Language and Poverty Remain Barriers to Literature in Kosovo


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Despite increased access to Internet, this local reader says there is still something special about holding a book. Mersina Xhemajli, GPJ Kosovo

PRISHTINA, KOSOVO – When an international book fair came to Prishtina, the capital city, last week, it was met with mixed reactions. While books and authors gained a rare spotlight and dose of public attention, most attendees say they did little more than browse titles because few books were available in the native Albanian language and most people here are not fluent in English.

What’s more, the poverty rate is approaching 50 percent, so buying books is not an option for many. Public libraries lack the funds to acquire new books and students increasingly turn to the Internet for information.

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Elizabeth Gowing just released a new book, “Travels in Blood and Honey.” She hopes it'll draw more attention to life in Kosovo.

Photos by Mersina Xhemajli, GPJ Kosovo

Sebahete Cavdarbasha works in a bookstore and says most of her customers are foreigners –- the only ones who can afford to buy.

These customers have been searching for this book for a year, but have to pool money to meet the 14 euro, $19.75 USD, price.

Professor Fitim Humolli of Prishtina University says most students must photocopy readings because they can't afford textbooks.

At the national library in Prishtina, students complete required reading assignments.

Thanks to lack of business, there are only a handful of bookstores in Prishtina. Most booksellers set up business on sidewalks.

Some titles are available in Albanian as many booksellers travel from neighboring Albania. Still, few people are able to buy.

Organizers of the book fair say more women than men attend. These young women eagerly flip through books of interest.

The international Book Fair features a giant book, printed in Albanian, weighing more than 4,400 pounds.