Sunday, September 22, 2013

With tanks to tents

Eye witness account about Gezi Park

We might remember the shocking images on TV about the demonstrations at Gezi Park inTaksim square in Istanbul. What we might not have realized is that also in Izmir and Ankara and the seaside resorts there were daily demonstrations for change, for more freedom, for a secular society. Basically it was a non-violent demonstration to protect ‘our’ lifestyle in Turkey, says Zeynep. Workers, students, intellectuals were in the street, on the square. Families with children stood there to show they want the park as a meeting point, protected the trees, stood for equality between men and women, the freedom to drink alcohol, against the forbidding of abortion. Men and women sat together on the benches in the park. Gezi Park became a focal point for those who claim the right to an individual life. Lawyers and the board of lawyers defended those who were arrested and accused. All places, cafés, bars opened their doors when protestors had to flee for the brutal police attacks, thus offering real protection to the protesters. Sexist slogans were erased and replaced by human slogans... people brought food and drinks to the square so that the protestors could stay. The sad statistic is: six young people died, eleven lost their eyesight through teargas, 1100 people are still suffering the consequences of the violence which wounded over 8.000 young people. The government never spoke about these brave young people but praised the way the police handled the squashing of the demonstration and protests. Journalist writing about it were sacked by their newspaper for reporting about Gezi Park. During the whole time TV aired documentaries about penguins ...
It was a spontaneous protest in defense of individual freedom. The protestors were not part of a political party but the protest was truly political.

Thank you Zeynep for your moving testimony!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

PEN- the last day

After taking care of the last bit of administrative things like voting for a new member of the board it was Mohamed Sharief from Haiti who managed to get a PEN-Center working  in one year and distributed over 30.000 book for school as reading aids. I was impressed by his presentation few days earlier and his solid hard work. So I was truly glad he made it. After the closing ceremony we all went to the Nordic House where I listened to a discussion with Douglas Coupland about freedom of expression. The Nordic House is beautiful and a great example of Alto's style. Later we walked to a reception with the mayor of Reykjavik. He is funny and smart and he also want to prohibit military planes landing on the Reykjavik  airport. He works on long time peace issues and I would love to have him as a mayor in my own town, where his kind of progressiveness is hard to find.

Words go their own way... Das Wort geht eigene Wege/Het wooord gaat eigen wegen

 Salon 12b invited a bunch af friends and people who love poetry for the presentation of a translation into German of a book by Annie Reniers: Het woord gaat eiegen wegen/Das Wort geht eigene Wege, published by world internet books. It is the first book in the wib classic series. The original Dutch book was published in 1981. Both poet translator read the section 'Japanese suite', having both been to Japan in the past, Fred Schywek knew what she meant in writing this section. Annie Reniers is a philosopher, and was professor in Esthetics at the Brussels University( VUB) and a well known poet.
As you can see all listened attentively. The reading in some solemn cadences and thoughtful phrazing was highly appreciated also by people who were not used to listen to rather abstract poetry.
 Some who could judge the quality of the German translation, praised it highly. Of course a salon  implies that at the end there is an open mike: Frank De Vos read, Fred Schywek, German author, read some of his own poetry, Silent Bear, Anne C. read a moving letter to Annie and also two poems in German remembering Reiner Kunze's eightieths birthday. Even I read a few poems...

There was cake and apple pie, deviled eggs and chicken and of course wine and cava and non alcoholic drinks...
Every body seemed to go home happy.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

PEN-Resolutions - action and young writers

 The morning was passed in voting for the new board members and the resolutions about situations in too many countries that have to change.

The resolution about Belarus was one of them. The Russian embassy is at walking distance of the Harpa, where we work all week. So the resolution was brought to them and given to the ambassador.  A short, but effective action which gave us a bit of fresh air.

The New Voices Award is a prize for young writers who read for us and the jury telling us why they were part of the short list. We listened to the reading s of these young, new, promising writers and I did admire the diversity: One from Mexico, one from South Africa and one from Canada. All three wrote about there own place, grounded in their different realities. After  we had a talk about 'Languages with few speakers', never say a 'small language': if you can translate Shakespeare in it a language is rich and not small...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Pen-Congress day two in Reykjavik

 Most people know the tedious necessity of plenary meetings when one's organization has to take care of internal affairs. Yes it was long, but not boring. PEN, thanks to a generous donor, has been able to professionalize and has attracted some brilliant, really motivated young people with various skills and expertises. Sadly many members passed away and they were honored and fondly remembered. The professional way of working sees to it that the Universal periodic Review of Countries at the UN is fed with all the information PEN has about these countries and it really makes a difference and yes, sometimes it gets ugly then at the UN...

Since finances are always a problem for the PEN centers an impromptu meeting was held by the 'European Network' to exchange ideas about fund raising. David Van Reybrouck, our President of PEN- Flanders and born organizer, lead the meeting in an open, easy way by asking some of the relevant questions and  seeing to it that every one who wanted to contribute something to the discussion could do so...

And this wonderful sight to walk into after the meeting, washes away our fatigue. Sometimes the sky is gray and filled with drizzle seemingly just folding into the ocean.

And yes, freedom of expression is challenged on the Internet. We know our mails have been read. Maybe it is an education for those who have that job. Yet it also means we have to protect the whistle-blowers... they are our only access to the truth. Did you know that Americans can challenge their government for invading their privacy and for being spied on, but that foreigners cannot?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

PEN in Reykjavik day one

 Reykjavik is a good place with a pleasant atmosphere and good energy. The building 'Harpa' in which we work is a spectacular colossus of metal, glass and concrete. Does that sound awful? The building is great, it clothes  a person, shelters, does not make one feel small, it feeds the soul.The first meeting was for the Writers in Prison Committee and thus confidential. We listened to cases of authors and discussed how to campaign. The view from the room was pleasant, clouds on an island in the distance, boats in the harbor. It was also an occasion to meet people again whom i had met in Krakow earlier this year.
We also reflected on the definition of 'writer', in other words are it just the authors, journalists, bloggers and publishers or do we need to include the whistle blowers who leak the secrets the general public should know. The real battle is about information.
I learned how the UPR (Universal Periodic Review) at the United Nations works and the role PEN is playing in this process. 
The campaign against impunity targets countries where journalists and authors are tortured and killed. It is worst in Honduras, where 30 journalists where killed since 2009, after the coup. Mexico and Brazil sadly also have a bad record. (Football fans beware!) And we know about Russia after the Punk prayer in the Cathedral... China's record is pretty bad. Yet the USA in persecuting Bradley Manning when she leaked the CIA secrets only wanted to expose the war crimes of the US. American citizens can challenge the government when it spies on them but non-Americans can't. It is all about Freedom of Speech: without that no creativity but fear and self-censorship and without literature no freedom of speech.
The dinner and the speeches were fantastic... What a fulfilling day!

Monday, September 9, 2013

PEN International Congress in Iceland

It was a long trip to Iceland yesterday and changing time zones is always a bit weird. We got there safe and sound. First impression: Reykjavik looks like a playhouse town for little girls: clean, fresh, pastel tints... Really pleasant  even in the drizzle. The harbor isn't far away from the Villa, a basic but pleasant kind of Bed without Breakfast. Being hungry upon arrival last night since we got no food one can call food on the long flight, we had a nice stroll from place to place to find a kitchen that was still open. We saw a party, heard life music, happened on a Jazz Café and ate at a Moroccan place, the only one open and very good. The owner, an interesting smart man, had come to Iceland seven years ago and told us that Spanish people now come to Iceland and ask to work for him.  Europe is in a sad state of affairs. It was a tiring day, but in ways it also was a splendid day. Soon the PEN meetings will start. Good morning all of you.