International Publishers Association Names Prix Voltaire Shortlist

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The 2021 shortlist of five candidates for the Prix Voltaire, given for valor in the defense of free speech, includes figures and companies in Guatemala, Turkey, Lebanon, Belarus, and Gaza.

Belarusian protesters on the streets of Minsk in September 2020 following the refusal of Alexander Lukashenko to concede defeat in national elections. Independent Belarusian publishers—unnamed for their safety—have been shortlisted for the 2021 Prix Voltaire. Image: Special to Publishing Perspectives

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

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Winner To Be Announced at Guadalajara
On the eve of Frankfurt Book Fair week, the International Publishers Association (IPA) has announced its shortlist for the 2021 Prix Voltaire.

The announcement was made as part of a Frankfurt Masterclass series event, and that in turn was part of the series of events that the IPA has on tap during the week ahead.

As Publishing Perspectives readers know, it was announced in mid-June that this year’s Prix Voltaire winner will be named at the 35th Guadalajara International Book Fair on November 30 during Marisol Schulz’s direction of that public-facing fair, which runs this year from November 27 to December 5.

The award carries a purse of 10,000 Swiss francs (US$10,823). And that cash prize has become a point of concern itself in this award program that honors some of the most direly threatened members of the world publishing community.

The Freedom to Publish committee at the IPA met on June 28, July 23, and September 16 to make its determinations of its shortlist for this year.

IPA Prix Voltaire 2021 Shortlist

We’ll name the five shortlisted people and organizations, and then follow with information on them.

  • Dar Al Jadeed publishing house and the late Lokman Slim, Lebanon
  • Independent publishers of Belarus
  • Mikado Publishing, Turkey
  • Samir Mansour Bookshop for publishing, Palestine
  • Raul Figueroa Sarti, Guatemala

Dar Al Jadeed was co-founded by the late anti-Hezbollah activist, publisher, and documentary filmmaker Lokman Slim and his sister, Rasha El Ameer.

Lokman Slim

Publishing Perspectives readers will recall that early this year, Frankfurter Buchmesse and the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, Germany’s publishers and booksellers association, issued a joint statement of shock and sadness at the news of Slim’s murder reported on February 4, writing, “The international publishing community mourns a fearless, outspoken, and committed fighter for the right to freedom of expression.”

Slim’s body was found inside his car in Southern Lebanon, the village of Addoussieh. Reports, including that of Reuters Beirut, were of Slim being shot four times in the head and once in the back.

He was, Reuters reported, 58, and Lebanese officials called the killing an assassination.

Slim had also founded Unam Productions for filmmaking with his wife Monika Borgmann, and the nonprofit Unam Documentation and Research program on the Lebanese civil wars.

Dar Al Jadeed won the 2021 Sheikh Zayed Book Award in the Publishing and Technology category, praised by the jury for cultivating “rational, mythology-free knowledge” free of “ideological considerations and partisanship.”

In the IPA’s Masterclass presentation, Einarsson pointed out that Slim “had been the target of repeated threats and intimidations due to his effort to bring about greater freedom of expression, and an open dialogue.”

Independent publishers of Belarus

Publishing Perspectives readers are familiar with the ongoing struggle of many literary, journalistic, and writerly organizations under Lukashenko’s insistence that he won the election of August 2020.

Image – Getty iStockphoto: Parusnikov

In not specifically naming the honored independent publishers of Belarus, Einarsson noted, the IPA program is responding to their requests for anonymity because of the risks they take under the Alexander Lukashenko regime.

“These risks,” Einarsson said during the Masterclass, “include harassment in the form of police visits; seizure of computers and books; blocking of books from export; investigations by financial authorities; application of high fines for alleged financial irregularities; and the blocking of bank accounts.

“These tend to take place,” he noted, “particularly around the publication of books, critical of the government.”

Most recently, the European Writers’ Council, which has been especially vigilant under Nina George’s leadership during the Belarusian crisis, pointed to the “forcible dissolution” on October 1 of the Union of Belarusian Writers (Саюз беларускіх пісьменнікаў).

In our coverage, the council’s president Nina George is quoted, saying, “What we’ve witnessed since July 2021 is a strategic extermination mechanism against free speech, against democracy, against culture–and against the Belarusian nation.”

Much more on the creative industries struggles in the new resistance to the Lukashenko regime is in our extensive coverage here.

Turkey’s Mikado Publishing was founded in 2006 originally as a publisher of sudoku puzzle books. It evolved to handle children’s books, family and child development, nonfiction, and health, often in Turkish translations of books from international publishers.

Mikado has been one of the publishers to suffer the classification of one of their titles as “obscene” under the Recep Tayyip Erdogan government. In Turkey in the past three years, a total of 13 books reportedly have been declared obscene, four of them adult books and nine children’s titles.

And it is, it seems, a translation from the German market that has turned the critical attention of Ankara on Mikado.

The publisher has been prosecuted on charges of obscenity for the publication of Where do babies come from? This book was originally produced as Wieso? Weshalb? Warum? Woher die kleinen Kinder kommen by Germany’s Ravensburger Gruppe.

The publisher faces six to 12 years in prison with the case pending at the court of appeal.

Mikado received the Turkish Publishers’ Association Freedom of Thought and Expression Award in 2020.

Samir Mansour Bookshop for publishing in Gaza had been in operation for more than 20 years before reportedly being destroyed in Israeli airstrikes in May of this year.

As Alison Flood at The Guardian in London reported in June, “Founded 21 years ago by Palestinian Mansour, the shop was a much-loved part of the local community and contained tens of thousands of books in various languages covering everything from philosophy and art history to fiction and children’s books.

It was reduced to rubble on May 18, during the 11-day conflict that killed more than 250 people in Gaza and 13 in Israel.”

An outpouring of international contributions, both in books and money, has ensued, with the store’s GoFundMe effort having raised, at this writing, US$242,214.

Raul Figueroa Sarti has been since 1993 a publisher in his native Guatemala, having founded F&G Editores and gone on to produce as many as 180 titles.

Raul Figueroa Sarti

As Einarsson said in the IPA’s freedom to publish Master Class, “He has promoted the organization of independent publishers in Central America and has led to the founding of the independent Central American group [GEICA], which became the focus for the dissemination of Central American literature into international markets.

“And in 2009, Figueroa Sarti faced a malicious judicial process that aimed to paralyze his editorial work, and that initially resulted in a one year prison sentence, which was later suspended.”

In July of this year, the IPA reports, Figueroa Sarti was accused with 14 others of sedition and treason by a lawyer connected with Guatemalan president Alejandro Giammattei. The complaint was filed after Figueroa Sarti made a public declaration asking for Giammattei to resign for allowing corruption in his administration, especially in the handling of COVID-19 vaccinations.

Funding for the Prix Voltaire

This year’s group of sponsors for the financial award is half the size of what it has been. For some reason, Nordic publishing interests appear to be the only ones continuing to make contributions. At times there have been many more sponsors, including the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels (Germany); Holtzbrinck Publishing Group (Germany); Verlagsgruppe Random House (Germany); Bonnier Media Deutschland (Germany); Storytel (Sweden); and Gyldendal (Norway). Support also came from Les Editions du Seuil  (France); Associazione Italiana Editori (Italy); and Librius (Belgium).

But this year, the money comes only from these contributing publishers:

And there’s a parallel here with the newly formed World Expression Forum, about which we have an article today here. The WEXFO, as it’s called, also enjoys an overwhelmingly Nordic response of support for its freedom-of-expression intent.

Granted, the forum is very new. But it does seem that Norway, in particular, is carrying far more of the world’s load than it should have to do in issues of repression and threats to free speech and publishing. And it would be good to see world publishing step up to the mark on efforts like the Prix Voltaire with contributions to that pivotal award from across the international reach of IPA’s membership.


More from Publishing Perspectives on the International Publishers Association is here, and on the Prix Voltaire is here. More from Publishing Perspectives on the Guadalajara International Book Fair is here.

Publishing Perspectives is the world media partner of IPA programs and services.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As as an arts critic (National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.

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