On Monday, Athens begin its one-year tenure as UNESCO’s World Book Capital for 2018. The start of Athens’ tenure coincides with World Book Day, which is celebrated each year on April 23.
This is the first time that the city of Athens holds this title. Athens takes over for Conakry, the capital of Guinea, which was World Book Capital for 2017.
Though Athens’ tenure begins today, its selection was confirmed by UNESCO in September 2016, and was based on “the quality of its activities, supported by the entire book industry. The proposed programme includes meetings with writers, translators and illustrators, concerts, thematic exhibitions, poetry readings and workshops for publishing professional” as well as its “cultural infrastructure and its expertise in organizing international events.”
According to the Mayor of Athens, Georgios Kaminis, “We are proud of this distinction. Our ambition and objective is for Athens to become a more book-friendly city with greater opportunities for learning and knowledge.” The municipality of Athens is acting as the organizing committee for this year-long festival.
An extensive lineup of events has already been scheduled from now until June, and can be found here (.pdf file, in Greek).
It remains to be seen what tangible impact, if any, this year-long festival will have on the popularity of books in Greece. The popularity of books has been repeatedly found to be lower in Greece than in many other European countries, though the extent to which such survey data paints an accurate picture is questionable.
Nevertheless, the book and publishing sector has suffered in Greece during the crisis, as evidenced by the closure of many large as well as independent bookshops, even while “e-books” are not yet as prevalent as in other countries of the West. Greece maintains a rich literary tradition which matches the richness of the Greek language — even if decades of mass media inundation and poor education provided by the country’s government-run schools have, it could be argued, not promoted either reading as an activity, nor the proper usage of the Greek language. Public libraries are also not widespread in Greece, likely not accidentally.
The “World Book Capital” designation was initially developed by UNESCO following the success of World Book Day. Madrid served as the initial World Book Capital, in 2001.