Sunday, May 19, 2013

PEN- in Krakow- Afterthoughts

The PEN conference in Krakow was wonderful. Not just because of the charm of the city, the many parks we crossed from the hotel to the Manggha which was our work venue. We met many good people from all over the world, committed to freedom of speech, committed to see to it that authors who have to flee have a place to stay in the ICORN cities (International Cities of Refuge Network) and Antwerp will be one. 

Pen goes on missions to countries, often funded by Ifex. Usually these missions are a case in volatile situations. 2011 in Bahrein, 2012 to China. Ambassadors held private events at the embassies inviting all kinds of writers.
The mission to Mexico dealt with the fact that it is about Writers at Risk: authors being killed, rather than being imprisoned. Difficult diplomatic work, supported by well-known authors, engaging the local PEN-centra, engaging with the press... 
Turkey was a mission with a mix that maximized the impact through working with private and public engagements. Through the public events PEN was in the press and the government did pay attention.
We should never forget that we are writers in solidarity with other writers and correspondences of beautiful letters among writers are important, even if not writing about the subject of Freedom of Expression. The testimonies were moving like C. from Tibet. He left when he was 17. He has not seen his mother since 17 years. One of his nieces was killed by soldiers, two of his nephews self-immolated as the ultimate action of revolt and free will.
The creature comforts were catered to. The sweets in the coffee breaks were excellent, lunches also taking into account vegetarians... The organization did a wonderful job. From PEN - Flanders we went with four people: Two from the Writers in Prison Committee, one for ICORN, and one who is our observer for Russia. We are blessed with freedom of speech which we should use, thus honoring the courage of the writers in prison, the Writers at Risk, and the ICORN writers. I write this in gratitude to all poets, novelists and writers...

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