Frankfurt’s Opening Ceremony: An Object Lesson

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

A packed house, quickly applauding some pugnacious political points from Slavoj Žižek, was at Frankfurter Buchmesse’s opening event.

Speakers onstage in the 75th Frankfurter Buchmesse Opening Ceremony listen to Karin Schmidt-Friderichs of the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, Germany’s publishers and booksellers association. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

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

Boos Defends  ‘Listening to What We May Not Like’
When the prolific and much-translated Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek brought his trademark provocateur’s style to Frankfurt’s Congress Center on Tuesday evening, Frankfurter Buchmesse president and CEO Juergen Boos used the moment as an object lesson on the trade show’s place and purpose in public debate.

The opening ceremony is annually a mainly public-facing event, closely watched by a packed audience this year at the Congress Center and followed in television broadcasts and streaming, as well.

The program included several dignitaries onstage, although not the German chancellor Olaf Scholz, who was on a journey to Israel and Egypt, part of the West’s several efforts to work through the crisis in the Gaza Strip and the Jewish state.

Minister of culture Claudia Roth stepped in and shared the bill with Nataša Pirc Musar, the president of Slovenia, which is Frankfurt’s guest of honor market this year.

It was a quarrelsome speech from Žižek, however—that style itself is familiar to those who follow his work—that became the memorable part of the evening. As Elizabeth Grenier at DW has written today (October 18), “His statements comparing the Israeli government’s settlement policy with Hamas’ ideology of annihilation sparked angry reactions from the audience.”

Nevertheless, Žižek’s speech—which at two points elicited loud heckling—gave Boos a chance to follow the Slovenian speaker and point out to the audience that the rant had proven a point that he, Boos, has made many times about the value of the trade fair: its function as a place and program tolerant of such presentations that many may find distasteful.

Boos: ‘Human terms on the Israeli side and on the Palestinian side’

Juergen Boos, Frankfurter Buchmesse president and CEO, speaks at the trade show’s Opening Ceremony, October17. Image: Publishing Perspectives

“It is the freedom of the word,” Boos said.

“And we have to leave that freedom as it is, this is important to me. I think for this community, and I would like to call it one community, I think I can speak on this community’s behalf: We condemn terror. We are humans and we think in human terms on the Israeli side and on the Palestinian side.

“And it is important to me to understand that we all agree on condemning inhumanity, in condemning terror. And I think you are all with me on that. And I am glad that we can express it this way here.

“I am also glad about somebody interrupting a speech. This must be possible.

“I am glad that we listened to the speech to the very end, even if we may not like it. Even if we even condemn it, it is important that we listen to each other.”

After a loud, sustained round of applause for these comments from Boos, Karin Schmidt-Friderichs, head of the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, Germany’s publishers and booksellers association, declared the 75th-anniversary edition of Frankfurter Buchmesse open.

More from Publishing Perspectives on Frankfurter Buchmesse is here, more on Slovenia is here, more on the world’s international trade shows and book fairs is here, and more on guest of honor programs is here

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.