Experts from Around the World Agree: Interest in Bohemian Studies Is Dwindling


During a debate entitled Stars of Bohemian Studies, held as part of the Professional Forum, translators Tatjana Jamnik, Eero Balk and this year's Jiří Theiner Award winner David Short all agreed that numbers of students enlisting for Bohemian studies are steadily declining.

Slovenia's Tatjana Jamnik explained that the negative tendency in the number of students can be attributed to current trends, when more people are interested in the languages of western countries. She also commented on the somewhat unsatisfactory situation on the Slovenian book market. "Number of published copies is plummeting. 300 copies is already considered a lot and when more than 100 books are sold, the title is already branded a bestseller," Tatjana Jamnik described. She also added, however, that for her own work she would not accept a publisher's refusal on the grounds that her literature is too exacting.

"I remember from the school that Czech literature always enjoyed the label of quality. And this still holds, even though it's been slightly damaged by Svejk, because now people think that all Czech literature is funny," the Finnish Bohemian studies scholar Eero Balk said, having chosen Hasek's Good Soldier Svejk as his first title to translate from Czech directly into Finnish. "All the older translations were done from another language. The translators didn't have a clue where the humor lies - this was lost in between the various languages. I was a bit afraid of this undertaking, because people already knew some of the quotations by heart from those older versions. Today I would do some revisions, but what a wonderful task it had been..."

"In the English translation, Svejk has ceased to resonate," admitted this year's laureate of the Jiří Theiner Award David Short in fluent Czech. Smiling, he then added that the most recent English edition of Svejk can still be bought, but not read. Tatjana Jamnik also mentioned some issues with the Slovenian translation: "One of Svejk's earliest translators would simply leave out entire pages or whatever passages he found unsuitable. But we have more translations and when a book is translated more than once, this can already be considered a miracle in Slovenia."

"Czech literature abounds in self irony and ad absurdum humor. The Finnish one was lacking this quality, but now things are changing," Eero Balk said. David Short has also attributed this quality to Czech books and disclosed that he is not much of a reader. He also proposed a solution to the "Bohemian studies crisis". "I noticed that interest in this type of studies always culminates whenever the Czech Republic gets mentioned a lot. Which means a revolution could provide us with more students," he added, laughing.