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Authors pull out of Frankfurt book fair over presence of far-right groups

Visitors browse the Frankfurt Book Fair on Oct. 20, 2021. (Ronald Wittek/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

BERLIN — At least four writers have pulled out of the Frankfurt Book Fair, the biggest book fair in the world, citing concerns over the presence of far-right publishers.

Writer and activist Jasmina Kuhnke, who was slated to make an appearance at the fair Friday to promote her debut novel, “Black Heart,” posted a statement Monday on Twitter saying she decided to withdraw after learning that far-right books were being promoted at the event.

Kuhnke learned through social media that right-wing activist Philip Stein, publisher of Jungeuropa, would have a stand next to the stage where the author was set to participate in a roundtable. Stein is a leader at One Percent for Our Country, a network of far-right activists and politicians in Germany, and has called for Kuhnke to be deported, she said in a statement.

“Therefore, it is foreseeable that, beyond the publishing house and its authors, other right-wing extremists will visit the fair, which to me, personally, poses an unmistakable danger,” her statement continued. Kuhnke has been threatened before by members of the far right. Her home address had been posted online earlier this year, along with death threats.

The presence of far-right publishers at the fair has sparked controversy before. In 2017, the anti-extremism Amadeu Antonio Foundation held a vigil to oppose the presence of far-right activist Goetz Kubitschek, Reuters reported. “Bans and censorship are not an option for us,” Book Fair chief Juergen Boos told Reuters at the time. “An idea does not disappear if you get rid of its author.”

Kuhnke said she was pushing for safety, not censorship. “That the book fair repeatedly decides to allow these right-wing extremists to exhibit at the fair is not comprehensible to me,” she said. “For this reason and also because as a woman of color I am endangered by exactly these extremists, I had no other option than to boycott the fair.”

After her cancellation, others followed suit. Writers Nikeata Thompson, Annabelle Mandeng and Riccardo Simonetti announced on Instagram that they were canceling their appearances. A restaurant also canceled a partnership with the fair. The fact that other authors joined her boycott and that it led to a bigger discussion caught Kuhnke by surprise. “It seems as if I expressed what many affected feel,” she said.

In a statement, the Anne Frank Educational Center in Frankfurt, a political education organization, expressed solidarity with Kuhnke and called right-wing extremism an “existential threat.”

The Frankfurt Book Fair and the German Publishers and Booksellers Association said in a statement that they are “committed to promoting freedom of speech and freedom of the press worldwide. That is why it is also clear for us that publishers who operate within the law can exhibit at the book fair, even if we do not share their views. They are the basis for engaging in a free exchange in our democracy and for having a book fair at all.”

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