At Frankfurter Buchmesse: Politics and Policy in the Pavilion

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Programming at Frankfurt Pavilion in October will feature issues in politics and publishing’s role in the protection of democracy.

The Frankfurt Pavilion in the 2019 Frankfurter Buchmesse. Image: FBM, Marc Jacquemin

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

Casimir: ‘The Book Fair Is a Democracy Fair’
Programming being planned for 75th Frankfurter Buchmesse (October 18 to 22) takes no step back, with extensive events featuring speakers including Volker Türk, the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights; the Philippines’ Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa—just acquitted on a fifth of  seven Duterte-era charges; the climate-crisis activist Lea Bonasera; and Michalski Award-winning co-founder of Memorial, Irina Scherbakova.

Organizers today (September 14), in announcing some of the politically devised content point to the fragmentation and divisiveness of so many publishing markets’ political contexts, a condition that contributes to the assumption made by many that someone must win and someone must lose every issue and challenge. In such a scenario, everything seems combative, every question a dare, every answer a criticism.

If Frankfurt’s politically engaged programming can achieve only one thing, the chance to discuss and explore issues in the collegial context of the publishing industry could be a powerful contribution to the conversations of the moment.

Buchmesse spokesperson Torsten Casimir says, “The book fair is a democracy fair. Together with the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels“—Germany’s publishers and booksellers association—”we have been advocating for freedom of speech since 1949.

Torsten Casimir

“This year, the presence of Salman Rushdie, who will receive the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in Frankfurt on the last day of the fair, will lend the topic even greater weight and international visibility.

“Freedom of the press and freedom of expression are also being given considerable coverage in the programs we curate ourselves.”

As has been the case in previous iterations of the Frankfurt Book Fair, the Frankfurt Pavilion will host many events in the realm of cultural policy.

Programming at Frankfurt Pavilion is scheduled to include a presentation with Claudia Roth, Germany’s federal commissioner for culture and the media; Deniz Yücel of PEN Berlin; Memorial’s Scherbakova; Dmitry Glukhovsky, the bestselling Russian author in exile, recently sentenced to prison by Moscow in absentia; and Meron Mendel of Bildungsstätte Anne Frank.

Organized with Germany’s Federal Foreign Office, the Frankfurt Forum will be set in the pavilion and focus on the topic of democracy and human rights. The Philippine’s Nobel-winning Ressa will be part of the discussion, as will German minister of food and agriculture Cem Özdemir; journalist and author in exile Can Dündar; and Türk, the human rights high commissioner.

The postcolonial culture of remembrance will be the focus of an event with Tahir Della, an activist with the Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland, that event hosted by the Goethe-Institut Berlin.

An event will also be held with Adania Shibli, winner of the LiBeraturpreis. The Palestinian author is to receive the prize, which is awarded each year to a female writer from the Global South, prior to the event.

And Liraz Charhi—an Israeli singer of Iranian heritage known as “the voice of the Iranian Protests”—is set to perform in the pavilion’s distinctive blond-wood resonant acoustics.

Challenges and Controversies

Inside Frankfurt Pavilion at the 2018 Frankfurter Buchmesse. Image: FBM

The International Publishers Association (IPA) on Frankfurt Thursday, October 19, at 3 p.m. will stage Pressure on Publishers: Challenging Norms and Navigating Controversy, a session developed to look at the controversy and pushback that publishers today are trying to navigate, ironically often in response to their efforts to address discrimination, diversity, and inclusion. Sometimes accused of “being woke,” at other times caught up in “culture wars”—often a mere euphemism for bigotry—publishing houses, their leaders, and their staffers can find themselves on the receiving end of virulent criticism, even as they search for the most equitable paths forward,

In that IPA session, Publishing Perspectives will moderate a panel of particularly articulate practitioners:

  • Michiel Kolman, Senior VP, Research Networks, and Academic Ambassador at Elseiver, Netherlands; and chair of the IPA’s Inclusive Publishing and Literacy committee
  • Åse Ryvarden, publishing director at Aschehoug, Norway
  • Sherif Bakr, publisher at Al Arabi, Egypt
  • Trasvin Jittidecharak, publisher of Silkworm Books, Thailand


  • As some will remember, Frankfurter Buchmesse’s time line paces that of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year standing in its 75th year as Frankfurt does, the declaration is to be given readings by international authors in their native languages. These are authors from Frankfurt’s current cycle of three guest-of-honor markets: Slovenia (this year); Italy (2024); and the Philippines (2025).
  • The Israel Institute for Hebrew Literature has invited singer Rita Yahan-Forouz—who uses Farsi to express her solidarity with the Iranian resistance—to appear on the international stage.
  • Under the motto “Fragility of the Earth,” the Goethe-Institut Ukraine and the Ukrainian Book Institute will present insights into Ukraine’s cultural sector at a 200-square-meter stand (2,150 square feet).
  • As testimony to the crimes committed by the Third Reich, the exhibition Scorched Places: Book Burnings of 1933 will be on display on the Agora at the heart of Messe Frankfurt: photographs of today’s “scorched places” will be the focus of the exhibition, inviting viewers to engage with history.
  • During a program called SHEROES: Streiterinnen für die Zukunft (SHEROES: Fighters for the Future), broadcasters ARD, ZDF, and 3sat will use their stage to present controversial women writers. Participants are to include climate activist and Last Generation founder Lea Bonasera’ the former FEMEN activist Zana Ramadani; and AI expert and founder Mina Saidze.
  • On the panel “Black Femininity: (New) Daughters of Africa,” writer Bridget Minamore, translator Eleonore Wiedenroth-Coulibaly, and researcher Denise Bergold-Caldwell will talk about writing from the perspectives of those who experience discrimination.

Claudia Roth, Germany’s federal commissioner for culture and the media, speaks at Frankfurt Pavilion in the 2022 edition of Frankfurter Buchmesse. Image: FBM, Ingo Hattendorf

More from Publishing Perspectives on political books and issues is here, more of our coverage on the crisis in Ukraine and publishing is here, and more on Frankfurter Buchmesse is here, and more on trade shows and book fairs is here.

Publishing Perspectives is the International Publishers Association’s world media partner.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson 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 International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, 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.