The Path from Literacy to Freedom

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September 8 is UNESCO’s International Literacy Day intended to ‘remind the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights, and to advance the literacy agenda towards a more literate and sustainable society.’

After the sunny days of summer, we should probably begin the fall publishing season by thinking about the positive outcomes that literacy promises us; thinking about those hopes that a literate society will hold onto; thinking about those books that are vitally important to readers in these challenging times of pandemic and war; thinking about those books that readers expect from us—the publishers. The world is moving faster than ever. Can we keep up? Can we still satisfy and surprise our readers?

In my region – the so-called post-Soviet space, currently in focus due to the ongoing brutal war in Ukraine – representatives of the cultural sector are often asked: "Should culture interfere with politics?!"

Answers vary but we cannot escape our recent experience of the nature, price, and consequences of the dictatorship we have lived through, fought, broken its strong walls, and emerged, scarred, from the ruins. This region knows that such regimes target the ability to think freely in order to achieve their objectives. People living here clearly understand that under dictatorships, politics will never ignore culture; they will never let it grow into an island of freedom. Dictatorship strives for "order". Freedom causes diversity, a kind of "disorder", which is vitally important for art but potentially disastrous for dictatorship. Therefore, a logical question arises: how can culture ignore such a dangerous opponent as politics?!

In reality, culture does not ignore politics. For centuries human minds have fought against slavish obedience and for the main purpose of human existence—continuous creation, continuous development, and continuous innovations. Bringing our learnings to the written page through books is a historic part of forming healthy societies but also the fight against the book and literacy. It is why two important focus areas of the International Publishers Association are so relevant: the freedom to publish and literacy. In the post-Soviet space (and other similar regions), independent thought and literacy are expected of people to resist relapse. Dictators in waiting imagine: "Once conquered, easily conquered again." But is this possible with people who have seen slavery, then tasted freedom, and have personally experienced the good and the bad of two completely different lifestyles?!

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