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Nobel winner fears rising self-censorship in Poland
Nobel Literature Prize winner, Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk is pictured during the opening press conference at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2019 in Frankfurt am Main, central Germany, on October 15, 2019. The Frankfurt book fair is the world's largest publishing event, with this year Norway as honorary guest of the fair running from October 16 to 20, 2019. Daniel ROLAND / AFP.

by Michelle Fitzpatrick

FRANKFURT (AFP).- Poland's Nobel literature winner Olga Tokarczuk on Tuesday decried rising self-censorship in her country, while steering clear of the controversy engulfing fellow laureate Peter Handke.

Speaking at the opening press conference of the Frankfurt book fair, the dreadlocked author and outspoken critic of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) said there was "a kind of culture war" raging at home between the right-wing government and the opposition.

"There is no official censorship in literature, but I feel a certain fear when I see that a kind of self-censorship is developing in Poland," Tokarczuk said through a translator.

"Authors are somehow afraid of expressing what they really think or feel because they fear political consequences. I can only hope this development will not continue."

Tokarczuk, whose sweeping historical novels with a touch of mysticism have made her one of Poland's leading writers, had warned that Poles faced a choice between "democracy and authoritarianism" as they headed to the polling booths.

The populist PiS, often at loggerheads with the European Union, held onto its parliamentary majority in Sunday's vote following a campaign that coupled pledges for new welfare measures with attacks on gay rights and Western values.

Tokarczuk, 57, admitted she was "not very enthusiastic about the outcome".

But the arrival in parliament of "many new representatives" from other parties nevertheless left her feeling hopeful, she added.

"I'm very glad also that the left-wing Lewica (bloc) and the Greens are part of parliament for the first time. I think some new things will happen over the next four years."

Tokarczuk was last week named the winner of the 2018 Nobel literature prize, after organisers skipped a year over a sexual harassment scandal, and her announcement coincided with that of Austrian author Peter Handke as the 2019 laureate.

But while Tokarczuk's win has been warmly received, Handke's has sparked outrage with many criticising his support for the late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

Asked how she felt about being seen as the "good girl" of the Nobel gongs versus Handke's "bad boy", Tokarczuk told reporters she had been too busy to keep up with the controversy playing out in the media.

"But in a way I don't mind, because usually I'm the one in the role of the bad girl, that's something I am more familiar with," she quipped.

Atwood, umbrella protest
Tokarczuk's appearance kicked off what promises to be another politically charged edition of the world's largest book fair, where freedom of expression, feminism and the climate crisis will be firmly in the spotlight.

Margaret Atwood, Colson Whitehead and Ken Follett are among the big stars attending this week, while guest of honour Norway will be bringing bestselling authors Jo Nesbo, Maja Lunde and Karl Ove Knausgaard.

Organisers are also planning an "umbrella demonstration" on Thursday to show solidarity with the protesters in Hong Kong and highlight the ongoing detention of Chinese-born bookseller Gui Minhai.

At a time when the world is "in turmoil", book fair president Juergen Boos said, "we need authors who resist, who shed light on abuses and dare to take risks."

© Agence France-Presse

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