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Minimalist Israel in the Mediterranean colours of Thessaloniki Book Fair

20 May 2014 / 19:05:22  GRReporter
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Zdravka Mihaylova, for GRReporter exclusive

Thessaloniki is a city at the crossroads and has a multicultural history. Inhabited by different ethnic communities, it was no coincidence that it was called "Madre de Israel" (Mother of Israel). A metropolis of Sephardic Jewry until the deportation of about 50,000 members of its community to the death camps in 1943 and inhabited by Muslim Turks, Bulgarians, Armenians and other nationalities, today it is a European megalopolis, an intersection where contemporary arts meet. Bearing the colourful mark of the past and preserving the monuments testifying to its multinational appearance over the centuries and to its urban culture, today it has the living pulse of a student city with several universities. Not surprisingly, it is the point in the bustling centre of the Balkan Thermaic Gulf where the International Book Fair every year gathers together publishers and professionals operating in the field of book production, presentation and distribution as well as writers, translators, readers and others.
This year, its eleventh edition (from 8 May to 11 May) was organized for the first time by the Hellenic Foundation for Culture. This marked both the beginning of the institutional cooperation with the National Book Centre, which is the organization that founded the fair and supported its successive editions over the past ten years, and the incorporation of the fair in its structure. Co-organizers of the book festival near the White Tower were Thessaloniki International Fair-Helexpo, the Hellenic Federation of Book Publishers and Sellers and Thessaloniki Municipality.


In his address at the opening of the book fair, President of the Hellenic Foundation for Culture and Professor at Panteion University Christoforos Yialouridis underlined the successful decade-long history of the book fair and paid particular attention to the following: the dynamic participation of Greek and foreign publishers, the fair programme, parallel activities and discussions, the poetry festival that, from a Balkan event in 2012 and 2013, this year turned into an international one (Bulgaria was represented by poet Yordan Eftimov), the discussions on literature, humanities and arts, bringing to the foreground the "fan" of cultural richness and diversity.
He said, "All these events are not only an expression of the will of the participants for a cultural dialogue but also a sign of the flourishing of Greek culture that is an integral and visible power of the country, opposing the crisis and the economical and political problems that we have encountered in recent years." With 218 participants (publishers, cultural organizations, foundations, embassies, cultural institutions from Greece and abroad), including 14 foreign countries, the majority of which are from the Balkans (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Turkey, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovakia, Germany, Indonesia, France, Iran, Italy, China [23 publishers], Korea) the absence of Bulgaria from this centre for spiritual communication was bewildering and regrettable. It was represented neither by publishers nor even by a joint stand of the Ministry of Culture that used to house a collective participation in previous years, but by individual participants. One was Y. Eftimov in the Poetry Festival, traditionally organized by the Union of Greek Writers and the other Hellenist interpreter Zdravka Mihaylova, who took part in a discussion entitled "Translating Grecism: promotion strategies for Greek literature abroad", featuring 7 translators in various European languages. The focal part of this year's fair edition was Israel. A press release of the National Book Centre described its participation as a "historic event, emphasizing the strengthening of Greek-Israeli relations, especially in the cultural sphere."
The two main messages of the events prepared by the focal country were related to the Holocaust and the Israeli-Arab conflict. The live meetings with the audience involved authors such as Etgar Keret, Zeruya Shalev, Eyal Meged  Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev as well as university professors and academics such as Dina Porat and Fania Oz. The poster of the fair presented world famous Israeli writers (along with the covers of their Greek editions) such as Amos Oz, Abraham Yehoshua, David Grossman, although they themselves were not present. Journalist Yaron Enosh, who loves Greece and its culture and is the producer of a show for Greek music, brought together a large audience to share "Stories and Thoughts from Israel." Together with Professor of International Relations at Panteion University and President of the Hellenic Foundation for Culture Christoforos Yialouridis, Israel's ambassador to Greece, Arye Mekel participated in a discussion moderated by Yaron Enosh on "Prospects and Challenges in the Eastern Mediterranean today: the dynamics of Greek-Israeli relations". Gourmet, journalist and broadcaster Gil Hovav, who is popular not only in his own country, prepared a festive dinner of Israeli dishes, presenting the stunning fusion cuisine of this small strip of biblical land populated by people returning to it from the four corners of the world. Prominent people and politicians from Thessaloniki were invited to the dinner and Hovav presented the niceties of Israeli cuisine to his companions at the table and spoke on "Gastronomy and Literature" before the audience.
We learned that Israel is particularly interested not only in contemporary Greek authors such as Rea Galanaki, Lena Divani, Kostas Mourselas, but also Petros Markaris, who is one of the most famous crime writers in Europe, George Yatromanolakis, Christos Homenidis, Apostolos Doxiadis, Evgenios Trivizas, and that their translation in Hebrew is based on the Greek original.

Tags: Thessaloniki Book FairHellenic Foundation for CultureModern Israeli literatureZdravka Mihayova
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