Mon, Oct 08, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Frankfurt book fair getting political in ‘stormy’ times

AFP, FRANKFURT AM MAIN, Germany

“We need to talk.” With these words, the Frankfurt book fair is this week commencing its most politically charged edition in years, shining a spotlight on everything from #MeToo and free speech to life in US President Donald Trump’s America.

The outspoken stance comes a year after the last edition of the world’s largest publishing event ended in scuffles and chants of “Nazis Out,” triggered by the presence of a far-right German publisher and its controversial speakers.

Organizers have defended the platform given to the Antaios house, notorious for anti-immigration and anti-Semitic publications, saying the book fair stood against censorship of any kind.

“We allow all opinions to be heard, whether we like them or not,” director Juergen Boos told a pre-fair news conference. “But we have opinions too. And we will make our points of view very clear.”

Against a backdrop of rising euroscepticism, the book fair will start by sending a distinctly pro-EU signal at tomorrow’s opening ceremony, giving the stage to EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini.

The following day, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will join a debate on how to combat anti-foreigner and populist voices “in stormy times.”

The fair has also teamed up with the UN and Amnesty International to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the UN human rights declaration, an achievement Boos said “cannot be taken for granted.”

Freedom of expression in Russian President’s Vladimir Putin’s country, Turkey’s media crackdown and concerns about the rule of law and free speech in Poland will all be topics of discussion.

Commentators will also take stock of the #MeToo movement, a year after it sparked a global discussion about sexual harassment, and renowned US authors Meg Wolitzer and Paul Beatty are to talk about feminism and race in the era of Trump.

African authors are likewise getting a chance to shine with the continent preparing for its “biggest ever” presence at the fair, which organizers said reflected the African publishing industry’s increasing professionalism and international reach.

Nigeria’s Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of Americanah is scheduled to discuss her smash-hit essay “We Should All Be Feminists,” while Trifonia Melibea Obono will present her coming-of-age book La Bastarda, the first ever novel by a woman from Equatorial Guinea translated into English.

While the Antaios company is skipping this year’s event, two other German far-right publishers will be manning stands at Frankfurt’s giant conference center.

Several lawmakers from the country’s anti-Islam, anti-immigration AfD party are also expected to show up, Boos said.

However, with 7,300 exhibitors from more than 100 countries, he said that the far-right represented “a mini group” at the fair.

This year’s event will once again showcase high-tech novelties in a bid to encourage the book publishing industry to think creatively about how to plug into new technologies.

Valued at about US$120 billion annually, the global book publishing industry has seen stead, but slow growth in recent years, and sales of e-books have stagnated.

Hologram singer Maya Kodes is to perform at the fair, as will Spanish “cyborg activist” Moon Ribas, who has implanted a sensor in her body that vibrates whenever there is an earthquake.

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