Speech by Guido Westerwelle, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the opening of the Frankfurt Book Fair

05.10.2010 - Speech

-- translation of advanced text --

President Kirchner,
Madame Mayor,
Mr Boos,
Professor Honnefelder,
Ms Gambaro,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am particularly delighted to take part in the opening ceremony as Argentina showcases itself as the guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

I thank President Kirchner, who is representing the entire Argentine delegation, for the great honour of her presence.

The Frankfurt Book Fair is more than Germany’s largest book fair. Authors, publishers and booksellers from more than 100 countries meet here each year. This is where the literary world reaches its zenith. It is the place where the united nations of reading culture come together for their general assembly.

Art and culture form the nucleus of a society’s intellectual development. Without art and culture a society wouldn’t be creative, education would be merely technocratic, business wouldn’t be innovative. Art and culture present a country’s diversity of perspectives. They do not only reflect the current state of a society, but often advance its development.

This holds especially true of the book. Books in particular reflect the diversity and complexity of our society. At times this is hopeful and flattering, at times helpless and unfathomable.

Some books reach all the way to the reader’s threshold of pain, and some even cross that threshold. The competition for the best ideas thrives on both harmony and dissonance.

Freedom of speech has to be able to sustain even controversial books. A book can be so shocking that many people don’t want to read it – and many such books are stripped of their mystique if one simply reads them.

Our debates benefit from multiplicity of voices, from contradictions, and sometimes even from talking across one other.

A society does not advance if everyone says the same thing. The friction between old ideas generates the energy that gives rise to new ideas.

An open society is the counter programme to any attempt to restrict and imprison thinking. We must live out our open society at home, but also look abroad. The best ideas are found not only at home, but around the world.

Ladies and gentlemen,

For hundreds of years books were the main repository of everything that people did and thought.

When I look around here, the lamentations over the current state of book publishing seem insubstantial. The book appears to me to be a patient in the best of health.

Perhaps we need to shed our conventional expectations. Not every book has to be bound in leather. Our understanding of the book is also a matter of perspective.

Quite a few 15th century scribes must have found Johannes Gutenberg something closely akin to their idea of the devil. He destroyed their livelihoods and their sense of purpose.

But for the majority of the people of his time Gutenberg was a liberator. With his invention came the beginning of the freeing of ideas from the hands of the privileged few. With this began the democratization of reading and knowledge.

Even in those times a book was first and foremost about its content, not its binding. This remains the case today. I shall venture a prediction: the electronic book will not supplant, but will rather supplement the printed book. The book will outlive all those who currently wish to herald its demise.

The Federal Government in cooperation with the German Bundestag will work for good conditions for books and literary work. The protection of intellectual property is not only a matter of patenting high-technology products. Protecting intellectual property is also the foundation for artistic and cultural expression. Intellectual property is no less worthy of protection than tangible property.

For good reason, our legal system does not accept the invocation of one’s personal needs as grounds for stealing, for example, a box of chocolates from the supermarket. Intellectual property is entitled to the same legal protection, without distinction. I must caution strongly against any trivialization of this issue. A country that does not protect intellectual property will lose its intellect.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Since 1976 each Frankfurt Book Fair has had a regional focus. In choosing Latin America as the first region of focus in 1976, the Book Fair showed its farsightedness.

When Latin America displayed itself in Frankfurt that year, Argentina was under the rule of a military dictatorship. Much has changed in the intervening years – politically, socially and culturally.

It is no coincidence that the slogan for Argentina’s presentation of itself here in Frankfurt is “Culture in Motion”.

When we speak of the driving forces of globalization, our first instinct here in Germany is often to look towards Asia.

We too gaze with great interest upon the growth markets of Asia. But whoever looks with blinkers on towards China and India is missing at least two important things.

First: Don’t forget about Europe. Nearly two thirds of German exports still go to European Union countries. And Austria still ranks above China as a destination for German exports.

Second: Look at Latin America. Despite its more than 500 million inhabitants, Latin America continues to be underestimated by Europe.

No traveller to Argentina could possibly fail to notice the country’s dynamism. Argentina is a country on the rise.

One in four people are under the age of fifteen. These young people are driven by the wish for a better life. Every boy and every girl has their own personal dream of happiness. This optimism and this drive for advancement are an important resource.

Between 2002 and 2007 the Argentine economy grew more than 8% per year. Despite the global economic crisis, growth of 6 to 8% is once more forecast for 2010. Its great potential in the area of renewable energies also makes Argentina an attractive partner. In 2010 Germany has exported a total of EUR 1.2 billion in goods to Argentina. Two hundred and thirty German companies are active there and have created more than 25,000 jobs.

Anyone who has experienced the spirit of optimism in Latin America and at the same time the nearness to Europe that is palpable there will understand what major opportunities for cooperation are present there.

Despite all the difficulties that we see in Latin America, from the gap between rich and poor to ecological challenges, from freedom of the press to financial policy and the fight against crime, we Europeans are tied to Latin America above all by the things we have in common.

More than other regions of the world, Latin America is marked by the values of the European Enlightenment.

Because we are tied by shared values, Argentina is a natural partner for us in the shaping of globalization.

There is good reason why Argentina is considered the most European country in Latin America. A total of six million immigrants came to Argentina between 1860 and 1930, almost all of them from the Old World. Today, Buenos Aires is a blossoming metropolis with fascinating architecture.

The Argentines jokingly describe themselves as “Italians who speak Spanish and think they live in Paris but would like to be English”.

One could easily add to this saying a phrase about Germany. Nearly a million men and women with German roots live in Argentina today. Beginning in the 19th century, Argentina was a place of longing for many Germans.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The promises held out by a place of longing are closely linked to the adversities and moments of joy in the place where one has actually arrived.

The winner of the German Book Prize also writes of hopes unfulfilled and opportunities seized, of the difficulties of arrival. The arriving and the arrived have found a new voice in her. I congratulate Melinda Nadj Abonji most sincerely on her prize.

Many new voices also come to us from Argentina. This year alone more than 200 new titles were published in German. They make engaging with Argentina a joy.

Argentina and Germany learn from and with one another.

Germany supports 20 German-language schools in Argentina, which provide instruction to nearly 16,000 pupils across the country.

This spring our two Governments launched the German-Argentine centre of higher education. Working together as equal partners, we will organize dual degree courses with degrees that are recognized in both countries.

And I am very pleased that Latin America’s first Max Planck Partner Institute will open in Buenos Aires in December.

This year Argentina is celebrating the 200th anniversary of its independence from European colonial rule. The breaking of the chains of colonial rule began two hundred years ago. I would like to congratulate all the men and women of Argentina on the celebration of their freedom.

We too celebrated our freedom in unity on Sunday.

I can imagine no finer site for a shared festival of freedom than here, surrounded by books that embody the freedom of ideas, and with Argentina as our guest of honour.

Señora Presidenta, es para nosotros una gran alegría que esté aquí. Tiene usted la palabra.

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