June 2004, No 15
Editor: Hella Rottenberg
The Story Behind the Lexicon of YU Mythology
New Government Book Policy in Croatia
Books Recently Published
The Story Behind the Lexicon of YU Mythology
In 1989, when Dubravka Ugrešić, a writer from Zagreb, with Dejan Kršić and Ivan Molek, editors of “Start”, one of the most influential magazine in Yugoslavia at that time, invited many of their friends to cooperate in the project of ‘Lexicon of YU Mythology’, they could not possibly guess that the country whose every day routine they planned to unite in the form of a major (pseudo)-lexicographical edition will soon fall apart at seams in a series of brutal wars.
The initial idea was noble and – even then it seemed – inevitable: to simply collect and articulate those items that make up every day routine and the real point of life of the average Yugoslav.
With the feeling that we often regard our own popular culture with an arrogant lack of care, letting it disappear in time too easily, they decided to seriously indulge in a sort of cultural archaeology and, with the help of people who were interested in joining them, to dig up at least one possible path through indefinite jungle of popular culture and artefacts of so-called “Tito’s Yugoslavia”. “A Mythology”, they titled it, even then. It was supposed to represent a funny, if long, journey through that frivolous layer of our reality that is much closer to the heart than its political system or ideology. Nothing more and nothing less, really, but a journey through yu-pop.
EX-YUGOSLAVIA GOES: EX-POP!
Pop: uncorking of the bottle of champagne, shoulder dislocation, explosion of air through rounded lips… The sound itself is everywhere. Pop stars, pop music, pop art, pop literature, popcorn…. There are brit-pop and post-pop.
Even Iggy. Pop, of course.
Pop icons! Does anybody anywhere need to be told about who and what Mickey Mouse, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Superman, coca-cola, rock’n’roll or Hollywood are? No.
Everybody knows quite well what pop culture is. That’s why it is a pop culture.
Nevertheless, a very strong field of regional cultures exists all around. You used to have, and still have Italian cuisine, Italian painters and Italian architecture as well as typically Italian pop. And with all the influences from abroad, still, what Italians do and create today is an expression of a typically Italian culture, just as it was before.
Pop is, so to say, deceitful: both global and local.
So what happens with the pop-remnants of a country that is gone?
As that country gains an unpopular prefix and becomes “ex” country, pop that it created and left behind becomes “ex” pop too.
And that is exactly what we are dealing with here.
ONCE UPON A TIME…
The South-Eastern region of Europe was always prone to unexpected twists. Only a few years after creation of the initial idea of “Lexicon of Yu Mythology”, at the beginning of the last decade of 20th century, that complex, contradictory, often unfair and disappointing, but also exciting, vital, multicoloured, friendly and cheerful Yugoslavia, became much darker, “ex-Yugoslavia”: a country of devilish injustice and enormous brutality, a dark Balkan powder keg, a symbol of European horror and European helplessness, the empire of ethnic cleansing, a global example for the relatively lucky fact that things go wrong exactly where they were meant to go wrong. The ties between once brotherly nations were abruptly torn, and no contacts existed for years. New norms and realities were to be accepted. We were supposed to forget that Yugoslavia ever existed, and for those of us who considered themselves Yugoslavs – and we are still to be found all over the place, no matter whether we are now citizens of Slovenia, Macedonia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, or Serbia and Montenegro – that was a question of a personal as well as collective defeat.
Once upon a time there was a noble idea crushed by bad realization.
Once upon a time there was a country called Yugoslavia, which is now no more, and we are supposed to get used to that fact, in pain, the way one gets used to an amputated limb. And what a pity! Because there was something great and relieving in that – Yugoslav – identity. It promised nothing at all. An average Yugoslav could have addressed you in one of dozens of languages and dialects which citizens of the country spoke, he could have belonged to various religions, he could have been dark skinned or pale, blond or black…
Do you still remember Yugoslavia?
It was that country in which, after each 100 km you pass, the surroundings would change dramatically, nature and climate as well as faces and dialects; country which extended from the Central European atmosphere of Slovenia down to the thoroughly oriental Kosovo or Macedonia; the country which, at least for a short time, managed to positively value all these differences, and even promote them in one period of its short history as its own elementary quality; the country in which various faces of Europe clashed and/or merged, the country in whose menus you could find, side by side, kebab and Wiener steak, baklava and Sacher Torte.
GLOBAL VS. LOCAL
Things evidently changed during the 1990s, both globally and locally. The exchange of cultural information, thanks to the World Wide Web, gained speed without precedent in the history of human civilization. Suddenly, information was able to fly over from one side of the planet to another and back in a split second. Instead of coagulating around geographical formations, it is now running through cables and extends freely over unending cyber space. As the rabbit from magician’s hat, it now appears, disappears, re-appears and transforms in a flash. Culture is no longer reliable as it seemed before. Pop-culture especially.
We Yugoslavs were going both through progression and regression during the 1990s. There was something bizarre in the fact that a person who was forced to leave his own home, which was either to be burnt or given to people of different nationality, carries with him only his own laptop computer. The shock that came with the wars and this explosion of sheer violence was terrible.
It changed a lot of things, so it is no wonder that it also stopped, at least temporarily, the work on the “Lexicon of Yu Mythology”. The things were simply not the same anymore. Dubravka Ugrešić moved to Amsterdam. Luckily, she brought the idea of this lexicon with her and passed it on it to her Amsterdam students, Djordje Matić and Iris Adrić. Soon the thing started to grow and develop again, thanks to their initiative, and when the website-version of the Lexicon was set up at the end of the 1990s, it was there that the project finally gained its full momentum and sense. Yugoslavia now anyway existed only inside the dark and unpredictable space of a magician’s hat.
The fund of items dealing with intimate memories of Yugoslav routine, work of hundreds of people, who sent their writings directly to the website, grew bigger every day. Since 2000, the site has been re-designed and the publishing houses Rende from Belgrade and Postscriptum from Zagreb became engaged in joint publication of this book whose parallel promotion and distribution in all parts of the former country was planned from the beginning as an integral part of this project. The work was huge and tiring. It involved many gruesome moments and break-downs. But the book is finally here now. Full fifteen years and four wars after it was initiated. That was a long and unpredictable journey and now we finally seem to be at its end.
Yugoslavia is now ruined and burnt to shambles. But it’s not just piles of worthless ash. What could be dragged out of these ruins represents a certain investment for the future. Participants in this project were recalling and writing down their memories of everything that formed ordinary life in the times now long gone. But it was not just fruitless and sad search through dead remains of one dead country. This breviary of over one thousand various items, that covers such different fields as sports, pop music, folk music, geographical terms, commercials and slogans, ideological jargon, small dictionaries of street language and slang, industrial products, faces from the world of art, film, theatre, television etc., has already proven necessary to older and middle-aged generations, those who still remember those times, in order to preserve memories of what was good and noble in the former country. But, maybe, it is even more so to younger generations, which grew up through wars, violence and national and ethnic hatred, in order for them to extract and acknowledge numerous artefacts which refer to a country and a time which is behind us and which will never happen again. And, the end?
There is no end, of course. New items are still being delivered. The book is huge but there is evidently a lot more to be written about. Some of us feel as if the work has just started, as if we are still warming up. So, this journey through ex-pop continues.
See you in the second, extended edition.
New Government Book Policy in Croatia
The new minister of culture in Croatia Božo Biškupić has announced a transformation in the policy regarding publishing. The traditional approach makes the Ministry of Culture the best book purchaser in the country and creates a situation in which the book publishing business can function independently of normal market mechanisms. This unhealthy situation should not exist much longer, Biškupić thinks.
Croatia is a small book market of 4 million inhabitants with low purchasing power. The average monthly salary is about 4.000 kunas, € 530. At the same time book prices are very high. The average retail price amounts to 140 kuna (€ 18,50). As long as the government support system works for them, book publishers have no need to sell a lot of copies, they can make a profit without doing so.
This is how it works: on behalf of the libraries, a Book Council to the Ministry of Culture selects every six months hundreds of titles and buys a number of copies of each title from the publisher. The price the Ministry pays is the full retail price, i.e. much more (at least 20 percent) than publishers would receive if they sold their copies directly to the libraries or bookstores.
As soon as he took up his position in the Ministry, Biškupić started to monitor those publishers who profited the most from governments subsidies and the purchase system. Although the evaluation is not yet finished, it seems clear that Biškupić thinks the publishers were cheating the government under the previous regime, because they were selling the books to the Ministry for higher prices than to bookstores, publishing only enough copies for the governmental purchase, even taking money for books they never published. During all this period certain publishers were in a privileged position, because significantly more of their titles were purchased. Actually a conflict of interest was built into the system: five members of the Book Council were publishers themselves.
„If three of Zagreb’s printing companies ask between 9,14 kuna and 13,88 kuna plus VAT for one copy of a paperback book, why is the retail price ten times as high?”, was the question Biškupić put at a press conference. “With everything included the price can raise to 70 kuna (9, 10 Euro) at most”, was his conclusion.
Biškupić plans to amend the books-for-libraries-purchase system, according to which the Ministry buys the books at retail prices set by publishers. He wants to purchase the books at a more realistic price and save money for other projects. Biškupić also suggested a change in the nomination of Book Council members. No publishers should be part of it any more. Members of the Book Council will be writers, translators and professors of literature. From the entire budget for culture, which is 690 million kuna, publishing will get 49 million kuna, instead of the 55 million last year. He plans to get the publishers back into the market.
One of his strategies is to introduce loans with low rates of interest (2%). With loans at low rates publishers and booksellers will be able to develop their activities, without becoming fully dependent on the government. Promoting contacts between Croatian culture and Europe has also been announced as a priority. The government has opened an office for Croatian book marketing abroad that should promote Croatian authors and support translations.
Alexandria Press in Belgrade has published the Serbian translation of Richard Pipes’ Communism, A History of the Intellectual and Political Movement. It is a remarkable book by the famous American historian, that deserves to be translated into many languages. It is a book worth reading by those who have lived under communism as well as by those who know the system only from paper or hearsay. In barely 160 pages Pipes explains the essentials of the theory and the practice of an ideology that has been the most dominating force in the 20th century. His aim is to show that Marxism was doomed to fail, because the theory rested on a false philosophy of history and illusions about human behaviour. Capitalism would not – as Marx assumed – inevitably end in an insuperable systemic crisis which would logically lead to a social revolution. And banning private property would not liberate, but, on the contrary, enslave mankind.
The major achievement of this work is that complex issues and processes are made comprehensible in simple terms and that it is convincing in its reasoning. The book is, according to the author, an introduction to communism and at the same time, its obituary. Pipes presents an analysis of the ideas of the founding fathers of Marxism, clarifies the diputes that led to splits in the movement and the reasons why social revolution did not occur in developed industrial societies, but in backward agrarian countries. Russia, China, Cuba and Cambodia, all the varieties of Marxist revolutions file past.
As a lifelong student of Russian history and the Russian revolution, Pipes is at his best in his account of the Soviet example. Supported by recent historical research, conducted after the downfall of communism, Pipes argues that Stalinism was not a perversion of Leninism and that violence and terror were the necessary instruments for the establishment of communism. The Bolsheviks represented only 5 percent of the industrial workers in whose name they proclaimed the October revolution (typically Pipes calls the event the November coup), while the working class in Russia constituted not more than two percent of the population. How could the Bolsheviks have kept hold of power without extraordinary means of violence? During the Great Terror in the 1930s Stalin executed an average of 1.000 citizens a day, meaning that in four days under Stalin more people were executed for political crimes than under the tsars between 1825 and 1910.
With such telling comparisons, together with revealing quotations and clarifying argumentation Pipes throws communism into the dustbin of history.
In April 2004, the CEEBP awarded grants for twenty-one books, one journal, and five other grants. The grants for books were awarded for thirteen West – East translations and eight East –East translations.
Three publishers received grants for equipment and websites. Matching funds were provided for the Central Europe Book Review of Transitions Online, and for the participation of Central and East European publishers in the Rights Catalogue, the Rights managers meeting, and e-Stands at the Frankfurter Buchmesse.
- Jean Améry, Hand an sich legen. Diskurs über den Freitod, German – Hungarian translation by Éva Blaschtik, Múlt es Jövő, Budapest
- Juri Andruhovich, Dezorientatsija na mistsevosti: Sproby (Das letzte Territorium), Ukrainian- Hungarian translation by Gábor Körner, Racio, Budapest
- Hannah Arendt, Life of the Mind (part I Thinking), English – Serbian translation by Ranko Mastilović, Feminist Publisher 94, Belgrade
- Hannah Arendt, Life of the Mind (part II Willing), English – Serbian translation by Ranko Mastilović, Feminist Publisher 94, Belgrade
- Raymond Aron, L’opium des intellectuels, French – Bulgarian translation by Krasimir Kavaldjiev, SemaRSh, Sofia
- Péter Esterházy, A sziv segédigéi (Helping Verbs of the Heart), Hungarian – Czech translation by Dana Gálová, Dauphin, Prague
- Egon Gál (ed.), Wadsworth Philosophers Series (Selection), English – Slovak translations by Jozef Kovalčík, Monika Šubrtová, Ľubica Hábová a.o., Albert Marenčin – PT, Bratislava
- Aron J. Gurevic, Das Individuum im europäischen Mittelalter, German – Romanian translation by Hans Neumann, Polirom, Iaşi
- Gustaw Herling-Grudziński, Inny Sviat. Zapiski sowieckie (A World Apart), Polish – Byelorussian translation by Sviatlana Kurs, Kovcheg, Minsk
- Jakov Katz, Tradition and Crisis, English – Hungarian translation by Judit Stöckl, Múlt es Jövő, Budapest
- Lev Lunts, Zaveščanie carja: neopublikovannyj kinoscenarij; rasskazy; stat’i; recenzii; pis’ma; nekrologi (unpublished film scripts, stories, essays, reviews, letters, necrologies), Russian – Czech translation by Hana Svobodová, Triáda, Prague
- Arno Lustiger, Rotbuch: Stalin und die Juden, German – Polish translation by Elżbieta Kaźmierzcak and Witold Leder, W.A.B., Warszaw
- Semezdin Mehmedinović, Sarajevo Blues, Servo-Croatian – Slovenian translation by Sonja Polanc, Center za slovensko književnost, Ljubljana
- Anna Politkovskaya, Vtoraja Tšetšenskaja (Chechnya. The Truth about the War), Russian – Estonian translation by Jüri Ojamaa, AS Pakett/Hotger, Talinn
- Paul Ricoeur, La Mémoire, l’Histoire, l’Oubli, French – Bulgarian translation by Todorka Mineva, SONM, Sofia
- Paolo Rossi, La nascita della scienza in Europa, Italian – Romanian translation by Dragos Cojocaru, Polirom, Iaşi
- Simon Schama, Citizens. A Chronicle of the French Revolution, English – Czech translation by Martin Pokorný, Prostor, Prague
- George Steiner, After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation, English – Czech translation by Šárka Grauová, Triáda, Prague
- Sándor Tar, Szürke galamb (Grey Pigeon), Hungarian – Czech translation by Milan Navrátil, Dauphin, Prague
- Ferenc Visky, Fogoly vagyok. 70 történet a börtönről és a barátságról, Hungarian – Romanian translation by Georgeta-Delia Hajdu, Koinónia, Cluj Napoca
- Piotr S. Wandycz, The Price of Freedom: A History of East Central Europe from the Middle Ages to the Present, English – Croatian translation by Marko Majerović, Srednja Europa, Zagreb
- Revista 22, political and cultural weekly, Group for Social Dialogue, Bucarest
- Belgrade Circle, Belgrade – website
- Frankfurter Buchmesse – Central and East European publishers’ e-Stands, entries in Rights Catalogue, and Rights Directors Meeting
- KRUG Commerce, Belgrade – equipment & website
- Sfera Politicii, Bucarest – equipment & website
- Transitions Online, Prague – Central Europe Review Books section
- European Cultural Foundation
- Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds
- Salomon von Oppenheim Stiftung
- Stichting Het Parool/Stichting Democratie en Media
- Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, The Netherlands
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Netherlands