SF East of here (if you're a Brit...)

Bridget Wilkinson

Bridget Wilkinson co-ordinates Fans Across the World. Lives in London, and regularly attends the London Circle (the 1960s version of which was immortalised in Arthur Clarke's Tales from the White Hart -- of course this was long before Bridget turned up on the scene...)

This year's Eurocon was held in Vilnius, Lithuania. It was the first Eurocon to be held in the former USSR, and despite a few problems went quite well. Lithuania is one of the smallest countries in the ex-USSR, having a population rather smaller than that of Wales and yet, paradoxically, it is probably the only ex-USSR country remotely able to have hosted an international convention. The problems are political and economic, rather than immediately within the local science fiction communities.

Looking at Lithuania as a Baltic State, after an initial collapse in the early 1990s, fandom got an influx of new members. These new members are keen readers and role players, with GURPS and Dungeons and Dragons being the most popular games. The dramas performed by the fans at the Eurocon reflected this reality, while fantasy appears to be more fashionable at present than SF. (This may have something to do with the relationship of heroic fantasy and nationalism.) Small SF communities tend to undergo fewer schisms than larger groups, a similar mixing of media and book-based SF fans can be seen in Ireland, certainly Lithuanian fandom seems to be weathering the current chaos quite well. Lithuanians are poor by western standards, but Lithuania is a sufficiently small country that travel within the country is not impossible for those not destitute.

The other Baltic states have very small SF communities, while those in the Slav former Soviet bloc states are having to cope with catastrophic financial problems. Meanwhile in the former USSR itself, the latter-day main SF con, Aelita, used to be held in Sverdlovsk (Ekaterinburg), and relied on cheap travel, although attendees at the time were scarcely aware of this. It might take days to travel by train to the con if you came from the far eastern areas, but the cost was affordable for enough fans for it to be done. Travel from Moscow and Leningrad (St Petersburg) could be easily contemplated, just provided you had enough time. Rail travel costs are now exorbitant, leading to the total collapse of not only Aelita (which also suffered from committee fatigue) but the whole idea of a national convention. The main yearly convention is (now held in St Petersburg) is called Interpresscon, having developed out of a writers’ meeting. There are other conventions being run in Russia on a fairly regular basis. To call any of these a 'national' convention is to abuse the term; there can be no national convention in a country where it costs more to get to the other end of the country than it does to attend conventions some considerable distance away abroad. Try to visualise a US where it was much cheaper to attend the British Eastercon from New York than to go to a con in San Francisco, and cheaper to get to Tokyo from San Francisco than to get to New York...

It gets worse. Belarus, the Ukraine, and Moldova are in an even worse economic condition than Russia. The Ukrainian national conventions, Chumatsky Shlayah, have for the present ceased, and while SF books continue to be published (or imported from Russia -- the trade goes both ways), and fans do meet up on an informal or semi-formal basis, arranging convention space, accommodation, attendees, etc. in current circumstances is just too difficult. Not that this will be permanent. British fandom was in a very poor state immediately after the war, and many credit Ken Slater with keeping it from dying out completely, but this did not prevent the Brits from running a Worldcon within ten years of British SF fandom’s revival.

Further west things look better. Poland (which did hold a Eurocon in the communist 1970s) has a new generation of fans coming through, many with interests in media SF, role playing and card games. The pattern in the Czech Republic and Slovakia is similar. Hungary is re-emerging after its own 1988 post-Eurocon burnout, while the Croats have come back onto the postwar scene in possibly a little too frenetic a manner. Neither role-playing nor fantasy have much of a foothold in Romania, but SF is widely fashionable to an extent unimaginable in most other parts of the World.

Nearer home, there has been renewed movement from the Latin countries of Southern Europe. France has been more active internationally than for years, while reasonably large scale conventions are now taking place in Spain and Portugal. Italy has yet to join this revival, but this may yet happen; odd that one of the countries most inactive now is the one that started the Eurocon.

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