Abu Dhabi book fair celebrates Poland’s historic links with the region
Capital’s literature festival also presents dance, cooking and all things Polish. Melissa Gronlund reports
Not many people know, but the first written mention of Poland – its cities of Krakow and Gniezno – was in Arabic.
“An Arab merchant from Cordoba, back in the beginning of the 10th century, went on a journey to the Slav countries,” says Jakub Slawek, deputy head of mission for the Embassy of the Republic of Poland, himself a fluent Arab speaker.
“Those couple of sentences are the first description of our towns, of our eating habits, of our military, of our social customs, and they were written in Arabic.”
Poland, which celebrates the 100th anniversary of its independence, is the guest of honour at the 2018 Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, presented by the Department of Culture and Tourism.
Polish authors, translators and publishers – as well as chefs and dancers – will participate in events throughout the week of the fair.
The book fair encompasses 1,350 exhibitors from more than 60 countries, and has established itself as a major site for publishers and authors, who take part in the seminars, lectures and networking events.
Abu Dhabi’s fair is unique in the provisions it makes for children. The cooking section of the fair features chefs from a wide range of countries, such as Poland, Sweden, Morocco, and India, and it offers children’s cooking classes in the morning. In the “Sea of Tales” programme, there are puppet shows, Emirati and Polish folk story readings, and even workshops on traditional Polish dancing.
The Poland-UAE partnership offers potential for discovery for both nations. Slawek notes that Poland recently had been more focused on Middle East countries such as Algeria, Tunisia, and Syria, with which they had stronger links during the 20th century, when they were all under communist governments. “That was based on a political decision, whether we liked it or not,” Slawek says. “After 1989, we started to rediscover the Gulf.”
“I think that our Emirati friends would be amazed to discover how much is being done in Arab and Islamic studies in Poland,” he says. “There are three universities that offer not only Arabic-language courses, but Arab and Islamic courses at MA and PhD level.”
For the UAE’s side, the Abu Dhabi Book Fair is part of the commitment to culture and learning as centrepieces of the country’s development that was embodied by Sheikh Zayed – who is honoured this year as Personality of the Year. It is the Year of Zayed in the UAE, which commemorates another centenary: that of its Founding Father’s birth.
The book fair has a strong presence of Arabic-language literature, from Emirati authors and publishers, Arabic figures who are based in the region and those travelling to Abu Dhabi from the region. Through the Kalima Translation Project, it also helps make foreign literature accessible to Arabic readers; this year the Kalima project presents 25 new books of literature, translated from French, English and German. And as Saif Ghobash, director general of DCT, mentioned in his written remarks, it has been instrumental in creating a publishing industry in the country. Abu Dhabi International Book Fair takes place from April 25 to May 1 at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. The fair opens on April 25 at 11am, and will be open to the public from 9am to 10pm daily, except on Friday, when the timings will be 4pm to 10pm
Saif Ghobash, director general of Abu Dhabi Department of Tourism and Culture, with Robert Rostek, Poland’s ambassador, at an Abu Dhabi International Book Fair press conference