Potential market, no buyers

Via the excellent signandsight site, the opening paras of a recent essay by Norbert Mappes-Niediek. Fascinating lit news from that  other, often forgotten or belittled area of Europe:


The paradoxes of the Ex-Yugoslavian bookmarket

Only the greats of pre-war literature – like Ivo Andric – have readers in all republics.

It does happen that a bookstore in Montenegro orders two or three books from his publishing house, says publisher Nenad Popovic from Zagreb. “But for those two, three books I spend the whole day at the customs office filling out all the forms.”

When culture becomes commodity, exchange in former Yugoslavia remains limited, even twelve years after the last shots were fired. Not only among the successor states, but also on the new national markets there is nothing but dead air. “Before we used to measure the success of a book by the number of copies sold,” says Popovic, who made scores of authors famous through his publishing house Durieux. Today success is measured by the number of times the book is borrowed from the library. Not what one could really call a market. The publishers can only print what is subsidised, but the successor states have hardly any funds available, and not only since the financial crisis.

However, former Yugoslavia could potentially have a market for literature, which could have long grown back together – like the ex-Yugoslavian film industry, which now has to rely on international co-productions due to a lack of funds. Probably “more is being written than being read,” says Croatian author Sladjana Bukovac, referring to the flood of manuscripts washing over the publishing houses – and this is no wonder given the weight of the experiences from the past turbulent twenty years. Most bear titles such as “My Life”, “My Views”, “My Journal”. The Croatian literary society alone has between five and six thousand members. Anyone wishing to join must have published two books, in whatever form. “The people here want to reassure themselves,” says Bukovac. This can that the form of self-searching, aggression, religious sects, strange hobbies, or even producing literature.

The attempts by national politicians to erect language barriers between readers have all failed. Just as before, Serbs, Croats, Bosnians and Montenegrins form a single speech and thus potential reading community consisting of 15 to 16 million people. Nothing has to be translated, and if something is to be translated, one simply runs it through a Google Translate programme in order to replace a few nationally incendiary terms. A simple test reveals how laughable the theory is that the languages have split apart or are in the process of doing so: for a translation from Serbian into Croatian, Google ends up replacing only four words of 185 from a two-paragraph text in the Belgrad Politika on the poet and philosopher Dositej Obradovic. For another eight words, the programme makes minor spelling changes. In texts of fiction, where stylistic nuances are important, one completely forgoes any translation.

(…) continued here.

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