Black Writer Boycotts World’s Largest Book Fair Over Far-Right Publisher

“Racism and antisemitism are not opinions,” Jasmina Kuhnke told VICE World News, after Frankfurt Book Fair’s organisers told her far-right publishers would be allowed to participate on free speech grounds.

22 October 2021, 5:21pm

A Black writer who boycotted the world’s largest book fair because of the presence of far-right publishers, setting off a fierce debate over free speech in Germany, says she was surprised the event’s organisers have allowed the extremists to continue to appear at the event.

Jasmina Kuhnke pulled out of the Frankfurt Book Fair this week after learning a publishing house led by a prominent far-right activist was also taking part. She told VICE World News on Friday that she was dismayed by the response by the event’s organisers, which insisted far-right publishers must be allowed to participate to safeguard freedom of opinion.

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“Of course, the statement surprised me,” she said via email. “Racism and antisemitism are not opinions.”

Kuhnke was supposed to be appearing at the Frankfurt Book Fair on Friday night to discuss her debut novel, Schwarzes Herz (Black Heart).
But on Monday she announced on Twitter that she was pulling out, due to the presence of the far-right publishing houses in the fair. One in particular – Jungeuropa Publishing – would have a stand near the stage where she was set to appear.

"There's no room for Nazis next to me, which is why I won't be taking part in this year's fair," she wrote.

"I don't talk to Nazis. I don't listen to Nazis. I don't read books by Nazis.”

An error occurred while retrieving the Tweet. It might have been deleted.

She said the far-right presence at the event constituted a threat to her safety, foreseeably drawing right-wing extremists, besides the publishers and its authors, to the event who posed “an unmistakable danger” to her. 

Kuhnke’s anti-racist activism has made her a frequent target for threats from the far-right, and earlier this year her family were forced to flee their home after their address was posted online. Her appearance at the fair had not been announced in advance due to security concerns.

“When I started to speak out publicly about this climate, right-wing extremists became aware of me and have been threatening me and my family ever since,” she told VICE World News. 

“When my address was published we had to flee our house immediately. This all happened while I was writing my book, so it was written under a very high stress situation.” 

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But while at least three other writers followed suit in pulling out the book fair, considered one of the most important trade events in the publishing world, the organisers insisted they would not be removing far-right publishers from the lineup.

A joint statement issued by the Frankfurt Book Fair and the German Publishers and Booksellers Association said that while they regretted individual authors were pulling out, and that “their voices against racism and in support of diversity will be missed,” the far-right publishers would be allowed to remain.

“Freedom of expression and publication are, for us, paramount,” read the statement. “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.”

Jungeuropa, the publisher whose presence prompted Kuhnke’s boycott, sells titles such as Against Liberalism by Alain de Benoist, the French political philosopher considered the intellectual godfather of the alt-right Identitarian movement. The company is run by Philip Stein, who also leads the far-right activism network Ein Prozent für Unser Land, which translates as One Percent for Our Country in English. 

An error occurred while retrieving the Tweet. It might have been deleted.

While it is allowed to operate under German law, Ein Prozent für Unser Land has been deplatformed from Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, and Germany’s domestic intelligence service has designated it a suspected extremist threat. Kira Ayyadi, a researcher at the far-right monitoring group Amadeu Antonio Foundation, said Ein Prozent was a clearly right-wing extremist movement, pushing nationalist and anti-refugee ideology. 

Jungeuropa responded to Kuhnke’s boycott – and claim that she would face dangers due to the far-right presence at the event – by tweeting that it was “absurd” that anyone on the political right “would know her or be interested in her.”

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But Kuhnke said Stein himself had tweeted only in March that she should be deported, along with the hashtag #ShutUpJasmina.

An error occurred while retrieving the Tweet. It might have been deleted.

“Stein himself has repeatedly attacked me in his tweets, demanding my deportation, because for him you are only German by bloodline and not if you were born here or have German citizenship,” she said.

Jungeuropa did not respond to a VICE World News request for comment.

Ayyadi, the far-right researcher, said that she was surprised that the book fair had not resolved the issue of far-right involvement, following controversy in 2017 when leading far-right ideologue Goetz Kubitschek appeared at the fair, attracting protests from her group and others.

Kuhnke said that while she was disappointed that there was more discussion of her boycott than her book, she was grateful that the episode was generating discussion about the growing far-right threat in Germany, and the hostile climate it created for minorities.

“In Germany, millions of Jews were murdered by Nazis in the Holocaust. For this reason alone, this dangerous ideology must no longer find a place in the centre of our society,” she said. 

“The right-wing extremist publishers propagate Nazi ideologies and publish them. I don’t think that they should be allowed to promote these works.”

Tagged:

Europe, RACISM, free speech, Far right, antisemitism, worldnews

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