This content was published in the period between 3 October 2014 and 20 January 2019.

Ministers on this page who have left the government

Between 3 October 2014 and 20 January 2019 she was Minister for Culture and Democracy.

Ministers on this page who have left the government

Between 3 October 2014 and 20 January 2019 she was Minister for Culture and Democracy.

Speech by Alice Bah Kuhnke at Göteborg book fair 2015

Published

Göteborg, 24 september 2015.
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Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, dear all,

Last Sunday, I was having breakfast with Predrag Blagojevic in Belgrade. He is a journalist and editor in chief for the newspaper Juzne Vesti. Predrag Blagojevic has devoted his life to stand up for freedom of speech in his home country. For that he has been assaulted, threatened and persecuted. I asked him; how can you bear this life? His answer scared me: “ I don’t know why I do this anymore.”

A book – as a physical item not more than a bunch of paper connected in a spine. But as a concept one of the most precious thing we know. A carrier of knowledge, of ideas, experiences and stories, well worth celebrating. As we do in Gothenburg today.

To me the book - may it be in the form of printed papers, digitalized bits of information of recorded voices - symbolizes knowledge, adventure, fantastic journeys, feelings of joy, passion and sorrow - all the complexity of life. Many times, the simple joy of reading a book is nothing more than a pleasure. Sometimes, when we least expect it, reading a certain book can be a life-changing experience.

Perhaps most of all, a book is one of the strongest symbols of the freedom of expression. The notion that anything can be written or said, no matter how much we dislike it. We don’t have to agree with the authors' political, moral or religious views - but we must at any time protect and safeguard everyone's right to express it. When those in power – anywhere in the world – start to limit freedom of expression, we are all affected and in the end - all on the losing side.

Not so long ago, many of us felt that freedom of speech and democratic values were being strengthened in many countries where this previously had been limited. The path towards more freedom appeared to be assured. But, sadly, in the last few years we have seen the quite opposite development in many parts of the world. Freedom of speech is again being limited, by those who wish to control information and by those who wish to remain in power long after their time. Journalists are imprisoned; authors and artists are threatened to silence. This development is of course extremely worrying – and dangerous. But as always, we can learn something from this; in fact we must learn. We can never take freedom of speech for granted. Freedom of speech has to be defended every day and every hour.

From history we also learn that dictators fear books as much as they fear individuals. Why? Because books collect our memories, they recreate the basis of our cultural identities and they live on when we die. The access to a library is a key to history. The destruction of a library is an efficient way to eliminate people’s connection to that history.

In his book “The book thieves”, the Swedish author Anders Rydell gives us the story of how books were confiscated during the Second World War. The aim was to own the culture and history of the enemy, to rewrite history – for the enemy to remain an enemy also for future generations. After many years had passed, as part of his own research, Anders Rydell was able to bring one of the confiscated books back to the granddaughter of the rightful owner. This was a very emotional experience for the woman, since this book was the only belonging she had from her grandfather. This shows that a book can be more valuable than a piece of jewellery. A book is a part of a relation.

A few days ago I came back from the border between Serbia and Croatia. I wanted to see for myself the situation for refugees on the borders of Europe. This is of course an experience that I will never forget. People walking through Europe, having left everything they own and the horrors of war behind. They have nothing left, except memories – and the most recent of these memories are almost unbearable.

I hope that the stories of these people’s lives will be told to generations ahead and my innermost wish is that their story will not end at the border of Serbia or Hungary. I wish that my grandchildren will come to learn how Europe, in 2015, jointly took the responsibility for people that needed safety and shelter, and provided them with the freedom and peace of mind that they deserve. Because if there is something that we can learn from the history of Europe and the rest of the world, it is that the destiny of one people today, can be the destiny of another tomorrow.

Now, I am honoured to leave the floor to a writer and a journalist who, just like Predrag Blagojevic stands up for freedom of speech and has shown us how much one individual can make a difference. Masha Gessen, thank you for your courage, you are an inspiration to all of us.

With this, I declare the Gothenburg Book Fair 2015 – open!

Thank you!

Ministers on this page who have left the government

Between 3 October 2014 and 20 January 2019 she was Minister for Culture and Democracy.

Ministers on this page who have left the government

Between 3 October 2014 and 20 January 2019 she was Minister for Culture and Democracy.