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Translations from Ukrainian into Czech language between 1991 and 2012 a study by the Next Page Foundation in the framework of the Book Platform project conducted by Rita Kindlerova1

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Translations from Ukrainian into Czech language between 1991 and 2012
a study by the Next Page Foundation in the framework of the Book Platform project

conducted by Rita Kindlerova1, translated into English by Anna Ivanchenko2

February 2013

I. Introduction

In 1968, Prague publishing house “Svet sovetu” issued a big research and bibliography compilation One Hundred and Fifty Years of Czech-Ukrainian Literary Connections, 1814 – 1964 (dedicated to the 6th International Meeting of Slavic Linguists in Prague; original title Sto padesát let česko-ukrajinských literárních styků, 1814-1964). Fourteen authors guided by Orest Zilynsky prepared materials from literary field but also on cultural and scientific Czech-Ukrainian contacts. This work was continued by son of Orest Zilynsky, Bohdan, who published a compilation Ukrainian Literature in Czech Context, 1965-1994 in late 1990s (original title Ukrajinská literatura v českém kontextu v letech 1965–1994).

The compilation of 1968 contained first considerable chunk of information about Ukrainian literature (Dobrovsky in Slovyanka) and the first translation from Ukrainian (“Hanka” in Vienna publication of Prvotiny pěkných umění) in 1814. In 1830, Palatsky in his article “On Polish Peoples” published in the Journal of Czech Museum announced Rusyn people located geographically closer to Kuban as linguistically different from Russians and Poles also pointing to its special historical traditions and lost political rights. Havlichek in his article “Slovyan and Czech” in 1846 characterized Ukrainians as a big and independent Slavic nation and pointed to the fact that Ukrainian language was different from Russian. The attitude towards Ukraine in the first half of the 19th century was mostly based on the idea that it was an area with extremely righ traditions of folk culture dominating over literary process. From the point of romantic ideology it did not mean cultural inferiority.

The first translation was Ukrainian folk song “Oh, My Mother Sent Me to Reap Green Wheat” translated by Vazlav Hanka and published on August 22, 1814 in Prvotiny pěkných umění journal. This is how a long-standing tradition of scientific and translator interest towards Ukrainian folklore started. The last theme publication would be Vyprávění a písně Rusínů z Východního SlovenskaJihokarpatská ukrajinská nářečí v autentických záznamech (Tales and Songs of Eastern Slovakia Rusyns, Southern Carpathian Dialects in Authentic Recordings, 2009).

As for translations of poetry, prose, drama, children’s literature, journalism, etc., the first independent book translation from Ukrainian into Czech language is the book by Ivan Franko (Na dně, translated by Boguslav Sokolov, Prague 1892). Before that, books by Ukrainian authors were published in translations from Russian, e.g. Panteleymon Kulish, Mykhaylo Charnyshenko or Malorossiya Eighty Years Ago (Michal Čarnyšenko, aneb Malá Rus před osmdesáti lety, Prague 1847). The first translations of Tale of Igor’s Campaign (in phonetic transcription with Czech translation and interpretation by Joseph Jungmann, 1810) and Nestor’s Chronicle (translated by K.Ya. Erben, Prague 1867) also date back to the 19th century.

The journals published translations from Ukrainian language (in the 19th century, it was often referred to as Malorossian) rather frequently. The bibliography from 1814 till 1994 can be found in the books of father and son Zilynsky. Those were both translations of poetry, prose and drama and cultural, political, historical works, journalism, folklore, children’s and youth literature. Starting from the second half of the 19th century new book translations appear as well as books by separate authors. In 1876, the first uncensored Kobzar by Taras Shevchenko was published in Prague.

Translation and publication of Ukrainian literature were first of all facilitated by personal connections among intellectuals and direct cultural involvement of Czechs in Ukraine (e.g., Ludvik Kuba, Primus Sobotka, Frantiszek Rzegorz, Edward Jelinek, Frantiszek Glavacek). The wider Czech elite was familiarized with works by Ivan Franko thanks to F. Rzegorgz in late 1880s. Starting from late 19th century, “we see Czech-Ukrainian relations in three domains, i.e. literature, politics and folklore.” (O. Zilynsky).

After disintegration of Austria-Hungary Czechoslovakia obtained a big area with Ukrainian-speaking population, Transcarpathia (Transcarpathian Rus). In the period between wars Ukrainian intelligentsia also arrived in Czechoslovakia, namely O. Oles, Ye. Malanyuk, O. Teliga (Prague Poets School).

Starting from 1945, Ukrainian works were sometimes translated from Russian (as it had often happened previously in the 19th century) though the original work was written in Ukrainian. Only politically acceptable works could be translated. However, the publishers managed to put through translations of Kobzar by T. Shevchenko (Prague 1952), Aeneid by I. Kotlyarevsky (Prague 1955) or Boryslav by I. Franko (1951).

Starting from 1950s, a strong generation of translators appears: Vlastimila Abzoltovska, Zdenko Bergrova, Zina Genyk-Berezovska, Zdenka Ganusova, Rudolf Gulka, Jaroslav Kabicek, Zdenka Koutenska, Maria Marczanova, Alena Moravkova, Gana Prazakova, Jan Tureczek-Jizersky, Lyudmyla Zilynska, Orest Zilynsky who tried to familiarize Czech readership with Ukrainian literature, both classic and modern. The choice of texts for translation had remained limited until 1989.

Starting from 1990 due to disintegration of the USSR publishing of Ukrainian literature translations was suspended for a long time: partially it was due to hard economic situation and partially to public opinion, as over 40 years of Soviet demagogy left their trace on Czech readership. Only after 2000 local publishers and readers were finally persuaded to opt first of all for modern Ukrainian literature, which is normally well received by Czech readership.

In 1990, Mariya With Sage in the End of Century by Volodymyr Yavorivsky was published (Marie z Černobylu, Prague 1990). With the exception of thin brochure of ideas by Hryhoriy Skovoroda Hrygoriy Skovoroda, the Teacher of Life (Hryhorij Skovoroda, Učitel života, Prague 1994), the next literary translation from modern Ukrainian literature was published in 2001, it was Field Studies of Ukrainian Sex by Oksana Zabuzhko (Polní výzkum ukrajinského sexu, Prague 2001). The author was then invited to Prague book fair and turned attention to Ukrainian language and literature (most publishers in the 1990s were convinced that Ukrainian language was a certain dialect of Russian). It was very hard to persuade them to the contrary and prove that modern Ukrainian literature merited their attention and should be regularly presented to Czech readership. Thanks to translation of first novel by O. Zabuzhko and popularization of Ukrainian culture and in particular literature in the media (magazines, newspapers, radio, Internet) it was possible to gradually persuade publishers to get rid of their fear of Ukrainian literature. A single source in Czech, literary Internet portal (Rita Kindlerova being Ukrainian literature editor) offers Czech readers reviews of Ukrainian literature, translations of excerpts, interviews with authors, and news from Ukrainian book market.

From 2001 till 2011 р., with one exception being Yuriy Andrukhovych’s Recreations/Rekreace, translated by Tomasz Vaszut, Olomouts 2006 – only Rita Kindlerova’s translations were published (Ukrainian fairy tales, legends, antology of modern Ukrainian short story, works by O. Zabuzhko, Yu. Vynnychuk. N. Snyadanko). In 2011, translation of S. Zhadan’s Big Mac was published; the translation had been performed by two young Ukrainian linguists Miroslav Tomek and Alexej Sevruk; the year of 2012 saw publications of the Ukrainian short story antology and Different (Jinací) by Taras Prokhasko translated by Jekaterina Gazukina and Alexandra Stelibská. The translation of Museum of Discarded Secrets by O. Zabuzhko is being prepared for publication (Muzeum opuštěných tajemství, Zlín, 2013). In autumn 2012 she was a guest of Prague Literary House of German-Speaking Authors as the first non-German speaking writers. The same year Anton Savchenko participated in Prague book fair.

Some rare limited editions were also published; unfortunately, those were but small brochures (e.g., translations of O. Olzhich, G. Mazurenko) not available for wider audience. Ukrainian-centered books on history, politics, art as well as memoirs are published both as translations from other languages (mostly English and Polish) and as original Czech works.

II. Publishing and translation market in Czech Republic (1999-2009) – review
According to the data of SČKN (Svaz českých knihkupců а nakladatelů/ Czech Book Distributors and Publisheers Union), Národní knihovny ČR (National Library of Czech Republic) and Národní agentury ISBN v ČR (National ISBN Agency in Czech Republic).

After 1989, Czech book market lived through a literary explosion with many new publishing houses, books previously prohibited or censored (including religious works) as well as new translations. According to SČKN statistical data, translated books accounted for approximately one third of all published books in 15 years (1990 – 2005). English language dominates; translations from English constitute about 50 per cent of the total volume (during the recent years); they are followed by translations from German and only then by those from French, Slovak, Polish, and Russian.

In 1989-2012 only eleven fiction books were translated from Ukrainian (or twelve, if we include one book by Andriy Kurkov translated from Russian); therefore, we cannot talk about serious impact of Ukrainian literature.

Published books

Year Number of titles

1997 11,519

1998 11,738

1999 12,551

2000 11,965

2001 14,321 (30 per cent translated)

2002 14,278

2003 16,451

2004 15,749

2005 15,350 (28.8 per cent translated)

2006 17,019

2007 18,029

2008 18,520

2009 17,598

2010 17,054

2011 16,017 (34.3 per cent translated)

Number of registered publishers in 2006 – 2010

Year Number of publishers

1997 2,337

1998 2,582

1999 2,745

2000 2,898

2001 3,136

2002 3,267

2003 3,448

2004 3,619

2005 3,775

2006 3,908

2007 4,073

2008 4,344

2009 4,583

2010 4,875

2011 2,529 (number of publishing houses issuing at least one book during the respective year)

In 2002, 4,352 translations from 44 languages were published; in 2010 there were 6,044 translatiohns (35 per cent of the total book market volume; books were translated from 42 languages). Starting from the 1990s, translations from English, German and French stay on leading positions; they are followed by Slovak (229 works translated in 2010), Polish (108 works) and Russian (73 works).

Number of published translations from the most translated languages (2006 – 2011) – see Table 1

Number of published books by literature genres (2006 – 2011) – see Table 2

Average book price (1999–2011) вin CZK

Year 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011

Price 180 190 180 185 190 200 205 210 215 220 220 240

In 2011, books were subject to 10 per cent VAT. A higher VAT for books among EU member states in 2011 is observed only in Denmark (22 per cent), Bulgaria (20 per cent) and Latvia (12 per cent). Electronic books and audio books are subject to basic VAT rate. As before, Czech book market is monopolized much less than in most European countries. If in many European countries five biggest publishing houses account for a joint share exceeding 70 per cent (e.g., 72 per cent in Finland, 75 per cent in the Netherlands, and 78 per cent in France), in Czech Republic the share of top five publishing houses amounts to only 13.5 per cent; only the output of 250 biggest publishing houses accounts for 72 per cent of total book production volume.

Ownership of Czech publishing houses

Publishing house 2010






University publishing houses

2.2 %

15.1 %

1.9 %

15.4 %

State publishing houses

4.2 %

6.1 %

4.5 %

6.0 %

Regional administration publishing houses

15.0 %

4.6 %

11.9 %

3.9 %

Publishing houses in form of companies and individuals

78.7 %

74.2 %

81.7 %

74.7 %

Book publication is concentrated in big cities where Prague leads the way. It is followed by Brno and other regional centers.

city number of publications

2010 2011

Prague 10,110 (60.9 %) 9,722 (61.61 %)

Brno 2,341 (14.1 %) 2,155 (13.66 %)

Ostrava 781 (4.7 %) 803 (5.09 %)

Olomouts 544 (3.3 %) 547 (3.47 %)

Plzen 445 (2.7 %) 399 (2.53 %)

Czesky Budejovise 288 (1.7 %) 325 (2. 06 %)

Zlin 193 (1.2 %) 233 (1.48 %)

Liberets 228 (1.4 %) 202 (1.28 %)

Gradets-Kralove 168 (1.0 %) 147 (0.93 %)

Dobrzejovise 192 (1.2 %) 145 (0.92 %)

Fridek-Mistek 120 (0.7 %) 129 (0.82 %)

Pardubitse 149 (0.9 %) 121 (0.77 %)

Usti nad Labem 137 (0.8 %) 105 (0.67 %)

Trzebic 126 (0.8 %) 94 (0.60 %)

Most visited Internet stores in Czech Republic (as of 2012): (Kosmas, s. r. o.) (Euromedia Group, k. s.) (Neoluxor, a. s.) (Booknet, s. r. o. – Pemic Books) (, s. r. o.) (ABZ knihy a. s.)

Main electronic book retailers and distributors in Czech Republic




eReading, s. r. o.

ePub, mobi, PDF

Kosmas, s. r. o.

ePub, mobi, PDF, s. r. o.

ePub, PDF

Palmknihy, s. r. o.

ePub, mobi, PDF,,

Wooky, a. s.


Czech book market provides approximately 9,600 jobs with the following structure: publishing houses employees (1,600 persons), book sellers (5,200), printing industry employees (800), graphic designers and press operators (600), authors (800), translators (600).

Presently in Czech Republic there are four secondary schools offering specialized training in book industry, i.e. book sales and publishing:

Secondary Book School in Brno (Střední škola knih v Brně)

Secondary Book Culture School in Prague 3 (Střední škola knižní kultury v Praze 3)

Secondary Nagorni School in Prague 8 (Střední škola Náhorní v Praze 8)

Secondary School of Business, Services and Crafts with the right of state exam in Tabor (Střední škola obchodu, služeb a řemesel a jazyková škola s právem státní jazykové zkoušky v Tá­boře)

Some data on book sales (2011):

Average sales marge – 34 %

Average sales marge for foreign books – 30 %

Average sales marge for textbooks – 27 %

Average number of pages in a book – 223

Printing expenses for one book – 30 %

Average author’s compensation – 7 %

Average pay for translation of a standard page (1 standard page = 1800 characters with spaces) – 150 CZK

Average pay for book art work – 5,000 CZK

Average pay for one book planning – 8,000 CZK

Total profit of a publishing house from one book sales– 4 %
Book fairs and events associated with book sales:

1) Month of Author’s Reading – the biggest literary festival in Czech Republic held since 2000 and taking place in July, in Brno, Kosice, Ostrava and Wroclaw.

2) Writers Festival in Prague – in literary world, this international festival contains unique presentations of authors from all over the world and is highlighted in local and regional media as well as by live video broadcasts over the Internet. It is a regular spring event.

3) Fantasy Festival – fantasy and science fiction festival taking place in June and July in Hoteborz.

4) Literary Peak – A Czech-Slovak festival on writing, literature, authors and inspiration. It evaluates non-published prose and poetry works. The festival is held in Hoteborz in July.

5) KomiksFEST! – independent multimedia comics festival. The festival presents new books, exhibitions, films, plays, autograph sessions and discussions. This international event shows comics as young, dynamic, attractive and universal medium able to carry any content. It takes place in October and November in Prague.

6) Literary Spring is a literary festival in Zlin for book-lovers presenting literature in non-traditional programs. The festival is held in May.

7) ProtimluvFEST – international literary festival held in Ostrava.

8) “Jicin, City of Fairy Tales” – cultural festival held since 1990 and specializing in children’s literature.

9) Orten’s Kutna Hora – poetry festival associated with literary competition. The festival is held in September in honor of Irzi Orten, a poet.

10) Shramer’s Sobotka – festival of Czech language and languages and literature as such. It is held annually in honor of Frani Shramek, a poet. The festival takes place in Sobotka in June/July.

11) Literary Night – public night readings in different locations of Prague in mid-May. They are organized by Czech centers, which familiarize local readership with modern European literature in this way.

12) Writers on Highway – literary festival in Czeska Trzebova, takes place in October.

13) Poetry on the Market – regional poetry festival in Klatovy for young amateurs of recitals, theatre and dance. It is held in March/April.

14) Children, Read! – reading and theatre festival in Prague along with exhibitions of illustrations and books for children. It is held in early June.

15) Poetry Day – Czech and international poetry festival. It is held every year in honor of birthday of Karel Ginek Maha, a poet.

16) Literary Lugaczovice – gatherings of young authors with Czech writers, lectures, etc. The festival is held in June.

17) Poets Festival – meetings, autograph sessions, author’s readings. The festival is held in Olomouts.

18) St. Jerome’s Days – festival of translations, lectures, workshops, book-second-hand. It is organized by Translators and Interpreters Union in Prague in mid-November.

19) Slam Poetry – slam poetry festival. Each round of the competition takes places in different regions with the final round in Brno.

Information on all Czech libraries can be found at the following address:

Library types: Scientific and regional libraries – 16. City/town libraries – 1,942. University and academic libraries – 25. In city libraries free Internet access is offered for all readers. Libraries organize lots of different programs for children, retirees and minorities. For example, a city library in Prague organizes programs or culture campaigns in all fields for children or retirees, every day. There are various support programs, such as “Grow With Books” (, “Books, an Addiction for Life”, “A Night With Andersen” ( or “Reading Helps”.

III. Translations from Ukrainian into Czech language

Web portal constantly represents Ukrainian literature. Reviews and articles on Ukraine-related issues are published in other cultural journals and magazines (A2, Aluze, Host, Labyrint Revue, Na východ, Plav, Textу). Sometimes student magazine Babylon ( allocates more space for Ukrainian literature. For example, in peer review popular science journal Vesmír 1/2013 an exclusive article by Larysa Masenko about Surzhik was published. Dějiny a současnost magazine popularizing history publishes texts, interviews and research in this field. In January issue of music magazine Harmonie an article about kobza players was published. In Moravia, thanks to strong Ukrainian language departments in Brno and Olomouts university, several young and reliable Ukrainian linguists engage in promotion activities.

IV. Translations through other languages

There are no such translations, with the exception of the 19th century or several translations in the first half of the 20th century.

V. Literary translators from Ukrainian into Czech language – work conditions

Due to the fact that only several book translations from Ukrainian into Czech language are published per year, almost all literary translators (regardless of the language from which they translate) consider translations their hobby. Only for several translators from English language literary translations make up their principal income.

A literary translator receives salary for the amount of standard pages translated (1 standard page = 1,800 characters with spaces) without any royalties or sales percentage. In 2000, the fee for one standard page was about 120 CZK (then about 4 EUR), now it is between 150 and 190 CZK (about 6-8 EUR). If the book translated from Ukrainian language was published thanks to a grant or other type of financial support, it mostly impacts the translator’s pay. немає це в основному вплив на платню перекладача.

The social status of translators and interpreters in Czech Republic is rather high. There are several professional organizations actively lobbying for their rights and improvement of financial situation. The most influential organization is JTP (Jednota tlumočníků a překladatelů/ Translators and Interpreters Union: For 20 years, it has organized an annual competition “Vocabulary of the Year”. There are also KST ČR (Komora soudních tlumočníků ČR/College of Sworn Interpreters in the Czech Republic: and ASKOT (Asociace konferenčních tlumočníků/Conference Interpreters Association: Another association is Obec překladatelů ČR (Translators Guild:, for literary translators only. Every year it announces the best translation of the year, gives out an anti-award for the worst translation and organizes a competition named after Jirzigo Levogo for translators under 35 years of age.

All the abovementioned organizations constantly organize seminars, lectures, and workshops for their members. Thanks to that translators are always in the know of events in the industry, receive information about professional literature, are able to use specialized libraries, obtain discounts for translation software and books. They can also consult their colleagues on translation issues. Thanks to the database of members in these organizations translators receive offers from publishers, foreign institutions or foundations interested in reviews or translations of Ukrainian literature.

Translators. In Czech Republic, books from Ukrainian language are actively translated by Rita Kindlerová, young Ukrainian linguists Jekaterina Gazukina, Alexandra Stelibská (Taras Prokhasko, Different), Alexej Sevruk, Miroslav Tomek (Sergiy Zhadan, Big Mac), Tomáš Vašut (Yuriy Andrukhovych, Recreations).

VI. Intermediaries

Ukraine does not engage in comprehensive promotion of its literature; there is no state support of translations into other languages let alone culture policy as such. Ukrainian publishers do not have information about their authors in English. That is why Czech publishers rely on evaluation and experience of translators and therefore their role is critical.

Czech Republic does not have a publishing house specializing in certain literature, e.g. from Eastern Europe (Czech book market is much too small for that). Certain publishing houses issue series such as “Modern Prose of the World” (Argo publishing house) where Sister, Sister – a book by O. Zabuzhko – was published. There is also series “Myths, Fairy Tales and Legends” of the same publishing house where a book of Ukrainian fairy tales Pomsta Oleksy Dovbuše was published.

A favorable factor is the arrival of the authors at festivals, book fairs or internships. However, the most important role for Ukrainian literature is played by specific translators recommending certain works and helping to find financial support for publications. Without financial support smaller publishing houses won’t work with unknown authors as due to a significant amount of translated literature in Czech Republic it is hard to know for sure whether the book can be successful.

VII. Reception

There are so few translations from Ukrainian that it is hard to talk about reception of Ukrainian literature in Czech Republic. However, we can observe that lack of awareness about books by O. Zabuzhko is considered cultural ignorance in the intelligentsia community. Texts by Yu. Vynnychuk are also popular thanks to his sense of humor, which is close to the Czech one. Young students specializing in languages, literature, history or culture like Yu. Andrukhovych though in this case we cannot judge if it is due to popularity of his texts or himself as a performer and an extraordinary personality.

VIII. Evaluation and recommendations

Thanks to the fact that all books translated from Ukrainian sell well, and reviews always acclaim high-quality translation, we can believe that Ukrainian literature has all chances to captivate Czech readership. However, Czech market is small and, though Czechs in comparison with other nations are the greatest book-lovers, I don’t believe that more than two or three books per year translated from Ukrainian could involve more readers. That is why it is necessary to be careful during selection and always pay attention to readers’ tastes.

If the Ukrainian publisher or author wishes for their works to be translated into Czech language, they need to use standard methods: provide relevant information about books and authors in English, publish annual book plans with annotations, communicate with translators and try to engage authors in participation in festivals, book fairs, workshops and understand that a bestseller in Ukraine won’t necessary become one on a global scale.

Table 1

1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011

from English 1,819 1,889 2,118 2,088 2,340 2,329 2,362 2,301 2,211 2,556 2,665 2,969 3,005 3,071 3,276

from German 1,512 1,228 1,106 927 991 982 1,029 1,033 980 1,186 1,115 1,168 1,157 1,058 1,129

from French 208 199 192 201 227 225 273 267 243 244 285 270 293 562 307

from Ukrainian 1 0 0 0 1 1 1 3 3 3 0 1 4 0 3
Table 2

1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011

fiction 3,365 3,432 3,562 3,281 3,726 3,605 3,498 3,381 3,340 3,746 3,927 4,162 4,475 4,477 6,583
for children 416 400 575 579 575 586 746 73 866 1,209 1,187 1,385 1,367 1,336 1,329
textbooks 1,658 1,676 1,549 1,400 1,750 1,578 1,884 1,732 1,776 1,924 1,971 2,132 1,489 1,536 1,345

for schools and universities

1 Rita Kindlerova – translator from Ukrainian and Greek languages. Lives and works in Prague. Author of foreign literatures website

2Anna Ivanchenko is translator and interpreter

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