International PEN Seeks to Bridge Political Divides, Cultural Traditions
Bled, Slovenia, June 14, 2005
Forty years after an International PEN Congress in Bled opened a dialogue between writers separated by the Iron Curtain, the world organization of writers has once again gathered in Bled to reach across cultural and political divisions and defend writers and freedom of expression around the world. More than 250 writers representing 88 PEN centers and every region of the world will be participating in International PEN’s 71st World Congress this week.
At a press conference this morning to mark the opening of the Congress, International PEN President Jiri Grusa declared, “We are living in a time of extraordinary threats to writers and the freedom to write. In the ten years since our colleague Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed in Nigeria, hundreds of writers and journalists around the world have died by violence. Crackdowns on internet writers and anti-terrorism legislation have harmed writers and chilled freedom of expression in a number of countries. This week we will be challenging these threats.”
International Secretary Joanne Leedom-Ackerman spoke of the significance of Bled, and the Slovene PEN Center, for the 84 year-old organization. “Arthur Miller was elected President of International PEN the last time we held a Congress here in Bled, and his presidency, and that Congress, helped PEN become an organization that connects writers who find themselves isolated by international conflicts and political passions. Here in 1965, for the first time, PEN welcomed writers from the Soviet Union as observers at a PEN Congress, beginning a process that culminated in the establishment of the first PEN center in a
Soviet bloc country 20 years later.”
Underscoring the importance of bridge-building for PEN, Ms. Leedom-Ackerman paid special tribute to the efforts of Slovene PEN to bring aid and support to writers in Sarajevo in the early 1990’s, calling that work “one of the clearest embodiments of the PEN spirit in recent memory.” “At the height of the worst conflict in the Balkans, at a time when dozens of writers were literally cut off from the rest of the world, Slovene PEN and the Peace Committee of International PEN, under the leadership of Boris Novak, managed to get them critical, very likely life-saving support, and to keep the lines of communication open. It is wonderful to be here in Bled to acknowledge the leadership of the Slovene PEN Center and remember Arthur Miller, who died this past year.”
The 2005 PEN World Congress comes at a time of unprecedented growth in the international literary organization, which now encompasses 141 centers in 99 countries around the globe. Writers from active networks of PEN centers in Latin America, Africa, and Asia are attending this week’s Congress, and major PEN programs will take place in Ghana, Austria, Kyrgyzstan and Australia later this year. There are also significant new initiatives under way to foster PEN centers in the Arab world and to connect writers in the People’s Republic of China with PEN centers around the world.
“At a time when there is a great deal of talk about the clash of cultures, PEN has become a place where cultures come to meet and debate,” Ms. Leedom-Ackerman said. “Our goal is not to clash, but to communicate.”
International PEN’s 71st World Congress of Writers will feature major round table discussions and readings and literary programs throughout the week. At the same time, the Assembly of Delegates and PEN’s Peace Committee, Writers in Prison Committee, Women’s Committee, Committee on Translation and Linguistic Rights, and Exiles Network will take up a number of issues of pressing concern to writers around the globe.
Immediately following the Congress in Bled, the PEN Women’s Committee will convene a historic meeting of women writers in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.