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Provincialism Debate

DW staff (jc)October 9, 2007

The "guest culture" at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair is the Spanish region of Catalonia. That's not only irritated some Spaniards, it's brought forth appeals for broader categories about cultural identity.

People reading books
This year's fair is about identity as well as booksImage: AP

In a statement released on the eve of the event, the head of the German branch of the writers' association PEN, Johano Strasser, said he was concerned about the message that was being sent.

"As important as it is to bring individual cultures into a dialog with one another, there's an equally great danger of provincialism," Strasser said. "Cultural identity politics is always a double-edged sword."

Nationalism, Regionalism and Vanity

The choice of Catalonia, the northeastern region in Spain with some seven million inhabitants and its own language, Catalan, has been controversial right from the start.

Some Spanish writers invited to participated have refused to come, objecting to Catalan organizers' original decision to invite only authors who wrote in Catalan.

"Almost all of the Spanish-language authors, including those who are Catalan, are not attending," Book Fair Director Jürgen Boos said at a press conference shortly before Tuesday's official opening ceremony. "There are a whole range of reasons including nationalism, regionalism, and vanity. I think this is a great pity, I would like to have had all of them here."

But politicians from the semi-autonomous region have stressed their culture's special role at the fair does not reinforce provincialism.

"We Catalans are Europeans, and that's why we've come to Frankfurt," the former president of the region, Pasquall Maragall, told the DPA news agency.

New Record

Neither the debate about diversity versus cosmopolitanism nor sluggish sales figures in the book industry have dampened publishers' desire to participate in the Frankfurt event.

The fair -- already the largest of its kind in the world -- has more exhibitors than ever before: 7448 compared with 7272 last year.

Organizers also say they expect around 290,000 visitors, roughly the same as at the 2006 event.

The event proper kicks off for people in the industry on Wednesday -- doors are open to the general public on the weekend. The Frankfurt Book Fair ends on October 14.

Two women reading
The Frankfurt Book Fair is a must for everyone in the publishing industryImage: AP
Women with posters
For some Catalonians, guest culture status is a point of prideImage: picture-alliance/ dpa