print run of only 300 copies. Only dictionaries can expect higher sales, says the Croatian publisher Nenad Popović.
After the outbreak of war, the market for Croatian book publishers was reduced from twenty-two million people to four million. Although traffic and trade between the parts of former Yugoslavia are gradually being reestablished, the prospect for a shared book market is bleak. The Serbo-Croat linguistic area has been destroyed. Croatian, Serbian, and Bosnian are drifting apart, and so are the intellectual communities, even if now and then admirable efforts are made to find common ground and to encourage cooperation.
In addition to the reduced market, the economic situation in Croatia is disastrous. People simply cannot afford to buy books. Unemployment is very high: 300 000 people have no regular job. And if you reckon that an average monthly income is 4 000 Kuna or about 1 000 DM, and an ordinary paperback costs as much as 35 DM, then it becomes clear that sales cannot be expected to improve.
‘During the Tudjman-regime, the publishing business has been marginalised,’ says Alberto Goldstein, director of Antibarbarus and member of the Association of Independent Publishers in Croatia, the HNN. ‘Libraries have not been funded and cannot buy books. Three years ago, a 22 per cent VAT on books was introduced. In the summer of 2000, this tax was abolished, but in the meantime, the publishing business has been ruined. Some six years ago Antibarbarus had nine employees. Now we have two. We used to publish eighteen new titles a year, but in 2000 only three. We earn our money through other activities, such as pre-printing services. I hope that our government will find means to support libraries and that in due time the market will work again. In the meantime, we try to find subsidies to make the publication of individual titles possible.’
The situation of the book trade in Serbia, Bosnia, and the other parts of former Yugoslavia is not much better. Nenad Popović, however, sees two factors that could help to bring about a revival. During the last decade, many writers from the former Yugoslavia have gained an international reputation and young publishing companies, because of economic difficulties and political pressure, have learned to operate under the harshest conditions.
The Index Association of Slovak Independent Publishers launched its Book Club in October. It issued a catalogue listing up-to-date information on two hundred quality titles available from the output of forty publishers, and twenty cultural journals. With a print-run of 25 000 copies and widely distributed, the catalogue contains professionally prepared information that has so far been lacking in Slovakia.
It is geared to initiate and facilitate co-operation between publishers and the reading public, libraries, distributors and bookshops, as well as professional and general media. Backed by mail-on delivery service, the catalogue is a powerful tool reaching individual readers – potential Book Club members and journal subscribers – in large parts of Slovakia suffering from a dearth of quality booksellers.
The first issue of the catalogue has been enthusiastically received by quality dailies, weeklies, and in book trade periodicals. Within a month, the Book Club acquired 500 members throughout Slovakia. The need for and the success of the Index Book Club is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that the members ordered four times more books than expected.
The catalogue is planned to appear as a quarterly. Part of the print run of the Autumn catalogue will be dispatched together with the Winter catalogue to new members acquired through the next campaign, and will offer, apart from new book titles, subscriptions for cultural magazines. Each issue includes an interview with a writer.
The project was designed in collaboration with the CEEBP, and is co-funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The first catalogue was sponsored by the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Bratislava.
A two-year project to support Bulgarian cultural journals has ended. With the help of funds from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Soros Center for the Arts in Sofia and CEEBP, publishers have been trained in management skills, promotion, and distribution. Matching funds for libraries featured as one of the elements in the project. Libraries could subscribe to cultural periodicals at a considerable discount and so they did, on a large scale. The first year, in 1998, libraries were offered subscriptions at a discount of 75 percent. In 1999, the discount decreased to 50 percent, but the enthusiasm for subscriptions increased: 150 public libraries took out subscriptions to 65 journals. A survey showed that it would not be realistic to expect that libraries would continue that level of subscriptions to cultural journals without outside support. Their budget simply would not allow it.
The CEEBP and the Soros Center for the Arts in Sofia therefore decided to continue the matching funds program for three more years. In 2000/01, the discount amounts to 50 per cent in 2001/02 it will decrease to 40 percent and in 2002/03 to 30 percent. Hopefully, in the meantime the economic situation of libraries and of journals will improve so much that they can do without matching funds. And new techniques, such as an electronic version of periodicals might bring a solution.
An online library that will contain a wealth of information on literature, arts, humanities, and politics from Central and Eastern Europe is in the making. Soon, if you log in to the website www.ceeol.com, you will find the original texts of cultural, socio-political and philosophical periodicals from the region. The initiative to build the electronic reading room comes from the Frankfurt based East-West centre Palais Jalta. According to the initiators, it is time the exchange of information goes both directions, not only from West to East, but also from East to West.
The Central and East European Online Library offers the possibility to readers anywhere in the world to follow closely developments and debates in Central and Eastern Europe. The site is meant for émigré communities, public libraries, university and other research institutions, but also for Western media, governments, and non-governmental institutions. They can order – online – articles not only in their original language, but also in translation. The server CEEOL should become an indispensable tool for institutions and individuals interested in developments in Central and Eastern Europe.
Every article is registered in a detailed catalogue database by author’s name, title, periodical, keywords, and a short English abstract. Access to the database is free of charge; downloading of the full text, however, costs money. The payment will be processed electronically. For those periodicals, which offer their contents free of charge to CEEOL, the server opens the possibility to widen their audience and add income: 40 percent of the turnover will go to the publishers. As well as the contents of journals, CEEOL will offer a huge collection of annotated links to Central European websites. In addition, CEEOL will publish information about authors and publishers, digital art, and documentary exhibitions.
In October 2000, the CEEBP awarded three grants for individual periodicals (including two for electronic equipment); matching funds for library subscriptions to Bulgarian cultural magazines; matching funds for training and a catalogue of the Slovak Index Association of Publishers and a grant for reference works for translators. Grants for fourteen books were awarded for two East-East translations, and twelve West-East translations, eight of which were allocated within the framework of the Balkan History Program.
Journals and Matching Funds
- Apostrof, Cluj, Romanian cultural monthly
- Mosty (Bridges), Slovak – Czech weekly (equipment)
- Revue svetovej literatúry, (Review of World Literature), quarterly published by the Slovak Association of Literary Translators (equipment)
- Soros Center for the Arts (SCA), Sofia, matching funds for library subscriptions to Bulgarian cultural magazines
- Milan Šimečka Foundation, Bratislava, matching funds for training of Slovak publishers
- Index Association of Independent Publishers, Slovakia, matching funds for catalogues
- In Transitum, Balkan translators mobility fund, grant for reference works
- Meyer Howard Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp, Triáda, Prague, Czech translation by Martin Procházka
- Robert Conquest, The Great Terror, Prozorec, Sofia, translation into Bulgarian by Plamen Tzvetkov & Ilia Kovachov
- Timothy Garton Ash, History of the Present, Paseka, Prague, Czech translation by Simon Pellar
- Leonid Grossman, Dostojevski, Onufri, Tirana, translation from Russian into Albanian by Nikolla Sudar
- Georges Henri Soutou, L’alliance incertaine, Clio, Belgrade, translation into Serbian by Ivanka Pavlović
- Nenad Velicković, Otac moje kceri (Father to My Daughter), JAK Books, Budapest, translation from Servo-Croat into Hungarian by Viktória Radics
Balkan History Program
- Fikret Adanir, Die Makedonische Frage, Amicitia, Sofia, German-Bulgarian translation by Maria Redeva Neikova
- Raymond Detrez, Grigor Parlicev, een casestudy in Balkannationalisme, LIK, Sofia, Dutch-Bulgarian translation by Zherminal Civikov
- Francis Dvornik, The Slavs in the European History and Civilization, GAL-ICO, Sofia, English-Bulgarian translation by Vassil Dudeckov Kurshev
- Vesna Goldsworthy, Inventing Ruritania, The Imperialism of Imagination, Geopoetika, Belgrade, Serbian translation by Srdjan Siminović
- Karl Kaser, Familie und Verwandtschaft auf dem Balkan, Association for Social History, Belgrade, German-Serbian translation by Aleksandra Bazajetov-Vucen
- Robert Mantran, L’histoire de l’Empire Ottoman, Clio, Belgrade, French-Serbian translation by Ema Miljković
- Hugh Poulton, Minorities and States in Conflict, Cikos Holding Print, Subotica, English-Serbian translation by Stanka Parac Damjanović
- Maria Todorova, Imagining the Balkans, Studia Humanitas, Ljubljana, English-Slovene translation by Špela Mihelač
In Le Passé d’une illusion, Essai sur l’idee communiste au XXe siècle (The Passing of an Illusion, An essay on the idea of communism in the twentieth century), François Furet offers an analysis of the attraction of the communist ideology. The book was published in France in 1995 and became a best seller in the Western world. Now a Slovak translation, published by Agora, has become available.
Born in 1927 in a wealthy French family, Furet joined the communist party in 1949. His disillusionment came in 1956, after the Soviet troops crushed the Hungarian uprising. As a historian, he became renowned for his writings on the French revolution. In the 1990s, after the fall of communism in the Soviet Union, Furet turned his attention to the revolutionary movement of the twentieth century.
He found the attraction of communism mysterious, almost religious, and wanted to find explanations for the fact that in spite of its continuous failures and barbaric crimes, generations of Western intellectuals believed in the Soviet-system. In his book, Furet treats communism as a mirror-ideology and counter-force to fascism. Both, he contends, were born out of the rubble of World War I, when liberal democracies were discredited and held responsible for the war. Later, communism maintained its attractiveness by presenting itself as the only force that could stop fascism and as such gained a reputation for being ‘democratic’. To Furet’s own surprise, when Le Passé d’une illusion was published in France in 1995, it did not provoke much controversy, but was accepted as a matter of fact.
My First Five Lives by A. H. Hermann (1914 Tábor – 1996 London) is the fascinating memoir of a clear-eyed, shrewd observer with an independent and active stance, wit, a healthy dose of self-reflection, and last but not least, a wry sense of humour.
Hermann, an assimilated Czech-Jewish lawyer and businessman, experienced in international commerce and well-travelled in South Eastern Europe, escaped in 1939 with his family, on the brink of the German occupation, to Britain.
During the war years, he worked for the Czechoslovak government-in-exile in London till 1944 when his liberal stance came into conflict with its pro-Communist policy, and he left for UNWRA. Against his better judgement, he returned to Prague in 1946, only to be arrested in 1950 and sentenced to hard labour in uranium mines. After his release and rehabilitation in 1956, he worked as a translator and a foreign correspondent for a number of Western periodicals and newspapers, including the Financial Times and Handelsblatt.
In 1968, the author became a highly respected editor of the Financial Times during his second emigration to Britain after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and finally, until his death a scholar at the London University. He wrote a number of books on financial and legal matters, and on international commerce.
His memoirs are published by Triáda, in a Czech translation of the original English manuscript. The book describes the first five of his “seven lives”. Hermann’s dry and sometimes ironic style makes his memoirs enjoyable reading. Just one example to get the feeling: ‘Stalinist purges were conducted with a remarkable impartiality, hitting communists just as non-communists if they suffered from one of the mortal sins: if they had their own mind, spent the war years in England or were Jews.’
It is a pity Hermann didn’t live long enough to write the planned last part, which would certainly have cast just as illuminating a view on society and the period he lived in as the first five. The book is a gem for anybody interested in European history, and deserves a good English publisher.
Mexico – A War Diary
In September, a new book by the young writer Vladimir Arsenijević was launched in Belgrade (see Newsletter No. 7). The author’s name and the subject of his book ensured that the launch would be an event. And so it was. From the moment Arsenijević was awarded the NIN literary prize for his first novel In the Hold in 1994, everything he has written and done attracted attention. For the young urban generation in Belgrade, he was a hero, a rebel of the counterculture who gave voice to their own feelings. For the elderly literary establishment Arsenijević was a symbol of corrupt and confusing times, in which a nobody could become a star overnight.
Six years and two more books down the road, Arsenijević reputation as a provocative writer has not changed. His last work, a war diary called Mexico, is a very direct and intimate comment on the hard realities of the NATO intervention in Yugoslavia in 1999. It consists of three parts: an introduction, the experience of the author during the bombardments on Belgrade, and the story of his friend and colleague, the Kosovo-Albanian poet Xhevdet Bajraj. The two writers met in Mexico after both had fled the war.
The book, published by the newly founded Belgrade publishing house Rende and funded by the CEEBP, was launched in an entirely unorthodox manner, at a rave party on a boat. Between the performances of hardcore bands and wild jumping in front of the stage, people were buying the book.
The feeling that the book had its own audience even before it appeared in a bookshop was confirmed once it started selling. In the first month, a thousand copies were sold. The popular uprising that removed Milosević from power in early October, coupled with the participation of Rende in the Belgrade Book Fair, stimulated further demand.
The first review appeared not in Serbia, but in the Croatian magazine Feral Tribune, and was very positive. This set the tone for the reviews published in the Belgrade press. For the first time in years, reviewers perceived Arsenijević directness as a stylistic tool and not as the flaw of an inexperienced writer. But some reactions were extremely negative, reflecting the controversial feelings evoked by the subject and directness of Arsenijević’s style.
The part in which the author tells the story of what happened to Xhevdet Bajraj in Kosovo in particular seemed to many readers insincere. One of them wrote to Arsenijević: ‘Epilogue: heartbreaking. Pathetic. Politically almost too correct. (…) Nobody is clean, not even Xhevdet from Orahovać.’ According to another reader, Arsenijević was never involved in the suffering of the Kosovo-Albanians and “suddenly” discovered them “after one Albanian in phantasmagoric Mexico told his own sad story”.
We are now waiting for the reactions in Kosovo to Arsenijević’s book which has been translated into Albanian, and to the war poems of Xhevdet Bajraj in Serbia launched simultaneously with Mexico by Arsenijević’s publisher, Rende.
- European Cultural Foundation
- Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds
- Salomon von Oppenheim Stiftung
- Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, The Netherlands
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Netherlands
- OSI Center for Publishing Development
- Press Now
- Wolters Kluwer, Hungary
- Meulenhoff & Co bv
- Weekbladpers Groep bv
- Boom Uitgeverij bv
Private support to individual titles
- Various individual donors