Georgi Grozdev, writer and publisher, Bulgaria
OUR DEBT TO THE FUTURE IS BIGGER THAN THE ONE TO THE PAST
Georgi Grozdev, writer and publisher
Today we meet writers whose books were published, or are still in press, by BALKANI Publishing House , the publishing house I founded in 1991 and continue to work in until this very moment. These names are its authority and the prestige of it publication series. What bonds us is either mutual liking or friendship. Some of them, unfortunately, have gone to the better world. They probably keep watch over us to uphold their intellectual work here, on Earth. I wish to believe they also protect us from up there where they are – in Heaven.
We are in the process of building useful humane and professional relationships with other writers. We hope to find new names from the Peninsula, and from Bulgaria, who are yet to become known. Yet to be read.
BALKANI survived month by month, year by year. With it survived the hope that at least a tiny piece of the writers’ works will endure. Such individual work as the writer’s, this loner over the empty sheet of paper, has also its common aspects. Not all opinions must coincide, nor all values need be shared. There is one shared oxygen environment, without which not only the writer, but any other artist would be impossible. I would like to think that throughout all these years of uncertainty, BALKANI has been a small oasis, a hospitable host to interesting, talented and different Bulgarian and Balkan writers.
Together we walked through the last decade of the past century: the troubled Bulgarian and Balkan, South-European times. Many parted with their old illusions. Many conceived new ones. Money was little. Hope, too. What if man has money but has lost hope? What will save him then? We never had enough money, but made it through having hope.
Together, we also turned the first pages of the new millennium, of the new century.
April 1999 saw the publication of the so-called White Series – An Autographed Book. The 13 authors participating in it, some of the most respected modern Bulgarian writers, answered 13 questions regarding the future of the book, Bulgaria and the Balkans.
Again April, but of 2004, saw the publication of the Balkan Library Series. It comprised 11 Balkan authors and 10 more are still under print. The Series opened in 2002 with the Balkan Nobel Prize winners Ivo Andric, Giorgos Seferis and Odysseas Elytis. All the writers in the series answered those 13 questions whose answers were sought after by their Bulgarian fellow-writers back in 1999. What a coincidence! Some of them, like the Balkan Nobel Prize winners Miroslav Krleza and Izet Sarailic who passed away just before we had a chance to meet, participate remotely in the conversation. I added new questions. Time demanded it. Unfortunately, they can no longer be addressed by some of the Bulgarian authors. Blaga Dimitrova, Gencho Stoev, Yordan Radichkov, Toncho Zhechev are no longer with us.
Are dinosaurs disappearing? Great Bulgarian and Balkan writers leave us one by one, their pride intact, without mutating into a new breed of authors – “omnivorous mammals” created by the political and cultural conjuncture. Will the ones who come after manage to preserve their souls, their creative work, or will they, under the sign of profitable omnivorousness, become servants of commonplaceness and pseudoculture? Will they become mass-media heroes instead of writers of artistic novelties, creators of aesthetic values, whose readership is smaller but more enlightened and of independent thinking? Will they cash in their dignity or will they endure it? Where and how to find the lost cultural insight of today’s world, the one mentioned as far as back as the 40s of the last century by the unforgettable Charlie Chaplin after his exile from America?
Ever since its very beginning, BALKANI publishing house has had one dream – to be a bridge, an extended hand. How could I miss such an opportunity, which we have worked for years to make possible?
We published two pilot issues of the Literary Balkans magazine – one in 2002 and one in 2003 – as a result of the contacts we had established through the Balkan Library Series. As of 2004, the publishing house has the financial support of the Bulgarian fund “Thirteen Centuries Bulgaria” for that part of the expenses related to printing. That means for three years ahead, God willing, four issues per year. I have been asked many a time on my travels abroad who backs me up and why I have taken on such a venture. The question has always made me think and look over my shoulder to see if there is someone there after all.
I am grateful to the famous, not only on the Balkans, Bulgarian novelist and professor on Ottoman history Vera Mutafchieva. Without her solidarity and friendship there probably wouldn’t be the 13 centuries (she is on the fund’s board of managers), which have in fact always been behind us, whether we realize it or not, and which are not only Bulgarian but also common, Balkan.
The idea of BALKANI is precisely an adventure of the mind which doesn’t stay with the homebred and the homebody. The authors of today’s issue, with their special participation, prove this as well. The magazine is a challenge to everyone who wants to discover the foreign and compare themselves to it. Thus we learn much more and unexpected things about our home and ourselves. BALKANI is a way to get to know each other through writers, through literature. It does not exclude competition.
Vast spaces, cultural and economic, lie in store for this competition. This is the language of the future, not the rusty sound of horns, which as if in a dream draws borders, captures cities, assimilates ethnicities, conquers mountains and plains. The afflicted by the contagious snooze conduct the process of annihilation invariably in the past, but in fact many want to crawl out of there. I am talking about the sleeping Monsters of the Balkans. They dwell in each one of us. Every time we publish a new author in the Balkan Library Series, we publish the same text on the cover of the book saying the language of the Monster is doomed.
This is my idea of our debt to the future. It is a greater debt than the one to the past. It will too disappear if tomorrow we are no more. Why do the ones whose eyes are fixed backwards always forget this, and always look the opposite way of where we’re going? If we wait for the perfect conditions, we’ll probably never see them. Let us make our furrow in the field now. God willing, there will be a second and a third.
The Balkan view is neither elementary nor deliberate as we have often been led to believe. The Balkan person doesn’t understand, they say, he has to be instructed how to behave, they say, what to do, what is good, what is bad. I definitely do not refer only to the Bulgarian.
Writers are the first and authentic ambassadors of tolerance and humaneness. They are loyal to the spirit of the Ancient Greeks, the creators of the modern civilization. Oftentimes, statesmen and politicians have been driven by self-interest. They need customs offices, secret police, armies, bureaucracy. They thrive on suspicion. That’s why future eludes them. The Balkans also have their perspicacious politicians. They don’t bribe the future. They are honest with it. Because the future is our children’s children…
Writers breed trust. Protect the writers! The books of the Balkan poets and novelists, translated for the first time in Bulgarian, say much more than all the newspapers stuffed with untruth, outright lies or hatred. Trust and lies cannot stand each other.
With the Balkan Library Series we did not lie. The Balkans are a world belonging to every one of us!
This publishing series gave birth to the Literary Balkans magazine. One of the Macedonian writers says in the following pages, “Please, just don’t stop!”
I have always been thrilled when from different parts of the peninsula, the most ordinary people have uttered deeply cherished words in respect to our humble efforts, calling our work “temel”* . The digging of the temels is the dirtiest and hardest part of the building process. Later on, the temel remains deep in the ground, but its size and strength determine the durability of the roof.
The first steps are the most difficult, says a Greek friend of ours, half-Bulgarian, Christos Katsanis. We were not alone in these first steps. We won’t be in the next, I hope. The books of the BALKAN LIBRARY were partially sponsored by the United Bulgarian Bank, the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Macedonia, the National Center of the Book with the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Bulgaria, the Pro Helvetia Foundation – Switzerland, the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia, the Ministry of Education and Culture of the Republic of Cyprus, the Slovenian Primos Trubar Foundation, the Ministry of Culture and Information of Serbia and Montenegro, and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Greece. The attention given to the projects of a private Bulgarian publishing house by so many authoritative organizations, some of which state institutions, gives us more courage.
And last but not least, I have to mention at least part of the team of fellow-thinkers, translators, editors, assistants: Svetlozar Igov, Gancho Savov, Zdravka Mihailova, Alexandra Liven, Marina Marinova, Valeri Petrov, Dragomira Vulcheva, Hristina Shtereva, , Zhela Georgieva, Rumiana Stancheva, Siyka Racheva, Stoyna Poromanska, Zdravka Evtimova, Stefka Paunova, Hussein Mevsim, as well the artistic designer of the Literary Balkans magazine and the Balkan Library series, Zahari Glavchovski. I also want to mention the young people who found time amidst their student obligations to come and work for BALKANI – Vihra Mutafchieva, Nadezhda Toromanova, Anton Grozdev, Vassil Grozdev, as well as my wife, Zhenya Grozdeva, who is directly involved in the publication of this series as my partner.
I don’t see a reason to hide the fact that to a certain extent the publishing house is a family responsibility, just like the small and medium-sized business in many countries around the world. This definitely helps our work and past years bear witness to it. I should not omit the names of the late famous Bulgarian translators whose texts we published – Stefan Gechev, Liliya Katskova, Mihail Berberov, Marin Zhechev.