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Controversy over right-wing publishers at book fair

Sabine Oelze
October 21, 2021

"No space for Nazis," urges Jasmina Kuhnke — a Black writer who has canceled participation in the major trade event. Frankfurt Book Fair, however, insists on freedom of opinion.

Author Jasmina Kuhnke looking toward a window.
Jasmina Kuhnke won't be at the Frankfurt Book FairImage: Marvin Ruppert

Director Jürgen Boos has asserted freedom of expression in defense of the presence of the Dresden-based new-right publishing house Jungeuropa at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Not everyone agrees with his point of view, including the Black author Jasmina Kuhnke, who has canceled participation in the ARD Book Night, a venue where she planned to present her debut novel, Schwarzes Herz (Black Heart). On Twitter, she expressed outrage at the turn of events.

Jungeuropa, which has set up its stand in Hall 3.1 at the book fair, is run by 30-year-old Dresdenright-wing extremist and activist Philip Stein, who had previously served as press spokesman for the Deutsche Burschenschaft (DB) corps association of fraternities. These days, he organizes the Ein Prozent für Unser Land (One Percent for Our Country) right-wing crowdfunding project, which propagates nationalist and anti-refugee ideas. Currently, access to One Percent is blocked on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube; the most recent report by Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, says it sees evidence of unconstitutional intentions.

Kuhnke fears for her safety

"There's no room for Nazis next to me, which is why I won't be taking part in this year's fair," Kuhnke wrote on Twitter ahead of the start of the book fair this week. She said the ARD public broadcaster had invited her to a discussion panel that was not announced in advance because it could only take place with protective measures as a result of "threats from the Right." She also found out that Jungeuropa would be presenting books not far from the stage.

As head of the far-right community project "One Percent for Our Country," Philip Stein wrote openly that she should be deported, Kuhnke says. Conceivably, right-wing extremists will also visit the book fair, which makes the threat omnipresent for her, she says.

Jürgen Boos, man smiles
Jürgen Boos regrets the cancellationImage: Michael Debets/picture-alliance/Pacific Press

The writer says giving Nazis space to present themselves at the fair is intolerable. "I don't talk to Nazis. I don't listen to Nazis. I don't read books by Nazis," she writes on Twitter. Even if it means less advertising for her book, she decided to cancel her appearances at the 2021 Frankfurt Book Fair, she added.

All she can do to protect herself as a Black woman is to boycott the event, she says.

No laws violated, fair executives say

Boos defends the presence of the right-wing publisher. "As long as opinions do not violate any laws, everyone must be able to participate in the exchange of opinions at the fair," Boos told Deutschlandfunk radio, adding that he regrets "the author is not taking part in this discourse." Safety is guaranteed, Boos says. "The security measures at the Frankfurt Book Fair are extremely high." The industry get-together is always also a platform for political discourse, Boos notes. There is quarreling everywhere — "that's part of the DNA of the book fair."

Protesters holding a large banner that reads: "use freedom of opinion, contradict Right Wing"
"Use freedom of opinion, contradict the right," protesters demanded in 2017Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Willnow

The Anne Frank Educational Center in Frankfurt has expressed solidarity with Kuhnke. "It is a disaster for our open debate culture when those affected by racism, antisemitism and misanthropy withdraw from the Frankfurt Book Fair as the largest debate fair in the country because they do not feel safe there," says director Meron Mendel. Attacks including the ones in Halle, Hanau and the murder of former state parliament member Walter Lübcke two years ago made it abundantly clear that the poisonous ideology of the Right poses a concrete danger to human lives, he says. Giving them an arena on prominent civic platforms like the Frankfurt Book Fair "contributes to the normalizing and spreading of hatred."

Ideology 'a threat to human rights'

"The Frankfurt Book Fair must not offer these publishers a stage, not even in the farthest corner," says Michael Müller, cultural policy spokesman for the Left Party group in Frankfurt's City Hall, adding that that would most certainly not mean curtailing the fundamental right to freedom of expression in Germany.

The debate about right-wing publishers at the book fair is not new. The issue was hotly discussed in the run-up to the 2017 Frankfurt Book Fair, as well as that year's Leipzig Book Fair.

The book fairs have always seen themselves as a place of exchange and freedom of opinion. But where is the line between freedom of expression and incitement? Even four years ago, director Boos made it clear there was no legal basis for banning right-wing publishers.

Philip Stein
Jungeuropa publisher Philip SteinImage: picture alliance/dpa/M. Reichel

"An idea doesn't disappear by banning it," Boos told DW back then.

"If we take freedom of expression seriously, we must also grant it to those whose values and opinions we do not share, indeed whose views we consider dangerous," Heinrich Riethmüller, the head of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, said at the time.

Earlier this week, Jungeuropa responded on Twitter to Kuhnke's statement about the cancellation of her book fair attendance. "The 'surprise guest' (allegedly) canceled her appearance because of our participation. What remains: A woman who apparently really believes some right-winger would know her or be interested in her. Absurd."

In Frankfurt in 2017, police had to intervene in a row at a right-wing publishing house's stall toward the end of the fair. Both the Frankfurt and Leipzig trade fairs subsequently revised their security concepts.

On Wednesday, the Frankfurt Book Fair opened its doors to the trade public, and, beginning on Friday, everyone is welcome to visit. The fair ends on Sunday, with the awarding of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade to Tsitsi Dangarembga, a 62-year-old author from Zimbabwe.

This article has been translated from German.

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