For full disclosure, I love Booksa (Martićeva 14d; closed Mondays). I had my first – and only – poetry reading in Croatia in this cafe-literary club back in 2004 so it’s a link to fond memories. Plus it happens to be my neighborhood haunt; I live nearby when in Zagreb. All that aside, Booksa is a super spot to check out. Hence this week’s interview.
Miljenka Buljević – or Mika, as she is known to friends – is cofounder of the organization Kulturtreger and Booksa’s manager. She graduated English and Czech language and literature from the Zagreb University, and besides organizing literary events she occasionally translates from English. Recently she has become the president of the local network of independent cultural and youth organizations, Alliance Operation City.
Tell us a little about Booksa, and your role in it. How did it all start?
Booksa is a literary club in Zagreb which opened in 2004. At the time, my two friends Vanja and Maja, and I were fed up with our daily jobs so we decided to start an association called Kulturtreger, which actually runs Booksa.
Kulturtreger is devoted to promoting literature and Booksa is its first and most important project. We got the premises from the City of Zagreb and raised loans to make the space usable, as there was no electricity, water or heating. Garage sales saved our day and the interior design of Booksa still echoes that initial limitation.
The inspiration for Booksa came from several places we visited in Prague, Sarajevo and London. But by the time we got it going, Booksa turned out quite unlike any of those.
The intention was to make a place where people could come, have coffee or tea, read a book, meet writers, or just hang out with other book lovers. We also wanted people to feel at home. It seems that we struck the right chord in Zagreb, since we’re still around.
Your concept is pretty innovative for Zagreb – a bookstore-café. Are there other spaces in the city that compare to Booksa?
Until last year there was a bookstore in Booksa but we had to close it down. Now, in its place there is a free library and an archive of Croatian non-institutional culture where you can find objects from various cultural and artistic projects (posters, books, flyers, booklets, catalogs etc.).
As far as I know, Booksa is the only place like this in Zagreb. There are other interesting spots, but the combination of bookstore and café is not really common here. Booksa is not different only because we managed to combine the two, but also because we are a place fully dedicated to literature and culture in all its forms.
Booksa is many things in one: a library, an internet hot spot, a book sharing place, a café, a place for readings and literary events… First and foremost, we’re a creative hub for all those who have ideas they want to share. There is a symbolic annual membership ($2).
It’s also important to mention that Booksa is an activist place. We are very engaged in cultural and activist scene in Zagreb. We’re a place that promotes tolerance, social engagement and critical thinking.
That’s why Booksa provides infrastructure for other organizations which share the same values; they use it as an office, as a presentation place or as an info point. For example, we collaborate with LGBTQ community, with youth organizations, with women’s organizations etc.
Tell us a little about Booksa as a creative hub. You always have interesting events going on.
We have three, sometimes four events per week. On Tuesdays there are public interviews with writers, on Thursdays we have concerts, on Wednesdays are French evenings where everybody speaks French or traveler logs where people share stories from their trips and show a lot of photos.
We often host literary festivals and organize one of our own called the Review of Small Literatures. It’s an annual happening that takes place in early October. For foreign visitors I also recommend the European Short Story Festival in May (27–29), where you can meet and hear many writers from all over Europe.
What would you say are the current trends in Croatian literature? Any authors we should be on the lookout for?
In recent years there has been a boom on the Croatian literary scene. Many young writers have emerged and they vary in styles, themes, and interests. I don’t think there is a predominant trend, as there was ten years ago when almost everybody wrote about the war. Now, writers are concerned with everything from love stories to political thrillers.
I would recommend several writers whose work has been translated into English and German. Zoran Ferić is a great master of the bizarre, Marinko Koščec a delicate misanthrope, Olja Savičević Ivančević a poetic southerner, Mima Simić a fierce provocateur, Daniel Dragojević the most brilliant poet…
Of course, you can always go back to Dubravka Ugrešić, Miljenko Jergović and Slavenka Drakulić, who are all already known to English-speaking readers.
Would you share your three “secret spots” in Zagreb? Places you love to go. Except Booksa, of course.
My favorite places in Zagreb are the open markets. I just love going there. As I live in the eastern part of the city I regularly go to Kvatrić (Kvaternikov Trg), but Britanac (Britanski Trg) and Dolac are just amazing.
My favorite bar is Sedmica (Kačićeva 7) and my favorite place to have Saturday morning coffee is Kinoteka (Kordunska 1).
Which three places in Zagreb do you consider tourist traps? Places you’d tell your friends from out-of-town to avoid, and why?
I always recommend my friends to go visit the ‘traps’ first so they can appreciate the rest of the city more Anyway, what I consider the biggest trap in Zagreb is Cvjetni Trg. Unfortunately, that square turned into a commercial show-off. It used to be a great place.
Describe the ultimate day in Zagreb – where do you go, what do you do, what do you see?
This is a difficult question. I’m a workaholic and I don’t go out that much. Maybe I would single out Saturdays when I have my morning coffee with friends in Kinoteka, then I go to the market, then I cook at home (I love cooking), and then in the evening my partner and I visit friends or go out for a drink. Nothing spectacular.
Can you describe a typical ‘Zagreb moment’? A scene or a setting that you feel represents the spirit of the city?
For me Zagreb is an autumn city. I love early October when everything is in sepia and it becomes Zagreb perfectly. The city is full of events, people in the street, but still everything is a bit melancholic and slow.
Some of the interesting festivals that take place around that time are 25FPS at the end of September and Zagreb Film Festival in October. And of course, I should mention Booksa’s international literary festival Review of Small Literatures the first week of October. This year we’re hosting young Greek writers; the working language will be English.
Any strong stand about Croatia’s entry into the EU?
I personally am not against joining the EU. I think Croatia has proved in the last 15 years that it’s not capable of being a Switzerland or a Norway. So EU is our future and we have to deal with it.