When governments support writers
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.