A pocket full of books11. 2. 2020
This year, the World Book Capital is the Malaysian Kuala Lumpur. Ten years ago Ljubljana received this sensational title. And the title, albeit unofficially, can still be felt throughout the city.
The success of the World Book and Copyright day, recognized by UNESCO in 1996, prompted the organisation to establish the title of World Book Capital. In 2001, Madrid became the first in a long series of cities to claim the title, and it only took nine more years for it to be awarded to Ljubljana. This year, the title is held by Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
In late April 2010, or, to be precise, on April 23, the atmosphere in Ljubljana was one of celebration, as the City of Ljubljana was finally able to realise the “diverse and well-rounded programme” (as evaluated by a UNESCO committee) of its bid for the title of World Book Capital. “World” being the operative word here, as Ljubljana faced stiff global competition from cities such as Guadalajara (the location of the biggest book fair in Latin America), Riga, Lisbon, St. Petersburg, Wellington, and glorious Vienna.
Activities, which took place throughout the year, were aimed at encouraging reading, developing a culture of reading, improving accessibility of books, and presenting different literary genres and various literatures of the world. Roughly 300 events took place, some of them in the context of a special edition of the Fabula literary festival, which brought to Ljubljana some of the biggest names of world literature, heavyweights such as Herta Müller and Jonathan Franzen, in May 2010. However, the project that received the most attention was the Books for Everybody programme, in the context of which the City of Ljubljana financially supported the publication of 21 books with extremely high print runs (8000). Each book was priced at a mere 3 euros. Beautiful!
The success of the World Book Capital had thus not been merely abstract. The City of Ljubljana planned the programme in collaboration with NGOs, minor and major publishers, and other players, which in turn influenced these players’ development of their own activities. With the WBC, the Library under the Treetops, a minor NGO prior to the title, was given a welcome boost and achieved widespread recognition – there’s scarcely a book lover today unfamiliar with the project, which is, we have to add, much more than what its title says. And let us not forget that with the WBC title, Slovenia also gained a new biweekly, the now sadly defunct Pogledi, and that towards the end of the literary year, Ljubljana hosted the World Book Summit where participants discussed the challenges presented by digitalisation – a debate that is ongoing even nine years after the conclusion of World Book Capital Ljubljana 2010.
However, the significance of such projects is of course best judged by their long-term impact. Saša Ogrizek from the City of Ljubljana notes that their elaboration of the bid and programme for WBC 2010 was primarily guided by a desire for “Ljubljana to remain committed to the encouragement of reading even after the conclusion of its term”. Ogrizek adds that they had “given a boost to the Fabula festival, whose distinguished guests and their translations draw a bigger audience each year. The Ljubljana Puppet Theatre houses the first specialized children’s bookstore. The Trubar Literature House, operating in the centre of Ljubljana, provides literary programmes largely intended for young people. In Šiška, the Wild Thought Institute transformed the Vodnik Homestead into one of the most vibrant literary venues in Ljubljana with an emphasis on storytelling. The Ljubljana City Library has become home to a collection of over 3000 miniature books donated by Martin Žnideršič. At the Slovenian Reformation Park, we have erected a monument, created by Luj Vodopivec, to Slovenian protestant authors and printers. That Ljubljana is truly open and cosmopolitan is further evidenced by the fact that the city has joined ICORN, an international network of refuge cities for persecuted authors. In 2018, we have already welcomed our fifth guest, a writer and human rights campaigner from Iran.”
Thanks to everything listed above, as well as projects that were already being implemented prior to 2010, Ljubljana was accepted into the UNESCO Creative Cities Network as a City of Literature in 2015. In 2017, Ljubljana also received a Reading Friendly Municipality certificate.
Though unofficially, Ljubljana can thus still be considered a capital of literature.