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Vladislav Bajac, Writer And Publisher

The Power Of Literature

In parallel with all the professions that I’ve changed, I’ve always carried within me my core profession: writer. And I have been guided in that wonderful job by the same cosmopolitan curiosity to familiarise myself with the world both for myself and for others

I founded publishing company Geopoetika thirty years ago, in 1992. That was the time of the start of the collapse of Yugoslavia and the era when Serbia was under economic and political sanctions, with war following on the territory of the former homeland. One could say: the worst time for romantic ideas linked to books. Both yes and no. I’ve spent my life to date in the world of literature, as a writer and translator, as well as in the world of media as an editor and teacher of generations of journalists. I also previously had personal experience in publishing, as did my father, much earlier, as one of the first private publishers in the then socialist state.

I was also helped by my family’s turbulent diplomatic experience. In the totality of all of this, together with my conviction that – with the help of books – we must remain in touch with the world even during times of isolation, alongside record scales of hyperinflation, with a few friends who remain with me today, I set out to conquer a utopian goal.

From that first day, I had a desire to reduce the diametrically opposed extremes between elite and popular literature. The mission appeared to be impossible, but I was convinced that so-called high and quality literature can also be spread among audiences of more modest desires. Despite everything, we succeeded: we bridged the chasm with “serious” books reaching larger circulations than had previously been the case, and by demolishing prejudices on all sides. We reconciled the length and breadth of antagonisms.

In parallel with all the professions that I’ve changed, I’ve always carried within me my core profession: writer. And I have been guided in that wonderful job by the same cosmopolitan curiosity to familiarise myself with the world both for myself and for others. That’s why my books contained the experiences of ancient and modern China, Japan and India to an equal extent as North America, Great Britain, Turkey and Scandinavia. That same kind of curiosity and breadth also formed the basis of Geopoetika. It earned a reputation precisely for covering the whole world and its diverse languages and cultures. It’s only in the last 10 or so years that we’ve started publishing books by local authors. Admittedly, for our English edition Serbian Prose in Translation we received the world award of the Publishers Association of the United Kingdom for initiative in translation at the London Book Fair. That same edition of contemporary Serbian writers, together with us, was then also launched by publishers in the U.S., Egypt, China etc., publishing the works of individual Serbian authors in English, Arabic and Chinese.

That type of consistency is probably the main pillar of what differentiates Geopoetika from other publishers in Serbia. The desire to discover new things has constantly dragged me forward; that’s how both professions succeeded in pioneering ideas and original projects. That’s also the source of the many domestic awards and several international awards and decorations for Geopoetika and myself as a writer (from Japan, China and the UK to Norway).

It was thus very important for me to contribute, with my personal and collective work, to promoting my culture, to making it better known and thought of more positively around the world, to affirm the wealth of spirit and artistic talents of Serbian authors. Cultural diplomacy was actually the idea that guided me.

Geopoetika also succeeded in something else: to show how, even today, that the famous names of world literature that we publish were unknowns when we first introduced them in the Serbian language. That was also the model for unknown Serbian authors to believe in the power of literature and their own artistic convictions.

As a writer, I’ve introduced important knowledge about the world in the Serbian language through my books, but I’ve also conveyed the specifics of the spirit and space of Serbian culture to that same world, through the translation of my books into many other languages.

The beauty of literature and its power, which is sometimes even greater and stronger than that of politics, still leads me into new conquests of freedom. It is important that I succeeded, as both an author and a publisher, in conveying these convictions to thousands of readers. Because books don’t exist without readers: if they aren’t read, they aren’t even written.