Pages of interesting dialogue
[b]Hundreds of exhibitors from 23 countries attended the 18th International Book Fair in Minsk in order to engage with numerous book lovers[/b]Tens of thousands of visitors were able to acquaint themselves with the latest literature and with the authors. Ordinary book lovers, with no connection to the publishing industry, dominated the event and the organisers and exhibitors of the book fair focussed on this demographic. The pavilions at the BelExpo National Exhibition Centre, which hosted the trade fair, did not in the least resemble hushed libraries but were abuzz with excited voices.
Tens of thousands of visitors were able to acquaint themselves with the latest literature and with the authors. Ordinary book lovers, with no connection to the publishing industry, dominated the event and the organisers and exhibitors of the book fair focussed on this demographic. The pavilions at the BelExpo National Exhibition Centre, which hosted the trade fair, did not in the least resemble hushed libraries but were abuzz with excited voices.
Meanwhile, an exhibition is a serious event and the educational process cannot be considered complete without books and verbal communication. This opinion was expressed by the First Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration, Alexander Radkov, who attended the opening of the 18th International Book Fair.
Many alternatives to traditional books have recently appeared, such as electronic books and electronic display boards. Despite this diversity, there should be a balance, believes Mr. Radkov. “We can’t imagine today a textbook without a CD-ROM or a lesson without an interactive board, yet there can be no lesson without books and face-to-face communication,” he stresses.
The books, of course, were the major attraction for BelExpo visitors. There were plenty of editions to suit every taste: from miniature poetry anthologies the size of a match box, to huge folios not exactly designed for reading on the way to work in the metro.
Mikhail Bakumenko of Minsk exhibited great folios, which were compiled, illustrated and published by him. The themes of these unusual editions are as diverse as the talents of their creator. The first volume to have been released (out of seven) is dedicated to the memory of Bakumenko’s elder brother, who died during WWII. The latest volume, released last year, is entitled Following the Traces of Belarusian Treasures and explores the history of our country through its hidden treasures and riches.
The example of Bakumenko demonstrates that ‘even one man in the field is a warrior’, yet joint endeavours can also be productive, as proven by the Battle of Grunewald — the Battle of Nations, which was presented at the exhibition. This Ukrainian-Belarusian-Lithuanian research is devoted to the 600th anniversary of the victory of the joint forces of the Polish Kingdom and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania over the army of the Teutonic Order. The edition was created as part of the Ukrainian Book programme with support from the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry and the Belarusian Embassy in Ukraine. According to Prof. Igor Marzalyuk, who took part in the research from the Belarusian side, the authors of the book tried to give ‘a totally objective picture of the Battle of Grunewald, relying on national concepts of this important historical event’.
Meanwhile, the pavilion of the descendants of those German knights was in the limelight at this year’s book fair, since Germany was an honorary guest. This country presented hundreds of books of various genres and themes under the heading ‘Germany: Wealth of Colours and Flowers’.
Some German writers decided to present their works themselves, with Uwe Rada among them. His Die Memel: Kulturgeschichte Eines Europischen Stromes (The Nieman River Area — History, Culture and Fate of a Single European Space) was recently released in Belarusian by one of Minsk’s publishing houses. The author travelled from the source to the mouth of the River Nieman and met people from Belarus, Lithuania and Russia’s Kaliningrad Region. Rada wanted to know whether the Nieman was capable of uniting the people living along its banks.
Remarkably all the books from the German stands were donated to Belarusian libraries after the exposition. This act was highly praised, since, according to Roman Motulsky, Director of the National Library of Belarus, Belarusian book depositories need to buy five times more books than they currently do because of financial limitations. Such high growth rates are necessary to ensure compliance with UNESCO standards and although the financing of libraries is constantly increased it still lags behind the growth in book prices.
Still, Belarusian libraries have many works to choose from as over 11,000 books were released in Belarus in 2010, with a total circulation exceeding 40m copies. Of course, many of these were on show at the exhibition, with both large and small Belarusian publishing houses running their own stands. However sales have fallen significantly in recent years.
One of the reasons for this global tendency was demonstrated at the stand of the Pocketbook Company, which produces electronic books and interest in its goods is ever growing. Such devices offer several advantages, including the ability to download more books than can be kept at a district library. The competition is tough and the participants of the Minsk book fair discussed the associated problems. For example, a lecture was organised entitled There, Beyond the Horizon: Electronic Books, Readers and Other Technical Means.
The position of traditional book publishing companies is still very strong, however, as shown by the presentation at the book fair of the most diverse literature.
Belarusian publishing houses have paid special attention to Vladimir Korotkevich, author of several classics of national literature. We recently celebrated the 80th anniversary of his birth. Alongside Vladimir Korotkevich: Famous and Unknown — a collection of essays, poems and dedications — the re-issue of his novel, Wild Hunt of King Stakh, aroused great interest. The new edition of this work — a landmark of Belarusian literature — was released in three languages: Russian, Ukrainian and English.
Representatives of the Belarusian publishing houses shared their plans. This year, the first five books of a 50-volume Golden Collection of Belarusian Literature series will be released. The first volumes will explore works from the 11th to the early 20th century. Taking into account that the book fair launched a campaign to encourage reading, initiated by the country’s Information Ministry, we can only hope that each volume will find its readers.
Another book presentation, which aroused great interest at the exhibition, was of a copy of one of the rare books dedicated to the life of Belarusian saint Yevfrosiniya Polotskaya. The book will appear in 2012. According to Vladimir Grozov, Executive Director of the Belarusian Exarchate Publishing House, the project has had a difficult history. Around 30 rarities — monuments of Belarusian literature — are currently to be found beyond the borders of Belarus. “They can be found in Russia, the USA, Sweden and Poland, but because of particular circumstances, we cannot retrieve them, so it was decided to create facsimile copies,” explained Mr. Grozov.
Other factors, not connected with literature in any way, added a special flavour to the entire atmosphere. ‘Sweet’ moments at the event could be had at a stand offering books about la dolce vita — along with a honey tasting. If visitors were thirsty not only for knowledge, they could drink sparkling cider at an impromptu tasting. All of this was delightfully accompanied by smiling young girls in national costumes, unobtrusively advertising the stands of their countries. The atmosphere at the event was very relaxed and friendly.
Many of the exhibited books were available for purchase. Although books were bought at a slower rate than hamburgers in the nearby McDonald’s, the pace of sales was still impressive. We have every reason to believe that in a year Minsk International Book Fair will again delight those keen on food for thought with new meetings and editions.
By Yevgeny Grudanov
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