The 77th International PEN Congress 2011

Report on Pen World Congress

The 77th International Pen Congress was held in Belgrade on 12-18 September 2011. Over 200 delegates and other participants attended from over 60 countries. The theme of the Congress was Literature – language of the world. In a welcoming address Vida Ognjenovic, President of the Serbian Centre, noted that people still faced discrimination and suffered from conflicts and wars. Thus the world needed a literature which would engage both at the level of creative imagination and conscience and so provide for mutual understanding. She decried the misuse of language when it became the handmaid of ‘mass media manipulation, consumption managerial pragmatism and political oppression.’ She expressed her hope that the Belgrade Congress would help to elevate literature to its pristine purpose in ensuring freedom of expression that it remained ‘alive and vital’ to that end across the world. The theme of the congress was subsequently rehearsed in the various discussions, meetings and seminars. Among these was a fascinating discussion on Swedish Pen’s strategic use of new technologies to champion freedom of expression across the Internet.

Various Committees with specific agenda held meetings. These included: Committee for Women Writers, Committee for Writers for Peace, Committee for Writers in Prison and Committee for Translation and Linguistic Rights.

The Committee for Writers in Prison highlighted the plight of Dawit Isaac in Eritrea. Owner of a weekly newspaper, playwright and writer, he was arrested in 2001. He was one of nine journalists arrested without being charged or tried, four of whom have died in custody. Isaac holds Swedish and Eritrean citizenship, yet notwithstanding the best efforts of the Swedish government and Pen, Dawit Isaac remains in prison.

The Committee discussed the organisation of an international protest at the continuing deaths of journalists and writers in Mexico. Since 2006 when President Calderon began his military campaign against the drug cartels, 34 writers (32 journalists, one author and one poet) have been murdered. While organised crime groups are mainly responsible, state agents, government officials and the police are, it seems, perpetrators of violence against journalists and complicit in its continuance. Pen groups were requested to remember Mexico’s fallen journalists and writers on 2 November 2011 in appropriate and effective ways.

The meeting was also given a fascinating account of a recent visit by a delegation from US Pen to the Republic of China. The surveillance of journalists and writers in China continues to be Orwellian. Members of the delegation were unable to meet or communicate with imprisoned Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, or even his wife.

In the light of Pen’s mission to uphold freedom of expression and freedom of speech, the Pen world family were urged to continue its concern for those not accorded that fundamental right.

J. Anthony Gaughan.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *