HKH Kronprins Haakons tale under åpningen av kongressen 7. september

HKH Kronprins Haakons tale under åpningen av International PENs 70. Verdenskongress i Tromsø, 7. september 2004

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,

The freedom to publicly voice political opinions is a fundamental right. In order to create just societies a host of liberties and freedoms are vital. Freedom of political speech is a prerequisite for creating the future we want. How else would we be able to find the right solutions to complex problems? We are dependent on the best arguments and insights we can get. So we definitely need to hear from the people that are right. We also need to hear from people that are partly right because there are lessons to be learned from them as well. We even need to hear arguments that are wrong so that they can be debated and identified as invalid.

Freedom of speech is a source of power. If used constructively it is amazing what speech can do. It can fight corruption, free political prisoners, and make oppressive regimes crumble.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said that: “Freedom of speech is a right to be fought for, not a blessing to be wished for. But it is more than that: it is the essential vehicle for the exchange of ideas between nations and cultures. And without that exchange and interaction, there can be no true understanding or lasting cooperation.”

Freedom of speech is, however, not a good in itself. As other forms of power freedom of expression can also be abused. Freedom of speech does not mean that it is OK to do or say whatever you want. There are ethical boundaries that are important to keep within. At the same time we should not be scared of outing truths that are needed to create a better society.

To protect human rights and liberties we need watchdogs to protect them. International PEN is such a watchdog.

International PEN is, mainly through its Writers in Prison Committee and its many centres, working for about one thousand individual persecuted writers, journalists and editors at all times. You can boast of many spectacular successes – writers saved from unjust prison cells or life-threatening refugee camps, some times at the last moment – some of them are even with us here today. I know that the two main themes, on which you will be working during this week, are «Writers in Exile» and «Writers in Minority Languages», respectively. Neither of these problems are new. The work which is done by International PEN and its many centres is indeed needed.

In Norway, International PEN is represented by the Norwegian PEN centre, which today is known as one of the most active PEN centres. Norwegian PEN is also administering the Norwegian cities of asylum for persecuted writers. Scandinavia has a tradition for this sort of work, and it is important that this tradition is carried on. This is the responsibility which follows from our privileged position in a peaceful and relatively wealthy corner of the world, and I am happy to see that our responsibility is taken so well care of as this congress week in Tromsø seems to prove.

It is a pleasure to meet so many delegates from International PEN in Norway, and in the city of Tromsø. International PEN is an organization which has turned out to be able to change during its 83 years of existence, from being a literary club at a high level to become today’s powerful agent in the fight for freedom of expression with almost 140 PEN centres all over the world, most of them represented here today.

I wish every one of you a most happy stay in Norway, and I wish you all a fruitful week and all imaginable luck in your important work. I hereby declare International PEN’s 70th World Congress open.