Writers for Peace

The Writers for Peace Committee (WfPC) was created in 1984. It consists of 35 out of 145 PEN Centres, among them PEN Germany. Miloš Mikeln, a Slovene writer, founded the committee and Tone Peršak currently chairs it. The Slovene PEN hosts the international committee’s annual conference in Bled, Slovenia. Furthermore, the committee is assembled during the annual conferences of PEN International.

The meetings in Bled give authors from politically opposed countries the opportunity to openly discuss and exchange ideas. For instance, Israeli and Palestinian authors are able to engage in a vivid encounter. Similarly, delegates from newer areas of conflict also make use of the meetings, e.g. representatives of PEN Somalia and Mexico as well as the Uighur PEN Centre.

While the meetings were a predominantly European affair during the early years of the WfPC, recent decades have seen a considerable expansion of their reach. Delegates from around the world travel to the Slovenian lakeside resort, not least in order to document the violation of human rights in areas of armed conflict.

The work of the committee significantly transcends practical peace building though. The 40th meeting in Bled in 2008 generated a declaration which defines its fields of operation. It illustrates the expansion of a peace policy to a more holistic human rights policy which includes ecological issues such as renewable energy and water as well as the basic human right to education. A reference should be made to a blog (accessible under: A Permanent Whisper as a Cry for Peace – Escritores para a Paz) which lists the areas of crisis that the committee currently focuses on.

Naturally, the recent confrontation in Ukraine initiated an involvement of the WfPC. In an appeal on 4th March 2014, the new president of the committee, Tone Peršak, addresses “all Ukrainian writers and other intellectuals in Ukraine”, compelling them to “do everything they can to assert the principles of a democratic dialogue about the situation in and the future of Ukraine”. Moreover, the appeal states: “The Committee calls upon the new government of Ukraine (…) and all responsible political and opinion leaders to do everything in their power to calm their people, respecting at the same time freedom of speech and thought, and, above all, to strive for a peaceful dialogue between all political groups in Ukraine. (…) The Committee also urges all responsible state representatives in Europe (…) not to get involved in conflicts and to avoid any attempt to take advantage of the situation in Ukraine for their own benefit. We strongly appeal to all sides to decline any violence or military intervention. We call upon them to respect the territorial unity and sovereignty of Ukraine, the right of Ukrainian people to decide their own future and to respect the freedom of expression of all people in Ukraine and in their own countries” (Source: PEN International).

The annual meetings in Bled take on the character of literary symposiums as well as initiative conferences of a peace committee. If the conferences and the general efforts of the WfPC had a motto, it could be based on a quotation by Roland Barthes: Guerre des langues, paix des textes – War of languages, peace of texts.

Other concrete initiatives of the WfPC consist of the attendance of numerous regional conferences, the preparation of a Charte sur le Développement durable (Charter for Sustainable Progress) and various peace building activities all over the world. Countless petitions concerning the situation in different regions of the world such as Columbia, China, Tibet, Burma, Korea, Iran, and Russia are penned and published by the WfPC. In addition, the WfPC speaks on behalf of lingual minorities and is involved in various projects in Haifa, Trieste, and the Far East. Another addition is the Okinawa Peace Prize awarded by PEN Japan.

The manifold activities of the WfPC often happen covertly owing to the para-diplomatic character of some initiatives and the fact that the committee often acts when conflicts have already disapeared from the focus of the international press. Nonetheless, future efforts of the WfPC as part of the humanitarian focus of PEN’s commitment might have to seek a greater audience.

Hans Thill,

April 2014

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