Last week I had the pleasure to spend a few days in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and Zagreb, Croatia, talking to publishers and writers on a trip with book people mostly from germany, to prepare (a) next year’s Leipzig book fair where Croatia is the guest of honour, and (b) next year’s brand new Vienna book fair BuchWien where I have the pleasure and duty to prepare for a Central Europe / Tranlsation / Cultural Diversity program.
Being pretty familiar with Zagreb for a long time, which looks a lot like my native town of Graz, I was struck at first by the massive monuments (I had just forgotten about them, but to be frank, they are very much similar in Graz – apologies 😉
Anyhow, the point is how a bit more than a decade after the wars of secession within collapsing Yugoslavia, Croatia seems ready (and ambitious) to become one more normal ‘small’ country and culture, yet it is still struggling to impose that normalty as opposed to the shadows of the past.
A major breakthrew, politically, was when former general Gotovina was seized for trial at the Hague tribunal as of last year, after long behind the scenes negociations – while oddly enough, at the beautiful Dalmatian coast, where Gotovina fans and nationalists are strongest, the tourist industry started to really take off.
I asked a publishers friend of mine about this oddity of political geography, and he shrugged, saying that he just does not know. Along the coast, where, aside from Dubrovnik and Split, little war fare had occured, people voted ‘national’ (just as in those provinces of Slavonia, where indeed Serb had committed the severest war crimes), while in former Krajna, in ever disputed Istria, and, well, understandably, in urban Zagreb, most non-nationalist votes were cast.
One writer had become famous from Croatia recently, telling about the war in Bosnia, Miljenko Jergovic, but he does not appear in public anymore. Instead, I met Zoran Feric, who has been translated recently, in a beautiful club run by a couple of women (booksa).
We’ve also been introduced to several of the local literary publishers, to Nenad Popovic of Durieux, an old friend indeed – who, walking us to Booksa club, had shown us the villa of former icon Tilla Durieux after whom he had named his publishing company (in the 1990s, when people just had forgotten that she had been with partizan resistance – what an absurd twist and irony in those Tudjman years of Croatia), or Fraktura.
Earlier that day, we had walked into a really great and huge book store, Profil – and almost, being a group of almost 20, driven out all regular customers – with a really substantial foreign language section (I still can’t manage my picture upload button, but promise to show a few photographs of all this soon).
Oh, and we had lunch and dinner with 2 rivalry publishers’ associations, learning from György Dalos, our Hungarian guide to Croation book country, that in Hungary they had successfully founded 8 (!) competing book associations by now (and I admit, such things are among my favourites), so I promise that I will tell you more about all of this soon, and bring pictures for testimony as well.