Characterising the Forum this year was the attention it attracted from politicians (or their spouses), who used the event to generate publicity in the run-up to the 30 September parliamentary elections. First Lady Kateryna Yushchenko was on hand to open the festival on 13 September with a reading for children. She also presented five books about the Holodomor, the Stalin-era man-made famine that killed millions of Ukrainians. Peopleís Self-Defense head Yuri Lutsenko visited the fair in the company of Our Ukraine leader Vyacheslav Kyrylenko. Meanwhile, the publishing house Folio displayed books about Lutsenko and Yulia Tymoshenko and another house presented books about former President Leonid Kuchma. While it was gratifying that Ukraineís publishing industry drew such powerful people, and while publishers have the right to publish what they want, some worried that the book fair risked becoming too politicised. The biggest political event of the fair took place as soon as I arrived at the Palace of Arts, on Kopernika Vul, on the afternoon of 15 September. Hundreds of people thronged the entrances to the Palace, where President Viktor Yushchenko was supposed to appear. Tempers flared among people who had paid two hryvnya to attend the fair, but couldnít enter until Yushchenko arrived. Some cursed the habitually late president and left. Even some writers and publishers couldnít get into the Palace. Writer Andriy Kokotyuha joked that the presidentís visit had been organised by his enemies, to discredit him. When Yushchenko did arrive, he didnít apologise, but started browsing the book selection as if nothing unusual had happened. Publisher and poet Ivan Malkovych said Forum participants had lost a significant amount of money while waiting for Yushchenko to show.
In a statement he made at the Forum, Yushchenko accused the current government of not caring enough about Ukrainian books and the Ukrainian language, and expressed his hope that future governments would be better. He criticised Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovychís team for failing to financially support Ukraineís publishing industry Ė particularly in 2007, which has been officially declared the Year of the Book. The government has spent only 2-3% of the money allotted this year to promote Ukrainian and the domestic book industry. The president said that despite the fact that it hosts the Forum, Ukraine is importing too many books. Forum President Oleksandra Koval said that this year the event attracted significant investment from the local city and regional councils. Some 785 registered participants took part in the fair, which drew approximately 60,000 visitors. Among the Ukrainian literary stars who attended the festival were Oksana Zabuzhko with her big book about Lesya Ukrainka, Andriy Kurkov, who presented his new childrenís book, Yuri Andrukhovych, and Tanya Malyarchuk. Sergiy Zhadan, Iren Rozdobudko TK IREN, NOT IRENA?, Andriy Kokotyuha, Svitlana Povalyaeva and many others were also present.
The Forumís honorary guest was Peter Vaidegaas, director of the Frankfurt International Book Fair from 1975-2000. Vaidegaas said the fair had raised his awareness about Ukraine, and would lead to Ukraineís participation in the international book trading process. The only problem, he said, was that the Palace of Arts wasnít big enough. Vaidegaasí native Germany was an important participant in the Forum, thanks to support from German cultural attaché Jean-Pierre Froehly and the Goethe Institute. A special German stand displayed more than 200 books, and five German authors participated in Forum roundtables. In other Forum developments, the Polish Cultural Institute, headed by Ezhy Onuch, announced its new Joseph Conrad-Kozhenyovsky prize for Ukrainian writers, named after the great Polish writer who was born on Ukrainian soil. The jury for the 20,000 hryvnya prize will consist of Yuri Andrukhovych, Bogumila Berdykhovska, Tamara Gundorova and Onuch himself. In conjunction with the Renaissance Foundation, the Polish Cultural Institute will also finance five Polish book translations. The Forum has been growing more popular every year. As recently as 2005 it attracted Ukrainian publishers exclusively, mirroring what was then the parochial state of Ukrainian letters. A few Ukrainian novels were being published in translation in Poland or Germany, but that was the exception rather than the rule. The Forum had a reputation as a specialised event for enthusiasts, and regular people came only because book prices were cheaper there than they were in stores. Ukrainian publishers were even weaker financially than they are now, and couldnít compete with the Russian book industry. By 2006 the atmosphere in Lviv was more positive, and there was more hope for the future, but the Forum still failed to attract a European presence. But now, thanks to the efforts of such western-looking writers as Andrukhovych and Zabuzhko, our European neighbours are paying more attention to whatís going on here, and have started participating.
A Literature Festival featuring readings by Ukrainian and foreign authors has become an important part of the Forum, a sign that the Lviv event is starting to imitate western book fairs like the one in Frankfurt.
These typically include supporting events like readings, concerts, theatre performances and art exhibits. This year was the liveliest Forum yet, which is a major sign of Ukraineís progress on the international arts arena. Ukrainians are becoming more interested in their native language and literature; books are on sale in supermarkets; writers are turning into celebrities who attract big crowds to their readings and appear in magazines alongside pop singers and politicians. The 2007 Forum included video poetry, street readings, slam poetry contests, and events in which writers teamed up to present their work Ė all in all, a youthful energy was apparent. Thatís good, because Ukraineís book industry still needs a lot of help. Thereís less than one book per Ukrainian citizen (compared with 6-8 in Europe and 12 in USA), and Ukraine still levies a thirty percent tax on books. These problems have to be overcome. As Slavko Vakarchuk, the leader of top Ukrainian band Okean Elzy, said during an appearance at the Forum, Ukraine needs a publishing revolution Ė or at least the sort of continuous positive change that the Forum represents.