67th World Congress of International PEN 
Moscow, Russia, 22nd – 28th May 2000 
FREEDOM OF CRITICISM.  CRITICISM OF FREEDOM

The theme of the 67th World Congress of International PEN arose naturally from the birth of democracy in Russia: following 75 years of totalitarianism, Freedom of Expression and, indeed, Freedom itself appeared in the life of the young democracy like slivers of glass falling into the hands of a young child who, through an awkward movement, cuts himself.  

That freedom is a double-edged sword is a fact long appreciated in free societies. It is what prompted Voltaire to place a limitation upon it, when it interfered with the freedom of another. It is just this lesson which must be learned by Russia and many developing societies around the world.  Without a long-standing culture of democracy, and with the consequent absence of understanding of democratic order, freedom not only appears as a condition of self-interest and self-expression, but also as a licence for corruption, brigandage, state terrorism, censorship and the wanton murder of those who dare to speak out.  It makes it easy indeed to criticize freedom itself, even when it is its violation, as formulated by Voltaire, which is to blame. 

This view of the state of Freedom in Russia is confirmed by the events of past years.  The exercise of a freedom unrestrained by morality has led to the deaths of several thousand talented businessman as well as more than one hundred gifted journalists.  That same unfettered freedom destroyed much of Russia’s great culture and forced it underground.  Only now are the green shoots of that culture beginning to emerge into a Russia which, without it, might indeed develop into an uncontrollable world power governed by a military dictatorship.  

Russia’s ruling classes constantly seek a unifying national idea not so much to strengthen the country’s position as to augment their own.  They forget that the one single national ideal that can exist in a country consisting of 90 different nationalities is the ideal of the rights of the individual irrespective of his or her nationality. 

The 67th World Congress, acting through the sessions of International PEN's four Standing Committees – the Writers in Prison Committee, the Writers for Peace Committee, the Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee and the Women Writers' Committee – as well as in the meetings of its Exiled Writers' network and all Round Table debates, will give a complete picture of this state of affairs, as it is connected to freedom of criticism and criticism of freedom in countries with different social systems.  These discussions will be of particular significance for countries with unstable democracies, as well as for those governed by totalitarian regimes which might develop into open societies in the future. 

All ideas, all recommendations, arising from the work of the Congress will be developed into statements and appeals, both concerning violations of the word, of freedom of expression, and inviting the support of the civilized world for the development of cultural and democratic freedoms, something of great importance to Russia and other post-communist countries as well as to many countries around the world. 

 The significance of holding the 67th World Congress of International PEN in Moscow at the beginning of the new millennium is evident: positioned between Europe and Asia its influence for change on these vast areas will be indisputable. 
 
 

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Programme of Literary Events 
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Tuesday, 23rd May 15.30 - 18.00:  Round table discussion: 'Europe and Russia - Pain and Hope of the Twentieth Century' 
Wednesday, 24th May 15.00 - 18.00: Round table discussion: 'Ecology and Word' 
. 15.00 - 18.00:  International PEN Club Seminar 
. 19.00:  Poetry soirée in the Central Literary House 
Thursday, 25th May 15.00 - 18.00:  Round table discussion:  'Small Languages - Big Literatures' 
Friday, 26th May 15.00 - 18.00:  Round table discussion:  'Literature of the Third Millenium' 
. 19.00: Pushkin Award Ceremony 
Saturday, 27th May 10.00 - 13.00:  UNESCO Seminar:  'The Culture of Peace: Different Regimes - Common Culture' 
 

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UNESCO SEMINAR AT THE WORLD CONGRESS OF INTERNATIONAL P.E.N. 
The Culture of Peace.  Different Regimes – Common Culture

Participants in the Seminar will examine questions of culture and literature as these are practised under a variety of systems of governance, and how writing and writers can make the greatest contribution towards the development of a growing culture of peace.  Thus writers from Iraq, Vietnam and China will debate with writers from former Soviet Republics, from Algeria and East Africa, from Western Europe and from Latin America. 

Among the questions they will discuss will be the role played by culture within their own countries, and the extent to which the cultures of other regions and governing systems are tolerated.  How far is culture able to protect a people from the violence of the state?  and how may a culture survive under a totalitarian regime?  How do governments, of whatever persuasion, react to growing demands for cultural freedom?  And what is the significance of writers and other artists in the processes either of resistance to regimes or of collaboration with the ruling authorities in the name of democratization?  And, finally, what is it within the nature of culture that makes it the sole universal bridge between peoples? 

 These and other questions will form the heart of the Seminar, which is designed to incorporate a five-day series of literary meetings, debates and readings.
 
 

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Literature and freedom of expression  
at the heart of the 67th World Congress of International PEN
In celebration of literature, writers and freedom of expression, the Russian PEN Centre is publishing Written in Prison: XXth Century, Russia, an anthology of poems, letters and other prose pieces compiled by Vladimir Kornilov and translated by Richard McKane.  The first piece is an extract from Children of the Sun by Maxim Gorky, written in 1905 when Gorky was imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress, and the last is a poem taken from A Prison Notebook by Gregory Pasko, written in Vladivostok Investigation Prison in 1998. 

The idea for Written in Prison was Alexander Tkachenko's; as General Secretary of the Russian PEN Centre, he has been closely concerned with the recent cases Gregory Pasko and Alexander Nikitin, imprisoned and put on trial for exercising their right to freedom of speech.  In his introductory note to this remarkable and moving collection, Vladimir Kornilov expresses the principle on which it was compiled: 

'The usual principle for the selection of works for a literary collection by many hands is that of literary quality. However a penal institution is a bad place for literary work. Oscar Wilde wrote his famous Ballad of Reading Gaol not in his cell but when he was already free. As for Soviet prisons they were obviously not suited for poetry and even less for prose... 
So, in the collection Written in Prison: XXth Century, Russia the emphasis is not on what is written, but where it is written. From the most famous imprisoned Russian writers of the Twentieth Century, only what they wrote in confinement has been included, not just poems or prose pieces but also chance notes, letters home, even extracts from records of interrogations, in fact anything that has been preserved. Unfortunately there were very many writers from whom nothing was preserved.  But the fact that writers were in custody, and that many died in prison is a heavy charge against the Twentieth Century – the century of totalitarianism and violence.'
 
 

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Personal Statement on the war in Chechnya 
by the General Secretary of the Russian PEN Centre, Alexander Tkachenko

For almost five years now Russia has been engaged in what is effectively a civil war.  This action has served to camouflage the true nature of its society at the present time, which can only be characterized as a police state with elements of democracy, or perhaps democracy with elements of a police state, though probably the former description is more accurate.  The war in Chechnya has produced enormous casualties, not only between the warring sides but in the surrounding civilian population as well.  This so-called ‘collateral damage’ can most certainly not be justified by any goals, political or otherwise.  

Moreover, for the first time since its instigation, the idea of glasnost has been, if not killed, at least wounded in the most cruel and brutal way.  The current military censorship demonstrated on the federal side alone is clearly unconstitutional, and has resulted in the complete abrogation of society’s right to real information about the tragic events in Chechnya.  Consequently, it removes from that society any opportunity to have an influence upon this dramatic event in the history of both peoples.  

Furthermore, this war, started on the pretext of a response to explosions around Russia and in the capital without concrete proof of terrorist activity from any source, is doubly corrupting.  It manipulates the Russian people into a reflexive support of military action against an entire nation, this despite the use of patently immoral terminology, i.e. zachistka (cleansing), while at the same time removing from that nation any presumption of innocence.  

The mobilization of this military consciousness, seeking as it does to influence the entire range of society, from its oldest members down to mere children, is especially alarming.  It only serves to strengthen the world’s impression of Russia as a kind of black hole, swallowing without a trace money, people, ideas, indeed culture itself.  This world, which severed itself resolutely from the former Soviet Union, and which has of late put its faith in Russia’s burgeoning democracy, is forced to separate itself from us once more, as a thoroughly out-of-control, unpredictable and dangerous menace to all our neighbours. 

The war in Chechnya, the root of all this tragic human and political degradation, is not, as it was originally declared, against terrorism, but amounts to nothing less than genocide.  It is a war against women, children, and the elderly, against a language and a culture that has never had the opportunity to express itself to the world at large.  These people, guilty only of a different mentality, a different religion, a different way of life, also have rights. 

We are certain that there is only one way to approach and solve these problems, and that is through negotiation and political regulation; these are the best mechanisms that the world has, as yet, discovered.  It is never too late to begin these processes, and they provide the only way to prevent further victimization on all sides.  This desire must be initiated by the stronger, not the weaker side, because otherwise the solution is all too familiar: the best cure for dandruff is the guillotine. 

It appears, unfortunately, that the twentieth century, the cruellest period in the whole history of civilization, has not quite run its course.  Now, as we stand balanced between two millenniums, it is clear from the lessons of Chechnya that the greatest terrors of the modern era are not Hailstorm missiles or pinpoint bombing, but people themselves, people who can and still do invent such devices.  

Most important, we in Russia know the identities of these people of the party of war, know them and have publicly named them, and yet they pretend to hear none of these cries, and carry on their bloody business, for they are power, they are the State.  We, the people, have never granted them such plenary powers, and we never shall. 

Alexander Tkachenko 
Moscow, 23rd March 2000 

PEN World Congress Moscow 2000