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No far-right publishers at the book fair, please!

Dege Stefan Kommentarbild App
Stefan Dege
October 22, 2021

Protest over far-right exhibitors at the Frankfurt Book Fair is justified, says DW's Stefan Dege. A history of racist violence in Germany makes the issue all the more pressing, he thinks.

Sign at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2021 - Respekt TV calling for
A sign at the Frankfurt Book Fair calls for respect and 'no place for racism'Image: Sebastian Gollnow/dpa/picture alliance

Hurrah! The Frankfurt Book Fair is back — with real live exhibitors, and real live visitors! But this comeback after the pandemic-induced hiatus is far from triumphant. The party mood has been thoroughly spoiled by a controversy about far-right publishers exhibiting at the Book Fair. And rightly so.

The author and activist Jasmina Kuhnke has refused to tolerate far-right extremists propagating their slogans at the book fair, where she is presenting her debut novel Schwarzes Herz (Black Heart). In the book, she writes about the racist hostility she and her family were confronted with in Germany. Kuhnke, born in 1982 in the German city of Hagen, in western German North Rhine-Westphalia, is a person of color (POC). She tweets using the handle @ebonyplusirony and name "Quattromilf."

No place for neo-Nazis

So a young, not-that-well-known author has canceled an event at the Frankfurt Book Fair — so what? Well first of all, her attendance was not announced in advance because the organizers were worried about possible attacks by far-right extremists. The far-right publisher Philip Stein had publicly called for Kuhnke to be deported. In response, the author canceled her appearance, including publishing a statement detailing her reasons.

Photo of Jasmina Kuhnke, she looking to her right
Jasmina Kuhnke refused to appear in the same space as a far-right publisherImage: Marvin Ruppert

Neo-Nazis have no place alongside her, she writes. She finds it unacceptable that neo-Nazis are being given space and allowed to present themselves. The CEO of the Frankfurt Book Fair, Jürgen Boos, justified the inclusion of the far-right publishing house Jungeuropa with reference to freedom of speech. "As long as an opinion doesn't break any laws, everyone must be able to participate in the exchange of opinions at the fair," he said, and added that the safety of all participants there was assured.

This is a crude understanding of what freedom of speech is. What Boos is calling for is tolerance toward the intolerant. More than that: He is demanding tolerance by those who are the victims of this intolerance; specifically, by an author who has been attacked by right-wingers because of her dark skin, and who feels threatened — with reason. "I very much regret that the author is not participating in this discourse" — this comment by Boos comes across as downright cynical.

The author can hardly be blamed for trying to attract as much attention as possible. And she got it. The timing of her high-profile cancellation was certainly strategic. Intense discussion is now taking place in Germany about decolonization, racism, and gender issues. 

It's high time to bring back that discussion, in light of a recent history of far-right terrorism in Germany. This includes a series of murders committed over several years by theNational Socialist Underground (NSU), from 2000 to 2007; the attempted assassination of the mayor of Cologne, Henriette Reker, in 2015; and the murder of Kassel's district president, Walter Lübcke, in 2019.

Such racist violence is a reality of life in Germany. And it virtually cries out for resistance by civil society — for precisely the attitude of rejection that Kuhnke has displayed. This begs the question: Is it acceptable for a majority of society to leave it to members of minorities to take action against racism and discrimination and exclusion? Hardly! This should be everyone's concern.

Respect for Jasmina Kuhnke

DW editor Stefan Dege in dark blue suit and glasses
DW editor Stefan Dege applauds Kuhnke's actionsImage: DW

It is also true that Germany is on the way to becoming a more multicultural, multiethnic, multireligious and multisexual society. Not everyone has understood this, or is willing to acknowledge it; least of all the so-called far-right, whose fitness for society can be measured by their idea of humanity.

This idea of humanity denies refugees the right to asylum, and despises the democratic state and its representatives. It is also an idea of humanity that, oblivious to history, denies Germany's ethical consensus; this country that, following German history's terrible catastrophe — the atrocities of National Socialism, the collapse of civilization that was the Holocaust — has fought its way back, with considerable effort, to be part of the civilized international community.

So what this young Black author has done deserves our respect. Kuhnke represents a young, self-confident, oft-underestimated generation, one that continually reflects on our values, and ensures that the result is on the agenda. We should be grateful to people like Kuhnke.

One last thing, for all those who think that the outcry against the presence of far-right publishers at the Book Fair was a clever marketing move by a literary newcomer: It was not Jasmina Kuhnke's little tweet, not an unknown author's seemingly insignificant cancellation of her appearance that triggered this scandal. No — it was the need to reflect on injustice and exclusion in this society, to state the facts, and find a social consensus on how we want to live together in the future.

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