The speech of
Prof. Árpád Bernáth, German Studies professor of the University of Szeged, managing director of the Frankfurt ’99 Non-profit Organisation
On the occasion of the press conference on 8th June, in Frankfurt

The Book Fair as a cultural policy event

A former socialist country, Hungary will be introduced as the seeded guest in the Frankfurt Book Fair between 13th and 18th October 1999. It is not accidentally that Hungary was given this role. After ten years of opening the borders between Austria and Hungary it is more and more obvious that there was no monolithic block behind the iron curtain. The cultural tidings looking back on many centuries and the current situation and state of economy show varied degrees of competitiveness and readiness for integration amongst the countries of the former soviet empire. In 1999 Hungary alongside with Poland and the Czech Republic can state the same as the German Federal Republic did after forty years of democratic improvement in 1989: the country lies bounded to the West and open to the East - in the heart of Europe.

For the first time everything will be under the same roof in Hall 3.0

Perhaps there is no other occasion for culture and trade to interlink so positively as in the greatest book fair of the world. In Frankfurt the factors of integration and marketability of the different countries do not only show in the book as a product, but also get a heavy stress in the programmes of the countries taking the central theme position of the fair. But never before has the relatedness of the two areas manifested in space so evidently: it is for the first time that the main guest country will present its cultural programmes and its publishing companies’ newest products under the same roof. Not only the facets of Hungary’s cultural traditions will be on show on the 0 (ground) floor of Hall 3. Hungarian publishing, printing and bookseller companies for this year have left their usual place in Hall 9.2. The organisers expect to provide an effective and at the same time entertaining notification for the visitors from this arrangement. The two venues will of course give different pictures: architect István Ferenc places twelve prominent geniuses of Hungarian culture into the centre of the exhibition; while the Hungarian publishers, according to Dezső Ekler’s idea, will exhibit their books in big-sized wooden mobile books. On a stage there will be programmes every day from the opening to the closing hour. In the morning the discussions with more serious contents will be held – as an author, Hungary’s president will put his word in too. At noon the exclusively interesting books will be introduced, and in the afternoon the programme will get lighter and lighter with time: after all commers, the Latin word for trade originally meant all kinds of noisy programmes.

The butterfly – a symbol for variety, too…

To the question of how Hungary will define herself in content, we could answer with the single word: “diversely”. With the diversity of her publishers, with the diversity of her authors and with the diversity of her international relations. Any discussion of possible one-sidedness is made purposeless by considering only the amount of the new editions. According to the statement of the press spokesman no main guest country has ever presented so many new editions. The diversity of books is guaranteed by the now stabilised Hungarian book market dominated by private publishing companies. We could experience the upturn of the production of books and of the solvent demand for them in the 6th International Book Festival that was organised in Budapest, in the end of April 1999. This book festival, taking more and more the shape of a book fair, was founded and financed with the help of the German Booksellers’ Union Exhibition and Fair Share Company. Concurrent with this press conference, there is another event of a great tradition in course in Hungary, proving the firm development of the book market. It is the “Book Week” that has been organised yearly since 1928, and for which occasion Hungarian bookstores and publishers put up their tents in many cities and towns of the country introducing new books, and delegating their authors to recital and signing programmes.

What will actually be happening in this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, of course, also depends on coincidences. It is hard to foretell when an author succeeds with a “great move”, when he or she finds a publisher in Hungary or abroad, or when will a sophisticated work find an interpreter. The organisers hope that in 1999 the authors, literature agencies, publishers and interpreters will have more possibilities to acquire how the Hungarian book culture could be entered into the international book market, as it has always happened. The Hungarian cultural government is trying to protect this process by its own means even after 1999. Thus the foundation that was brought to existence for the interpretation of Hungarian works into foreign languages in 1997 will persist. We would like to actualise information on Hungarian publishing every year with the same completeness as we hope to reach for the 1999 exhibition.

After Hungary it is Poland and Greece

Last but not least: as far as possible, we would like to involve in our programmes the countries that will take the main guest’s position after us. It will be for the first time that a following country contributes to the formation of the book fair programme of the preceding one. On the penultimate day of the fair, 17th October, we will hand over part of Hall 3.0 to Poland. After all, the process of integration should not only go in a West-East, but also in a North-South direction. Poland alongside with the Czech and Slovak Republic should develop into high standard partners with Greece and the whole of the Balkan Peninsula in the exchange of European values.



Press Conference in Frankfurt, 8th June 1999
Mr Peter Weidhaas’s (director of the Frankfurt Book Fair) speech
Hungary - the Seeded Guest of the 51st Frankfurt Book Fair to be held in 1999


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me welcome you to the introduction of the programme of Hungary, the central theme of the 51st Frankfurt Book Fair.

Hungary is the 13th country that presents herself with programmes in great number and from all areas of art and culture. Here the number 13 surely does not mean bad luck. It rather suggests that the Frankfurt Book Fair has developed a tradition of providing a meeting place for cultures that has been enduring for more than a decade.

This sort of mediation of cultural interactions and literary discoveries is one of the most important functions of the Frankfurt Book Fair. Relegated to the background of matters presented as sensations like the re-structuring process of the world’s publishing firms or the current super best seller, that, in fact, is the article most sought for in the Frankfurt Book Fair.

However, what makes the Frankfurt Book Fair really unique is exactly that here the market of publishers’ rights and gist inseparably complement each other.

When talking about gist, that is, literature, authors, new editions, than interest in literature of the so far lesser known language areas plays an especially important role.

“Small” countries often possess “great” literature. This we have been able to experience on several occasions. One of the most popular central theme of the Frankfurt Book Fair was the one on the Flanders and Holland in 1993. Ireland, in 1996, and Portugal, two years ago, also fall within this row.

When later on in the last year José Saramago, who had been also partaking in the Book Fair, was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, enthusiasm for Saramago ran exceptionally high. It was revealed/manifested that a country that is traditionally ordered as one on the confines of Europe has swept forward into the centre of attention via its literature, authors and books.

The Frankfurt Book Fair, but also the German publishers and readers in general, have lately developed into an important venue of the exchange of cultural worth. Printed matter of languages and regions that often gain less attention than they are worth of in the world press always find a new scene here that makes the great break through possible for them.

This happened in 1976 when the prevailing literatures of Latin America could be discovered via the Frankfurt Book Fair, and not only by the German, but the European reading audience, to say the least. But we can also account on success stories since then, last time it were those of the Scandinavian literatures and before that of Russian literature.

Now we are, of course, wishing similar success to the literatures of Central and Eastern Europe, although some writers from this region have already had a good name in the literary circles of the world.

After this short detour concerning fundamental ideas now I have reached the theme of Hungary directly.

In this press conference you will get acquainted with the details of the cultural programme prepared by the Hungarian organising committee. I would not like to foretell anything, only to suggest something from the Hungarian reader’s viewpoint.

Those who read the latest Hungarian literature can observe with amazement that there are two major themes running like a red thread all through it. The authors main – and usually self-ironic – concern is usually of the issue of “Hungarian-ness” on one hand, and of the numberless journeys heading for Europe, on the other.

I mention only two examples to this. Péter Nádas’s novel “Emlékezések könyve” (“Book of Remembrances”), for example, in quite a programme-like way, starts by the description of his “last flat in Berlin” from which page after page emerges a novel of great political turning points that took place in Europe in the second half of the century.

Péter Eszterházy who, most probably, has seen at least as much of the world as Péter Nádas and who will hold the opening speech of the literature programmes in the Frankfurt Book Fair, so this Péter Eszterházy meditates on the meaning of being a “Central European” in almost all of his books. Sometimes it is simply “bad luck”, often “tragedy”, or “comedy” right away, but in all cases “drama”. This is Eszterházy’s laconic final conclusion.

A peculiar, individual or unsociable curve that is at the same time stretched between the parts of the world is a characteristic that Hungarian literature shows concurrently with many other creators of world literature.

This is why we can be looking froward with anxiety to what kind of encounters Hungary, the main guest of the 51st Frankfurt Book Fair to be held between 13th and 18th October offers us.


Frankfurt '99 Non-profit Organisation,
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