President Zelensky on the Power of Knowledge at the Frankfurt Book Fair
By Julia Fitzpatrick
On Thursday 20 October, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivered a video address to the Frankfurt Book Fair on the importance of culture and literature as tools of resistance to aggression. He commented on the absence of Russian and Iranian stands at the fair. In a move condemning Russia’s war in Ukraine, publishers associated with the regime had been banned from participating in the event. Russia and Iran, Zelensky said, “become less present in the field of culture and, at the same time, more present where everything gets destroyed – not only culture, but also life.” Zelensky blamed Russia’s invasion on general ignorance and the “lack of knowledge about murders committed by Russia, the lack of knowledge about the crimes that join anti-democratic regimes.” When people lack knowledge, he argued, “they’re more easily manipulated by politics.” He called on his audience to use books to combat the invasion: “keep writing about [the war]. Keep reading about it. Do everything possible for Europeans to know how many people lost their lives struggling for rights and the basic respect that each of you has been granted since birth.”
Oleksandr Afonin, the president of the Ukrainian Publishers and Booksellers Association, also gave a speech at the fair. He characterised the Russian invasion as an attack on knowledge, saying “Ukrainian books were massively destroyed in the libraries, schools and universities in the occupied territories.” Afonin pointed to the resilience of the publishing industry in Ukraine, which keeps “creating Ukrainian books and despite all the obstacles” is trying to “deliver them to readers both in Ukraine and abroad, since many Ukrainians have been forced to temporarily leave their homes.” Afonin also criticized Russian publishers, calling them “tools of propaganda” for Putin, both “before and during the Russian aggression against Ukraine.” Finally, he appealed to the European Union to set up a “special fund to support the Ukrainian publishing industry.”
The Ukrainian First Lady, Olena Zelenska, also got involved with the Frankfurt Book Fair. On Saturday 22 October, she presented the Barrier-Free Handbook, a guide to inclusive communication with and accessibility for people with disabilities. The guide was launched in partnership with non-governmental organisations and disability rights advocates. The guide aims to raise awareness about physical and psychological barriers to access and it includes a section on additional barriers created by the war in Ukraine.