Statement of WfPC of PEN International
WfPC of PEN International are shocked by the brutal attack on the Bulgarian investigative TV presenter Viktorija Marinova , in Ruse, Bulgaria.
The news of her death came only days after the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist critical of the Saudi regime, in Istanbul, now presumed dead.
‘It’s an outrage! In Europe we never had it so bad since the Bosnian war in the nineties, but that was war-reporting… ’ says the Chair of the WfPC Marjan Strojan.
In less than a year we have seen Daphne Caruani Galizia die in a car bomb explosion in Malta, the shooting of Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend in Slovakia, the attempt on life of the Montenegrin investigative journalist Olivera Lakić, and, in the last week, two more deaths of well-known journalists, both as yet unexplained.’
The WfPC strongly condemns the killings and demands an immediate and conclusive investigation into the crimes by the relevant authorities.
At the congress of the PEN International at Pune, Indija, september 2018, four new resolutions were approved by the congress: Cemical weapons, Nuclear weapons, Izrael, Hungary
Resolution #26 on the Use of Chemical and Other Indiscriminate Weapons
Proposed by PEN INTERNATIONAL WRITERS FOR PEACE COMMITTEE
We, the members of PEN Intl. Peace Committee, assembled in Bled, Slovenia, on April 17. 2018 recognise the terrible legacy of the battlefield use of poisonous gasses that the Great War of the 20th century (1914-1918) has put on the shoulders of today’s world.
We are also aware that the Geneva Protocol, which prohibited the use of chemical weapons in warfare, was signed in 1925. Nevertheless, the gas was again used during World War II in the Holocaust in Nazi concentration camps and in Asia.
We note that during the Cold War period an estimated 25 states were developing chemical weapons capabilities, and that after 12 years of negotiations, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) was adopted by the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on 3 September 1992. With the entry-into-force of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) on 29 April 1997 the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was formally established. Currently over 190 nations have ratified the convention.
We note with frustration the limited terms of the 1980 UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, which fails to control adequately the deployment of aerial bombing and heavy artillery resulting in destruction of vast areas outside the immediate zones of conflict and a large number of civilian deaths.
With the above in mind we are resolved that:
· Since the UN Chemical Weapons Convention came into force in 1997 their persistent use cannot be justified by any party to conflict.
· Stockpiles and development facilities of chemical, biological and other indiscriminative weapons must be eradicated, as agreed under the CWC convention.
· While we note the continuing deployment of bombs and heavy artillery in the Middle East and in other undeclared theatres of war, we remain concerned at the potential of governments to ignore or sidestep international treaties on all weapons systems. We call on the UN to seek to further strengthen the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons to give greatly increased protection to civilians and demand of the United Nations Security Council to live up to the hopes placed upon it by citizens and discharge its obligation to preserve peace with determination and a sense of urgency.
· We contend that the increasing tendency of governments to advance extreme interpretations of national interest and sovereignty is a serious threat to peace. Governments must respect and follow international law, and must not use national policy as a cloak for their own authoritarianism. We urge all governments to show restraint, mature and conciliatory leadership and to refrain from belligerent action, whether against individuals, their own citizens or other nations. We implore them to take non-discriminatory measures to provide generous help to refugees and all those whose lives are disrupted by conflicts and, especially, to protect and give shelter to minors isolated from accompanying adults.
RESOLUTION #5 ON DENUCLEARISATION
Proposed by PEN INTERNATIONAL WRITERS FOR PEACE COMMITTEE, SLOVENIAN AND JAPANESE PEN
We, the writers assembled at the 48th PEN International Congress in Pune, note with apprehension:
That while in the past decades the risks of a large scale nuclear war may have declined we are mindful of unacceptable suffering of human, cultural and environmental resources caused by the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the disproportional impact on women, children and the indigenous people the use of such weapons had during and long after the end of the WW2.
That, together with the present threats of the fast changing climate, human inequality and the postcolonial misuse of the human and natural resources, the nuclear liability presents a continuous and an ever present danger to the mankind regardless of the country, region and the continent of its provenance.
That the nuclear threat apart from being a military and political issue of the utmost concern represents a huge social issue in all the countries involved in procurement, development and maintaining their nuclear capability. While the vast resources the rich states spend on improving their nuclear deterrent could be used for far more beneficial causes at home and overseas, economically vulnerable countries can only afford such arms by severely infringing on the welfare of their peoples and at great expense to their civil liberties and basic human rights.
We are convinced that all peoples have a right to peace and that this right should be recognised by the United Nations as a universal human right and are therefore alarmed by the danger of wide-spread proliferation of nuclear capabilities. Such policies, attitudes and positions threaten to accelerate the nuclear arms race instead of diminishing it and are set to endanger world peace in the short term and long into the future.
Therefore the writers of PEN International call on:
- The UN Security Council to use all necessary means to de-escalate international tension and facilitate the peace efforts.
- The United Nations to reaffirm in their policies the commitment to non-proliferation treaties and to the moratorium on nuclear testing as well as set a biding target of achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.
- We call on our members to use their own words to re-engage in developing a PEN culture of disarmament, sadly lacking in agility when – in the words of UN General Secretary António Guterres – ‘the world is more connected, yet societies are becoming more fragmented’ as we speak, and they do so even more if we don’t.
RESOLUTION #11 ON ISRAEL
Proposed by The Writers for Peace Committee and supported by PEN Palestine
The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 84nd World Congress in Pune, India, 25-29th September 2018.
The climate for freedom of expression in Israel has continued to deteriorate in 2018. Of particular concern is the violent repression - including the unlawful killings - of protesters, the crackdown on dissenting voices of writers, journalists and human rights defenders, the introduction and implementation of laws and practices repressing free expression, the lack of progress in the peace process and the ongoing systematic violations of Palestinian rights.
Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory, the establishment of illegal settlements and the inhuman conditions imposed by Israeli authorities on Palestinians are unacceptable and have been recognised as violations of international human rights law. Palestinians are discriminated against in Israel, and subjected to regular military attacks and dire humanitarian conditions in Gaza. This situation has heavily impacted on the enjoyment of human rights of Palestinians, including the right to freedom of expression.
PEN had been campaigning on behalf of Dareen Tatour, a Palestinian poet and citizen of Israel, who was convicted by the Nazareth Magistrate's Court on 3 May 2018 on charges of incitement to violence and support for terror organisations. Tatour’s conviction is mainly related to a video, which Tatour posted on YouTube, in which she recites one of her poems entitled,‘Qawim ya sha’abi, qawimhum (Resist, my people, resist them)’. Tatour spent more than two years in jail or under house arrest since October 2015. On 31 July 2018 Dareen Tatour was sentenced to five months imprisonment (six months suspended), but as she has already served three months in custody she was released on 20 September 2018, after two months. PEN considers that Dareen Tatour has been subjected to judicial harassment due to the peaceful exercise of her right to free expression.
The Israeli authorities continue to use the practice of administrative detention, which is a form of detention without charge or trial imposed for periods of up to six months, renewable an infinite number of times. Many writers have been victims of this practice, among them the journalist Muhammed al-Qiq. He had been repeatedly detained by Israel, and was finally released in November 2017 after undertaking several hunger strikes in protest at his conditions of detention and to negotiate his release.
Israel has also targeted journalists reporting on protests, including those sparked by the decision of the President of the United States, Donald Trump, to recognise unified Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the US Embassy there. The use of excessive force against protestors by the Israeli forces in May 2018, and thereafter, has led to the deaths and the injuries of hundreds people including journalists and other activists.
In July 2018, the Israeli parliament also approved a controversial law which codifies Israel as the “historical homeland” and “national home of the Jewish people”. The law recognises in its provisions the exercise of national self-determination as "unique to the Jewish people" and declares Hebrew as the "state's language". It is evident this law affects the rights of non-Jews as well as the Arab community, and it has been described as clearly discriminatory. It has also been criticised by the EU Foreign Affairs Chief, Federica Mogherini.
The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International urges the Israeli government to:
· End the practice of administrative detention, and release all journalists and other writers detained solely in connection with the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and assembly;
· Ensure that the right to freedom of expression and assembly are fully respected in law and practice as provided for under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Israel is a state party;
· Conduct prompt and impartial investigations into the unlawful killings during 2018 protests in Gaza;
· Ensure that excessive force is not used to suppress protests and to impinge on the press’s right to cover protests;
RESOLUTION ON HUNGARY
Proposed by the Writers for Peace Committee and seconded by French PEN
The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 84th annual Congress in Pune, India from 25-29 September 2018
We would like to express our profound concern about allegations of foul play related to the capture of the media landscape in the Hungarian elections of 8 April 2018 that saw Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who champions nativism and has made ‘illiberal democracy’ a tenant of his political ideology, re-elected for a third consecutive term.
Although, in recent years, we have seen rising levels of hate speech before and during election processes in other countries, and a rise to power of some political parties that made use of it, the situation in Hungary stands out. The apparent landslide victory and consecutive political success of one such party in Hungary - Fidesz – is a cause for concern because of their overt targeting and hateful rhetoric towards immigrants, Roma people, Jewish people, LGBTI individuals, and academics and NGOs critical of the regime.
There were allegations that the press coverage of the campaign and election was highly polarised and lacked critical debate as the consequence of Orbán’s extensive reshaping of the media landscape over the past six years. In a report by the OSCE the elections were characterized ‘by a pervasive overlap between state and ruling party resources, undermining contestants’ ability to compete on an equal basis’.
PEN International is appalled by the findings of the OSCE, as well as the reported racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism by Orbán and other members of his Fidesz party and other right-wing parties which marred the election campaign. In a speech commemorating the 170th anniversary of the 1848 revolution on 15 March 2018, Orbán reportedly said that ‘we must fight against an opponent which is different from us … they are not national, but international; they do not believe in work, but speculate with money; they have no homeland, but feel that the whole world is theirs’. His rhetoric pits different groups in society against each other, stating that ‘we, the millions with national feelings, are on one side; the elite ‘citizens of the world’ are on the other side … on one side, national and democratic forces; and, on the other side, supranational and anti-democratic forces’.
Typically, Orbán presents George Soros as the leader of this alleged international conspiracy, ‘we are up against media outlets maintained by foreign concerns and domestic oligarchs, professional hired activists, troublemaking protest organisers, and a chain of NGOs financed by an international speculator, summed up and embodied in the name George Soros’.
In his reported speeches, Orbán identifies migration as the key threat to Hungary. Although tied to religious and cultural identity, there is a strong racist undertone, maintaining for instance that ‘Hungarians are an endangered species’. Allegedly, on 8 February, he told a gathering of Hungarian mayors that ‘we do not want to be multi-coloured by being mixed … with others’.
Orbán’s policies that deal with these purported threats have repeatedly violated the country’s international obligations. For one, Hungary’s stance on refugees, including attempts to prevent those seeking international protection from traveling through their borders and the use of draconian measures that entail the treatment of refugees and migrants as criminals, is in breach of international human rights law and refugee law, as well as EU directives. In addition, as documented by PEN International and others, Orbán’s administration has in the past and continues to curtail space for civil society and academic freedom thus limiting dissent. Furthermore, PEN International has documented attempts to politicise also the cultural field, hindering the expression of unfettered artistic freedom.
In view of these concerns highlighted at the 50th meeting of the Writers for Peace Committee in Bled in 2018, the PEN community reiterates its concern in relation to respect for the rights to freedom of expression and non-discrimination in Hungary.
The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International calls on the government of Hungary to:
· Investigate and prosecute all racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic crimes, as well as acts that amount to incitement to violence against immigrants, Jewish people and other minority groups
· End its campaign against dissenting voices, independent civil society groups and certain parts of critical academia and instead publicly recognize the value of these actors in promoting and protecting an open, transparent and tolerant society;
· End the propagation of xenophobic ideology and instead, take all possible measures to combat xenophobia and anti-refugee sentiment;
· Repeal all laws that discriminate against or target foreign-funded NGOs.
Israel’s Settlements Have No Legal Validity, Constitute Flagrant Violation of International Law, Security Council Reaffirms, UN, SC/12657, 23December 2016, available on:
Myanmar: PEN’s Writers for Peace Committee supports the calls of the UN for peace, respect and justice for all in the country
Myanmar: PEN’s Writers for Peace Committee supports the calls of the UN for peace, respect and justice for all in the country
We, the Writers for Peace Committee (WfPC) of PEN International are deeply troubled by the findings of United Nation’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission report which details crimes systematically carried out by the Myanmar military against ethnic communities in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states which "undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law[Emma Wads1] ". Common to all of the military’s operations were the targeting of civilians, sexual violence, an exclusionary rhetoric and impunity for crimes committed. According to the UN report nearly 725,000 Rohingya had fled to Bangladesh by mid-August 2018.
Tracing the origins of the current crisis back over decades, the reportdated 24 August 2018 reveals cases of almost unimaginable violence following deadly attacks by Rohingya militants. In the western state of Rakhine – where the majority of the Rohingya reside in Myanmar – the report also found further evidence of crimes against humanity - such as “elements of extermination and deportation". It recommends that a competent court determine the liability for genocide in relation to the situation in Rakhine State”.
Marjan Strojan, the Chair of The PEN International Peace Committee said that the Committee is aware that the UN uses the word ‘genocide’ very sparingly. ‘‘The mention of genocide does not appear in the UN documents if not substantiated by an overwhelming abundance of proof. The report is an attempt of the international community to break the cycle of impunity and a call to the relevant authorities to carry out a thorough and impartial investigation into the military’s actions in Myanmar.’’
The report finds that the cornerstone of systematic civil and human rights violations is the lack of legal status of the Rohingya. The report states that: “Successive laws and policies regulating citizenship and political rights in Myanmar have become increasingly exclusionary in their formulation, and arbitrary and discriminatory in their application”. As a result, most Rohingya have become stateless. The WfPC therefore wholeheartedly supports the Mission’s calls for the promotion of a state and nation of Myanmar that is inclusive, based on equality and respect for the human rights of all.
The WfPC is particularly alarmed by the report’s revelations that violence and human rights violations have been “fuelled by the silencing of critical voices by the Myanmar authorities, who at the same time amplify a hateful rhetoric that emboldens perpetrators.” Indeed, the report finds that the government’s response to hate speech – prevalent both online and offline – has been inadequate.
While recognising that the civilian authorities have little control over the military under the Constitution, the Mission affirms that "through their acts and omissions, the civilian authorities have contributed to the commission of atrocity crimes". State Counsellor, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, the report finds, "has not used her de facto position as Head of Government, nor her moral authority, to stem or prevent the unfolding events or seek alternative avenues to meet a responsibility to protect the civilian population”
resolution on Syria, august 2019
Resolution on Syria, Podbor pisatelji za mir
15 August 2018
PEN International remains gravely concerned by the ongoing massive human rights violations in Syrian prisons and detention centres, where political opponents and activists, among them writers, are subjected to enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, torture and inhuman treatment, and summary execution. Writer Abduhadi Kasheet is among those who was killed in custody. Unconfirmed reports of Kasheet's death were initially received on 12 October 2013, but according to a recent report his name is included in official records of deaths in custody issued recently by the Syrian government. These death notices were delivered by the Syrian government to the relatives of those detainees killed in custody.
Syria has one of the highest death tolls for detainees in the world. Since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in March 2011, thousands of Syrians have been arrested by the Syrian government, subjected to enforced disappearance and death in the various government detention centres due to hanging, torture, inhuman treatment including the lack of medications, starvation and overcrowding in detention.
"The international community has failed to put an end to the massive human rights violations in Syria including crimes against humanity and war crimes. All necessary measures should be taken in order to release all those held in detention for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association as well as to end the policy of torture, enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings. The truth about the circumstances of death and the fate of the disappeared persons should be disclosed, the bodies of those killed in custody should be returned to their families, and those responsible for these atrocities should be held accountable." – Said Marjan Strojan, President of the Writers For Peace Committee.
In its action on the occasion of the Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, PEN International expressed its deep concern at the enforced disappearance of many writers who are among the hundreds of thousands of Syrians to have been subjected to enforced disappearance or death at the hands of the security services since March 2011. These writers include lawyer Khalil Ma'touq (arrested on 2 October 2012), Abd al-Akram al-Sakka, an Islamic scholar and writer (arrested on 15 July 2011), Zaki Cordillo, playwright and leading figure of the Puppet Theatre (arrested on 13 August 2012), Hussein Essou, a Kurdish-Syrian writer (arrested on 3 September 2011), Adnan Zarra'ai, a playwright and script-writer (arrested on 26 February 2012), Ali al-Shihabi, a Syrian-Palestinian political analyst and blogger (arrested on 17 December 2012). The family of Bassel Khartabil, a Syrian-Palestinian software engineer and free speech activist, confirmed in August 2017 that he had been subjected to an extrajudicial execution in October 2015.
The Syrian authorities have an obligation to protect and ensure the right to freedom of expression et prevent torture and inhuman treatement, in accordance with the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention Against Torture to which it is a state party. Freedom of expression is the essential cornerstone to the dialogue necessary to secure accountability, justice and peace.
In normal times, we, on behalf of the Writers for Peace Committee of PEN International, would welcome with excitement a summit meeting between the Presidents of the United States and the Russian Federation. Sadly, we cannot be confident that today’s meeting of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin will serve the purposes of peace and truth.
We believe that the meeting has more to do with their personal inclinations than with the peaceful interests of their countries and the world.
By their words and actions, both men have demonstrated their disdain for decency and their lack of respect for the international agencies of peace. They have shrugged off human rights and freedom of expression as minor irritants to their assertion of power.
They are not alone in this but, as leaders of two of the world's most influential countries, their cynicism has consequences – potentially encouraging other autocratic-minded leaders to adopt the role of the bully. In the playground it is hurtful. In global politics it is dangerous and a stain on their nations.
Unfortunately, it has become clear that President Trump regards peace and serious diplomacy as signs of weakness, not of civilised behaviour. President Putin has shown similar disregard over more than two decades.
We call on both Presidents to abandon their posturing, behave with dignified maturity, treat fellow leaders and opponents with respect, champion free discourse, and learn that their interests and lasting reputations lie in truth, tolerance and genuine peace.
President, Writers for Peace Committee,
Emmanuel Pierrat, Sheng Xue, Simon Mundy.
Statement by Slovene center PEN and WfPC
We, the members of the Slovenian PEN Centre and the Writers for Peace Committee of PEN International, are alarmed by the fact that despite the Slovenian government’s promises to the contrary the barbed wire fences on our borders with Croatia are still in place. We are confident that the security of our nation does not depend on the wire-barriers on our borders and that given the modern means of monitoring our territory such fencing in of our people is futile and even absurd. In our view the barbed fence epitomizes our giving in to unprincipled pressures and populist policies of some of our neighbouring states regardless of the fact that such measures do not make them feel more secure, for they would not construct their own barriers on our borders if they felt so.
The border-barriers were put up against the will of our people and are contrary to our vision of Europe, our homeland and the world where in the words of our National anthem and its poet France Prešeren
… All men free
No more shall foes but neighbours be.
We believe that reinstatement of a status quo ante would be a welcome move and a sign of a good will in bringing about better relationship with Croatia.
For many of us a barbed wire is a sore reminder of the horrific experience of the concentration camps or the barbed wire fence put up around Ljubljana during the fascist occupation aa well as the wires and bars of all sorts which cut into the freedom of prisoners and victims after the WWII and the wars at the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Some of our members still remember those events but for most us the barbed wire represents a symbol of violence and the crimes against basic human rights perpetrated by the totalitarian regimes.
Slovene Centre PEN and Writers for Peace Committee of PEN International join in the protests inferring that putting up and keeping the barbed wire along our borders does not reflect the care for the environment and the attachment to nature typical of our people. Instead, we have caused the suffering of animals and have hurt our countryside to our own disadvantage for we can no longer consider ourselves a generous, tolerant and well-meaning nation.
In support of our Statement we appeal to the Slovenian Government to dismantle and remove the barbed wire fences on our borders. Our appeal shows a good-willing recognition of our complicity in the inhumane separation of the Balkans from the rest of Europe.
The International PEN Writers for Peace Committee was founded in 1984 as a response to the difficulties posed to cultural collaboration during the Cold War years. Its key aim was to open doors to peaceful and intellectual cooperation, encouraging the sharing of ideas and writings, during a period when many other doors were closed. During its early years, the Committee's annual meetings in Bled gave space for a democratic dialogue between writers from both East and West and during the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, offered somewhere that writers from these countries could exchange views and tell their stories.
Today, it continues to provide a platform for intercultural and literary dialogue and understanding. The Bled Conferences act as a coming together of writers and PEN members from all over the world to discuss and debate many issues that are of concern to the literary community. Themes have included Freedom of Expression as a Means Against Terrorism, Globalisation of the World - Marginalisation of Literature and The Role of International PEN in the Contemporary World.
The Peace Committee of PEN International is currently headed by Marjan Strojan, member of the Board of PEN International
Bled, 18. May (STA) – A debate entitled “Sharing With Others, a Path to Peace”, organised by the Peace Committee of International PEN as part of the 44th international PEN meeting of authors in Bled on Friday, focused on the situation in the Middle East, the position of literature in Morocco and self-censorship in Mexico.
According to Bluma Finkelstein of the Israeli PEN, neither Palestinians not Israelis are innocent when it comes to relations between the two nations.
Moroccan Zineb El Rhazoui, who currently lives in Ljubljana, meanwhile stressed that everybody wanted peace, but true problems of the region were elsewhere.
For the whole article klick here.
International Writers’ Meeting/ PEN International Writers for Peace Committee – Portuguese PEN Centre
27-28 June 2013
Celebrating the confluence between the interrogation of historical memories, the reflection on the dynamics of the present crisis and the possible actions taken by writers, in their own writing and beyond it, this meeting intends to correspond to the double face of PEN: literature and citizenship.
During the Meeting two round tables will be organized that will reflect on the question of Writers facing Conflicts and Writers facing Challenges of Liberty of Expression.
Casa Pessoa will host two literary sessions intitled: War of Languages, Peace of Texts and Poetics of Freedom in the frame of the “Free the Word” festival.
Click here for the whole programme.
Conflicts and Violence have a paradox character. On the one hand, they bring dynamics to the world and to writing; on the other hand, they are evidences of tensions and injustices in which writers have a word as citizens. Where and when should writers get involved, where and when should they remain at a critical distance? Which consequences do such situations produce in literature?
A Writer Awakens Society
The French poet, Pierre Emmanuel asked the following question: “If so few people read poetry, why is it that dictators hasten to put poets in prison?” Indeed, why is poetry so dangerous? Simply put, because it tells the truth, what is hidden in daily life. It is the kind of speech that dictators really and truly fear.
The authentic speech of literature demands new social relationships, because it is based on new interpersonal relationships. No matter what they may wish, writers show the way for the new society. Nonetheless, at certain times in history it may become necessary to tell the truth in public and open debate to everyone. This was the case with the Slovene writers who drafted the First Democratic Constitution of the country. It is on this foundation that the new State was given its basic text.
What are the new challenges for writers in Europe, in the Mediterranean basin and in the world, which would motivate them to write again a fundamental text that would awake society as a whole?
Edvard Kovac (President of the Writers for Peace Committee)
Edvard Kovac: Doctor of philosophy, author of literary and philosophical essays and a disciple of the philosopher Emmaneul Lévinas, whose ideas on ethics he disseminates as a translator and interpreter of his thinking in Slovenia and France. He teaches contemporary philosophy at the Faculty of Philosophy of ICT in Toulouse and Ljubljana University and takes part in international philosophical conferences. His most notable publications: Modrost o Ljubezni (Wisdom and Love), Ljubljana, 1992, 2001; Oddaljena bližina (Distant Proximity), Ljubljana, 2000 (Prix Marjan Rožanc, for the best Slovene essays of the year), Plus haut et plus intimes, Editions Cerf, Paris, 2009.
Some notes about the Writers for Peace Committee meeting “Lisbon, crossroad of dialogue and liberty of expression”, (26th-30th June)
Lisbon as a crossroad – does this make sense, if one looks at the peripheral geography of the city, of the country? Yes, it does, if you think as a crossroad as a space of privileged dialogue where you are able to share your differences out of time, but reflecting about what present times handle with them. Without direct conflicts, we share our views about the reasons that lead to them and also practice ways to overcome them – under a liberty of expression corresponding to the double nature of PEN, literature and citizenship.
On the first day of the double sessions (round table discussions in the morning and literary sessions in the late afternoon), we experienced the full conflict in a country under a harsh “austerity” program. As André Barata (Portuguese PEN) pointed out, the crisis discourses “smash our possibilities of meaning”. And should it not be a main task of any writer precisely to create new meanings, out of the given environment? In this sense we listened to singular voices from Israel, Palestine, Kosovo and Occitan: What is a region, what is a country? What, as Edvard Kovac put it, are the new challenges for the writers in the Mediterranean basin, in permanent disquiet and reconfiguration, but founded on an ancestral tradition of sharing our experiences, our belongings?
The words of Bluma Finkelstein (Israel, French PEN) happened to be prophetical, if we take into account the government crisis that happened some hours after the writers had left Lisbon. I quote them in French: «Si les politiques ont perdu le sentiment de la honte par rapport á leur propre betise, nous, les écrivains, nous sommes obligés de ne parler que de ce que nous connaissons tres bien. » Someone like Basem Al-Nabriss, born in Gaza but living at the present in Barcelona, knows very well what he is talking about, when he stresses the necessity of an understanding among politicians as a result not of a rational will, but rather of a kind of “force des choses”. It may take time, and that is why the voices of writers are needed, in order to help coming across that time. We have the testimony of History and geography of some oasis of culture understanding like Essaouira, or, if we do not leave the literature realm, of the exemplary irony of writers of former Jugoslavia who showed how to “protect the Other from Yourself”, as Basri Çapriqi (Kosovo PEN) presented Radovan Zogovic.
Gathering our voices together – this also happened during the literary sessions (as “Free the Word” sessions) at the House of Fernando Pessoa, a literary shelter that is increasingly becoming a must for foreign visitors. Side by side, Bluma Finkelstein and Basem Al-Nabriss read poems in the language that each one feels as her and his. A Language is a ground where the construction of a “holy people” may be both ironically deconstructed or denounced as a factor of conflict, of creating a claustrophobic hell.
On the second day, new forms of censorship and poetics of liberty have been discussed. How free are we really to create and to materialize the works of a critical creation, not only out of our full conscientiousness, but also of our bellies, of our throats? French PEN colleagues like Sylvestre Clancier, Jean-Luc Despax, Lionel Ray, Jeanine Baude and Daniel Leuwers have responded to such a challenge. If dictatorial censorship tries to silence the singular voices of writers in many countries around the world, in the so-called Western countries there remain more subtle but not less tyrannic forms of impeaching writers to create and publish their works according to the economy and the inner dynamics of their own texts. This has been recognized as a debate that is worth to be carried out, far beyond the digital freedom that has become a PEN issue.
Europe is still a project in construction, as Marketa Hejkalova reminded us under the light of Vaclav Havel – and it should be enlarged to a Euro-Mediterranean realm, in which exchanges of experiences in written and spoken words can be consequently put into practice. If Carme Arenas (Catalan PEN) reminds us the warning words of Siham Bensedrine, whom we met in Belgrade and who has returned to Tunisia to help implementing and securing the ideals of freedom of expression, we have to take the pledge of paying a special attention towards the longing for the individual condition of freedom and responsibility, that allows a writer to live and create under conditions that come closer to our European ways of life, that may suddenly seem to us as not taken for granted. Thanks to our Palestinian colleague Basem Al Nabriss, we have experienced that form of non-simultaneity of the simultaneous.
And yet... during the literary walk in the old city on the third day, after having visited the House of the Spikes built by a rich merchant in the 16th Century and hosting at the present the Saramago foundation, we found ourselves in the labyrinthic Jewish-Arabic quarter, where fictional memories put on paper by Richard Zimler (The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon) bring us to such timer when both religions stuck together, persecuted by the Christian monarchy. Further on the Alfama hill, the former Aljube prison is kept alive in the lines of the Portuguese poet Miguel Torga, looking for a dream flying beyond the bars under the sun, on the wings of a dove. Tomas Tranströmer, the Swedish Nobel Prize poet, asked later about those prisons that seemed to a foreigner to be no more than mere walls:”Is it true, or have I dreamt it?”
Life flows on, cityscapes may inspire us, most of all if we do not forget that cities are made by people who keep developing projects of flesh among stones. At the Circus School Chapitô we had the opportunity to hear its director Teresa Ricou telling us about the pedagogical, social and artistic accomplishments that make out of it a source of inspiration for all those who never cease to keep close to the pulse of a living crossroad.
In this sense, the creation of a writers’ circle working in the spirit of the PEN Charter has been signed during the closing dinner at Chapitô, also after having worked, on Saturday morning, at a further version of the Writers for Peace Manifesto that will be finished at the Iceland Congress in September.
Edvard Kovac, Teresa Salema, Basem Al-Nabriss, Bluma Finkelstein (1st round table, Faculty of Letters: “Writers facing Conflicts”)
Teresa Salema, Carme Arenas, Sylvestre Clancier, Jeanine Baude, Lionel Ray (2nd round table; Faculty of Letters: “Writers facing the Challenges of Freedom of Expression”)
Miquel Décor, Maria João Cantinho, Basri Çapriqi, Marketa Hejkalova (1st literary session, Casa Fernando Pessoa: “The War of Languages and Peace of Texts”/ Free the Word)
Lionel Ray, Daniel Leuwers, Paula Mendes Coelho, Elizabeth Csicsery-Ronay, Jean-Luc Despax (2nd literary session, Casa Fernando Pessoa: “Poetics of Freedom”/Free the Word)
Teresa Salema, July 2013
PEN International is the world’s leading association of writers which promotes a culture of peace based on freedom of expression, dialogue, and exchange. We are dedicated to linguistic and cultural diversity and to the vibran
cy of languages and their cultures whether spoken by many or few.
Through our Writers for Peace Committee, PEN seeks to address issues of conflict and to promote peaceful exchange and dialogue. We recognize that writers are an integral part of the place in which they live, whether community or environment, local or global. We not only need the environment to survive, but we also create within it.
The Writers for Peace Committee of PEN International has approved a Manifesto demanding the universal right to peace, based on the Lugano Declaration for Peace and Freedom of 1987, on the 2009 Appeal of Linz Protesting Against the Degradation of the Environment, and on the Belgrade Declaration of 2011 that promotes dialogue as the path to peace.
1. Members of PEN seek to develop an idea of citizenship that brings together people from around the world through literature and discussions amongst writers and with the broad public.
2. One of the main principles of PEN is to facilitate and promote discussion and dialogue among writers from countries in conflict and across regions of the world where political will is unable to address these tensions. .
3. Freedom of expression and creativity in all its forms is a fundamental value as long as it respects other basic human rights, in keeping with the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
4. PEN calls for the respect of the environment in conformity with the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (1992). We condemn the excesses of technology and financial speculation that contribute to the impoverishment of a large part of the world’s population.
5. PEN members consider one of the world’s greatest challenges to be the transition from violence to debate, discussion, and dialogue. We aim to be active participants in this progress promoting where necessary the principles of international law.
6. We acknowledge that it is of primary importance to be permanently committed to creating conditions that can lead to ending conflicts of all kinds. There is neither freedom without peace, nor peace without freedom, social and political justice.
7. PEN will confront injustice and violence wherever it is found, including oppression, colonisation, illegal occupation and terrorism. It will respect and defend the dignity of all human beings.
8. In accordance with the principles of freedom of expression and justice, every individual or group involved in conflict may submit petitions and appeals to international institutions and government authorities.
9. Children everywhere have the right to receive peace education in school programmes. PEN will promote the implementation of this right.
10. The right to peace should be recognised by the United Nations as a human right.
The poets, writers and journalists Rodney Sieh (Liberia), Kunchok Tsephel Gopey Tsang (Tibet), Dina Meza (Honduras), Fazil Say (Turkey), Zahra Rahnavard (Iran), the poet Aron Atabek (Kazakhstan) and many others have in the 21st century been imprisoned, tortured or even killed simply because they publicly expressed their beliefs and their views of the political conditions in the country of which they were/are citizens.
In striving for the consistent respect of one of the fundamental human rights, the freedom to express one’s opinions and convictions, which should not be denied to a single person on the planet and without respect for which there is no future for culture and civilisation, only a path back to slavery, on behalf of the Slovene PEN Centre and the Writers for Peace PEN International Committee we call upon the authorities of the states in which this is happening to forthwith release the imprisoned poets and writers and all those others whose freedom has been taken away simply because they publicly declared their opinions or political stance. We also call upon the Government of the Republic of Slovenia and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as all the governments of the democratic states which do respect the aforementioned fundamental freedom, to use in their direct contacts with the governments of the states in which infringements of this freedom are taking place and in the UN bodies, every opportunity to do all that is in their power to compel these states to consistently respect this right, even if this means upsetting those in power.
Tone Peršak, President of the WfPC of PEN International
Marjan Strojan, President of the Slovene PEN
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Public call of the Writers for Peace Committee
To all relevant authorities,
The Writers for Peace Committee of PEN International is deeply concerned by the political crisis, the rise of political passions, intolerance and violence in Ukraine and the disintegration of its unity and sovereignty.
WfPC calls all Ukrainian writers and other intellectuals in Ukraine to do everything they can to assert the principles of a democratic dialogue about the situation in and the future of Ukraine.
The Committee calls upon the new government of Ukraine, the leaders of political parties and other interest groups, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and all responsible political and opinion leaders to do everything in their power to calm their people, respecting at the same time freedom of speech and thought, and, above all, to strive for a peaceful dialogue between all political groups in Ukraine. We also urge the Verkhovna Rada to pay special attention to the linguistic rights of those speaking Russian and other languages and the fact that the rights of all ethnical minorities in Ukraine are to be recognized.
The Committee also urges all responsible state representatives in Europe, and particularly in the Russian Federation, not to get involved in conflicts and to avoid any attempt to take advantage of the situation in Ukraine for their own benefit. We strongly appeal to all sides to decline any violence or military intervention. We call upon them to respect the territorial unity and sovereignty of Ukraine, the right of Ukrainian people to decide their own future and to respect the freedom of expression of all people in Ukraine and in their own countries.
For the Writers of Peace Committee