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It has been a dramatic few hours at the Frankfurt Book Fair. The screen writer, activist and author Jasmina Kuhnke, whose father was Senegalese and whose mother is Croatian, cancelled her appearance at the fair because of the presence of the German New Right publisher Jungeuropa. She had been due to talk about her debut novel Black Heart. She said simply that the Frankfurt Book Fair was “no place for Nazis”.
It is understood that she was particularly annoyed that the events space ‘the blue sofa’, where she due to speak, is right across from Jungeuropa’s stand.
Founded in 2016, Jungeuropa is run by Philip Stein who has a leading position in One Percent, a network for members of the German New Right, an extreme right-wing nationalist movement. At Frankfurt the publisher has a large photograph of one of the dark moments in French history adorning its stand. It shows far right protesters rioting on Place de la Concorde in 1934, near the seat of the French Assembly. It looks like an eerie precursor to the storming of the Capitol in Washington in January 2021. The police shot and killed 15 demonstrators during the disturbance.
Responding to Kuhnke’s decision, the Frankfurt Book Fair and the German Booksellers and Publishers Association issued a joint statement. “We regret that individual authors have decided not to appear at Frankfurter Buchmesse. Their voices against racism and in support of diversity will be missed at the book fair.
“With our own programming and that of our partners, we send clear signals for a diverse society and take a stand in favour of interacting with others in a tolerant, respectful way. In doing so, we clearly distance ourselves from extreme positions. Frankfurter Buchmesse has always been a place for discourse where questions of human rights, freedom of speech and expression, and how to respond to extremism have been addressed.
“Freedom of expression and publication are, for us, paramount. They are the basis for engaging in a free exchange in our democracy and for having a book fair at all. Frankfurter Buchmesse and the German Publishers & Booksellers Association are committed to promoting freedom of speech and freedom of the press worldwide. That is why it is also clear for us that publishers who operate within the law can exhibit at the book fair, even if we do not share their views. In our constitutional democracy, banning publishing houses or their publications is the role of the courts and not individual actors like Frankfurter Buchmesse.
“Ensuring the safety of participants at the book fair is our top priority. The fair is organised based on a comprehensive security plan that makes it possible for everyone to visit the fair safely.”