Olympia Exhibition Centre, 14-16 April 2015: more than 25,000 publishers, booksellers, literary agents, librarians, media and industry suppliers from over 120 countries came to London to attend an event considered to be "a Mecca for European publishers, booksellers, rights agents and media trend spotters".
For those claiming "to limit the immigration to the UK to 50,000 per annum, including those from the EU", such a wave of highly skilled foreigners on the Thames' shores might be scary and eventually a strong argument to be used in the ongoing electoral campaign. But for book lovers and not only, the London Book Fair 2015 (LBF) is just more proof that London is more than the capital city of a great country, it is also the meeting point of the world cultures in every possible way.
The initials LBF made their first appearance 40 years ago and since then the London Book Fair has grown in size and importance, being now considered as second only to the Frankfurt Book Fair, with over 1700 international exhibitors this year. Among them, 14 Romanian publishing houses with more than 350 book titles. Only 25 countries have national pavilions and Romania is one of them.
Romania has been a constant presence at the London Book Fair since 2007 and I pay my tribute of admiration to so many writers, publishers, translators and literary promoters who, along these eight years, have showcased the excellence of Romanian literature and established lasting relations between Romania and the UK. This time, our participation at the LBF evokes the virtue of literature as a catalyst of great encounters and revelations. It brings together writers and academics who contributed to create enduring cultural links between the two countries. Our programme revolves around two towering cultural personalities, one Romanian - Ana Blandiana, the other British - Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011). Sir Patrick was a war hero and the most acclaimed travel writer in Britain for decades. He testifies in hundreds of splendid pages the joy of encountering people and landscapes of Romania.
Ana Blandiana is one of the most important post war Romanian authors and a renowned civic rights campaigner. Banned in the harsh times of communism, her verses known by heart by Romanians were a refuge for a truth that could not be acknowledged. After the 1989 Revolution, she became a leader of the civic movement and concentrated most of her energy to the conservation of the national memory: the tragedies, the repression, but also the many forms of resistance, from armed resistance (I come myself from a region where the anti-communist partisans fought in the mountains until the beginning of the sixties), to civic heroism, thus contributing to educating generations of young Romanians about a time of sufferance and redemption.
Books encompass in their covers talent, truth and passion. The ultimate message we get by browsing through the selves heavy with books is that the sense of writing and reading has not disappeared. This is very important because the power of literature is to define both our personal and collective identities. There are few arts that can provide a better access to a nation identity than literature. That is why we have dedicated our programme at the LBF 2015 to the power of the written culture to transcend boundaries and to become the privileged place of great encounters and discoveries. It is probably not by chance that this happens in London.
In a fabulous evening event with poets Fleur Adcock and Vidyan Ravinthiran, together with translators Viorica Patea and Paul Scott Derrick, Ana Blandiana recalled that: "During the communist time, the only choice we had was between rebelling and obeying, because the indifference was worse". She added: "After 1989, the freedom of speech has diminished the importance of words".
Living in Britain for a period when in many occasions Romanians were so unfairly considered by part of the media and by some politicians as being unwanted "immigrants" and eventually responsible for almost everything that goes wrong in this country, I may not entirely agree with Ana Blandiana's last sentence about the importance of words, because I know that defamatory words can kill, maybe not lives but certainly people's dignity.
Romania's presence at the London Book Fair has been an itinerary through our values, feelings, dreams, disappointments, grievances, triumphs. It was also a reassuring reminder that we have many friends in Great Britain.