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31 Oct 13

Serbia Minister Takes up Writers’ Blocks

The Culture Minister has used the forum of a public debate to promise to tackle the many problems afflicting the literary scene.

Nemanja Cabric
BIRN Belgrade

Serbia’s Ministry of Culture organized a public debate, on the initiative of a group of writers, on the urgent issues in the areas of publishing, public libraries and the position of writers.

The event in the National Library on October 25 gathered directors of libraries, representatives of associations of publishers, as well as publishers themselves.

Gordana Ćirjanić, Vida Ognjenović, Aleksandar Gatalica, Vladislav Bajac, Vule Žurić, Vladimir Kecmanović, Milovan Marčetić and other writers provided their own insights into the major problems confronting Serbian literature.

Discussion points included observations that writers are more known from television appearances these days than from their books, that libraries lack money to organize programmes and build up new generations of readers, and that publishers are too reliant on the state money as a key part of their budgets.

As Minister Ivan Tasovac, who opened the event, put it: “There are more and more lobbies fighting for a cake that is getting smaller.

“Today we have 135 literary events, 128 literary awards, five professional associations, 1,100 publishers and 4,237 books were published last year,” he noted.

“This abundance will not give birth to quality – more awards means less of the written word in the public life,“ Tasovac added, calling for a halt to this negative trend.

Saša Ilić, a literary critic and a signee of the initiative sent to the ministry in mid-October, repeated some of the requests and suggestions that the group came up with: a fairer distribution of the culture budget, more scholarships for writers, and regulation of the market in literary journals.

“We need to establish a principle of quality as the main criteria, but we also want to know whether any more money will be available or not,” Ćirić said referring to the small sum that Serbia allocates for culture annually. Last year it amounted to only 0.62 per cent of the state budget.
Other suggestions from speakers were to establish a state agency in charge of finding foreign publishers for domestic books, relieving libraries of responsibility to issue public tenders, and allocating more money for literature journals. Writers were also warned about the frequent violations of copyright law, which tends to go unsanctioned in Serbia.

Minister Tasovac promised to deal with the issues as well as continue dialogue with writers over these issues by organizing similar events in future.

In the meantime, Serbia’s book industry is a tough sea to swim in. Publishers as well as literary journals rarely pay fees to writers and translators, considering this an unnecessary expenditure, for example. This and other problems make the existence of an emerging literary critic or writer almost impossible, it was noted.

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