Auschwitz-Birkenau state museum has reportedly threatened to pull out of the city’s international book fair because of the participation of the Altaforte publishing company, said to have links with neo-fascict party CasaPound.
The museum has taken part in the upcoming book fair since 2015 but says it will pull out if the Altaforte publishing company remains among the exhibitors, according to the Guardian. The long-running event, Salone Internazionale del Libro, runs from 9th to 13th May and typically features around 1,400 exhibitors each year.
Representatives from the museum wrote a letter to Turin’s council that was signed by its director, Piotr Cywiński, the Holocaust survivor and writer Halina Birenbaum, and Michele Curto, a former city councillor who set up a project to teach school pupils about the Holocaust.
“Survivors cannot be asked to share space with those who question the historical facts that led to the Holocaust and who try to revive fascism in society,” the document reads. “This is not, as some have simplified, about a contract with a publishing house, but the highest values of democratic institutions, their vigilance and the Italian constitution, which exceed any contract.”
The letter follows the resignation from the fair’s organising committee of the Italian writer and teacher Christian Raimo, as well as planned boycotts of the event by the Italian authors group Wu Ming, the historian Carlo Ginzburg, the cartoonist Zerocalcare and the journalist Francesca Mannocchi.
In a statement on Facebook, the organising committee of the 30-year-old book fair described itself as an ambassador of the Italian constitution and cited a clause within it stipulating that “everyone has the right to freely express their thoughts with speech, writing and any other means of communication”.
Turin’s mayor, Chiara Appendino, said in a Facebook post on Monday: “This simple concept in premise must be very clear, as it should be equally clear that, in democracy, there are no alternatives feasible to this position.”
Altaforte is based in Milan and was “designed to answer those who ask for alternative reading keys with respect to approved interpretations,” according to its website. Altaforte is due to publish a book about Matteo Salvini, the Italian deputy prime minister and the leader of the far-right League party.
According to Reuters, in an interview with La Stampa on Tuesday, Francesco Polacchi, president of Altaforte, said: “I have not questioned the existence of the Holocaust but I will not give up the participation in the book fair.” Polacchi added “a little bit of dictatorship is good”, praised Benito Mussolini as “the best Italian statesman” and said fascism had helped to “reconstruct” the nation after the first world war.
The situation follows similar instances of controversy around far-right publishers featuring in previous book fairs in Europe. In 2017 both the Frankfurt Book Fair (FBF) and Gothenburg Book Fair faced criticism for allowing populist publishers from the right into their halls. Gothenburg blocked extremist publishers from participating.
The change came after far-right newspaper Nya Tider exhibited at last year’s Gothenburg fair, leading to some authors boycotting it, running battles between “antifa” (anti-fascist) and fascist protestors, and a neo-Nazi march through the university town during the fair, with more than 60 people detained by police.
During FBF 2017, there was also a group of far-right exhibitors, most notably the German publisher Antaios. Its appearance led to a heavy police presence and clashes in the halls.
The Bookseller has contacted Auschwitz-Birkenau state museum, Turin Book Fair and Altaforte for comment.