Israel-Hamas conflict impacts Frankfurt Book Fair
Germany's Frankfurt Book Fair is being overshadowed by the conflict in the Middle East, as different publishers from predominantly Muslim countries pull out of the event.
As the Frankfurt Book Fair prepares to open its doors on Wednesday, 18 October, to around 6,000 media representatives, current developments in Israel and Gaza are impacting the world's largest publishing trade event.
Repercussions could already be felt last Friday when the organizers of the LiBeraturpreis, a German award recognizing a female author from the Global South, announced that the award ceremony for Palestinian author Adania Shibli — set to take place during the book fair — would be postponed.
In an unrelated statement, Frankfurt Book Fair director Juergen Boos officially denounced the "barbaric" assault by Hamas and said that the event "stands with complete solidarity on the side of Israel." He also pledged to feature more Israeli voices during the event.
In response, a number of organizations from predominantly Muslim countries have withdrawn from the fair.
Among them is the Indonesian Publishers Association, the United Arab Emirates' Sharjah Book Authority, the Emirates Publishers Association and the Arab Publishers' Association in Egypt, according to press agency AFP.
The organizers' decision to "take sides and give Israel a platform has undermined the ideals of dialogue and efforts to build mutual understanding," the Indonesian Publishers Association said in a statement on its website.
The chairperson of the Indonesian Publishers Association, Arys Hilman Nugraha, said in the statement, "Siding with Israel while forgetting the suffering of the Palestinian people is like reading only one book to feel like you understand the whole world."
Some 231 million people in Indonesia consider themselves Muslims making it the world's most populous Muslim-majority country.
The education ministry in Malaysia also told AFP it was pulling out from the Frankfurt book fair, citing the organizers' "pro-Israel stance."
'A complete disaster'
Asked about the withdrawals at a press conference, fair director Juergen Boos said that he was "very disappointed" some participants had chosen not to come "because of geopolitics."
"That's a complete disaster for us, for myself. I want people to be here, to have a [frank] discourse, to have discussions even if it might be controversial."
Meanwhile, many Israeli participants are also staying in their home country to take time to grieve after the traumatic October 7 events.
"In light of the war in Israel, as far as I know, all the Israeli publishers and agents who had planned to attend Frankfurt will be canceling," Benjamin Trivaks, chairperson of the Israeli Association of Book Publishers, told British publishing industry magazine The Bookseller.
Slavoj Zizek causes tumult with opening speech
Before the withdrawals, halls were to be filled with the stands of more than 4,200 exhibitors from 95 countries, with Slovenia as this year's Guest of Honor.
Giving a speech at the fair's opening ceremony on Tuesday, Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek also tackled the topic of the Israel-Hamas war.
The author, known for his provocative style, condemned the Hamas terrorist attacks on the Israeli population, but also pointed out that it is essential to consider the historical background and listen to the Palestinians to better understand the conflict.
His statements comparing the Israeli government's settlement policy with Hamas' ideology of annihilation sparked angry reactions from the audience.
Uwe Becker, the antisemitism commissioner of the German state of Hesse, where Frankfurt is located, countered Zizek during his speech, accusing the prominent philosopher of relativizing Hamas' crimes. He left the hall several times but returned accompanied by local politicians.
Fair director Juergen Boos concluded the evening by stating that he was happy the speech could be held in its entirety, in the name of freedom of expression; he also greeted the criticism from the audience. "It's important that we listen to each other," Boos said.
Open letter in support of Adania Shibli
An open letter has been released Monday in support of Palestinian author Adania Shibli and denouncing the postponement of the LiBeraturpreis award ceremony planned for her acclaimed novel, "Minor Detail." The letter has so far collected more than 1,000 signatories, including from high-profile authors such as Nobel Prize winners Abdulrazak Gurnah, Annie Ernaux and Olga Tokarczuk.
"At a time when the fair has issued a statement saying it wants to make Israeli voices 'especially visible at the fair,' they are closing out the space for a Palestinian voice," the letter states.
It also decries that Litprom, the association awarding the LiBeraturpreis, had initially claimed in a statement that the decision to call off the award ceremony had been made in agreement with the author. The information was subsequently republished by various media outlets, including DW. Litprom's statement and DW's article have since been corrected.
According to the letter, if the ceremony had taken place, Shibli "would have taken the opportunity to reflect on the role of literature in these cruel and painful times."
"The Frankfurt Book Fair has a responsibility, as a major international book fair, to be creating spaces for Palestinian writers to share their thoughts, feelings, reflections on literature through these terrible, cruel times, not shutting them down," the open letter added.
Fitzcarraldo Editions, the UK publisher of "Minor Detail," translated by Elisabeth Jaquette, said in a tweet that it was making the book free to download during the book fair.
Salman Rushdie expected in Frankfurt
Amid the current tensions, another high-security event is planned at the book fair. One of the most anticipated authors at this year's fair is Salman Rushdie, who has appeared only rarely in public since he was stabbed in an attack that nearly killed him last year.
The author of the 1988 novel, "The Satanic Verses," which was declared blasphemous by Iran's supreme leader, lost sight in one eye following the attack at a reading in the small US town of Chautauqua.
Rushdie will be awarded the 2023 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in Frankfurt on October 22.
Tonio Schachinger wins German Book Prize
Beyond the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade ceremony, which traditionally closes the Frankfurt Book Fair, the trade publishing event is associated with different important award ceremonies.
Two days before the official opening of the book fair, the German Book Prize (Deutscher Buchpreis) was awarded to Austrian author Tonio Schachinger for his novel "Echtzeitalter" (Real Age). The award comes with €25,000 ($26,377) in prize money.
In his book centering on a character who takes refuge in the world of gaming, "Schachinger reflects the political and social conditions of the present with subtle irony," said the German Book Prize jury.
The Frankfurt Book Fair, in its 75th edition this year, runs from October 18-22.
Edited by: Stuart Braun