© Sabine Felber/Literaturtest
”Every book counts”
Slovenia is the Guest of Honour of the 75th Frankfurter Buchmesse (18-22 October 2023), showcasing its literature and culture under the motto “Honeycomb of Words”. The accompanying cultural programme in museums and other cultural institutions all over Germany has already started. At the moment the Slovenian Guest of Honour team is preparing Slovenia’s presentation at the book fair in October. We have been in touch with Katja Stergar, Director of the Slovenian Book Agency and head of the Guest of Honour project, and asked her to give us some insight into the current situation in Slovenia.
Here in Germany, we have been closely following the news from Slovenia. It was heartbreaking for us to see vast parts of Slovenia affected by the floods. How is the current situation for you and your team?
Thank you for your thoughtfulness. Every word of support at this time means a lot to us, as virtually all of Slovenia was affected by the floods. All of us at the Slovenian Book Agency have come through it without any immediate damage, and yet every one of us has people in our immediate family who have been impacted by the floods. When you cannot even make a phone call to your parents, because in some places all connections have been cut off for longer periods of time, when you see the water washing away your neighbour's house, when the road you drive on every day is gone, then everything is irrelevant except caring for your people. Our focus on work has waned because we are (only) human, because we cannot sit indifferently at our computers and create the otherwise great story of Slovenia’s Guest of Honour presentation when many need help.
To what extent have cultural institutions, libraries and book shops been affected in Slovenia?
I am in contact with the Chamber of Publishers and Booksellers, the Association of Slovenian Writers, the Association of Slovenian Literary Translators, I follow the messages of the Ministry of Culture, and I am relieved to see that the book industry has survived fairly well.
The majority of Slovenian libraries remained dry or managed to secure book materials. I have not received any reports of a severe flood in any bookstore, nor have I received any such message from the publishers. However, an important archive in Škofja Loka was flooded, and monuments, cultural heritage and schools were not spared by the water. Of course, there are also individuals, authors, translators, critics, illustrators who have lost a lot, but at this time they made their particular situations known or asked for immediate help, because they have too much to do with that basic struggle for existence.
To be honest, for many people, the book is less important at the moment. It is important to get water, electricity and telecommunications working again, to rebuild roads and build bridges to the people. But soon many people will realise that the children are missing school supplies, that the textbooks have been washed away, that there are no books on the bookshelves. But at the same time, many people will decide that books have to wait a little longer, because first they have to buy a refrigerator or a bed.
And in which way has it been affecting your plans for the Guest of Honour programme in Frankfurt? Will Slovenian authors and publishers still be able to participate in the fair in October?
For the time being, Slovenia’s Guest of Honour programme remains intact, we did not have to adjust the programme in Frankfurt, and publishers, authors, translators, illustrators are also confident that they will be able to participate in the fair. My biggest concern is the construction of the Guest of Honour Pavilion at the fair, because Slovenian construction companies will now devote their time to work that needs to be done in Slovenia, and at the same time, a huge number of companies were flooded and many people will not be able to establish their production at all. But I believe that we will find a solution here as well. I believe that we will be able to present Slovenia and its culture and literature in the best light to the international public. In the face of severe trials, we will prove ourselves and come to each other's aid.
And most importantly, what can the international publishing community currently do to help Slovenian colleagues and friends at the moment?
The question about the form of support is the most difficult – because of everything already mentioned above. For the time being, the Slovenian Book Agency will not organise the collection of money itself, as there are already quite a few reliable organisations that know how to target support to those in need.
Here I will mention only two, which focus specifically on children. These organisations support the reading culture through their work and enable children to have a normal childhood. Both organisations have our complete trust, and we have cooperated well with them previously.
Slovenian Association of Friends of Youth
Zveza prijateljev mladine Slovenije
Dimičeva ulica 9, 1000 Ljubljana
IBAN: SI56 6100 0000 3512 232
Reference: SI00 245021
Code of Purpose: CHAR
Chain of Good People (Veriga dobrih ljudi)
Zveze prijateljev mladine Ljubljana Moste - Polje
Proletarska 1, 1000 Ljubljana
IBAN: SI56 3300 0000 1303 865
Code of Purpose: CHAR
Code of Purpose: pomoč prizadetim v poplavah
Reference: SI00 750
If you would like to help in a different way, you can consider inviting a Slovenian author from the more devastated regions to your festival, allowing a Slovenian translator to stay in your residence, or publishing a Slovenian book that is on the waiting list of your publishing house. It all counts.
You can buy books on the websites of Slovenian publishers, and the publishers themselves will distribute them to schools, retirement homes, and other readers. Every book counts.
Thank you all for thinking about us.
Thank you very much for the interview, Katja.
More information about Slovenia’s Guest of Honour project: https://sloveniafrankfurt2023.com/en
Interview by Ines Bachor, PR Manager, Frankfurter Buchmesse