29 April 2021
The Four Gospels of Metropolitan Jakov of Serres is one of the most prominent and finely decorated Serbian mediaeval codices, produced in 1354-55, during the greatest ascent of the Serbian mediaeval state, in the reign of Stefan Dušan, King of Serbia (1331-46) and “Emperor of the Serbs and Greeks” (1346-55). This codex has recently been digitized.
Headpiece of the Gospel of St Mark decorated with birds in coloured vine scrolls on a gold background. A coloured initial with interlace and foliate decoration at the beginning of the Gospel. Add.MS.39626, f. 89r
The military success of Stefan Dušan was crowned with the conquest of the city of Serres in 1345. The Serbian mediaeval state incorporated large parts of the Byzantine Empire, almost all of Macedonia, Khalkidhiki, Epirus and Thessaly, as well as Mount Athos, the centre of monastic and spiritual life.
After the conquest of Serres, Stefan Dušan was crowned Emperor in 1346, and Jakov, the former abbot of the Monastery of the Holy Archangels near Prizren, was proclaimed the Metropolitan of Serres. Jakov remained a Metropolitan until his death, between 1360 and 1365. Shortly after the conquest, the city of Serres became a prominent literary, artistic and political centre of the Serbian Empire, along with other major centres such as Novo Brdo, Prizren, Skopje and Prilep.
The contacts between the Serbian monks, scribes and illuminators and the Greek scribes resulted in the adoption and exchange of stylistic and artistic expressions of the masters in the time of the Palaeologus dynasty of the Byzantine Empire.
Kephalaia (numbered chapters) to the Gospel of St Luke. Each Gospel is preceded by kephalaia. The heading is in uncial and text is in semi-uncial script. Add.MS.39626, f. 142r
The Gospels of Metropolitan Jakov of Serres was produced on parchment and has 302 leaves and a mediaeval parchment flyleaf. It consists of the four Gospels preceded by a colophon. At the end of the Gospels are synaxarion and menology (lists of Gospel readings for the liturgical year) and octoechos (weekly cycle of hymns). The dimensions of the codex are 315 x 225 mm.
The Gospels are decorated with five large and five smaller head-pieces, four lavishly decorated initials and three drawings in the colophon.
Headpiece of the Gospel of St Luke. The headpiece is painted in the upper part of the page at the beginning of each of the Gospels. Add.MS.39626, f. 145r
The Gospel of St John with floral decoration on gold background. Add.MS.39626, f. 229r
Full page illustration of Jakov the Metropolitan of Serres. Add.MS.39626, f. 292v
Inscription stating that the codex was made in 1355 for Jakov in his Metropolitan church at Serres, in the time of Tsar Stefan Dušan, his wife Helena, a sister of Tsar Ivan Alexander of Bulgaria, their son the King Uroš, and the Patriarch Joanikije (d. 1354). Add.MS.39626, f. 293
The Gospels of Metropolitan Jakov of Serres were created under his patronage in the monastery of St. Theodore as a product of the Serres scriptorium. The manuscript is written in Serbian Church Slavonic and was the work of a single scribe. In the colophon Kalist Rasoder is recorded as the scribe and the Metropolitan as the patron of the codex.
The researchers’ conjecture is that Kalist Rasoder arrived in Serres from Mount Athos (most likely from the Hilandar Monastery), where he worked under the auspices of the Metropolitan. In the period of Serbian rule the proximity of Mount Athos enabled the close association of the Metropolitanate of Serres and the district lords with the Hilandar Monastery. A sudden rise and increased production of copying and artistic activities occurred in that time. Additionally, the influences of Thessaloniki and Trnovo were of great importance in selecting the letters and rich decoration, especially floral decoration, which is one of the primary characteristics of 14th century manuscripts.
Synaxarion (a list of Gospel readings for the liturgical year) decorated with a coloured headpiece above the text. Add.MS.39626, f. 294r
Table relating the lessons to the Octoechos cycle (weekly cycle of hymns) in red and black lettering in a table made of red and gold lines, and decorated with interweaving floral and geometric motifs. Add.MS.39626, f. 302v
This work is considered as one of the most beautiful examples of 14th-century manuscripts produced in the lavish art style during the reign of the Palaeologus dynasty. It is assumed that the Gospels of Metropolitan Jakov of Serres were donated to the monastery of St. Paul in 1365, while this area was still under Serbian rule. The significance and value of the manuscript was recognized by the Hon. Robert Curzon (1810-1873), traveller and collector of manuscripts, in the first half of the 19th century. During a visit to the monastery of St Paul on Mount Athos the codex was presented to him together with the Gospels of Tsar Ivan Alexander.
These codices were later bequeathed to the British Museum Library (now the British Library) in 1917.
Branka Vranešević, Associate Professor, University of Belgrade, Faculty of Philosophy, Department of Art History
Milan Grba, Lead Curator South East European Collections
Ralph A. Cleminson, Union catalogue of Cyrillic manuscripts in British and Irish collections. The Anne Pennington catalogue. (London, 1988) 2725.e.600.
Zaga Gavrilović, ‘The Gospels of Jakov of Serres (London, BL Add. MS 39626), the Family of Branković and the Monastery of St Paul, Mount Athos’, in Through the Looking Glass. Byzantium through British eyes. (Aldershot 2000), 135–144. YC.2000.a.6271.
10 July 2020
The British Library has joined forces with the Central and Eastern European Online Library to connect to open access electronic resources and preserve ephemeral material about society and health in Southeast Europe during the pandemic in 2020.
Since 2006 the Central and Eastern European Online Library has provided access for our users to a growing collection of 2,300 humanities and social science journals from Central, East and Southeast Europe. This collection also includes more than 5,500 grey literature items and over 4,200 ebook titles.
A resource ‘Covid-19 in Southeast Europe’ has been created for information and research into the activities of the public health professionals and organisations in the fight against the infection. The resource provides useful data on the provision of public health infrastructure and Covid-19 hospitals, and details of the measures employed in combating the pandemic by country and region within Southeast Europe.
This online resource documents how the appearance of yet another virus from nature, SARS Cov-2, has affected the social, cultural, private and religious life and the health of the peoples of Southeast Europe. The material gathered in one place demonstrates the relativity of any current data comparison, such the one published by Forbes, ‘100 Safest Countries in the World for COVID-19’ , based on the Deep Knowledge Group report, and highlights the importance of locally available data. Some ambiguities and contradictions in publicly available reports demonstrate the lack of world leadership in the pandemic. On the other hand at the local level the data show various attitudes and differences in opinions between experts in advisory roles. These new experiences only serve to show the gravity and uniqueness, scale and complexity of the crisis the world is facing at the moment.
As far as Southeast Europe is concerned, one conclusion that can be drawn is that so far major casualties and the collapse of the healthcare systems have been avoided, and all countries have managed to preserve the functioning of the vital systems of state and society.
“How to protect yourself from a new coronavirus infection” A poster published regularly in the Belgrade daily Politika.
We are grateful to the Serbian public health institute for giving us permission to reuse their open access material, and to the Central and Eastern European Online Library for harvesting and arranging this material for our users.
The symptoms of a new coronavirus. Let us be responsible to ourselves and others.
The new coronavirus - recommendations for children. How to protect yourself against infection
“One - two - three. You too protect yourself".
How to use a mask properly.
Disinfection of the City of Belgrade’s Stari grad borough. Certificate of a building disinfection.
A leaflet from the Sarajevo Institute for Health and Food Safety put in a shop window reads: “Everything will be fine. Follow the prescribed measures and be careful. The coronavirus will pass.”
Other open access content related to research into Covid-19, including scholarly journals, can be located via our Find Electronic Resources pages.
The colleagues and partners in the Central and Eastern European Online Library and the British Library believe that access to e-resources is important, necessary and useful. However, ‘e-only’ – especially in connection with social distancing – cannot and should not replace the real human relations, interactions and encounters, which hopefully will return to our everyday life in the near future.
Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections
Bea Klotz and Iulian Tanea, Central and Eastern European Online Library
05 June 2020
The British Library works with eight local suppliers in the procurement of books and serials from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia and Romania. This blog post draws on their reports about the book trade since 1990 and the effects of the current Covid-19 Pandemic. It follows a recent post exploring the British Library's historical ties with libraries and librarians in Southeast Europe and the ways in which they are dealing with the pandemic.
The book trade recovered valiantly from the turbulent times of the 1990s and we are fortunate to have suppliers who are dedicated partners and experts not only in the book trade and publishing but also in the literature, art and scholarship of their respective countries. Together with our library partners, they are credited with procuring up to 3,000 selected titles for the Library annually. Their considerable assistance in building up our collections of south-east European material is highly valued and appreciated.
As we contemplate our past and plan for the future, we would like to shed some light on the background to collection development in this very considerable area and the challenges which it is facing at present.
Detail of a bookshop in Tirana. Photo credit: Edvin Bega.
The publishing industry in Albania has changed dramatically in the last 30 years. While in the early 1990s original literature accounted for 75% of all published literary works, by 2019 the figure was less than 20%. In 1997 the Albanian government collapsed and a mass exodus from the country followed, including gifted writers and translators. Albania is yet to recover from it.
The new private publishing houses began to publish the classic works previously denied to readers in the totalitarian state. Undoubtedly this was inspired by the success of Ismail Kadare, and several other writers, translated into more than 100 languages.
Academic publishing has suffered from mismanagement and politicization, and a lot of research remains unpublished.
The earthquake in 2019 and Covid 19 in 2020 have caused several publishing houses to close, and the book trade has come to a halt. At present the number of new titles is very small. Some signs and activity give hope, though. Book sales during the pandemic have not fallen. It is to be hoped that this trend will continue after the reopening of the country.
A book launch in 2019 in Sarajevo City Hall (formerly National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina). Photo credit: Dragan Marković.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina the production and distribution of books and serials in the period from 1992 to 1997 can be characterized as a patriotic publishing period. Commercial and independent publishers, independent bookstores in south-east Europe and one in Bosnia were saved for the future thanks to the support of the Open Society.
However, patriotic publishing has continued to the present day. In recent years about 2,000 original titles have been published in Bosnia and Herzegovina per year, of which about 70% come from commercial publishers.
In 2019 Bosnia and Herzegovina saw a slight upward trajectory in the number of published titles. This year was also marked by the proactive work of the Association of Publishers to improve the status of writers, publishers and books.
Since the pandemic, bookstores have been closed and publishing houses have significantly reduced production. It is a very uncertain situation for the book market, and reminds our supplier of the siege of Sarajevo in 1992 with a notable difference – this time the enemy is invisible. A book supplied to the British Library that stands out is Bosanska knjiga mrtvih ('The Bosnian book of the dead' (Sarajevo, 2012) ZF.9.a.11211) which gives the names of 95,940 victims of war, and presents detailed data analysis of human losses.
Blossoming Japanese morello cherry-trees in front of the Bulgarian National Library “Sts. Cyril and Methodius”, a gift from the Japanese Embassy in Sofia. They are celebrated in April at the beginning of the springtime, symbolizing new life and hope. Photo credit: George Asenov.
Publishing and the book trade in Bulgaria have managed to stay afloat in the turbulent sea of the market economy in the last 30 years of transition. The main trends during this period have been an increase in the number of published titles, from 3,000 to 10,000 in recent years, and a significant reduction in print runs.
Literary publishing consists of about 70% original material and 30% translations. Contemporary Bulgarian literature is the bearer of national values and identity, tales of the nation’s joys and pains, and of one’s social outlook and personal experiences.
In the state of emergency, the activities of bookstores have stopped. Literary events have been cancelled. Many publishing projects are on hold. The number of books published in 2020 will be smaller, with a decrease of about 20-30% expected.
A recent selection of Bulgarian books for the British Library included the complete works of classical Bulgarian poets and writers such as Peio Iavorov (7 volumes, Sofia, 2010-2013; ZF.9.a.10476) and Nikolai Khaitov (17 volumes, Sofia, 2009-2015; ZF.9.a.8322). The newly-acquired Zografski subornik (Sofia, 2019; awaiting pressmark) documents research into the archives and library of the Bulgarian Holy Zograf Monastery on Mount Athos.
Interior of the Croatian Music Institute in Zagreb. Photo credit: Zvonimir Ferin.
Since the independence of Croatia in 1991, the number of publishers and publishing activities has been constantly on the rise. Many publishing houses disappeared in the years following the crisis of 2008, but the situation improved after 2014, bringing better times for the Croatian book trade.
Unfortunately 2020 has brought new challenges, and publishing is currently in a precarious position. Until April it seemed that the pandemic would not affect the book trade in the country or internationally, but all that has now changed. In Croatia printing of new titles has been reduced by almost 80%, bookstores have been closed, and international partners have stopped ordering.
In addition to this, in March a powerful earthquake hit Zagreb, paralysing the economy and causing damage. Among other historic buildings, the Croatian Music Institute, which houses one of the oldest and most important music collections, was affected.
Povijest hrvatskoga jezika (Zagreb, 2009-2015) ZF.9.b.1424.
The British Library has been carefully selecting Croatian books for years, building a collection which grows by about 300 titles a year, mostly in the fields of social sciences, arts, humanities and literature. A fine example of this diligent collecting is the major multi-volume Povijest hrvatskoga jezika (‘History of the Croatian Language’).
Clouds over the bridges and cranes in Belgrade reflect the mood in the city during the pandemic. Photo credit: Bojan Vukmirica.
Publishing in Serbia since 1992 has seen drastic changes caused by political upheavals. With the disintegration of Yugoslavia, the big state publishing houses collapsed. Soon a large number of private publishing houses resumed their role in the market.
In addition to new private publishers, a distribution centre was established in Belgrade in 2002 to offer publishers a single point from which books could be delivered quickly and safely. The distribution of Serbian and Montenegrin books has been growing ever since, reaching bookstores, university and national libraries and international partners.
For many years the British Library has been acquiring books from Serbia and Montenegro in the fields of history, art, linguistics, literary theory, primary sources, literature and books and serials relevant for research. A good example is the series ‘Koreni’ (‘Roots’) a 35-volume anthropological and geographical study of the settlements, population and customs of Serbian lands (Belgrade, 2010-2017; separate shelfmarks starting with YF.2019.a.15009 for volume 1).
After a two-month break caused by the global infection, publishing in Serbia seems to be returning to normal.
A selection from the Opere fundamentale collection. Photo credit: Ileana Dumitrache.
In Romania publishing and the book trade exploded in 1990 as public demand was huge – everybody wanted to read as much as possible, to buy books and journals, to make up for the void felt in communist times. The growth of this industry has been constant even if the rate is now lower than in the first decade.
The pandemic put a stop to growth in this sector for about three months. Books were still being published, but the book trade suffered tremendously. Fortunately, things now seem to be returning to normal. Our Romanian supplier has continued to collect books for the British Library during this time, so there will be no effect on the quality or quantity of Romanian books supplied once the British Library resumes its activity.
The series supplied to the British Library, which stand out for its research and editorial work are Manuscrisele Mihai Eminescu, a facsimile edition in 24 volumes of Mihail Eminescu’s manuscripts (ZF.9.d.239), Biblia 1688, a facsimile edition in 24 volumes of the Romanian 1688 Bible (ZF.9.d.265), and Opere fundamentale, an ongoing multi-volume collection of the ‘fundamental works’ of the most important Romanian writers (separate shelfmarks for different publishers, starting with ZF.9.a.10739).
Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections
27 May 2020
The British Library is very fortunate to have 12 library partners from Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia, where colleagues are always prepared to help us obtain material for our users. This is usually hard-to-find material: local, regional, small press or rare books. There’s no enquiry about this European region that our colleagues there have not been able to assist us with, their expertise or information adding value to our services to the public. Today we come together to celebrate our partnership and to share experiences of living and working in the pandemic.
Sofia University Library “St. Kliment Ohridski” is the biggest research library in Bulgaria. These days are hard for us. We closed in March and when we returned in May we celebrated a special day for Bulgarian librarians, which is also a national holiday. We commemorated the memory of the saints Cyril and Methodius, who created the Cyrillic alphabet, our alphabet.
The cooperation between Sofia University Library and the British Library began in the early 20th century, only 20 years after the establishment of the first Bulgarian university – the Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”.
Two series in particular represent our historic cooperation, the Godishnik – Sofiiski universitet (‘Yearbook of Sofia University’; Ac.1137.) and the journal Sapostavitelno ezikoznanie (‘Contrastive Linguistics’; ZA.9.a.3462.). We really appreciate the relationship between our libraries.
Bilyana Yavrukova, Deputy Director of Sofia University Library
Drawings by Ivan Variklechkov in Voennomorska istoriia (‘A naval history’) (Varna, 2018) Facsimile edition of Variklechkov’s manuscript. ZF.9.b.2414
The partnership with the British Library, which began in 1961, has played a significant role in the development of our collections.
The National Library “St. Cyril and Methodius” in Sofia has responded swiftly to the COVID-19 challenge by adapting to new realities. The library has introduced a wide range of free online services on its website. Our cultural events are now virtual events and online exhibitions.
The Library hosted a national online forum, “COVID-19: the response of libraries”, with representatives of public libraries and affiliated institutions. We have widely shared experiences of working in a pandemic.
While working in an emergency, the National Library of Bulgaria was temporarily closed to reorganize our activities into teamwork on site and remotely. We used the time to complete the disinfection of the premises, public catalogues and storage areas in the library. We have adapted new areas for our users.
Mihail Valov, Librarian at the National Library “St. Cyril and Methodius”
Pavle Mijović, Umjetnicko blago Crne Gore (‘Artistic treasure of Montenegro’) (Cetinje, 2018) LF.31.b.14221.
The National Library of Montenegro enjoys international partnerships with some 50 libraries with Slavonic collections. The British Library has been our most valuable partner since the 1970s, when we started supplying several long-running Montenegrin journals in exchange for English books and serials for our ‘Montenegrina’ collection.
Librarians are never bored; virtual collections are just a click away. Exchange is an area with vast possibilities and need not be confined to exchanging surplus titles twice a year.
Librarians are used to working from home. I have been doing that for decades. Time spent in isolation has been precious to me and made me contemplate what can be done to improve the service. Yet I am so happy to be back among ‘tangible’ books after several weeks of working online, gardening and dog-walking. Stay healthy and happy, librarians and library users!
Vesna Vučković, Acquisitions and Exchange Librarian at the National Library of Montenegro
Milutin Milanković, Kanon der Erdbestrahlung und seine Anwendung das Eisenten problem (‘Earth radiation canon and its application to the ice age problem’) (Belgrade, 1941). Ac.1131 This very rare book was printed in 500 copies of which a few were saved during the Wehrmacht bombing of Belgrade on 6 April 1941.
The Serbian Academy Library is closed to users, and staff are working from home on reduced hours. The librarians continue to correspond with foreign colleagues during the pandemic. We have evoked some memories from the past.
The Serbian Academy Library has a long-standing cooperation with the British Library and its predecessor, the British Museum Library. Letters from the 1880s have been preserved in which the principal librarian of the British Museum, Edward Bond, thanked the secretary of the Serbian Learned Society for issues of Glasnik (‘Herald’).
After the Second World War, during the period of the systematic exchange of publications between our libraries, one of the first books sent to the British Museum Library in 1949 was the work of the great Serbian scientist Milutin Milanković, which deals with palaeoclimatic problems.
As a result of this partnership, the British Library has full sets of the most important series of the Serbian Academy.
Sanja Stepanović Todorović, Exchange Librarian at the Library of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts
Vesna Crnogorac, Javne biblioteke i demokratija (‘Public libraries and democracy’) (Belgrade, 2018). YF.2020.a.4038.
The National Library of Serbia cherishes its long-standing cooperation with the British Library for more than 50 years. This cooperation is based on good will, mutual support and understanding.
The National Library of Serbia has always been very grateful for many beautiful and useful titles, which have enriched our collections and provided our users with the opportunity to read English books and research without leaving the country.
In the pandemic our library was forced to close, but our services have been maintained remotely.
Faced with various obstacles and attitudes during the pandemic in relation to their work, the librarians have managed to provide support to their communities. We hope that we will remember only solidarity, commitment to work and to our institutions and readers, and the humour with which we encouraged and supported each other throughout this period.
Dragana Milunović, Deputy Director of the National Library of Serbia, and Magdalena Kostić, Acquisitions Librarian
Facsimile edition of Studenicki tipik (‘The Studenica Typikon’) (Studenica Monastery, 2018). Awaiting shelfmark. Acquired for the British Library thanks to The Matica srpska library.
The Matica srpska library in Novi Sad, Serbia is open again after several weeks of closure. Now most of the work is done from home: creating CIP records, answering enquiries, bibliographic and project work, preparing materials for press, editorial work for our annual yearbook, and so on.
For me personally, working from home is quite hard as I have always separated work from home, quite apart from the general anxiety caused by potential infection with the COVID-19 virus. The atmosphere of working in the library is something completely different from the home environment. However, we all try to give our best in these circumstances. Shipments have been suspended, and it is especially hard to be away from the collections.
In Serbia we are used to emergencies but it is fascinating that now practically the whole world is in eager anticipation for life to return to normality. Best regards to all colleagues and readers at the British Library!
Olivera Krivošić, Senior Acquisition and Exchange Librarian
A 1958 letter from Richard Bancroft, Assistant Keeper for Yugoslav, Ukrainian and Modern Greek collections 1946-1959, to Mirko Rupel, Director of the National and University Library in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
When we received the news that the National and University Library in Ljubljana, Slovenia was closing for two weeks, everyone took something to work on from home. In the end it turned out to be eight weeks working from home.
We never thought about how much work can be done from home, from processing books and editing bibliographic records to processing articles for the Slovenian National Bibliography to translating regulations and making new ones, having meetings, coordinating various projects, making CIP records for the publishers who worked tirelessly, and much more all online.
We really missed our users and they missed us even more, according to the web statistics.
The relationship with the British Library dates back to the time of the British Museum Library, and this continuity can be traced in two letters from 1958 and 1974 held in the National and University Library Archives.
A 1974 letter from Jaro Dolar, Director of the National and University Library of Slovenia, to Michael Atkins, Assistant Keeper in charge of the Yugoslav section in the Slavonic and East European Branch, 1960-1975.
We are especially happy that the British Library independently selects books from Slovenia, which reflects expert knowledge and a clear collection profile.
Vali Žagar, Librarian at the National and University Library in Ljubljana
01 November 2018
Academy and Society in the Balkans is an unique 12-month research librarianship project based at the British Library. The aim of the project is to survey and bibliographically describe the arts, humanities and sciences publications of Balkan academies held in the British Library. These are stored physically together with the Library’s collections from other academies, usually identified by the characteristic pressmark which is a number preceded by the abbreviation Ac.
According to F. J. Hill, a former British Library curator, the pressmark Ac was designed for a new shelving scheme in the library between 1860 and 1870. Academies publications accessioned before 1860 were classified differently and dispersed in the British Library collection. Only a small proportion of these pre-1860 publications was subsequently transferred to the Ac pressmark. The pressmark was discontinued in 1965. After this year new titles were assigned to various pressmarks and only serial continuations are still added to the existing Ac pressmarks to date.
Initially the project will be looking into Balkan academies publications arranged according to the Ac shelving scheme between 1860 and 1965. In the next stage the aim will be to identify relevant pre-1860 publications and post-1965 publications that are not included in the Ac pressmark range. These publications are held in the collection under various pressmarks and therefore not identified as publications of academies.
There are two distinct series in the Ac pressmarking and shelving scheme: the first series is a series of general academies arranged topographically by countries followed by towns in alphabetical order in the pressmark range Ac. 1-1997. The second series has the pressmark range Ac. 1998-9999, and is arranged by subject, which used to be a traditional classification and shelving scheme in the Library since its inception in the 1750s.
The majority of publications, examined in the project, were published by academies and their institutes, by universities and colleges and other cultural, research and educational organisations in the second half of the 19th century. These early publishing activities occurred during the period of national revival in the Balkans. After long periods of foreign dominance and cultural imposition, newly formed Balkan academies initially focused on publishing sources for national history, language and literature. These societies supported early scholarship and research into national culture and identity. They were promoters of sciences and modernisation of Balkan society. The scholarly content of these academies’ publications is of great research value as is the significance of the period in which these publications were produced. Both aspects will be explored as the project will try to assess relationship and significance of Balkan academies publications in the library collection.
The publishing efforts of Balkan academies coincided with the period of increased acquisition and rapid growth of the collections in the then British Museum Library, which began acquiring publications from the Balkans by purchase and gift in the mid-19th century.
The bibliographical side of the Academy and Society in the Balkans project will mainly deal with intricate academies series and subseries, editions and serial parts in their most elaborate forms. The research part of the project will trace the provenance of Balkan academies publications by recording and examining ownership stamps in the collection items. This research should provide an insight and better understanding of the British Library Balkan collections as a whole, their acquisition and development over time.
Publications from academies in nine Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia) will be consulted, in six languages (Albanian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Romanian, Serbo-Croatian and Slovenian), and in both Cyrillic and Roman scripts.
A desirable outcome of the project would be an online collection guide and a survey of complementary holdings in other institutions in the UK and in country of origin. On a more practical level the project should gather information for conservation and preservation of these valuable collections. Equally it will allow us to identify gaps in the collections as it would inform possible acquisition of new titles and provide ideas for further collection development in this area.
Finally we should be able to explore and present the content of these collections by creating analytical records or by upgrading the existing historic catalogue records to include subject, language and other useful information for research and discovery.
An Aromanian lady from Moskopole (Voskopojë, Albania). From Th. Capidan, ‘Fărşeroţii. Studiu lingvistic asupra Românilor din Albania’, in Sextil Puşcariu (ed.), Dacoromania. Buletinul Muzeului Limbei Române (Bucharest, 1931), pp. 1-204.
This project is generously supported by the Chevening British Library Fellowship, a collaboration between the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British Library.
Makedonski jazik (Macedonian Language). Inscription in red lettering on cover: “An issue dedicated to the fifth anniversary of the creation of the Macedonian alphabet and orthography”. Issue 5 (1950). Ac.1133.h.
We welcome this opportunity in the British Library and we are looking forward to working with the Chevening Fellow on this exciting project.
Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections
F.J. Hill, ‘The Shelving and Classification of Printed Books’, in P.R. Harris (ed.), The Library of the British Museum (London, 1991), pp. 1–74.
08 June 2018
The magazine Nova Evropa (New Europe) was published in Zagreb from 1920 until 1941. Initially it was a weekly periodical, then for 10 years Nova Evropa was issued as a 10-day and bimonthly magazine, and from 1930 as a monthly publication. The founder and editor of Nova Evropa over the whole period was Milan Ćurčin.
Exceptionally and almost uniquely in interwar Yugoslavia, Nova Evropa was printed in the two scripts of the Serbo-Croatian language, Roman and Cyrillic. Contributions were either published in the original script or were transliterated into the other at the editor’s discretion, regardless of the contributor’s manuscript, nationality or background. This was done not only for commercial reasons but also with the aim of bringing together different literatures in the newly-created Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later renamed Yugoslavia).
Christ (detail) by Ivan Meštrović. Nova Evropa, 23 December 1920. P.P.4839.fid.
The Yugoslav Nova Evropa was modelled on a British political and current affairs journal, Robert William Seton-Watson’s weekly review The New Europe (1916-20; P.P.3611.abk.). Ćurčin was equally inspired by Seton-Watson’s engaged, informed and critical journalism as by the British press and journalism in general, whose traditions and values he adopted while working in London during the First World War. The liberal, open and progressive political journalism that Nova Evropa had as its high ideal was subsequently promoted in a multicultural society whose traditions, however, were different to British ones.
Like its London predecessor, the Zagreb Nova Evropa advocated the revival of a new Europe in accordance with the League of Nations’ proposals for international cooperation and collective security; reduction of armaments and open diplomacy; an international court and economic, social and cultural cooperation between nations. Nova Evropa was against isolation and provincialism in Yugoslavia and argued for close cooperation with the neighbouring countries as well as for constructive and peaceful international policy, for national self-determination, and the equality of nations in a post-war Europe.
Marko Marulić by Meštrović. Nova Evropa of 1 July 1924.
While following Seton-Watson’s advice on political journalism, Nova Evropa diversified its editorial concept by welcoming contributions on social, economic and cultural life in the country, neighbouring countries and the rest of Europe. Nova Evropa developed the complex structure of a journal that was open to various topics in any discipline of social sciences, arts, humanities and sciences, and that scrutinized society, economy and politics in high-quality contributions. For example, special thematic issues were dedicated to various domestic topics from the geography and anthropology of the country to the life of immigrants inside and outside the country, and to broader international and current affairs topics such as the Ukrainian question, conditions in Russia, national minorities, prominent public figures, etc.
The central political and cultural concept discussed in Nova Evropa was the Yugoslav question. This political concept was seen in Nova Evropa as an agreement of peoples united by their own will, equal and free in a common national state. Some researchers argue, not quite rightly, that Nova Evropa advocated integral Yugoslav pan-nationalism (Yugoslavness) despite the different ethnic groups and minorities in the country. For Nova Evropa the creation of the Yugoslav state was the irreversible final achievement of all Yugoslavs, but in the cultural sense, however, Yugoslavness was presented as a mosaic of colours and variations, as a celebration of diversity. Nova Evropa of 26 February 1927 pronounces:
Therefore: Yugoslav civilization is one and properly bound together; and Yugoslav culture - mosaic, contrast, diversity. Civilization is a unification and equivalence of segments, culture is a federation of untouched and free elements, according to their programme and their will.
Nova Evropa argued for a concept of ‘Open Yugoslavness’ which was closely related to the idea of social justice, equality, tolerance and ethics. This vision of Yugoslavia and a new Europe bore a close resemblance to the vision of Tomáš Masaryk whose ideas Nova Evropa promoted and celebrated.
This ideology of open Yugoslavness was also advanced through the visual arts and the works of the leading Yugoslav artist Ivan Meštrović, a Croatian sculptor and one of the founders of Nova Evropa. Other prominent Yugoslavs and founders of Nova Evropa were Ćurčin’s magazine co-editors Laza Popović and Marko Kostrenčić, and well-known Yugoslav scholars and writers such as Jovan Cvijić, Josip Smodlaka, Milan Rešetar, Ivan Prijatelj, Tihomir Ostojić, Julije Benešić, Miodrag Ibrovac and Milan Grol among others. In 22 years about 1000 authors published over 3450 contributions in the magazine.
In addition to the magazine, special editions of Nova Evropa were published as offprints or separate publications; in total 19 such editions were produced and at least two editions remained unpublished.
The British Library holds a full set of Nova Evropa: 426 issues, in total about 10,000 pages, bound in 34 volumes.
In the interwar period Nova Evropa fostered constructive criticism of the dominant political culture and made an important contribution to the growth of critical and independent thought in Yugoslav society. It worked tirelessly in bringing peoples and communities closer together by understanding and celebrating their cultural differences. It had a distinctive mission to inform the public about events at home and abroad and to collect information and sources about the recent past for future historians. Nova Evropa is not only a useful source for a student of Yugoslav history and culture today; it is a critically important archive for the understanding of the fundamental cultural and political questions of interwar Yugoslavia.
Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections
Ljubomir Petrović, Jugoslovenska država i društvo u periodici 1920-1941 (Belgrade, 2000) YF.2010.a.24536.
Jovo Bakić, Ideologije jugoslovenstva između srpskog i hrvatskog nacionalizma: 1914-1941 (Zrenjanin, 2004) YF.2006.a.37642.
Marija Cindori-Šinković, Nova Evropa:1920-1941: bibliografija (Belgrade, 2010) YF.2012.a.15665
Marko Nedić, Vesna Matović (editors), Nova Evropa 1920-1941: zbornik radova (Belgrade, 2010) YF.2012.a.18758.
12 July 2016
The south-eastern countries of the Balkans were in focus of Balkan Day II: A Rich Heritage of Stories, a public event held at the British Library on 24 June 2016.
The Balkans is home to a great number of fascinating stories and traditions, many of which remain untold in English. This event brought together some of the leading contemporary academics, writers and translators who talked about writing and creating in this fertile cultural space.
The event featured a range of authors, translators, publishers and others speaking on various topics. Artist Ian Long captured the speakers in the course of the day, and some of his portraits are reproduced below. You can also hear some of the talks from the event here.
In the first two keynote speeches, Kapka Kassabova's website (below) spoke on the theme Borderland: Notes from a Journey to Europes Last Frontier, where Bulgaria and Turkey Meet, and Robert Elsie described The Chaotic Course of Albanian Literature.
In a session chaired by poet and editor Fiona Sampson, Ioana Parvulescu and Alek Popov spoke on the theme of Authors as Cultural Ambassadors: How does the history and mythology of the homeland influence the stories we tell today?
A panel of translators - John Hodgson, Christopher Buxton, Stephen Watts and Mevlut Ceylan, with Christina Pribichevich Zoric in the chair - reflected on the question ‘Should translators of ‘small languages’ aim to be invisible or consider themselves a second author?’ in a session entitled Bringing the Balkans Westward.
Ian Long is a writer and graphic artist. He is keen to take drawing out into the world and see what it can do, in the widest possible variety of situations.
23 June 2016
Speaking about the translator who introduced Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Chekhov to the English reading audience, Joseph Brodsky, once wrote: “The reason English-speaking readers can barely tell the difference between Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky is that they aren’t reading the prose of either one. They’re reading Constance Garnett.” On the other hand, there have been instances where a translation is said to be better than the original.
Front cover of Ismail Kadare, The Wedding. Rendered into English by Ali Cungu. (Tirana, 1968). X.908/16616.
So, whose voice is the reader hearing when reading a novel, or a poem, in translation – the author’s or the translator’s? How faithful to the original should a translation be? To what degree should the translation be “adjusted” or “improved” to facilitate its reading by the target audience?
Typescript. Front cover of William B. Bland, The ghost at the wedding. Based on the novel “The wedding” by Ismail Kadare. (Ilford, 1969). X.950/13209.
These are questions that apply to literary translation from any language, of course, but they are especially relevant when translating from so-called smaller languages, where the context, references, and even style and rhythm may be alien to the foreign reading public.
Frontispiece. Arghezi’s self-portrait. From Tudor Arghezi, Flori de Mucigai. Cu un autoportret inedit. (Bucharest, 1931). RB.23.a.20598.
On 24 June, Balkan Day at the British Library, I will be chairing a panel of literary translators who have introduced the English-speaking world to some of the best writing that Southeastern Europe has to offer. We will be discussing their approaches to literary translation and whether they think of literary translation as craft or creation. And who better to tell us than Christopher Buxton, author of two novels and translator of numerous contemporary and classical Bulgarian novelists and poets; the Turkish poet Melvut Ceylan, who lives in London and has translated both Turkish poetry into English and English poetry into Turkish; John Hodgson, who has brought us, among others, the work of Ismail Kadare and is one of only a few translators to be working directly from Albanian into English; and the poet Stephen Watts, whose many translations of poetry include the work of the surrealist Romanian poet Gellu Naum and Tudor Arghezi.
Frontispiece. Naum’s portrait by Victor Brauner. From Gellu Naum, Culoarul somnului. Cu un desen de Victor Brauner. (Bucharest, 1944). YA.2000.a.8782.
I know this is going to be a very lively discussion. How do I know? I’m a literary translator myself.
Christina Pribichevich Zorić, Former Chief of Conference and Language Services at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia
20 June 2016
In advance of this year’s Balkan Day at the British Library on 24 June 2016, Christopher Buxton offers an overview of Bulgarian literature past and present.
Bulgaria lies at the south-eastern tip of Europe, and Bulgarians are painfully conscious of this, particularly in the context of their 500 year subjugation by the Ottoman Empire. Their history, before and after this subjugation, has its glorious and inglorious aspects, typical of every country’s history. It is a story of resilience, bravery and faith alongside darker themes of betrayal and massacre. The dualism of the Bogomil heresy, arguably one of Bulgaria’s significant contributions to Medieval European ideas, permeates Bulgarian writing to this day. While 19th-century novelists and poets stoked the fires of revolution, they also never stopped lamenting the perceived passivity, hypocrisy and backwardness of their compatriots. Hristo Botev, famous for his stirring nationalist call to arms, would rhyme patriots with idiots. Petko Slaveikov would declare: we are not a nation, we are carrion.
Hristo Botev in his poem dedicated to the freedom fighter Hadzhi Dimitur, and Ivan Vazov in his great novel Under the Yoke helped create the binary opposites of Bulgarians struggling against the intolerably cruel Turkish subjugation. During communism, these stereotypes were reinforced by writers like Haitov and Donchev. These binary opposites extended to Partisans combating the dastardly reactionary forces.
Every country’s literature has its more uncomfortable stereotypes: Spain – Don Quixote, the Czech Republic – Švejk . The satirical writer Aleko Konstantinov created Bai Ganyo, the Bulgarian travelling salesman, let loose on the capital cities of civilized Europe. Ignorant and cunning in equal measure, a source of embarrassment and hilarity for his better educated compatriots, Bai Ganyo casts a long shadow over Bulgarian consciousness..
After liberation in 1878 Bulgaria saw a succession of wars, a heartbreaking diminution of homeland, the rise of a terrorist organization which would play a profound political role, a series of coups, a bomb outrage, a white terror from 1924 and an even more savage red terror from 1944, and a second “liberating” invasion by the Soviet Union which led to 45 years of Communist rule.
These years saw the emergence of strong poetic voices. They include Bulgaria’s Great War poet, Dimcho Debelyanov, who was killed in action in 1916. His poem One Dead bears comparison with Wilfred Owen’s Strange Meeting. A veteran who barely survived the Great War, Geo Milev, was murdered by Macedonian vigilantes, after his radical poetry upset the authorities. Two other poets, Hristo Smirnenski and Nikola Vaptsarov, reflected the political turbulence of the times. This same turbulence was to fatally affect Bulgaria’s greatest poet, Peyo Yavorov, on both a personal and political level. His poem, Refugees, on the victims of Balkan ethnic cleansing, is sadly relevant today. His love poetry, for which he is justly revered in Bulgaria, poses quite a challenge for the translator with its hypnotic rhythms and internal rhymes. In the area of personal relationships, there are three strong female voices – Mara Belcheva, Dora Gabe and Elisaveta Bagryana – I would dare to suggest singing over the heads of their male competitors. The spirit of pre-war modernism is reflected in the dark symbolic poetry of Atanas Dalchev.
Elissaveta Bagranya, portrait from Elissaveta Bagryana Ten poems, in the original and in an English translation. (Sofia, 1970). X.989/8515.
Alongside the poets, three masters of the short story deserve attention – Yordan Yovkov, Elin Pelin and Chudomir. These writers convey the comedy and tragedy of close community, in eloquent economy. They have their present day counterparts – notably Deyan Enev, whose short stories have been translated by Kapka Kasabova and published by Portobello Books.
There has been a tendency to ignore the writers who were active during the Communist period. Working within the tight censorship of the USSR’s most faithful satellite, some writers produced works of outstanding genius. I would point to Ivailo Petrov’s novel, Wolf Hunt, a tragic comic village blood-letting reminiscent of Faulkner. I should also mention the brave Stanislav Stratiev, whose plays highlighting the absurdities of Communist bureaucracy have been performed on the London stage.
Post-communism, there is now a flowering of Bulgarian writing, much of which waits to be translated and published. Two books by Alec Popov Mission London and The Black Box have been published by Istros Books and Peter Owen respectively. Each portrays the pathos of Bulgarian existence in the west with sympathetic black humour. The Physics of Sorrow, Georgi Gospodinov’s poetic disquisition on existence published in English by Open Letter, offers a unique insight into Bulgarian self deprecation, playful humour and otherness..
Still awaiting a publisher, is Milen Ruskoff’s masterpiece, The Heights, which won its author the European Prize for Literature in 2014. A truly significant re-examination of Bulgaria’s revolutionary brigand past, it eschews patriotic clichés, and provides world literature with two new heroes, comparable to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.
Bulgarian writers have begun the important task of re-examining their country’s turbulent past, so long misrepresented by ultra patriots and the Communist regime. Alec Popov has written a poignant and hilarious novel about the partisan movement, The Palaveevi Sisters. Hristo Karastoyanov’s One and the Same Night is a painstakingly researched recasting of the state-sponsored murder of Geo Milev. Vladimir Zarev, who began his career in the dusk of communism has written a series of powerful sagas reflecting on the drastic political changes Bulgaria has endured. These changes are also eloquently described by Teodora Dimova, Eli Aleksieva, Emil Andreev, Mikhail Veshim and Kristin Dimitrova.
I am currently working on a translation of Kerana Angelova’s wonderful work of magic realism, Inside Room, a timely cry for the preservation of nature from human depradation.
Younger writers, Yordan Svezhenov, Vasil Georgiev, Peter Dushkov and Radoslav Parushev look to the dystopian present and immediate future for their inspiration in writing well-plotted, arresting satire. The crime genre (with a unique Bulgarian conspiratorial twist) is well served by Lora Lazar and Dimana Trankova.
Finally one should not overlook the growing numbers of Diaspora writers, who capture the comic discomfort and wonder of the Bulgarian abroad: Kapka Kasabova, Zack Karabashliev, Miroslav Peikov, Isabella Shopova, Victor Tzvetanov and Nevena Mitropolitska.
Elissaveta Bagryana’s autograph, from Elissaveta Bagryana, Ten poems ...
Christopher Buxton, Author and translator of Bulgarian literature
New Testament. Новый Завѣтъ на Господа нашего Іисуса Христа, вѣрно и точно прѣведенъ отъ пьрвообразното. Transposed to the Eastern dialect by Petko R. Slaveikov and N. Mikhailovski. Revised by E. Riggs and A. L. Long.] (Constantinople, 1866). 3061.a.7.(1.). (Available online)
Petko Slaveikov, Габровско-то училище и неговы-тѣ пьрвы попечители. (Constantinople, 1866-67). 8357.cc.64. (Available online)
Ivan Vazov, Under the Yoke. With an introduction by Edmund Gosse ... A new and revised edition. (London, 1912). 12590.e.33.
Mara Belcheva, На прага стъпки.. (Sofia, 1918). 11303.d.40.
Dora Gabe, Нѣкога. (Sofia, 1924). 012590.b.89.
Peio Iavorov, P. K. I︠A︡vorov. Jubilee collection. (Sofia, 1938). YA.2002.a.20998.
Chudomir. Alaminut: veseli razkazi. (Sofia, 1940). YA.2001.a.20227.
Iordan Iovkov, Short Stories. Translated by Marco Mincoff and Marguerite Alexieva. (Sofia, 1965). X.909/5413.
Elin Pelin, Short Stories. Translated by Marguerite Alexieva. (Sofia, 1965). X.909/8913.
Hristo Botev, Poems. Translated from the Bulgarian by Kevin Ireland. (Sofia, 1974). YA.1992.b.4827
Aleko Konstantinov, To Chicago and back. Translated from the Bulgarian by Robert Sturm. (Sofia, 2004). YD.2005.a.4865.
Dimcho Debelianov, Svetla viara. Jubilee edition. (Sofia, 2012). YF.2013.a.7791.
16 June 2016
The Balkans have had some bad press: from the verb ‘balkanize’, frequently used during the wars of the 1990s, which describes the process of fragmentation or division of a region to the frequent coupling with pejorative words like ‘feud’ or ‘bloodshed’. But when you look at it more objectively, why should a region as rich and varied as the Balkans be classified by violence any more than a area like Alsace-Lorraine, which has surely seen its fair share?
In the end, it all comes down to PR and perception. While Alsatian wine, gastronomy and chateaux are well-known tourist attractions, the Balkan countries also have their culinary delights, their liqueurs and their share of palaces, be they Austro-Hungarian or Venetian. When Istros published Faruk Sehic’s transformational novel based on memories of his beloved river Una, the title of the book had to be changed from the original Book of the Una to Quiet Flows the Una in order to indicate the name of a river unfamiliar to English readers. The same problem would not have occurred for a book written about the Rhine. Likewise, people feel alienated by stories from Skopje and Sofia, simply because they reach our public consciousness far less often than Strasbourg.
Balkan Day 2014 was billed as ‘a celebration of culture and identity’ and featured regional writers like Dubravka Ugresic, Andrej Nikolaidis and Muharem Bazdulj, among others. This was the first step of an initiative on behalf of Istros Books and the British Library to promote and raise awareness of the region and its culture here in the UK and to raise awareness.
Balkan Day I was greatly appreciated in academic and literary circles, and it is our great hope that this year’s follow-on event will be just as popular, as we welcome Bulgarian/British writer Kapka Kassabova and the poet Fiona Sampson as well as translators Christopher Buxton, Mevlut Ceylan and Stephen Watts to Balkan Day II: A Rich Heritage of Stories. It will also be an opportunity to view the screening of Hermann Vaske’s riotous documentary film, Balkan Spirit, a film which is rarely shown in the UK but which goes a long way towards breaking down stereotypes and highlighting the positives. The director himself is coming along to this special screening and will be available for a Q&A afterwards, before an open-mike session where all participants and guests can voice their own experiences and thoughts.
In both events, we focused on local literature and translation of those stories into English, in order to highlight the links between the cultures, and the efforts being made to build cultural bridges to further understanding of a much-maligned region. At the recent UK launch of the above-mentioned Bosnian novel, Joseph Cock of Today’s Translations gave us an historical reminder of those links:
Perhaps translation in the Balkans has a far greater historical pedigree than we recognise. After all, Jerome, the patron saint of translators, hailed from Illyria, the name given to the Balkan Peninsula in Classical Antiquity.
However, he goes on to point out a fact we know too well:
Yet despite the multitude of stories waiting to be told from the recent history of this region, the literature remains woefully underrepresented to English-speaking audiences.
On 24 June the British public will have the rare opportunity to hear the only two Albanian to English literary translators working today: Robert Elsie and John Hodgson, without whom the UK reader would not have been introduced to the novels of Nobel-nominated Ismail Kadare, or heard the voice of one of Albania’s best-known political dissidents, Fatos Lubonja. There will also be the chance to hear about how the stories of their respective homelands affect the writings of Bulgarian comic author, Alek Popov, and Romania’s Ioana Parvulescu, who is also an historian at Bucharest University. Her broad knowledge of fin-de-siecle Bucharest, of the whims and charms of people of that age, make this an enchanting book and a wonderful example to life in Europe at that time. In both cases, the stories these authors have to tell open new worlds and new perceptions to readers who may have shied away from literature in translation.
Susan Curtis-Kojakovic, Istros Books
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