When gov­ern­ments sup­port writ­ers

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - OPINION - NENI STA. ROMANA CRUZ

Frank­furt—The open­ing cer­e­mony pro­gram of the Frank­furt Book Fair is al­ways im­pres­sive, with the fea­tured guest of honor (GOH) coun­try pro­vid­ing a glimpse of its lit­er­ary cul­ture, ac­com­pa­nied by an en­tourage of its most prom­i­nent cit­i­zens. It is al­ways a gala event, and ad­mis­sion tick­ets are per­son­al­ized and bar-coded. But I was to­tally un­pre­pared for this year’s prin­ci­pal guests, with France as GOH: not only French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron but Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel as well.

Both spoke of the spe­cial re­la­tion­ship of the two neigh­bor­ing found­ing mem­bers of the Euro­pean Com­mu­nity, with the lit­er­a­ture of each closely in­flu­enc­ing the other’s. Macron em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of cul­ture, a uni­fy­ing fac­tor—“There would be no Europe with­out cul­ture”—and the need for lit­er­a­ture in all as­pects of life. Merkel firmly stated that art and lit­er­a­ture can best be de­vel­oped in an at­mos­phere of free­dom, and was ap­plauded as she ad­vo­cated copy­right pro­tec­tion: All those who cre­ate should be paid for work they do, work that others are not ca­pa­ble of do­ing.

But more than these world lead­ers’ pro­nounce­ments, what to me was most mov­ing, bring­ing me close to tears in my re­served Row 8 mid­dle aisle seat, was the state­ment that their very pres­ence at the event made. What im­por­tance the two lead­ers were plac­ing on their coun­tries’ lit­er­ary en­deav­ors. What a high pri­or­ity art and lit­er­a­ture had in their na­tional con­cerns agenda. What a boost for the cre­ators in their so­ci­eties to con­tinue to cre­ate, to ex­cel, to in­spire and be in­spired.

Truth be told, the Philip­pine del­e­ga­tion of 18 pub­lish­ers and 20 in­di­vid­u­als has lit­tle to com­plain about, for two gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials were re­spon­si­ble for our level of par­tic­i­pa­tion and vis­i­bil­ity at the Frank­furt Book Fair for three con­sec­u­tive years now. Sen. Loren Le­garda, our pa­tron of the arts, boosted the bud­get of the Na­tional Book Devel­op­ment Board (NBDB) with a gen­er­ous sub­sidy that has made our pres­ence in Frank­furt pos­si­ble. Another is Min­is­ter and Con­sul Adrian “Ady” Elmer Cruz of the Philip­pine Em­bassy in Ber­lin, who first asked the em­bar­rass­ing ques­tion that left us speech­less five years ago, “Why isn’t the Philip­pines in Frank­furt?”

At the open­ing re­cep­tion at the Philip­pines’ coun­try stand in the In­ter­na­tional Pub­lish­ers Hall 4, along with the other Asian coun­tries, we were hon­ored by the pres­ence of the hon­orary con­sul to Hesse, Torsten Griess-Nega and Con­sul Ady. (In our pre­vi­ous fair re­cep­tions, the em­bassy was al­ways rep­re­sented by Am­bas­sador Melita Sta. Maria-Thome­czek and First Sec­re­tary Cather­ine Tor­res.)

It stands to rea­son that Con­sul Ady should be with us this time as he winds up his tour of duty in Ber­lin, for it was he who had chal­lenged the NBDB to be where we are to­day, in Frank­furt. In his re­marks, Con­sul Ady took no­tice of our theme, “Books Philip­pines: A New Wave of Sto­ry­telling,” ex­press­ing full sup­port for this type of brand­ing. “Truly, what the world needs now are new nar­ra­tives, new sto­ries,” he said. “It shows that our writ­ers are ready to open them­selves to the world. Be­ing the 12th big­gest coun­try in the world in terms of pop­u­la­tion, with 10 million of our peo­ple spread across the globe, it only makes sense for our peo­ple’s sto­ries, for our writ­ers’ voices, to be heard more loudly, and by more peo­ple, than they are now.”

To­day, Con­sul Ady had new chal­lenges for those present, even as he af­firmed the Depart­ment of For­eign Af­fairs’ con­tin­u­ing full sup­port for the devel­op­ment of the Philip­pine book in­dus­try: that the pub­lish­ers share the knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence gained from Frank­furt and other book fairs, that the NBDB cre­ate the en­vi­ron­ment for a glob­ally com­pet­i­tive book in­dus­try.

It was a day of cel­e­bra­tions, for the late-break­ing news was the elec­tion of Dom­i­nador Buhain, the first chair of the NBDB, as the first Filipino pres­i­dent of the Asia Pa­cific Pub­lish­ers As­so­ci­a­tion at their re­cent meet­ing in Viet­nam.

Here’s look­ing forward to many more pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ments in the coming days of the Frank­furter Buchmesse.

———— Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (nenis­r­cruz@gmail.com) is chair of the Na­tional Book Devel­op­ment Board and a mem­ber of the Eg­gie Apos­tol Foun­da­tion.

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