By Porter Anderson, Editor | @Porter_Anderson
“The Russian-speaking authors of our community”
Oe are pleased today (March 17) to hear Renate Punka, President of the Association of Latvian Publishersthat at the Riga Book Fair last weekend, the savagery of Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked war against Ukraine prompted vigorous and sustained protests.
Held from Friday to Sunday (March 11-12) at the International Exhibition Center on Kipsalis Street, one of the topics discussed in an onstage discussion sequence was the concern currently gaining traction in many global markets over the need credit translators on book covers – something we just covered as part of the Booker Foundation’s support of the #TranslatorsOnTheCover campaign launched last September by the Society of Authors in the United Kingdom with translator Jennifer Croft and the author Marc Haddon.
Friday’s session “Names of translators on the covers” in Riga was supported by the Aldus Up program and Creative Europe, and organized by the publishers’ association.
The Russian Debate and Putin’s Aggression
Punka points out that one issue that many have found difficult is the question of how Russian and Russian-speaking members of the publishing community may perceive the situation. Many of our interlocutors and those who made statements to the media reveal the contradictory feelings that some have in terms of blocking the participation of Russian state institutions in international fairs and other events.
We have a story about independent Russian publishers whose names quickly disappeared from a protest petition when the Duma on March 4 in Moscow established a potential prison term of up to 15 years for public protest against Putin’s army, including targeting civilian targets.
As this story is being written, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken has stressed to Washington how hard it is to believe these incidents could be accidents – and that the deliberate targeting of civilians is universally understood as a war crime in the broadest sense. .
Wednesday (March 16), Sophia Ankel reported to Initiated that Russians who have fled find that they are “heckled and charged more for rent in their new countries”.
Some see it as the moment to ban the participation of all Russian publishers, even those that are independent and not aligned with the aggression of the Putin regime. Others consider that most non-aligned Russian publishers are welcome at international events and that publishing players are sometimes unfairly distanced.
“There are Russian-speaking authors in our literary community,” says Punka, “and there are various reactions to the conflict in society in general.
“We, as people of the word, need to talk about it and find the right way to consolidate attitudes – peace must be restored as soon as possible, but not at any cost.”
Artur Punte: “Fighting on behalf of all of us”
A recent poetry reading by the ensemble named Orbīta, Punka tells us, highlighted this debate, dealing with the dilemma of finding “cultural diversity and mutual understanding in Latvian society”. The problem, of course, is the distance that can form between people amid the tensions of Putin’s onslaught; the effective Kremlin information blackout that can keep many Russians in the dark; and growing frustration that it is difficult for the international community to clearly understand whether Russians as a whole fully know about and/or condone or condemn the war.
One of the founders of Orbita, Punka tells us, is Artur Punte, a poet whose works have been translated by Ugly Duckling Press and others. Cultural diversity and mutual understanding, Punka tells Publishing Perspectives, have been central topics for Orbita’s writers since the group’s formation in 1999. Punte, Punka says, is of Russian nationality and previously wrote in Russian.
And Punka kindly got Punte’s permission for us to briefly quote a speech he gave. On February 26, Punte was among the poets who marked the third day of Putin’s assault by reading their peace-themed works. A representative group of publishers and authors, says Punka, gathered in front of the Russian Embassy in Riga “with slogans and thoughts of solidarity”.
Punte mentioned in his remarks that he had no war poems. “War is brutal, tasteless and trivial,” he said. “So let’s talk about it in direct, vulgar language. Do not decorate it with unnecessary images. Let’s talk about war without poetry! Let’s not [romanticize] this bloody crime and this catastrophe! Honestly, I don’t believe that poetry, music and such fine arts– everything that I admire, that makes my life worth living – can help in this terrible time.
Here are several excerpts from Artur Punte’s February 26 commentary, courtesy of the author, and with thanks to Punka for obtaining Punte’s permission to Publication prospects to use them.
As you will see, he has a clear experience of what it is like to be Russian in the era of Putin’s regime. His 2014 reference, of course, is to Putin’s annexation of Crimea.
“We all clearly understand that not so far away, a few hundred kilometers from here, the Ukrainians are fighting on our behalf. This statement has already become commonplace. Right now, Ukrainians are paying with their lives for the time we gain. Let’s use this invaluable and precious time responsibly. We must help Ukraine to maintain itself and we must prepare.
“This war has not yet arrived in Latvia, but it has deprived us so much already. It changed our plans, forced us to reconsider many intentions, took the place in our minds reserved for new ideas and dreams…
“Putin is a man of the past, and he takes us back to his bloody history. He lowers the discussion marker, pulls us back…
“In 2014, Putin deprived me of a nationality and a language that I considered myself to belong to – I stopped being Russian and stopped writing poems in Russian, because I could no longer think in a language whose loudest voice is that of Putin – not the voice of Russian poets, scientists and intellectuals.
“These people are ignored, banished, excluded and persecuted. They have no influence on society as a whole as one voice is heard all over the planet – the voice of a despicable, uneducated person from KGB circles, a voice speaking in a primitive language with a limited vocabulary. It is a modern Russian language, which speaks to the world today.
“That’s why I save only a few swear words from all the riches of the Russian language to say: ‘Putin, go to hell! Shit with your “Russian world”!”…
“We should not be ashamed of our anger because the target of our hatred is the absolute and unjustifiable evil that has a name, Putin’s Russia.
“Let’s be pragmatic! Let’s think about what we can do! It is not enough to express our feelings, we must have an impact on events. We have already proven during these first days of war that we can act and be useful:
- “We collect donations and strengthen Ukraine not only at state or EU level, but also as civil society
- “The reception and support platform for refugees is created
- “A boycott of Russian products is observed and carried out also by influential companies
- “More and more people are joining the Home Guards
- “We are keeping up the pressure of public opinion on politicians to start immediate action…
“As someone working in a linguistic field, I can only suggest a few principles of public communication:
- “Don’t get into manipulative arguments. We don’t have to prove obvious truths that war is wrong, justify it, or think it won’t affect us…
- “Let us formulate and express our opinion concisely in order to save time – avoid circumlocutions, embellishments, unnecessary comparisons, thoughtful quotations…
- “Let’s speak rationally, without opposing the ideas of others but proposing solutions that we ourselves consider possible to implement; he would only be responsible for taking stock of his own capacity
“Putin is at war with Ukrainians because they are free. He cannot accept the idea that the Russian people he has enslaved will ever become free. Putin could not rule for a day if Russia were free.
“Putin is a man from the past, a resurrected Soviet zombie who has returned to his grave. History follows our path and the Ukrainians will succeed.
“We will succeed!”
Thanks again to Renate Punka from the Association of Latvian Publishers and poet and media artist Artur Punte in Riga. Follow our coverage of Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine and its impact on the country’s publishing industry and international industry reactions.
To learn more about the Latvian publishing industry and the book market, click here. To learn more about freedom to publish and freedom of expression, click here.
To learn more about the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and its impact on international book publishing, click here.