On the Crisis in the Russian PEN Centre: Statement of the Ukrainian Center of the International PEN

January 2017
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Since the end of 2014, we have been closely following the dramatic developments in the Russian Center of the International PEN – the Center where we used to have many good friends, colleagues and partners for much-needed intercultural dialogue.

Unfortunately, this dialogue was severed under the new leadership that unequivocally took the side of the authoritarian Russian government. The "loyalists" came to cheer vociferously the Kremlin’s jingoistic policies abroad, and endorse silently its repressive policies at home. Still worse, the new leadership of the Russian PEN has got increasingly tough on any dissent in the organization. They started up with a purge of dissenters from the executive board, continued with smearing them as “national traitors,” and ended up with expelling from PEN all those who refuse to toe the official line.

This led inevitably to a mass exodus of honest and upright writers from the Russian PEN – as a sign of both their solidarity with harassed colleagues and profound dissatisfaction with the authoritarian stances and policies of the leadership.

We fully support these honest writers and condemn the conformist leadership of the Russian PEN that compromises the principles of the International PEN and the centuries-long humanistic tradition of Russian literature. We are particularly aggrieved by the dismissive attitude of the Russian PEN to the fate of Oleg Sentsov and other political prisoners who got draconian sentences at Vyshinsky-style court performances. We find it appalling that dozens of people in Russia are imprisoned for their words and opinions and that the Russian domesticated PEN is completely blind and deaf to their grave plight.

As the prospective hosts of the 83rd Congress of the PEN International, we feel that it is impossible to invite to Ukraine the officials of a pro-Kremlin organization who fully support the military invasion and annexation of the Crimea, completely ignore the highly repressive policies in the occupied region, and glorify the Moscow-sponsored war in Donbas that has resulted in mass killings, destruction, and the forcible displacement of two million people (see, e.g., the two-volume collection of prose and poetry Burning Flame of Victory published last year by the Russian PEN-Center with 3-million ruble ($50,000) president’s grant; in particular, its second volume that praises dubious "victories" in Chechnya, Afghanistan, Crimea, and Donbas).

We strongly believe that both the stated position and activity of the Russian PEN is thoroughly at odds with the PEN Charter and fundamental principles of respect for human rights and international law. We call on our international colleagues to terminate the membership of the Putinist Russian PEN in the PEN International and instead develop constructive relations with those Russian writers who sincerely follow the letter and spirit of the PEN Charter.

January 14, 2017

Mykola Riabchuk, President

Andrei Kurkov, Vice President

Halyna Kruk, Vice President


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