Tax on Books in Slovenia
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The 18th Slovenian Book Fair was held recently in Ljubljana's cultural centre Cankarjev Dom. 101 publishers, large and small, exhibited here, mostly from Slovenia, but also from neighbouring Croatia and Bosna-Herzegovina. The population of Slovenia is 2 million and the country produces 4,000 books per annum. But its book market is plagued by high retail prices pushed even higher by a recently introduced VAT of 8.5 %. This short-sighted economic measure frustrates the policy of promoting culture. At the opening of the fair, internationally renowned poet Tomaz Salamun made the following impassioned speech against the tax.

Translated by Lili Potpara

What now? This is the question hanging over us like the sword of Damocles. The question we face morning and night, in daytime and in our dreams. The issue is here and it won't go away. How do we measure up? Do we stand a chance to go on? Won't somebody knock on the door one day and say: sweethearts, your time is up, we're rearranging the world in a completely new way, the climate is deteriorating and the Martians are attacking, we can no longer tolerate all your ridiculous idiosyncrasies and peculiarities, this fantasy is just too expensive.

It's bound to happen, believe me. And a great number of us will collapse, resign ourselves, give up. Others will say: What do I care? I'm dancing now, I'm rehearsing Hamlet, I'm writing a book, I'm about to found a publishing house. And most of us are busy doing two things, three things at the same time, simply because we have to, and we stand here looking at the 4,000 books that come out in Slovenia every year, a little tired, a little frustrated, in slightly worn out jackets. These books are nevertheless the proof that we can square the circle if we want to.

Ladies and gentlemen publishers. You are people with a clear view of who we are, what we are; you are constantly forced to decide yes or no, choose, organise, serve, open doors to key issues for our survival and your own. You deal with culture. And in many ways you stand alone. I imagine that you hired a poet to praise you a little, but also to raise his voice and sound a warning. Heavy, dark clouds are gathering overhead. The state is forgetting who founded it, who gave it form: we, the culture. Yet, politicians often act as if they're an elite, unaccountable to anyone, and not only in Slovenia, but elsewhere in the world. With one important distinction. Despite the behaviour of their politicians, larger nations will survive: they have old, rich cultural institutions. The endowment of Harvard University alone - 20 billion dollars - approximately equals the Slovenian gross national product. Yet Slovenia, now an independent democratic country, introduced the fourth highest tax on books in Europe, and with this act of self-imposed terrorism made a total fool of itself.

Are we electing charlatans? Are we ashamed of our 4,000 books? I demand that the tax be immediately changed! In Slovenia, books have always been a matter of life or death, of survival. Let us not give in. It would be stupid and irresponsible to forget one of the most basic aspects of our culture, its founding stone, and to lose our direction for the future.

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