Tale til Writers for Peace-konferansen 2003

1984 to Brave, New World to 1984 to…

By Kjell Olaf Jensen, Norwegian PEN

It is a a commonplace stereotype to say that while the civil society in the Communist countries during the Postwar period looked peculiarly like George Orwell’s description in his novel 1984 (no great wonder – Orwell wrote his novel in 1948, under the impression of the recent Communist coups in Central Europe, particularly in Prague, and during the last years of Stalinism, well after the Moscow Trials), the modern Western society seems to approach the sad state of affairs which Aldous Huxley describes in his somewhat earlier novel Brave, New World from the 1930s. There are enough scholars and political analysts who will readily subscribe to the first of these comparisons (and who, as a matter of fact, have already done so for the last fifty years); and the second one has been heavily underlined by professor Neil Postman (We Are Amusing Ourselves to Death) and others.

When Communism finally broke down, all seemed well, and some remarkably shortsighted historians even told us exuberantly that this was the «End Of History». (If this were the case, not only would our historians have signed their own death sentence with a cry of joy, but all the rest of us might as well retire to a far better world for good.)

But luckily (as at least some of us would be prone to see it) such has not been the case. Problems continued, oppression continued, wars continued, genocides continued with breathtaking speed – not to mention trifles of a sort with which the great statesmen of our times cannot be bothered, like hunger, epidemics, and the systematic destruction of our environment. (With all grief and respect for all those killed, has anybody thought how much easier it is to rebuild two Twin Towers than to replace one destroyed environment?)

Then came the terrorist attack of 11th September 2001, directed against the US, executed by people educated in the US, masterminded by fanatics formerly employed by the federal governing bodies of the US. And suddenly, the world was divided in two. Those who are with «US», and those who are against «US». Brilliant sociologists even declared the event and the situation to be a «Clash Of Civilizations» (whether any of the phenomena thus brought to a clash, might be defined as a «civilization», has not yet been proved, but let that pass). The victims – the US – very quickly started their war against Afghanistan, where they until now have obtained that a former consultant to a Californian oil company has got some control over parts of the capital city Kabul, while the US-installed Taliban regime has been forced to more or less withdraw, and most of the new leaders put in place by the US are more or less happily fighting each other. The former CIA agent Osama bin Laden may have been forced to leave the country because of the bombing with surgically precise bombs which have only cost some ten thousand innocent lives – about twice the population of Bled, only.

All the time, both before and after 11th September, the people now in charge of the world’s strongest power have most forcefully campaigned in favour of a war against Iraq. At last, they did it – after having lied to the United Nations’ Security Council (and having been caught in lying), and after having bought, bribed and blackmailed together what is called a coalition (these nice verbs are not mine, but were recently used by the excellent scholar and analyst Tony Judt in an well-reputed American literary magazine commenting the recent actions of the US in Iraq). Now, they are crowning their surgical precision bombing which has only cost some hundreds of thousands of civilian lives (about 20 000 of them children, according to observers), with the instalment of a new head of state who has already a 22 years prison sentence hanging over his head in neighbouring Jordan and who, according to rumours, also has some juicy corruption stories behind him in other countries, among them the US. Among the trifling collateral damages this time, most of the memories of our earliest civilizations have been destroyed, but the important thing was unharmed: the Oil Ministry.

Those who are not with «us», are against «us» … I have to confess that like most people in this world, I may be a little less with «us» than I was before these wars.

In the name of freedom, we kill. In the name of war against terrorism, we freeze out all liberal voices. In the name of fighting religious fanaticism, we force a whole nation to pray to God for manslaughter on a scale which makes all church communities shy back in horror. Is not this what George Orwell called «Newspeak» – a technique which was formerly mostly associated with Fascist or Communist countries?

Not very far from Iraq, in the Caucasus, genocidal war has been going on without interruption for three and a half years now. If there were not several tens of thousands of people killed here as well, some of the features of the Chechnya war would be utterly comic and laughable. For those who really want a good laugh, please give me your e-mail address, and I shall send you the report which was made by the very serious and efficient Russian human rights movement Memorial after the recent «referendum» in Chechnya.

One of the main victims of the war in Chechnya is freedom of expression in Russia, as we all know. And one of the main victims of the war against terrorism made either by «us» or the US, is truth.

After the fall of Communism, we all hoped for a world where the former Communist countries would learn from the best sides of capitalism, namely the ideas of freedom and human rights, without losing some of the ideals of socialism, like solidarity and brotherhood. Now, we seem to have made a world where Russia has taken over the worst sides of unlimited capitalism, while the US becomes more and more like the ancient Soviet Union.

Maybe we need more writers. In any case, we need at least one more. St Paul was a writer. One of the things he wrote, was the phrase: «Those who are not against us, are with us.» The phrase is so very much more beautiful when it is quoted correctly from the writer, than when a president distorts it, from the writer’s message of love to the president’s message of hate.

Maybe we need one Paul more and one Bush less.

Tale til Ossietzkyprisvinner Elisabeth Eide

Tale ved utdelingen av Ossietzky-prisen til Elisabeth Eide

14. november 2002

Denne prisen skulle ha vært delt ut av forfatteren Eugene Schoulgin, som leder Komiteen for fengslede forfattere i International PEN. Nå er dessverre Eugene blitt syk, så du får nøye deg med undertegnede. Du ser imidlertid Eugene igjen til våren, da dere har planlagt en undersøkelsesreise til Afghanistan på vegne av Norsk PEN og International PEN.

Det er få nordmenn som lever en utstrakt pendlertilværelse mellom Norge og Afghanistan, men du er en av dem. Dette gir seg utslag i bøkene dine. Du har skrevet fire romaner, som vel kan kalles kriminalthrillere; i hvert fall tre av dem henter sin handling fra Afghanistan eller det afghanske eksilmiljøet, den fjerde foregår på det indiske subkontinentet. En av disse bør ifølge Eugene Schoulgin bli obligatorisk lesning i alle norske skoler, nemlig «Der mørket leker med tiden» fra 1998, hvor du ved å skildre det afghanske flyktningemiljøet får frem hva du mener om så vidt brennbare temaer som flyktningepolitikk og fremmedfiendtlighet.

Du er blitt beskyldt for å sette afghanske kvinner på kartet, lenge før noen i Norge hørte om Tora Bora-fjellene eller kabulske bokhandlere, i en tid da burka fremdeles var et eksotisk fremmedord. Dette er kanskje en sannhet med visse modifikasjoner; da jeg slo opp i atlaset i morges, så jeg fremdeles ingen kvinner på kartet over Afghanistan. Du har med andre ord ennå ikke klart å gjøre deg selv overflødig. Men du har utvidet interessefeltet drastisk med din journalistiske og presseteoretiske virksomhet, gjennom et (unnskyld uttrykket) utall artikler og essays hvor du belyser og analyserer medienes oppgave og faktiske virksomhet, særlig når de står ansikt til ansikt med makten. Den som skulle skrive en artikkel om deg, kunne bruke en av dine egne titler: «Medier, makt og usynlige fiender». Eller kanskje heller «Å si makten sannheten». Og du vender blikket i alle retninger, også innover, med titler som «Kritiserer den fjerde statsmakt seg selv?» eller «Om tallenes tyranni og den intellektuelles ansvar».

Den intellektuelles ansvar er et viktig tema i det arbeidet du driver, og det er også et tema Norsk PEN og International PEN er svært opptatt av. Sant å si er det vel derfor vi står her, fordi de intellektuelle har et ansvar. Du klarer på én gang å påta deg dette ansvaret og å fortelle oss andre at vi også har det, du driver både selv- og allmennransakelse. Dermed får du også frem at ytringsfriheten er en frihet under ansvar – ikke minst i den hittil siste boken din, som du riktignok ikke har skrevet selv i dens helhet, men redigert sammen med din kollega i journalistutdanningen ved Høyskolen i Oslo, professor Rune Ottosen: «Krigens retorikk. Medier, myter og konflikter etter 11. september», heter denne boken, som kom tidligere i år og godt kunne ha fått enda mer oppmerksomhet. «Krigens retorikk er et seriøst forsøk på å utforske vår oppfatning av oss selv som en frittenkende nasjon», som én kritiker skrev. I ditt eget bidrag til denne essaysamlingen tar du opp ideen «Vesten mot resten», illustrert ved medieproduserte eller i hvert fall medieformidlede myter om begivenhetene etter 11. september 2001.

International PEN vedtok i 1987 en tekst hvor man krever avstandtagen fra alle former for terror, enten det dreier seg om statlig terror, institusjonell terror eller terror drevet av organisasjoner under dekke av frigjøringskamp. Det er faktisk ikke alltid like lett å følge dette kravet, som er så vesentlig for å kunne snakke om intellektuell redelighet. I Palestina/Israel har vi en konflikt hvor statlig terror blir møtt med terror under dekke av frigjøringskamp; faktisk kan ingen av delene aksepteres. Det samme så vi i Moskva for noen uker siden. Det er lett å sympatisere med frigjøringskjempere, og å ta avstand fra dem som prøver å begå folkemord, slik Russlands president Vladimir Putin uttrykkelig har uttalt at hans mål er i Tsjetsjenia. Likevel må man ta avstand fra terror som virkemiddel – terror definert som at man forsøker å ramme en fiende ved å ramme en uskyldig tredje part.

Norsk PEN kjemper mot all undertrykkelse av ytringsfriheten, og gudene skal vite at slik undertrykkelse florerer i dagens verden – som Elisabet Middelthon nettopp har vist til, arbeider vår internasjonale moderorganisasjon med drøyt 700 enkelttilfeller til enhver tid, og kanskje er det bare vår kapasitet som begrenser antallet til disse drøyt 700. Men i denne kampen for ytringsfriheten, som må pågå kontinuerlig, må vi like kontinuerlig se på oss selv, se oss selv i et speil og spørre hva vi selv gjør, hvordan vi gjør det og ut fra hvilke motiver. Et slikt speil heter Elisabeth Eide. Derfor har styret i Norsk PEN bestemt seg for å tildele deg årets Ossietzky-pris, som hvert år går til en person som har gjort en innsats utenom det vanlige for ytringsfriheten.

Prisen, som består av et litografi av kunstneren Nico Widerberg, er oppkalt etter den tyske redaktøren Carl von Ossietzky, som i sitt tidsskrift påviste den ulovlige tyske gjenopprustningen i 1929-30 og derfor ble dømt for landssvik av Weimar-republikken. Da nazistene overtok makten i Tyskland i 1933, ble Ossietzky sendt i konsentrasjonsleir, og han ble et av nazileirenes første dødsofre i 1938. Da hadde han rukket å bli tildelt Nobels fredspris for 1935, noe som gjorde Hitler så rasende at han forbød enhver tysker å motta noen Nobelpris.

Med støtte fra Svensk PEN og Norsk PEN fikk Ossietzkys datter gjenopptatt farens sak for den tyske forfatningsdomstolen i Karlsruhe, Forbundsrepublikkens høyesterett, i 1994, da landssvikdommen ble stadfestet. Dette gjorde min forgjenger som Norsk PENs leder, Toril Brekke, så rasende at vi opprettet nettopp Ossietzky-prisen. Vrede kan også føre til noe positivt.

Styret i Norsk PEN gratulerer deg selvfølgelig med Ossietzky-prisen, men vi gratulerer samtidig oss selv fordi vi har deg som medspiller og som kritisk speil. Ossietzky-prisen gjør det ikke mulig å hvile på dine laurbær, den er en oppfordring til å fortsette. Og lykke til med doktorgraden, som du også er i innspurten med – igjen over et typisk Elisabeth Eide-tema: «Reporterens møte med ‘de andre'».

Kjell Olaf Jensen
leder, Norsk PEN.

The responsibility of a free press

The responsibility of a free press

By Kjell Olaf Jensen, president, Norwegian P.E.N.
Speech given at a seminar in Minsk, Belarus, October 19. 2002

In many parts of the world, the Scandinavian countries are looked upon as models of democracy and human rights.

To a certain degree, this picture is correct: We are a happy corner of the world, maybe partly because no major powers seem to be very interested in what is going on in our small societies, maybe also because not very much is really going on. And on this year’s survey made by the UN, Norway figures as the one country in the world where living conditions are the best, followed by Canada, Sweden, Denmark and the USA.

Still, even our people did learn, some time ago, that political freedom, freedom of expression and other human rights were something one had to fight for. But this was 60 years ago, and it concerned my parents’ generation. Today, this seems to a certain degree to be forgotten knowledge. We are happy, so why care?

The obvious answer to this question, «Why care?», is formulated by the Finnish 19th-century poet Runeberg, in a beautiful poem entitled «Paavo, the Peasant». Paavo is a poor peasant with only a small field of rye somewhere in the Finnish forests. One year, the rye seems to yield a beautiful crop; but just before harvesting time, there comes a hail storm destroying most of the corn. And Paavo tells his wife: Grind 50% pine rind into the bread flour, so that we shall survive the coming winter. Every year, this scenario is repeated. Each year, the crop looks great, but then some calamity occurs – frost, hurricane, thunderstorm, destroying the rye; and every year, Paavo tells his wife to grind 50% pine rind into the bread flour, in order to survive the coming winter.

But finally, one year, everything goes well, and Paavo is able to make a magnificent rye harvest. Now at last, we can make real rye flour for our bread, says his wife. No, says Paavo, you just grind 50% pine rind into the flour, for behold: Our neighbour’s field lies there, frozen, and he needs bread to survive the coming winter.

The second answer to the question «Why care?» when you live in an idyllic society, is less altruistic and maybe more realistic. If we do not maintain a continuous fight for our right to freedom of expression, it will die; a freedom which is not used continually, will get lost. An emblematic illustration for this is the famous Lutheran priest Martin Niemöller from Nazi Germany and his laconic remarks: «First, they took the communists,» said Niemöller, «and I did not protest, since I am not a communist. Then, they abducted the Jews, but I did not say anything, for I am not a Jew. Afterwards, they arrested the catholics, but why should I bother, I am not a catholic? And when they came to get hold of me, there was, strangely enough, nobody left to protest.»

The Norwegian government established some years ago a commission under the leadership of the former President of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, history professor Francis Sejersted, whose task it should be to reformulate the constitutional article guaranteeing the right to freedom of expression, which is article 100 in Norway’s almost 200 years old Constitution. The commission should find out whether or not there was any reason to change the wording of Article 100. They arrived at a conclusion which was dangerously erroneous according to my view, namely to leave unchanged the old idea that the right to freedom of expression should be granted by the Parliament since it is essential for the maintenance of a free society. But if this is the case, the Parliament may also, any time, decide that the right to freedom of expression is no longer essential for a free society, and if so, the Constitution would make it the duty of the Parliament to abolish the right to freedom of expression, according to this logic. If the constitutional reason for having this right was not defined by what is useful for society, if it was defined by some sort of natural law like it is in the French Revolution’s Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen, or even by some sort of divine law, it would not be possible for any given Parliament to abolish our right to freedom of expression.

The Norwegian Commission for the Freedom of Expression, as this commission was called, also stressed the importance of having a continuous debate going on in what the commission called «the vast public space», if we want to keep our right to freedom of expression and a real democracy in which the whole population has a right – and a duty – to participate. This space, or this permanent forum of debate, is defined, managed and governed mostly by what we, a little derogatively, call the mass media, which puts an extremely heavy responsibility on these media, both on the written press and on radio and television. (Maybe on the Internet users as well, but since Internet is neither edited nor published by anyone, the responsibility in this case falls on every individual user of the medium.)

So far, everything seems quite logical and without problems. And yet, when we take a closer look at the media in our free society, we immediately feel that something is very wrong.

I come more or less directly from the International Book Fair in Frankfurt, where there were, as always, interesting and essential debates all over the place for a week, also concerning the right to freedom of expression and how to conserve a free society. Little of all this was reflected in our Norwegian media, and mainly in the smaller newspapers, magazines and early morning and late night programs on the radio. One of our largest newspapers, priding itself of being a cultural paper caring for the right to freedom of expression on which it lives, had three journalists at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Excellent. But these journalists spent three days on following one Norwegian publisher around everywhere, reporting on all his doings. The reason for this peculiar interest for one single, small publisher was that he had just published a book written by the Norwegian King’s young daughter, the Princess of Norway, in which Her Royal Highness described her marriage ceremony earlier this year – an event which had already been most plentifully covered by the media at the time. This was seen as more important than all other events going on at the Book Fair.

Some years ago, Moris Farhi visited Oslo. Several of you will know Moris Farhi – he is a very interesting novelist and essayist, at that time he also was Chair of International PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee. He is a Jew, born in Turkey, half Greek, with family roots in Egypt and Lebanon, living in London as a British citizen. Brief, an international figure of the highest interest for «the vast public space». We organized interviews by several interested journalists. But in some of the main Norwegian newspapers we met a problem. Yes, the editors saw the point and understood why they ought to be interested, but the problem was that Monica Lewinsky was visiting Oslo at the same time, promoting the book about her eventual relationship with then president Bill Clinton, so all the journalists were busy with a problem much more interesting and important than poor Moris Farhi. Television, both public and private: same thing.

This begins to resemble the society described by Aldous Huxley in his famous novel from 1934: Brave New World. In Huxley’s society, no repression is necessary, because everybody is conditioned to think that the existing society is wonderful, and that they all are extremely lucky to live in just this society and to have just this position in this society. All literary classics, with Shakespeare as the foremost example, are banished: «We are not interested in such things». Instead, citizens play stupid ball games and drug themselves. The American professor Neil Postman approached the same question several years ago, by calling his most well-known book We Are Amusing Ourselves to Death – in this book professor Postman states, among other things, that American university students today are not able to concentrate their attention for more than 20 minutes at a time, this being the average time between two publicity spots in most American television channels.

In Aldous Huxley’s society, there are no expressions worthy of the name. And what does the right to freedom of expression mean, in a society where there are no real expressions because all meaningful expressions are deemed to be «unnecessary» or not to be funny or «cool» enough?

This is where the activities of many of the larger media in the West may be bringing us today – this is, quite simply, what may happen when the media do not know their responsibility in a free society, namely to be a watchdog for the society, to scrutinize the society continually and put it under continuous debate, as the Danish literary critic Georg Brandes said more than 100 years ago. In the post-communist societies, you know from personal experience what George Orwell’s society from his novel 1984 would look like. Today, we have to guard our media against the danger of falling into Aldous Huxley’s trap, amusing ourselves to death.

Do you remember Homer’s episode about Scylla and Carybdis, from the Odyssee?