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Geneva Book Fair opens its doors

The Swiss interior minister, Ruth Dreifuss, opened the fair Keystone

The Swiss interior minister, Ruth Dreifuss, praised Geneva as one of the world's "literary centres", when she opened the city's International Book Fair, which has a distinctly Portuguese flavour.

Every year, a country is chosen to be the guest of honour, and this year it is the turn of Portugal, a choice that is likely to result in a great deal of interest, given the large Portuguese-speaking community in not only the Geneva area, but also the rest of Switzerland and neighbouring France.

“The Portuguese community has really been looking forward to this event. Geneva will become a real meeting point for them. And it will be based around the book,” the fair’s spokesman, Gérard Geiger, told swissinfo.

Opening the fair, Dreifuss lavished praise on her Portuguese guests, who included the Portuguese foreign minister, Jaime da Gama. But she was equally generous when it came to the host city.

“It is good to see that Geneva, historically one of the world’s centres, has also been a literary centre for the last 15 years,” she said.

Among the many Portuguese authors who will visit Geneva over the next five days will be the Nobel laureate, José Saramago.

Publishing in Portugal is an especially dynamic sector, with over 1,200 publishing houses producing some 10,000 titles – or 25 million books – every year. Three quarters of all exports go to Brazil and Lusophone Africa, but 19 per cent are sent to other countries in Europe, including Switzerland.

The other principal guest of honour will be Amnesty International, which celebrates its 40th birthday next month. It will organise a number of round-table discussions, and several victims of torture from all around the world will appear on its stand to recount their experiences.

“We consider Amnesty to be a very special guest. We wanted to do what we could to support its campaign against torture,” says Geiger.

“There is a clear link between human rights and the written word. The book is often the most effective weapons in fighting for liberty,” he adds. Fittingly, the fair will also feature an exhibition on press censorship.

But the star of the show is undoubtedly the book. Some 300 exhibitors, representing around 1,000 publishing houses, will be presenting their wares, which will cater to the varied tastes of the estimated 110,000 people who will visit the fair.

Another country whose literature will be featured is Armenia – a fitting choice because this year is the 10th anniversary of Armenia’s independence, as well the 1,600th anniversary of the invention of the Armenian alphabet and the 1,700th of Christianity being adopted as the official religion.

The fair will also feature an exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Swiss French author, artist and feminist icon, Alice Rivaz, who is treasured by many for daring to tackle taboo subjects such as homosexuality and anti-semitism in her novels.

One reason the Geneva Book Fair attracts so many visitors is that it is not simply about books. Running in parallel to the main event there are a number of other attractions: the Educa education fair, a multimedia fair, and music fair and the Europ’Art fair for contemporary art, now in its 10th year.

“People are not only interested in the book. They are interested in culture. We want the fair to have a broad appeal, especially if people have come from a long way away,” says Gérard Geiger.

So does this mean that the book, in itself, is not enough? That literature is in retreat? “Not at all,” says Geiger. “Today, there are more books than ever. Many young people are publishing their first novels. It’s still a very active field.”

by Roy Probert

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR