Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s speech at the opening of the Leipzig Book Fair was interrupted several times by demonstrators. During the speech, several activists scattered around the Gewandhaus shouted loudly but largely incomprehensibly into the SPD politician’s speech. According to several witnesses sitting closer, the shouters accused the Israeli government of genocide in the Gaza Strip.

Large parts of the protest were drowned out by sustained applause from the audience. “Here in Leipzig, we are all brought together by the power of words – not shouting,” said Scholz, accompanied by applause.

After a few minutes he was able to continue his opening speech. Scholz came out as a bookworm. “All of us – and I include myself here – are united by a love of reading,” he said. “Whether as a child in the evening before going to sleep, as a young politician on the train between Hamburg and Bonn, or now, whenever time allows – books have accompanied me through my life for as long as I can remember.”

It is no more tied to a specific genre than the fair: science or society, adventure or crime, non-fiction or novel. “If you allow it, then behind the cover of the book there will be a surprise that we often miss on the Internet because algorithms there show us primarily what we think is good anyway, or should like.” If you allow it, you will find something interesting, exciting or touching everywhere.

Anyone who reads allows perspectives other than their own and takes a personal interest in developments, says Scholz. With every chapter, with every new page, contradictions that seemed unbridgeable in everyday life could be overcome. “Reading is therefore daily proof that we can understand each other despite our differences, that our societies, in Germany and in Europe, are by no means doomed to drift apart.”

“Let’s not follow those who want to divide us”

Scholz appealed: “Let us not follow those who want to divide us, who want to deny entire groups in this country their membership in our society. Let us never believe those whose answers ultimately result in intolerance, exclusion and hatred.” This would ruin the country “not only morally but also economically.”

The Leipzig Book Fair – the most important German literary show after Frankfurt – runs from Thursday to Sunday. 2085 exhibitors from 40 countries present their books and new publications. After positive advance sales, an increase in visitor numbers is expected; 274,000 people came last year.

As guest countries this year, the Netherlands and Flanders are presenting themselves as a common language and cultural area under the motto “Everything but flat”. Around 100 events with 41 authors are planned.

Book fair focuses on diversity

The book fair sees itself as a center for living democracy. “As a book fair, we explicitly focus on diversity,” said the new director Astrid Böhmisch. “Freedom, democracy and diversity are not self-evident, but rather values ​​that need to be fought for again and again.”

Martin Buhl-Wagner, Managing Director of the Leipziger Messe, said: “The social responsibility of the Leipzig Book Fair has a very special significance right now.” The times are challenging, he said, referring to the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, the shift to the right and the rising populism in Germany and Europe. It is all the more important that people talk and argue with each other. “That’s why the Leipzig Book Fair is also a place for diversity of opinions and for standing up for democracy and democratic values.”

“We must defend our democracy”

Peter Kraus vom Cleff, managing director of the German Book Trade Association, also warned of current dangers. “We have to defend our democracy. Basic democratic values ​​are under increasing attack internationally and in Germany.” The book industry makes a significant contribution to an open and informed society.

This year the “Leipzig reads” reading festival is once again attracting visitors with 2,800 events at 300 locations throughout the city. The Manga-Comic-Con has been at the fairgrounds for 10 years and the antiquarian book fair for 30 years.

At the opening, the Leipzig Book Prize for European Understanding 2024 was awarded to the German-Israeli philosopher Omri Boehm for his book “Radical Universalism”. In his acceptance speech, in the name of German-Israeli friendship, he also called for harsh criticism from Germany about the Middle East conflict.

“What about German-Jewish friendship? Where it exists, it is a true miracle. One that is particularly close to my heart,” he said. But no German-Jewish friendship can exist “if, in these dark times, there is no room for the difficult truths that must be said in the name of Jewish-Palestinian friendship.”

Boehm: “The truth does not have to be sacrificed because of friendship, quite the opposite. Hard truths must be spoken openly. Because we should remain friends.”

Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has announced a tour on Thursday and will then discuss the state of democracy with the authors Ingo Schulze and Anne Rabe. Buhl-Wagner sees Steinmeier’s visit as a “clear sign of the importance of the book fair.”