Bookstores Struggle as Kosovars Shun Reading

Posted on June 2, 2011



While cafés in Pristina are full of young people, the capital’s libraries and bookstores are almost always empty. No official statistics exist on how much people read in Kosovo, but most agree that reading is on the decline. Booksellers complain that they are not selling books while librarians say their only visitors are students seeking course material. Some blame poor economic conditions, the rise of the Internet, government policies, or the destruction of libraries and bookstores during the independence war of the late 1990s. But a law adopted last July, exempting book sales from value added tax, VAT, hasn’t made a difference, booksellers say. “There’s been no difference in sales compared to last year, when books were a little more expensive because of tax,” Nuhredin Bashota, owner of the Albini bookstore in Pristina, says. “The level of interest among people in buying books is extremely small.” Weak sales at May’s International Book Fair in Pristina served to confirm fears of a declining interest in books. Behxhet Bici, president of the Union of Publishers in Kosovo, which organized the fair, blames the Internet. “Today almost everything can be found on the net, and as a result of the economic crisis, readers choose the net and don’t buy books,” Bici says. “Books in Kosovo have many problems that no one is trying to solve,” Nazim Rrahmani, a prominent Kosovo writer, says. Kosovo’s appetite for literature hasn’t recovered from the destruction of libraries and bookstores carried out by Serbian forces during the war, Rrahmani feels, while Kosovo’s own institutions hadn’t done anything to revive interest in books, either. Kosovo National Library demolished parts Ramadan Beshiri, of the promotions department in the culture ministry, disagrees. The ministry has promoted books through various publications and helped libraries buy books – all to no avail, he says. Too few books? Sali Bashota, director of the National Library of Kosovo, says part of the trouble is that too few books are published in Kosovo these days. Thousands were once published each year, but that number has dwindled to just several hundred. Bashota says poor distribution means that the books in print don’t reach all their potential readers. “Not enough is being done to provide readers with books,” Bashota says. Abdullah Zeneli, who owns the Buzuki publishing house in Pristina, sees the problem differently. He laments the unavailability of new books. “Libraries don’t have the new books that readers require, and the readers cannot get them in bookstores, either, so the problem is in the supply,” Zeneli says. To that, Bashota responds that library budgets don’t stretch to new titles. Many people who frequent libraries and bookstores are students – with correspondingly thin wallets. When they come to the Fjola bookstore, for example, they aren’t usually there to shop for high-end literature. “We have many requests – but they are for photocopies or for educational literature,” Edona Peci says. “We also sell books, but not many.” A hard sell in the rain: Librarians and booksellers aren’t the only ones worried by the downturn. In the shadow of Pristina’s most recognizable landmark, the Grand Hotel, vendors peddle books from outdoor tables. They, too, are suffering from what they feel is official disinterest in their trade, which is highly dependent on the weather. The city government promised to build them a specialized facility fours year ago. It has yet to materialize. “I do not understand this. We do not need to stand here in the rain and snow,” bookseller Hajredin Bajra said. Muhamet Gashi, a spokesperson for the municipality of Pristina, had no explanation for the delay but said the city hadn’t forgotten the vendors’ plight. “I understand them, and we will soon resolve the problem,” Gashi said. Kosovo’s six bestselling books in 2010-2011 Dispute and Accident, by Ismail Kadare Who manipulates Europe? by Ulick Varange Men who Hate Women, by Stieg Larsson The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne and The backstage crisis that ravaged the state, year 97, by Mero Baze. Wartime destruction According to the National Library of Kosovo, Serbian forces destroyed 65 public libraries housing 968,233 copies in the war of the late 1990s. They also burned 14 special libraries with 145,105 copies, 86 school libraries housing 325,415 copies and 10 high school libraries with 226,743 copies. Serbian military and paramilitary forces burned a total of 175 libraries containing 1,665,496 copies,