Writers for Peace congress 2003

Minutes from the yearly General Meeting of International PEN’s Writers for Peace Committee in Bled, Slovenia 21st-22nd May 2003

Centres present (in alphabetical order):

Belgian Dutch-speaking
Bosnian-Hercegovinian*
French
German
Israeli
Japanese
Kurdish
Macedonian
Montenegrine
Norwegian
Portuguese*
Romanian
Russian
Slovene
Swedish
Swiss Italian
Vietnamese Writers Abroad
*) Centres being voted in as Committee Members on the morning of the second day (see below)

Also present:

Mr Terry Carlbom, International Secretary of International PEN
Ms Jane Spender, Administrative Director of International PEN (first day)

The meeting was chaired by the Chair of the WfPC, Mr Veno Taufer.

The Chair proposed the following agenda, which was adopted unanimously and without discussion:
1) Report of the Chair
2) Changes to the Standing Orders of the WfPC
3) Recommendations and Resolutions
4) Elections
5) Any other business.

NB: Because of the time schedule, parts of items 3, 4 and 5 on the agenda were postponed to the meeting’s improvised second day (the original program only provided for one session during the meeting). For clarity’s sake, these minutes nevertheless follow the adopted agenda, since the time schedule does not influence on the decisions taken as they are referred to in the minutes.

1) REPORT OF THE CHAIR:

Since the last General Meeting, there have been two meetings of the WfPC, both during International PEN’s international congress in Ohrid, Macedonia in September 2002. Those two meetings were quite vivid. 7 resolutions were proposed, and the WfPC worked very hard on some of them. One resolution about Iraq proposed by the German centre, one resolution on the Middle East conflict proposed by the Israeli and the Norwegian centres and one resolution on the occupation of the Palestinian land proposed by the Bangladesh and the Palestinian centres all referred to the Declaration of Peace and Freedom which was formulated by the WfPC and adopted by International PEN at its international Congress in Lugano, Switzerland in 1987. There was much discussion about these resolutions.

On February 18th, 2003, WfPC sent a letter of moral support to UN’s Secretary General, Mr Kofi Annan, and to UN’s Security Council. This letter was distributed to all centres. It supported all efforts to avoid a war in Iraq. There was much discussion about an eventual protest against the war. WfPC decided that it would be much more positive to support the efforts to stop the war. Protests were already made through other channels and organizations, also by several individual PEN centres.

According to the Chair’s opinion, WfPC should return to the roots of our work. One of these roots is the Declaration of Peace and Freedom from the Lugano congress in 1987.

2) CHANGES TO THE STANDING ORDERS OF THE WfPC:

According to the Chair’s opinion, we should give the WfPC some sort of frame. In the future, it will be more and more important that we claim what we are against and what we are for. Paragraphs 4 and 5 from this declaration were proposed by the Chair as a preamble for the WfPC’s Standing Orders, but in such a way that the preamble opens with paragraph 5, which is more general, and continues with paragraph 4. This proposal was adopted unanimously, after some discussion. The new preamble to the Standing Orders thus reads:

There can be no freedom without peace and no peace without freedom; the free development of the individual and of society is a condition for long-lasting peace. Only free men and women can live in peace with other people, nations, classes, races and religions.
Terrorism is to be condemned whether it includes state terrorism, individual terrorism or terrorism that justifies itself as part of a struggle for liberation. Movements using terrorist methods annul the missions to which they are dedicated and lose all claims to legitimacy.

The other proposed changes in the Standing Orders were unanimously adopted without discussion. These proposals have been distributed to all centres.

3) RECOMMENDATIONS AND RESOLUTIONS:

a) Proposed recommendation on the situation in Iraq, made by the Norwegian centre.
The proposal was adopted unanimously after thorough discussion, and with some additions to the proposed text. It then was decided to send the adopted text to the office of UN’s Secretary General, asking him to distribute it to the UN delegations of all member states of UN’s Security Council.

The adopted text reads as follows:

The Writers for Peace Committee of International PEN, assembled at its annual conference in Bled, Slovenia in May 2003,

Recalling Article 2 of the PEN Charter, that our cultural heritage should be spared in times of conflict;

States that it is profoundly shocked and saddened by the damage inflicted on Iraq by the recent war and its aftermath, especially the damage to some of humanity’s oldest cultural artefacts, which to a large extent seem to have been lost, looted or destroyed;

Is of the opinion that the existence of a free, democratic and diversified civil society under United Nations responsibility is essential to rebuild the dignity of Iraq according to the wishes of its peoples;

Believes that this reconstruction must encompass both the restoration of Iraq’s cultural heritage and the development of present-day NGOs and institutions to safeguard and promote this heritage, and must include local, regional and national media, libraries and other cultural institutions, as well as modern educational establishments;

Notes the necessity and importance of both institutional and individual exchanges between Iraq and all countries to assist in this reconstruction, and thus

Strongly recommends all PEN Centres, within their own communities, to encourage their own national cultural institutions to initiate and participate in such exchanges;

Urges all PEN Centres to encourage any individual contacts which ultimately may lead to the creation of a PEN Centre in Iraq,

Requests the Board and the International Secretary to bring this Recommendation to the attention of the NGO-UNESCO Liaison Committee, to focus the attention both of the other NGOs in relations with UNESCO and of Unesco itself.

b) Proposed Resolution on the situation in Chechnya and Russia, made by the Norwegian centre and amended in consultation with the Russian centre.
The proposal was adopted unanimously after some discussion, but without further changes. It was decided to send the text as an open letter to the President and the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, and to the Lord Mayor of St. Petersburg, and to distribute it as widely as possible through press agencies and other international media. It also was decided that the text should be distributes by the individual participants to as many political instances as possible. The French PEN Centre will ensure that it reaches the French Minister of Foreign Affairs as soon as possible, in view of the G8 meeting in Evian in June 2003.

The adopted text reads as follows:

The Writers for Peace Committee of International PEN, assembled at its annual conference in Bled, Slovenia in May, 2003,

Considering the alarming effects which the still ongoing, brutal conflict in Chechnya has both on the right to freedom of expression and on the human rights situation in general, not only in Chechnya and the Caucasus, but also in Russia itself, where journalists, writers and those working in other media reporting on the conflict still face serious difficulties amounting to harassment from the Russian police and government;

Also considering the vast international media attention which, during the tercentennial celebrations in St. Petersburg, will be given to Russia, a country in armed conflict,

Calls upon the world’s media when making their reports from St. Petersburg, not to forget the several newspapers and broadcasting companies reporting from the Caucasus which face threats to their existence or the desperate and life-threatening situation faced by their journalist colleagues in the war-torn region;

Likewise calls upon international human rights organizations to continue their support for Russian civil society, asking them not to give up their essential work in Chechnya and the Caucasus;

Also calls upon the government of the Russian Federation to ensure that all Russian media fully enjoy their right to freedom of expression, including when covering the conflict in Chechnya;

Further calls upon the parties in the conflict in Chechnya to cease all violence immediately and to work to solve the conflict by peaceful means through negotiations undertaken by those representatives of both parties elected in internationally recognized elections, in the presence of international observers.

4) ELECTIONS:

a) Election of chair for the WfPC:
Mr Veno Taufer had been nominated for reelection by a large number of the member centres, and his biographical details and declaration of intent had been distributed to all member centres as foreseen in the Standing Orders. There was no other proposal. Mr Taufer was reelected by applause.

b) Election of vice-chair for the WfPC:
It was proposed to elect two vice-chairs for the WfPC, in order to assure adequate representation of some of the world’s most important conflict zones. The International Secretary reminded the Committee that in such a case, the Standing Orders would have to be changed, meaning that an actual election of a second vice-chair could only take place at the Committee’s next meeting. The proposal was rejected, and Kjell Olaf Jensen then was unanimously elected as vice-chair.

5) ANY OTHER BUSINESS:

– The Bosnian-Hercegovinian PEN Centre and the Portuguese PEN Centre, which had applied for membership in the WfPC, were adopted as new member centres by applause. As this happened on the morning of the second day, these two centres took part in the discussion and voting for the resolution on Chechnya and Russia and in the election of vice-chair.

It was suggested that one Committee meeting at the Congress might be dedicated to the session of the UN Commission for Human Rights in Geneva the following spring, where International PEN has a representative (Ms Fawzia Assaad, PEN Suisse Romande) with the right to speak during the session. No decision was taken.

It was suggested that the WfPC, during the next Congress,  might discuss the possibility for a regional meeting in Diyarbakir. This meeting would discuss questions concerning peace and freedom of expression. Such a conference has already been discussed, and it is decided that International PEN’s Committee on Translations and Linguistic Rights shall organize this regional conference. The following decision was taken unanimously:
The Writers for Peace Committee endorses and applauds this conference and strongly supports the action taken by the Committee for Translations and Linguistic Rights.

The Belgian Dutch-speaking PEN Centre informed that it has organized a writer’s flat – if a writer needs such an opportunity, please contact the Centre, whether the problems concern freedom of expression or other matters. The only demand is that the actual writer shall make two lectures during her/his stay.

A question was raised concerning the situation of the large number of persecuted Cuban poets. International PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee is already working on the problems of these writers.

The Vietnamese Writers Abroad Centre informed that the Centre has elected a new board of directors two months ago.

Kjell Olaf Jensen

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.