THE MOOD OF CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPEAN writers and publishers after the euphoria of 1989 sobered later in the 1990s, and while it may not have been despairing, it certainly seemed subdued. State subsidies had disappeared, and while writers were free to say anything and publishers to print it, the distribution system was in disarray; dissidents like Milan Kundera, Gyorgy Konrad, Martin Simecka, and Tomaz Salamun, with nothing politically advantageous to NATO policy to dissent from, lost much of their attraction for Western publishers and readers. With the exception of a few small presses that issue slim volumes and others that produce anthologies, newer writers like Gustav Murin in Slovakia, Iztok Osojnik in Slovenia, and Ioana Ieronim in Romania are not widely recognized, if they are translated at all. Until very recently, no one seemed to know how to improve the situation. Now, judging from admittedly incomplete evidence from the 2003 Frankfurt Book Fair, the literary world of that region, especially the southern and eastern countries, seems to be not only more hopeful but more proactive in bringing ideas and technologies from the West and in using them to present their writers to a Western audience.
Before publishers and literary organizations could begin to export the work of their writers, however, they had to make it possible for intranational readers to acquire it; and to do this, they had to correct or, better still, ignore practices inherited from communist times. This requires not just a new frame of mind but new people, and, according to a Serb writer who falls between generations, young writers as well as publishers are much less interested in drinking, smoking, and groping and more interested in getting down to work. Valerij Juresic of the
Croatian firm Faust Vrancic may not be quite typical of the younger generation, for he seems to have enough ideas and energy for three or four people. He edited the first student newspaper in Croatia, ran an international literary festival for eight years, brought the first slam poetry competitions to his country, and sponsored the first contest for the best novel in manuscript. Now he is trying to revolutionize Croatian publishing with KIS (Knjizni Informacijski Sustav), or a Croatian version of Books in Print.
Juresic offers a barrage of arguments to show why this is both necessary and possible. Most important is the rapid growth of consumer spending in Croatia--20 to 25 percent since the end of 2001. This is due in part to the stabilization of the banking system under the influence of Austrian and Italian banks, which now control more than 95 percent of the market and have introduced new products and services. This new confidence has benefited the book market, which, as in all other former communist countries, had slumped badly. For three years in a row now, however, book sales...