Bratislava's Big Issue

Slovakia's first 'street paper' is already changing the lives of Bratislava's homeless people, say the publication's backers.
Nota bene, Latin for 'note well', hit Bratislava streets in early September. It is Slovakia's first street paper, a newspaper or magazine distributed to and sold by homeless people. Half of the proceeds from the 24-page monthly magazine, which costs Sk26, goes into the vendors' pockets. The other half covers publishing costs.
Out of a print run of 5,000, 3,500 copies of the September issue of Nota bene were sold by 50 registered homeless vendors, 12 of whom had worked every week day.


Bratislava's first 'street paper' came out in September.
photo: Courtesy Nota bene

Slovakia's first 'street paper' is already changing the lives of Bratislava's homeless people, say the publication's backers.

Nota bene, Latin for 'note well', hit Bratislava streets in early September. It is Slovakia's first street paper, a newspaper or magazine distributed to and sold by homeless people. Half of the proceeds from the 24-page monthly magazine, which costs Sk26, goes into the vendors' pockets. The other half covers publishing costs.

Out of a print run of 5,000, 3,500 copies of the September issue of Nota bene were sold by 50 registered homeless vendors, 12 of whom had worked every week day.

"So far it's been a great success. Although we have only 12 regular vendors, four have been able to afford a place to live thanks to the money they've earned," said Zuzana Šedíková, coordinator of the Nota bene project.

Stano, 52, who sells Nota bene on Bratislava's SNP Square, says the magazine has changed his life.

"I can now afford items for personal hygiene and something decent to wear," he said.

A mason, Stano became homeless two years ago after leg surgery that left him needing a cane to walk. His eyes glisten when he talks about his transition from employed mason to homeless person.

"I couldn't find work. I'd have a job arranged, then they'd take one look at me and say no," he said. "I ended up sleeping on the streets."

Stano earns about Sk150 ($3.20) a day selling Nota bene and has recently found dormitory-style housing in a Bratislava suburb.

All Nota bene vendors are registered by the magazine. They receive an official vendor's card and a selling location. They are required to carry the card with them while selling Nota bene, and are bound by a code of conduct listed on the on the magazine's table of contents.

The code bars them from selling while under the influence of drugs and alcohol, raising the magazine's price or harassing passers-by.

Slovak journalists and NGO activists contribute articles to Nota bene for a small fee. The September issue contains articles on Castro, Picasso and graffiti, plus a poem in a section called Pouličné blues (street blues), a section reserved for the homeless to express themselves.

Nota bene is patterned after England's Big Issue magazine, founded in London in 1991. The Big Issue has a print run of 70,000, lands exclusive interviews with celebrities such as George Michael and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and publishes some of the UK's most popular writers, including Irvine Welsh.

More than 150 street papers worldwide have been established in the last 10 years. Nota bene was founded by sociology students from Bratislava's Comenius university, who hope to sell the magazine soon in other Slovak cities.

"Street papers can have a real affect on the lives of homeless people," said Šedíková. "We have seen real change so far. Our vendors see that they aren't alone, that there is a way for them to improve their lives, and they are planning for the future."

Šedíková added: "Those who buy Nota bene are helping concrete people. For many, selling our magazine is the first step in returning to society."

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