Fascists at the Turin Book Fair: a lesson to learn

The -- ultimately cancelled -- presence of a fascist publishing house at the Turin Book Fair has sparked controversy. Intellectuals and writers were divided: to boycott in an attempt not to normalize this trend, or to attend and defend democracy?

Ingrid Colanicchia
Ingrid Colanicchia MicroMega, Italy
Source: MicroMega
Fascists at the Turin Book Fair: a lesson to learn - NewsMavens
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Why this story matters:

In Italy, the presence of a publishing house with clearly fascist leanings at the most important literary-cultural event of the year stirred up much discussion. Several writers and intellectuals have decided to cancel their participation while others have confirmed their attendance specifically not to leave more space for the fascists.

Those who boycott the fair essentially rely on the organizers to make sure they change their mind and that this never happens again, and it is certainly the most effective way to persuade them; those who have decided to go anyway rely on the public, on the audience with whom they want to continue having an exchange so that the words spoken at that event continue to be words of democracy.

It is difficult to say which of the two objectives should be prioritized in such a historical moment, but in the end the choice of those who favored a boycott was rewarded: the fascist publishing house was ultimately excluded from the fair.

What is certain is that hiding behind the Scelba Law and the Mancino Law -- as the steering committee of the Book Fair chose to do to justify its choice -- means being unable to take responsibility. And this is unacceptable coming from one of the most important cultural institutions in the country.

It cannot be the law or the judiciary that tells us what is right and what is wrong. This is a banal truth, and having to remind the steering committee of the Book Fair of this fact is frightening.

Some ideas and beliefs simply do not have citizenship rights. They position themselves outside of society because they represent and propagate the denial of society as a democratic form of coexistence.

Details from the story:

  • On May 9-13, Turin hosts the International Book Fair as usual. This is the most important cultural event of the year.
  • A few days after the inauguration of the 2019 edition, the fair was at the center of a major controversy over the presence of a pro-fascist publishing house among the stands (which has published, among other things, a book-interview with Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini).
  • The steering committee of the book fair defended itself by evoking the fact that this publishing house was not legally condemned under the 1952 Scelba Law which, jointly with the 1993 Mancino Law, sanctions and condemns anyone who propagates ideas based on racial or ethnic superiority or hatred, making the apology of fascism a crime in Italy. And the committee has concluded that it is "the indisputable right of anyone who has not been convicted of these crimes to buy a space at the fair and to display their books".
  • Several writers and intellectuals -- including Carlo Ginzburg (one of the greatest living historians), the cartoonist ZeroCalcare, the writing collective WuMing -- have decided to boycott the event; while others -- writer Michela Murgia first and foremost -- confirmed their presence in order not to yield the stage to fascists.
  • The Regional President Sergio Chiamparino and the mayor of Turin Chiara Appendino have denounced the publisher in question for propagating fascism.
  • Eventually the organizers have accepted the request of the City of Turin and the Piedmont Region -- the founding members of the Turin Book Fair -- to terminate their agreement with the publisher, who will therefore not be present at the event.
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