Supported by the Greatest
In accordance with available means, the Serbian stand was not large, however the appearance was very impressive. Great men of European culture, who spoke about Serbs and Serbia, were watching visitors from one side. Important Serbian writers and clergymen, whose anniversaries we’re marking in 2019, were watching from the other. Professor Robert Hodel PhD, from the Institute of Slavic Studies in Hamburg, attracted much attention. Instead of to the Austrian, the Western media first rushed to the Serbian stand, to see reactions to Handke’s Nobel Prize

By: Milica Despot

It is the greatest event of its kind in the world. It has a tradition over five hundred years long, ever since Johannes Gutenberg (around 1400–1468) invented printing in nearby Mainz, as a revolutionary way of multiplying texts. Immediately after, printers Johann Fust, Peter Scheffer and Conrad Henkis organized the first large trade of printed products in the place of the Frankfurt Fairground, and soon afterwards completely suppressed trading of manuscripts.
The Book Fair was born.
As consequence of Luther’s reformation, or the Roman Catholic counterreformation and censorship forced from the ”Imperial Book Commission” in the late XVII century, Frankfurt lost its dominance and handed it over to the Book Fair in Leipzig. It took about two hundred years and the division of Germany after World War II for the Frankfurt Book Fair to take over first place again.
Two hundred and nine exhibitors were present from September 18 to 23, 1949 at the resurrected Book Fair in Frankfurt. Last year, in 2018, there were 7.503 exhibitors from 109 countries and 285.024 visitors. This year those numbers have probably been surpassed.
The Fair has been open for electronic media since 1993.
In the meantime, several literary awards of the Fair were established. One country-guest is chosen every year, representing the focus of the event. In 2019 it was Norway, next year it’ll be Canada, Spain in 2021, Slovenia in 2022, Italy in 2023.


The program organizer of this year’s Serbian appearance at the Book Fair in Frankfurt was ”Princip Press”, publishing house from Belgrade, with technical support from the Serbian Chamber of Commerce. Although it was one of the smaller exhibition stands, in accordance with available state financial means, the appearance of Serbia was in no way unnoticed. The explanation is obviously in the concept of the appearance, well thought-through and professionally implemented.
Two main compositions were dominant in the artistic design of the exhibition stand.
The first showed great men of European culture and art, who spoke, wrote, painted or composed about Serbia. Visitors with insufficient knowledge encountered, to their surprise, great people such as Goethe, Schiller, Grim brothers, Pushkin, Andersen, Lamartine, Ranke, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, Tchaikovsky, Hugo, Andreev, D’Annunzio, Apollinaire, Rebecca West…
The second composition presented the main subjects of this year’s appearance of Serbia in all international book fairs (Leipzig, Beijing, Moscow, Frankfurt), as determined by the Serbian Ministry of Culture. The presentation, like this year in Serbian culture, included a series of important anniversaries: 90 years since the birth and 10 years since the death of Milorad Pavić (1929–2009), 90 years since the birth of Aleksandar Popović (1929–1996), 30 years since the death of Danilo Kiš (1935–1989), 70 years since the death of Rastko Petrović (1898–1949), 120 years since the birth of Rade Drainac (1899–1943)... It’s the hundredth anniversary of the publishing of the turning point collection of poems Lyrics of Ithaca” (1919–2019) by Miloš Crnjanski. Especially important is the 800th anniversary of the independence of the Serbian Orthodox Church, as well as the 810th anniversary of the Studenica Typicon. The important manuscript by St. Sava, first Serbian archbishop, was built into the foundations of the Serbian Church, but the work is also equally significant for the development of Serbian language, alphabet and legislation”.
The lectures of Professor Robert Hodel PhD, director of the Institute of Slavic Studies at the University of Hamburg, and Dragana Grbić, PhD, research associate at the Institute of Literature at the same university, about translating literature as a form of cultural diplomacy, attracted great attention. The host at the Serbian stand, on behalf of ”Princip Press” was Professor Vladimir Umeljić PhD. For the first time, a separate corner of the stand was dedicated to contemporary alternative Serbian comics, its authors and publishers.
A film was constantly running on the stand, about Serbian geopoetics, its landscapes, people, symbols, cities, which also attracted huge attention of visitors.


– Your stand is very attractive – said Rudis Rubens (”Saruna Albums”, Riga, Latvia). – It reflects a very refined sense of esthetics.
Thomas M. Zehender (”Danube Books”, Ulm, Germany) was attracted by something else:
– It’s interesting, as I can see in the photos, how many great men of European culture were involved with Serbia and Serbs. We know insufficiently about it, to say the least.
Stin Piper (”Hovedland Publishing”, Gjern, Denmark) was carefully watching one face in the picture:
– I can see our Hans Christian Andersen among those who wrote about Serbia and Serbs. It is very interesting for us Danes. We should get into it a bit deeper.
Marie Oneissi, French publisher and distributor joins the discussion:
– It’s really wonderful here. You are surrounded with books, nice photos, and finally a film about the beauties of your country.
Perhaps unexpectedly, Peter Handke became one of the significant subjects, and not only literary, at the Serbian stand. At that time, the name of this year’s Nobel Prize winner for literature was announced. Prisoners of Western propaganda clichés and media manipulations from the 1990s, stuck in false narratives, stating that Serbs are to blame for the wars in the ruins of Yugoslavia and that all others are innocent (Croatians, Bosnian Muslims, Albanians from Kosovo and Metohija, even the West itself), were completely astonished by the Nobel committee’s decision. Because the great writer Peter Handke even then dared to openly oppose anti-Serbian lies, media manipulations, horrible stereotypes and to unwaveringly persist. With mature calmness and deep convincingness, he suffered everything he had to suffer due to his attitude. And now, all of a sudden, the Nobel Prize!
Many Western emissaries first rushed to see reactions at the Serbian stand, not the Austrian (where Handke was born) or French (where he lives).
Dirk Kurbjuweit, German writer and member of the editorial board of Spiegel in Berlin, the most influential, most serious and most popular German weekly, addressed such questions and dilemmas to Professor Vladimir Umeljić, PhD, representative of ”Princip Press” at the Serbian stand in Frankfurt. He asked for two minutes of his time and stayed ten times longer. Professor Umeljić explained that, both then and now, Handke advocated common reason (because any single-sided black and white picture of reality cannot be reality), elementary ethics (because radical dehumanization and stigmatization of any social group cannot belong to a humanistic determination of a civilization), as well as the legal principle ”In dubio pro reo!” (”In case of doubt, to the benefit of the accused!”) He requested the Serbian word to be heard: the arguments of the other side. He had more trust in his own eyes on the place of the event that the eye of camera and Photoshop. And he had the boldness and honor to testify about it, in spite of all risks.
Kurbjuweit asked the representative of ”Princip Press” what he had read by Handke and as if he was a bit surprised by the long reply. He also learned about an hour and a half of personal conversation with Handke after a forum in Frankfurt.
We skipped the reciprocal question for diplomatic reasons. In the meantime, the guest’s attitude became incomparable more positive. At the end of the conversation, Spiegel’s author was watching the stand and took some time to gaze at the faces of great men of European culture, who had admiration for Serbs.
– As you see – we told him – Serbian culture and history have been recognized and highly esteemed for hundreds of years. In the 1990s, this became an exception, which only the truly brave, principled and consequent people dared to address. The best among them is Peter Handke. Nobel’s Committee recognized and awarded Handke’s enormous contribution to European culture. However, as we know, an exception only confirms a rule.


National Review” in Frankfurt
The main promotional publication at the Fair in Frankfurt were special editions of ”Serbia National Review” in German (Serbien auf der Buchmesse in Frankfurt 2019) and English (Serbia at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2019). Besides this year’s dominant subject, particularly attractive was the subject ”Famous Foreigners about Serbia”. Contemporary writers Dragan Hamović (from Serbia) and Predrag Bjelošević (from Srpska) were also presented.


Greetings from Tirana
David and Kisi, Albanians from Tirana, didn’t hide their exaltation with the Serbian stand and concept:
– Your stand is wonderful, much more beautiful than ours! Can we make a few photos? We want to publish them upon our return to Tirana and show how nice it looks when the state financially supports its publishers at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Our state, to be honest, doesn’t give anything, we have to do everything ourselves.


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