Iran won’t attend Frankfurt Book Fair, saying the event has interfered in domestic affairs
Kristina Reymann-Schneider: Numerous national and international publishing houses will present their new titles at the Frankfurt Book Fair, which takes place between October 18 and 23.
Yet there will be no official stand representing the country of Iran — nor will there be a Russian one.
The festival’s organizers excluded Russia earlier this year due to the country’s war of aggression against Ukraine.
Iran, meanwhile, had originally agreed to participate, but has now withdrawn that participation, according to a report by the country’s state news agency, IRNA.
The reason being, according to the Iranian report, that those responsible for the Frankfurt Book Fair had “openly interfered in Iran’s internal affairs.” The organizers are said to have stated in a letter that they could not guarantee the security of the Iranian stand at the fair. In addition, there were apparently problems getting visas for the Iranian delegation.
The Frankfurt Book Fair reacts
The Frankfurt Book Fair, however, presents the situation differently.
The fair’s press spokeswoman, Kathrin Grün, told DW that the two parties had been in contact “several times.”
Grün said the fair’s organizers had also “expressed solidarity with the protest movement in Iran,” but stated that security was guaranteed for all exhibitors at the book fair, regardless of which country they hail from.
Security is of the utmost importance at the annual fair: “We are working closely with Messe Frankfurt’s security service and the police. On all days of the fair, there will be an increased number of police officers in the halls, both in plain clothes and in uniform, who will immediately follow up with any indication of threats,” she stated.
In addition to offering more security for the general public, the increased security allows authors and top international politicians who have been discriminated against, threatened or politically persecuted to remain safe while at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
The press spokesperson declined to comment on visa allocation, as it is not in the hands of the fair organizers.
Protests against the Iranian regime
The violent death of the young Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini on September 16, 2022 also prompted action at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Organizers added the panel discussion titled “Iran — which way? The uprising against the Mullah regime and what the rest of the world can do” in cooperation with PEN Berlin.
Since the death of Jina Mahsa Amini, who was arrested for violating the Islamic dress code and who, according to the human rights organization Amnesty International, died “presumably as a result of police violence,” thousands of people in Iran have been protesting against traditional and religious values and laws. The regime is fighting back hard and trying to quell the protests, often with violence. According to Amnesty International, 144 people have been killed by security forces as of October 3, including at least 23 children.
Artists call for political support
In the meantime, demonstrations in solidarity with Iranian protesters have taken place around the world.
In Germany, too, people are taking to the streets to draw attention to the human rights violations in Iran.
A few days ago, numerous people from the German cultural scene wrote an open letter to German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. In it, they demanded that respect for human and civil rights should be a prerequisite for nuclear negotiations with Iran. Human rights violations should be legally punished and the dialogue with civil society should be strengthened, they wrote.
German-Iranian writer Navid Kermani, the 2015 winner of the Peace Prize of the German Publishers’ Association, is among the signatories. In an interview with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, he said that Germany should send “much clearer signs of support which are also visible in Iran.” The German government, he said, is far too reticent. “Germany is about to repeat the mistake of its Russia policy, namely losing sight of the long-term consequences out of short-term energy policy interests and the desire for stability — to the detriment of our own realpolitik,” he criticized.
In the meantime, Baerbock and her European counterparts have taken steps towards this goal, deciding on October 17 to place sanctions against the chefs of the so-called “morality” police, the cyber unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the Revolutionary Guard’s Basij paramilitary force, a uniformed branch of the national police, and officials in charge of those forces. Those affected by such sanctions may no longer enter the EU and their assets in the EU may be frozen.
Better to invite than to exclude?
The Iranian news agency’s report seems to suggest that the Iranian delegation is not wanted at the Frankfurt Book Fair. However, the book fair has shown in the past that it allows all voices to be heard — often to an extent that has prompted anger.
In recent years, for example, the fair has been criticized for allowing right-wing publishers to present their books in a way that attracts public attention.
“We must hear all voices, insofar as they do not violate the law, and give them the opportunity to be heard,” said the president and CEO of the Frankfurt Book Fair, Juergen Boos, in a recent interview in the Frankfurter Rundschau.
This also explains why autocratically ruled countries such as China, Turkey, Oman, Hungary or Syria are also represented at the fair with their own stands.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will open the Frankfurt Book Fair on the evening of October 18, together with Spain’s King Felipe VI.
Spain is the guest country this year and is presenting contemporary Spanish literature under the motto “Spilling Creativity.”
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