“A Bridge Made out of Paper”

The war that Russia leads against Ukraine continues to horrify me as do the whole discussion about military spending and armament; and I’ve not been able to write anything helpful or insightful about this topic. This short blog won’t be either. My thoughts and solidarity are with the people who are fighting for their lives, those who are fleeing their country with basically just their clothes on their backs, as well as those who criticise Putin and his actions in Russia. But also those who have been victims of racism in this whole context. Hadija Haruna-Oelker wrote a short and on-point text about this in the Frankfurter Rundschau on 28 March. She criticises the racism we saw in this context, and also asks us not to play one group of marginalised or disadvantaged people off against another (link to the article, in German).

I admire everyone who manages to write something meaningful and sensible about this horrible war and its consequences, in particular because I feel I can produce nothing of this sort. So as it also felt wrong not to write anything at all, let me use this modest blog to point out some spaces that highlighted the work of authors and other creatives from Ukraine and gave them a platform.

In an article in The Bookseller (link), Emma Shercliff, who studied the Ukrainian publishing industry and wrote a report about its opportunities and challenges, asked for “more than statements of support” but “practical help and commercial relationships”. I hear her point, though forgive me if I’m a bit sceptical if Ukrainian printers can actually continue their work now. In any case, her article and report introduce lots of agents and institutions in the Ukrainian literary field, e.g. the Ukranian Book Institute in Kyiv (link). And since this seems to be an attempt to destroy Ukrainian culture along with the territory and many people, establishing or maintaining connections as well as increasing the knowledge about and visibility of Ukrainian literature is important, indeed.

The Buchmesse Leipzig created events of solidarity, giving Ukrainian authors as well as critical voices against the war from Ukraine, Belarus and Russia a platform. For example: „Eine Brücke aus Papier“ (“A Bridge Made out of Paper”) continues conversations and an exchange that has been going on since 2015. You can read about the participating authors here: link. A panel organised by PEN asked “No to Putin’s war – what can literature do?” and hosted the author Marjana Gaponenko from Ukraine, author Michail Schischkin from Russia, author Volha Hapeyeva from Belarus, and historian Karl Schlögel from Germany. The event was chaired by Cornelia Zetzsche, who reminded the audience of the historical contexts and continuities, debunked the weird notion of a first war in Europe since 1945, and also alluded to differences in the perception of the whole situation in what were formerly two different German states, here represented by locals in Leipzig and Munich. A recording of the conversation can be watched via the youtube channel of the Li-Be Literaturhaus Berlin (link to the recording, in German)

(By the way: the official fair was cancelled when the big publishers cancelled their appearance and an alternative, indie fair was created to show that publishing is not only done by the big shots. From what I’ve heard, the “pop-up bookfair” (link https://buchmesse-popup.de/) was a big success and presented lots of stellar indie publishers. In order to keep it safe-ish, the organisers – initiated by the Leif Greinus (indie Voland & Quist) and Gunnar Cynybulk (indie Kanon Verlag) the indie – limited the number of exhibitors and introduced 2-hour-slots for the audience so there wouldn’t be too many people in the space at once. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticising anyone who cancels large public events during a pandemic, it was just a bit odd, that there were no attempts to create something alternative, something smaller but safe-ish in the official halls or somewhere else in the city, “just” because the bigger conglomerate publishers withdrew their registrations.)

And one of my favourite booksellers, Maria Piwowarski (“ocelot – not just another bookstore”, link), put together a (subjective, as she says) list of books from and about Ukraine: link to her online list. She also adds new books on a regular basis. In a statement she writes:

“Ich glaube fest daran, dass jetzt finanzielle Spenden und aktive Hilfe, politischer Protest und journalistische Arbeit wichtiger sind als alles andere. Ich glaube aber auch daran, dass (literarische) Stimmen gehört werden müssen und uns helfen können, solch unfassbare Situationen besser zu verstehen.“

“I believe that financial support and active help, political protest and journalist work are more important than anything else. But I also believe that (literary) voices need to be heard and that they can help us understand these incomprehensible situations better.”