War creates hurdles for Ukraine publishers, but upside too

GMT 14:02 2014 Friday ,10 October

Arab Today, arab today War creates hurdles for Ukraine publishers, but upside too

Kiev's Independence Square - Maidan
Frankfurt - AFP

 Ukrainian publisher Kateryna Mikhalitsyna proudly showcases "The Maidan's Tale", billed as the first attempt to explain the protests in the iconic Kiev square to children through literature.
The brightly illustrated tale by writer and artist Khrystyna Lukashchuk came out in early September and is one example of how Ukrainian publishers at the Frankfurt Book Fair are grappling with the conflict.
Fighting that has claimed nearly 3,400 lives this year rages on in eastern Ukraine between pro-Moscow separatists and a Western-leaning government in Kiev as a ragged one-month-old truce teeters on the verge of collapse.
"It's still difficult in Ukraine because people mostly say 'death? I don't want to talk with you about death'," said Mikhalitsyna, deputy editor-in-chief of The Old Lion Publishing House in Lviv.
"But children hear everything on the radio, on TV, via the Internet", and dialogue about the grim subject is "extremely needed", she said.
- 'Ukrainian spirit evolves'-
With the economy sliding after six months of deadly conflict, many people have to make the choice "to buy a book or something to eat", said Volodymyr Samoylenko, of Kiev-based Nika Centre Publishing House.
But the conflict has also produced an upside for publishers of Ukrainian-language books in a national sector where literature is produced and read in both Ukranian and Russian, publishers said.
Russian has historically been the second language in Ukraine, a country linguistically split into the Ukrainian-speaking west and Russian-speaking east, where pro-Moscow separatists have claimed "independence" in two regions.
"People in the Russian-speaking eastern region, because of the conflict, (have) become highly interested in Ukrainian" -language books, Mikhalitsyna, whose company mostly specialises in children's literature, said.
"Their Ukrainian national spirit evolves."
Levgen Krasovytskyi, of Folio in the eastern city of Kharkiv which publishes 400-500 titles a year, mostly in Russian, also said there had been bigger demand for quality Ukrainian-language children's books.
"Why is that?" he said. "Because people want their children to be Ukrainian speaking in the future."
About 80 percent of Ukraine's book market -- excluding scientific and school books -- are Russian imports and still find their way into the country despite the fighting but have become more pricey, he said.
- Holding a book or a gun -
At Kiev's contemporary fiction publishing house Nora-Druk, sales are down, director Eleonora Simonova said, indicating that she understood why people were less inclined to read novels in a climate of crisis.
She said Ukrainian-language publishing houses like hers needed government help, especially in the face of Russian competition.
"We need support from the government in the taxation system and we need a government foundation which will support translation," she told AFP at the five-day fair in the western German city.
With language a politically charged issue, Mikhalitsyna said her company had decided to publish one book for adults in Russian as an act of protest.  
"This one and only Russian-language book was to protest and say that language is not the border, we should not separate people on grounds of language," she said.
During a discussion at the fair on publishing in times of conflict, Nika Centre's Samoylenko highlighted distribution hurdles and the need to battle the copying of books and the "information war".
But he made an impassioned plea for books to be recognised as a cultural product which may help bridge differences between people.
"I believe that... any person who would hold a book in his hands will not take up a machine gun," he said through an interpreter.
His counterparts on the panel from Syria and Nigeria nodded in agreement.


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