December 2002, No 12
Editor: Hella Rottenberg
When Slovenia was a Yugoslav republic, the Slovenian language and literature were two key elements of its autonomy. Despite state ownership, the Slovenian economy by and large followed market rules, which helped her a great deal to adjust to democracy and the free market at the beginning of the 90s, and to become the most successful country in transition.
The transition raised the question of the role of Slovenian culture in the new social order. While most museums, the fine arts and performing arts remained under the patronage of the state, the publishing sector in its entirety changed into a commercial enterprise. The largest Slovenian publishing houses, which represented more than eighty percent of Slovenian book production, became joint-stock companies. They were joined by scores of small and newly established publishing houses, which fought for their place in the market by implementing innovative approaches and programs.
The new state of Slovenia immediately imposed taxes on books. It also introduced a system of subsidies covering about five percent of published works chiefly in the field of humanities and quality belles-lettres. In the following ten years, the two largest publishing houses increasingly concentrated on the stock market commerce rather than publishing, thereby strengthening their position on the market and increasing their commercial value. Both publishing houses also owned the largest bookshop chain, but neither of them seriously strove for its modernisation. Small publishing houses have started developing their marketing and selling activities, without, however, joining forces.
The end result was the disintegration of the market system, which led to high distribution expenses. Slovenia has not succeeded in developing even a basic system of ‘books in print’ that would provide customers with an overview of the market supply, let alone a joint distribution system that would offer publishers, both small and large, the opportunity to decrease distribution expenses and increase sales efficiency. To this we should also add the insurmountable problem of the small Slovenian language area, which limits the book market to two million potential buyers. Slovenians are good readers, but for the majority book-buying is a luxury, primarily due to high book prices and the possibility of borrowing books through the well-organised library network.
In 2000 a serious crisis ensued, when one of the largest publishing houses decided to withdraw from the publishing business and to focus its attention on more profitable market areas. Expenses increased, and print-runs grew smaller. Today, the average print-run ranges from 500 to 600 copies per book, and it usually takes three years to sell them. Consequently, the production expenses per copy are far too high, the selling is inefficient and costly, stocks are getting larger and larger, and the financial liquidity of publishers is constantly in a critical state.
Small publishers have slowly but persistently sought mutual cooperation. However, the lack of means for further investments causes stagnation. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Culture has become more aware of the problem and would like to intervene in the book trade with measures such as support for bookstores and the education of booksellers. Unfortunately, due to the reduction of the budget deficit required by the European Union, the state has only limited funds at its disposal, and the measures are still waiting to be implemented.
Director of Student Publishing House
Those who are interested in Eastern Europe are recommended to look at the new Internetsite http://culture.tol.cz. You’ll find here a renewed version of the journal Central Europe Review (CER). This English-language journal has merged with Transitions Online (TOL), an extensive news and background provider from 28 post-communist countries. The above mentioned site will focus on cultural life in the post-communist region, including book reviews, essays on cinema and theater. Gradually CER will become a completely integrated part of the TOL-sites (homepage: www.tol.cz), where you can find online journals in English with news, analysis, investigative reports, features and reviews. The first issue of culture.tol.cz contains articles about Nobel prize laureat Imre Kertész, reviews of (Croatian) books about the Croatian Bosniaks and about the Roma of Central Europe and why they don’t seem to benefit from twelve years of policy-making and funding. The new site is supported by the European Cultural Foundation. The book review section of TOL receives support from CEEBP.
In October 2002, the CEEBP awarded eighteen grants for books, four grants for journals, and six other grants. The Grants for books were awarded for fourteen West – East translations, three East –East translations, and one book in the original language. One of the grants for journals was awarded for the improvement of the website, and another one for a subscription campaign, while a Serbian journal received a grant for a special issue on Daniel Kharms.
The Index Association of Slovak publishers received a grant for a joint catalogue in 2002/2003, and the Association of Publishers and Booksellers in Vojvodina a grant for computer equipment. Other grants for equipment were awarded to individual publishers. Last but not least, the CEEBP provided matching funds for the participation of Central and East European publishers in the Rights managers meeting and the e-stands at the Frankfurter Buchmesse.
- Joseph Brodsky, On Grief and Reason – Essays, English – Bulgarian translation by Alexandra Veleva, Fakel, Sofia
- Leonard Cohen, Serpent in the Bosom: The Rise and Fall of Slobodan Milošević, English – Serbo-Croatian translation by Aleksandar Milenković, Belgrade Circle, Belgrade
- François Fejtö, Requiem pour un empire défunt: histoire de la destruction de l’Autriche-Hongrie, French – Bulgarian translation by T. Krasteva, KAMA, Sofia
- Sigmund Freud, Der Wahn und die Träume in W. Jensens Gradiva, German – Slovak translation by Adam Bžoch, PT, Bratislava
- Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris.Vol. I, English – Czech translation by Pavel Vereš, Argo, Prague
- Primo Levi, I sommersi e i salvati, Italian – Slovak translation by František Hruška, Agora, Bratislava
- Mark Mazower, The Balkans: A Short History, English – Albanian translation by Klodian Briçi, Skanderbeg, Tirana
- Richard Pipes, Communism: A Brief History, translation from English to Serbo-Croatian by Aleksandar B. Nedeljković, Alexandria Press, Belgrade
- Léon Poliakov, Le mythe aryen. Essai sur les sources du racisme et des nationalismes, French – Bulgarian translation by Todorka Mineva, SONM, Sofia
- Vedrana Rudan, Ear, Throat, Knife, Rende, Belgrade
- Mihail Sebastian, Jurnal 1935-1944, Romanian – Czech translation by Jindřich Vacek, Sefer, Prague
- Bashkim Shehu, Gostia, translation from Albanian into Serbo-Croatian by Shkëlzen Maliqi, LIR, Belgrade
- Eginald Schlattner, Rote Handschuhe, German – Polish translation by Alicja Rosenau, Czarne, Sękowa
- Dominique Schnapper, La communauté des citoyens, French – Macedonian translation by Nataša Gjondeva, Slovo, Skopje
- Leften Stavrianos, The Balkans since 1453, Serbo-Croatian translation by Veselin Kostić, Equilibrium, Belgrade
- Leo Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing, English – Serbo-Croatian translation by Hrvoja Heffer and Damjan Lalović, Disput, Zagreb
- Dubravka Ugrešić, Štefica Cvek u raljama Života, Serbo-Croatian – Polish translation by Dorota Jovanka Ćirlić, Czarne, Sękowa
- Robert Wistrich, Hitler and the Holocaust, translation from English into Serbo-Croatian by Aleksandar B. Nedeljković, Alexandria Press, Belgrade
- Aetas, historical review, Budapest – website
- Apostrof, cultural monthly, Cluj
- Gradac, biannual cultural and literary journal, Belgrade. Special issue on Daniel Kharms
- Trištvrte Revue, cultural quarterly, Atrakt Art, Bratislava – subscription campaign
- Association of Publishers and Booksellers of Vojvodina, Novi Sad – computer equipment
Agora, Bratislava – equipment
- Frankfurter Buchmesse, Rights managers meeting 2002, Rights Catalogue entries, and e-Stands of Central and East European publishers
- Index, Association of Independent Publishers, Bratislava – catalogues 2002 / 2003
- Labyrint publishing house, Prague – computer equipment (donation due to losses in the summer 2002 flood)
- Mosty, Slovakia – computer equipment
An ingenious philosopher once defined the writing of history as giving dates their physiognomy. Bernard Lewis in his small collection of essays Cultures in Conflict: Christians, Muslims, and Jews in the Age of Discovery – recently published in Romania by Editura Integral in a translation of Elena Burlacu – seems to follow this definition by highlighting 1492 as a turning point to modernity. Written in 1992 on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America, the essays concentrate on other events which occurred that year: the Christians reconquering Granada from the Muslims, and their expelling the Jews from Spain. A study of these events draws attention to the broader historical context of the discovery being commemorated.
The reconquest of Granada incites him to write about the relationship between Christendom and Islam. Lewis shows that the rivalry between the two religions is a consequence of what they have in common. Both are universal in the sense that they are monotheistic and strive for expansion. The conflict between Christians and Muslims is described as one of inimical relatives: “their heavens were significantly different, but their hells were much the same”. Lewis puts forward, however, that within this sameness, medieval Islam was the more learned and also the more tolerant religion. After the Christians had recaptured Spain they expelled the Jews who had never posed any threat. Most of the Jews fled to Islamic countries, where they were not forced to choose between conversion and death.
Lewis explains that in the long term Islamic culture is unable to maintain its position; it cannot keep pace with the technical and economical dynamics of the European rival, a dynamics which stems from the fact that Christian Europe was more divided, but, precisely because of this, also more diverse. Driven by faith and greed, but also fear, Christians diligently sought to circumnavigate the land of Islam. It was by this move that they discovered the world. Notwithstanding the fact that Europe introduced or intensified barbarism in the areas it colonized, it also developed a curiosity for what is strange and outside, or, as Lewis calls it, an openness to the other. Because of this achievement, which he judges as unique in human history, Lewis in the end defends European culture. Not against self-criticism, which is Europe’s best quality, but against excessive feelings of guilt, which, he says, are Europe’s flaw. He points out that “to claim responsibility for all the ills of the world is a new version of the ‘white man’s burden’.”
By Karel Markus
In Minsk, Athenaeum published a two-volume reference book by Leonid Moryakov, entitled Persecuted Belarussian Writers 1795 – 2000. The author of this encyclopaedia spent seven years on research and overcame great difficulties in collecting the data. He found the bulk of the information in Belarussian archives, but also did investigations in Moscow and St. Petersburg. In the first half of the 1990s, during a liberal interlude in Belarus, Moryakov had access to the archives of the Belarussian NKVD (the Soviet secret service in the 1920s and 1930s). Many files of persecuted writers turned out to be destroyed, but Moryakov was able to study some sixty files. He also interviewed writers and relatives who had survived the repression. The result is two volumes, which contain 700 names and biographies of Belarussian writers, poets, critics, journalists, translators, editors and publishers. The criterion for inclusion was neither their origin nor the language they wrote in – among them are Belarussians, Russians, Poles, Lithuanians and Jews – but the fact that they lived and worked in Belarus.
The reference book encompasses Belarussian history from its inclusion in the Russian empire in 1795 until 2000, nine years after it became an independent state. The repression of intellectuals, who refused to subject themselves to Russian rule, czarist authoritarianism and, later, the totalitarian Soviet regime repeatedly deprived the Belarussian nation of its cultural elite. Even today the tragedy continues. The popular author Vasyl Bykov, whose books have been translated into many languages, has lived abroad since 1998 – first in Finland, then in Germany – after he was marginalized and a defamation campaign unleashed against him.
Moryakov’s reference book presents in a very dry and factual way a dramatic story of widespread arrests, imprisonment, exile and executions. One of the entries, to give an example, is Yanka Kupala, pen name of Ivan Lucevich (1882 – 1942). Kupala is considered as Belarus’ most famous national poet and playwright. Some of his works were banned during the Soviet period because of their ardent patriotism. He attempted suicide in 1930. Later he wrote poems to order from above in which he praised Stalin and the collectivisation of farms. Kupala died in Moscow in unexplained circumstances. According to Moryakov there are three versions for the cause of his fatal fall from a staircase: an accident, suicide or murder. The report of the investigation conducted after his death is still kept secret today.
In the Czech Republic, Svetlana Alexievitch’s A Prayer for Chernobyl has appeared in translation from the Brno publisher Doplněk. The book, translated from the Russian, was written in 1996. “This is not a book about Chernobyl. Missed history I would call it, a reconstruction of feelings, not of events”, writes the Belarussian journalist Svetlana Alexievitch in her introduction. “I wanted to know the feelings, the sensations of people who had touched the unknown. We are facing a reality that is new to everyone. More than once I had the feeling that I was recording the future.”
For three years she travelled around and listened to people whose lives had been broken and often destroyed by the nuclear disaster. In the form of monologues she noted down the testimonies and life-stories of the inhabitants of the Chernobyl area, of soldiers and firemen, medical doctors, party bosses, nuclear scientists, children and widows. “Not just the earth and the water are poisoned, but the people are poisoned themselves, inside and outside”, she writes.
Most stories are heartbreaking, like the opening story in which a young woman just married to a fire fighter, records how she stayed at her husband’s side during his radiation illness until he died fourteen days later. She did not tell the doctors that she was pregnant, knowing that they would forbid her even to come near her husband. “You must understand”, a nurse told her, “that what you have here is no longer your husband, the man you love, but a radioactive object with a high density of contamination.”
In an often appalling way the testimonies bear witness to the Soviet mentality of the population and the official secrecy at the time. A teacher recalls how she and her colleagues were ordered to shovel the upper layer of the earth around the school buildings into a van. Don’t we get protective clothing?, someone asked. No, why should they?, was the answer. And there they went, without a word of protest. “The repression of that time”, the teacher reflects, “the feeling of duty, this is bred in us. To be there where it is difficult and dangerous, to defend the motherland.”
A former director of the Belarussian Institute for Nuclear Energy remembers that the instruments in his lab showed in the morning of 26th of April 1986 that a nuclear disaster had happened. A huge radioactive cloud passed Minsk, and he was terrified. What should he do? Call his family and warn them to stay inside, close all windows and take iodine? But then he would reveal a secret and run into trouble. After struggling with his fears he decided to warn his family and when he came home he called all his friends and acquaintances to give them instructions how to protect themselves against the radiation. Later he made maps with facts and figures of the contaminated regions in Belarus. This was regarded as a subversive act. The maps were stolen from his office and he was fired.
Alexievitch’s book, written ten years after Chernobyl, was scarcely distributed in her homeland Belarus, the territory that suffered worst from the explosion of the nuclear power plant. It was translated into English and has now also been published in Czech.
- European Cultural Foundation
- Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds
- Salomon von Oppenheim Stiftung
- Stichting Het Parool
- Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, The Netherlands
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Netherlands
- Meulenhoff & Co bv
- Weekbladpers Groep bv
- Boom Uitgeverij bv