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 current chair is Tone Peršak and the Committee is based at the Slovene PEN Centre, Tomšičeva 12, Ljubljana.
This year’s International PEN Congress was of historical importance as it took place in the Balkans, which were only a few years ago still ravaged by war. In this sense it could be compared to the famous Bled congress in 1965, when for the first time in the history of International PEN the gathering was also attended by the writers from the then Soviet Union as observers. This year saw the meeting of writers from nations which not long ago would not even speak to each other. Representatives from 28 member centres of the Committee and two observer centres met at the general meeting.
During the congress, whose slogan was Literature – The Language of the World, the members of the Writers for Peace Committee welcomed the historical event at which writers who at home do not have the right to speak publicly were able to read their literature in the heart of Belgrade from the balcony of the National Theatre.
Since its inception the Peace Committee has striven to facilitate meetings of the representatives of nations between which there are hostilities or which are still embroiled in unresolved conflicts. In addition to the meeting of Serbian and Kosovar writers we were also able to welcome a meeting between Basques and other literary representatives from Spain, and a meeting between Kurds and Turks. Perhaps the most important thing was that for the second time the world Congress was attended by writers from the Republic of China who talked with exiled Chinese writers. Another significant meeting was that between Tibetan and Chinese writers in exile. Next year we are hoping for a meeting between the Uyghurs and official Chinese representatives. The former have already expressed their willingness to attend such a meeting.
The Peace Committee gave its support to a statement regarding the protection of the Basque language and freedom of expression for Kurds in three different countries. We further ensured that the International PEN Congress gave its support for Sarajevo to become the European Capital of Culture for 2014. We also spoke in favour of a more severe condemnation of events in Mexico, where writers are dying and disappearing, and submitted a statement about the protection of the Roma rights across Europe.
We are glad that the Occitane PEN Centre has become a member of the International PEN and has already submitted an application for membership in the Peace Committee.
Within the International PEN Committee the Peace Committee has established links with the Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee, the Writers’ in Prison Committee and the Women Writers’ Committee. The Peace Committee proposes that the chairs of these Committees should gather every year at Bled. The next meeting will take place between 16 May and 20 May 2012.
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
Read more ...
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
This year, at the International conference at Bled, Slovene PEN centre is paying special respect to the memory of the Great War. School children from Slovenia and Slovene schools from diaspora were invited to contribute their thoughts about war and peace. The aim of the friendly competition was to bring the subject of the Great War as well as the topics of peace and war in general to schools. Twenty young writers sent poems and forty sent short prose texts on the given subject. The three winners are to be invited to spend a day at the PEN conference at Bled, where they will be able to meet writers from different parts of the world and get the prize for their writing achievements.
The committee, Barbara Simoniti, Marko Kravos and Ifigenija Simonović read all pieces carefully. The decisive quality the committee was looking for in the competing texts was author's personal engagements and their capability of expressing one's own point of view. The competition, this time carried out for the first time, proved unexpectedly precious from two points of view: In many cases it made children turn to grandparents, asking them for first hand information on the subject of The Great War. This taught them to ask before jugging. On the other hand the competition showed the strength and importance of teachers' guidance. It mirrored the state of children's freedom of expression and thinking.
It has been decided, that the the competitors are divided into three groups according to the class they attend: class 4 and 5, class 6 and 7, class 8 and 9. Three contributors were chosen:
Bor Pražnikar, 4b, Primary School of France Rozman Stane, Ljubljana;
Nejc Gvozden, 7a, Primary School Dobropolje, Videm;
Nina Katarina Štular, 9.č, Primary School of Simon Jenko, Kranj.
The English translations of their contributions can be read here.
Barbara Simoniti, Marko Kravos and Ifigenija Simonović
The Award Ceremony for the winners of the Faces
of Peace – Farewell to Arms Competition