Indonesia as the “Guest” of Honour in the Frankfurt Book Fair

The Frankfurt Buchmesse is known as the most important book fair on the globe and had existed for over 500 years. It gathers the book publishers from nearly all around the world and gives the opportunity to booksellers, agents, officials, authors and illustrators, among others, to know each other and start professional relationships. In some few words: it is the most complete social event concerning books that we can find nowadays. As it has been a tradition for 25 years now, for every new edition of the Book Fair there is a country as the Guest of Honour, meaning that each time the public has the opportunity to travel further into one culture or one kind of literature. The cultural relevance is enormous and for four days all the eyes will be on this chosen nation.

This year we have the opportunity of going deeply into one of the cultures that has been, in some way, forgotten by Western society: Indonesia. Surely this is a moment that every one of us should appreciate as it is an open door to a rich and prolific society but it allows us also to ask the question: why Indonesia? Being a guest of honour of the Book Fair does not only consist in just being selected. Every country that had been in this privileged status has had to apply some time before; so more than a “guest” we could say that it is the “vanquisher” of honour. To win this place the country has to demonstrate that it has a growing publishing industry, a support for translations but most important an adequate budget and organizational structure for managing the program. As it is possible to see in the Guest of Honour FAQs:

« The conception, organisation and financing of the appearance are basically all up to the Guest of Honour itself, which forms an organising committee shortly after the signing of the contract. This committee oversees preparations, which can take around two years. The committee is often attached to a government ministry (for example, the ministry of culture or education) and the national publishers association. »

So basically, the “Champion” of Honour is in charge of everything, which gives it also the freedom of choices. The Book Fair’s team is there to ensure the quality of the events and guarantee a high-quality support; it is also responsible for the accomplishment of the advertising as the key to this public date. So, understanding the huge effort that every candidate must do encourages us to ask once again for the reasons why. Why is a country such as Indonesia willing to pay to be in the book fair? Why is a country that is developing willing to invest in the exportation of its culture and not in the army or the private politics for their citizens like many other countries of the so-called Third World?

Gaining its freedom in 1945 after the Second World War, Indonesia is the fourth largest nation and, however, the less known. The name of this country may resonate because of its beautiful beaches and for being the number one victim of the Tsunami catastrophe in 2004. Still the Javanese language, music and food tradition remain in the shadow of a strong touristic point of view. This is exactly the reason why being the Guest of Honour is the perfect scenario to show to the rest of the world that actually it is a country with a huge tradition that keeps growing in a very healthy way. As the Asian Development Bank declares:

« The country has recorded strong economic growth over the past 6 years, and has made significant strides in reducing the incidence of poverty. The new government has pledged to enhance the country’s competitiveness by accelerating infrastructure development, improving human resource development, and implementing bureaucratic reforms. »

The reason why Indonesia has decided to invest in its culture in a mass event like this, is because they know that it is the perfect way to keep improving and keep developing in a sustainable way. This is the moment to show that they are no longer in silence but in the contrary they can be as loud and rich as the number of dialects that you can find in the islands.

By Laura Castro, Ludivine Martel and Camille Ragot

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