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Issue 78 - May 2011

Tuesday 31 May 2011 by Ina Doublekova

What Happened to Bulgarian Literature in Translation

Translation and Transition: Bulgarian literature in translation (1989-2010): data, observations, recommendations”, a study by the Next Page foundation

(JPG) “Translation and Transition” is the first ever research-based policy paper, outlining the translation trends in the past 20 years, and suggesting policy approaches towards a better support for Bulgarian participation in the global literary communication. The study comprises the first complete bibliography of Bulgarian prose, poetry and drama, translated into 39 languages, and published in more than 40 countries after 1989. The data is collected from 16 European libraries, UNESCO Index Translationum, ISBN agencies, numerous catalogues of foreign publishers, personal archives of authors, translators and experts in Bulgarian literature. Besides the quantitative analysis (statistics of most translated authors, most active publishers and translators, as well as most frequent target languages), the study integrates more than 60 interviews with key mediators that make literary translations from Bulgarian possible. In addition, there are 6 case studies, focusing on the Bulgarian translations in France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic. Although the figures show a factual increase in the translation flow in the last 5 years, the promotion of Bulgarian literature abroad, according to the respondents, is still inappropriate and ineffective. For example, one of the authors of the study - Neva Micheva - describes the presence of Bulgarian literature in Spain as “sporadic, chaotic, and marginal”. Unfortunately this statement applies to the general situation, i.e. there is a remarkable number of bibliographic entries, but the real literary “events” can be counted on the fingers of one hand and “breakthroughs” in well-positioned publishers of literary translations are more than rare.

Bulgaria is currently the only EU country that does not have a comprehensive public policy for supporting translations of its literature abroad and for participation of its authors in international literary exchange. The round table discussion that we organized on the 18th of May in Goethe Institute in Sofia was meant to tackle the possible strategic approaches for such a policy on the background of the findings of the study. Representatives of the Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, major publishers, librarians, NGOs and academics debated on the issues raised by the study. But while major stakeholders welcomed the Next Page approach of providing recommendations for an evidence-based cultural policy, there is currently little hope that an active and adequate governmental commitment and support can be expected any time soon.

The full-text study (in Bulgarian only) is available here. Bibliography of literary translations from Bulgarian into 39 languages (1989-2010) is available here. To get a free printed copy of the study or for further information, please contact