Held from 26 October to 1 November 2009, Belgrade's 54th annual International Book Fair attracted over 800 publishers from 24 nations around the world. This year's Nation of Honour was Greece, while writers from Sweden, Japan, Canada, Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany, China, Russia, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Israel, Brazil, Iran and the neighbouring countries also attended the event.
Visitor numbers have been a steady 150,000 for the last seven years now. "Several years ago, the director of the Frankfurt Fairgrounds was my guest and he asked me what my biggest problem was. I answered that, when you look at the figures, I organise the second largest book fair in Europe, right after his, but the fair is unknown outside the borders of the language we speak," Belgrade Fairgrounds Director Ančelko Trpković told Southeast Europe: People and Culture.
Trpković said that the internationalisation of the event would be the objective in the coming years. "We intend to invite also publishers from Bulgaria and Romania. Right now, we have publishers from Croatia, who are receiving intense publicity, along with numerous guest writers whose works are being promoted. We are also hosting the organisers of the 'I Dream Books' book festival from the Adriatic City of Pula in Croatia. Like every year, we have publishers from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Greece was intensely promoted at this fair" stemming from its status as a guest of honour, Trpković explained.
"We will continue to try to get the most important people in publishing in their respective countries to come to Belgrade during the Book Fair. Then, we also have plans to set up meetings between regional ministers of culture starting next year, and we have already discussed this with representatives of the Serbian Ministry of Culture," Trpković said.
Seven years ago, the fair's organisers came up with the idea of picking one country as a guest of honour each year, as a way of expanding the fair's international character and enhancing cooperation not only in the area of publishing and translating but also in other areas of creativity.
"Canada, which was the guest nation of honour in 2003, has not reduced the intensity of its participation in this manifestation since. When they return home, a fantastic thing happens: the writers and publishers from the guest of honour countries become sort of ambassadors for the Belgrade Book Fair. It is important to seize this opportunity to translate books written by authors from the visiting countries into the Serbian language, but also to promote Serbian literature in those countries and translate works by Serbian authors into their languages," Trpković says.
Numerous translations by Greek authors were presented this year at the Belgrade Book Fair, while 13 authors from Greece were invited to exhibit along with 40 publishers. The fair was visited by a number of Canadian writers, as well as popular British writers Tony Parsons and Louis De Bernieres, Spaniard Francesc Miralles and many others.
"We hope to be able to see books by Serbian authors translated into Greek next year for the Thessaloniki Book Fair," Trpković said, adding that a collaborative effort gathering several European cultural centres known as EUNIC was featured at the fair.
Next year's guest of honour will be Sweden. According to Trpković, they have already begun intense preparations for the fair.
"Being the fair's guest of honour is turning into a matter of prestige.
Before we had to talk countries into being our guests of honour, now we get to choose," Trpković said, adding that the purpose of this was not only to acquaint domestic readers with foreign literature but with foreign cultures in general.