THE 84TH CONGRESS OF PEN INTERNATIONAL HELD IN PUNE (INDIA)
Like every year, here is a quick report on the main topics discussed at the Congress held between 25 and 29 September 2018 in Pune, the second largest city of the state of Maharashtra after the capital Mumbai.
The Congress was organized by PEN South India, based in Pune, a Centre that was accepted at the Lviv Congress just a year ago.
Organizer and soul of the Congress was Prof. Ganesh Narayandas Devy, President of the Centre and University Professor, particularly known for his studies of linguistics and for organizing the People's Linguistic Survey of India.
Before the Congress, the usual session of the PEN International Board was held on Monday 24, in which I participated for the last time as my office was coming to an end after two terms.
At the end of the day we visited an interesting exhibition of art and local crafts at an art gallery.
On Tuesday 25, works began with the parallel sessions of the Standing Committees (Writers in Prison, Translation and Linguistic Rights, Women Writers and Writers for Peace), while some delegates of the Board participated in a floreal offer at the Jotiba Phule Memorial, in the centre of the city. In the nineteenth century Jotiba Phule was an important social thinker and reformer, favourable to the abolition of castes and the emancipation of women through education.
In the afternoon there was a welcome speech by the Vice Chancellor of the University of Pune, followed by a visit to the Aga Khan Palace, where the Memorial dedicated to Gandhi is located. We rendered homage to the tombs of the Mahatma and his wife Kasturba, who lived there in the forties.
Subsequently we moved to the Symbiosis University for a series of welcome speeches - with the presence of numerous local authorities -, a speech by prof. Ganesh Devy entitled "Why PEN? Why Pune? " and a play on the life of Kasturba Gandhi. A copy of bilingual biography of Gandhi was presented to the Delegates.
On Wednesday 26 the meetings of the Permanent Committees continued in the morning.
In the afternoon the General Assembly of PEN International began with the welcome of the President, the presentation of Empty Chair No. 1 Daphne Caruana Galizia, and a minute of silence in memory of the deceased Members.
After the formal procedures, many Centres did report on their main activities in the current year.
The reports of the President, the Secretary and the Treasurer were presented.
After a panel on the events of the Women's Manifesto and a report on the activities of VIDA/Women in Literary Arts, the Assembly did adjourn.
I had a meeting with the archivist who will oversee the research for the Centenary of PEN International and related publications, a very interesting project.
On Thursday 27 the works began with the presentation of the Empty Chair n. 2, dedicated to three writers from Eritrea, Amanuel Asrat, Dawit Isaak and Idris Said Asa Arre.
The report of the Board members and the dossier of the detailed report of the Executive Director were presented. A report on the peculiar activity of the PEN Emergency Fund followed.
Abridged versions of the Chairs reports of the Standing Committees, already widely explained in the dedicated meetings, did follow. The speakers were: Marjan Strojan (WfPC), Elisabeth Nordgren (WWC), Salil Tripathi (WiPC) and Simona Skrabeč (T&LRC).
The elections were then held. The elected candidates are:
• Jennifer Clement - re-elected and not re-eligible
• Ola Larsmo - elected and re-eligible
• Burhan Sonmez - elected and re-eligible
• Regula Venske - re-elected and not re-eligible
Members of the Search Committee:
• Antonio Della Rocca
• Rose Mary Espinosa
• Judith Rodriguez
• Caroline Stockford
• Urtzi Urruticoetxea
The elections to Chair of the respective Committees of Salil Tripathi (WiPC) and Zoë Rodriguez (WWC) was confirmed by the Assembly. Subsequently, the Search Committee announced the election to Chair of Caroline Stockford.
Honorary vice-presidents for literary merit have been elected:
• Ngugi wa Thiong'o
• Perumal Murugan
• Nayantara Sahgal
With a variation on the agenda, at this point we examined and discussed four resolutions proposed by the Writers for Peace Committee concerning Hungary, Israel, Denuclearization and the use of Chemicals and other indiscriminate weapons. All resolutions have been approved by a large majority.
The figure of Ukrainian director Oleg Sentsov, imprisoned in Russia, was remembered.
Five new Centres were presented to the Assembly:
• Cabo Verde
• Guinea Bissau
The delegates of Cabo Verde and Guinea-Bissau could not intervene due to visa problems, which is absurd in today's world.
After adequate discussion behind closed doors, the first four were accepted unanimously and the fifth by a large majority, and they were invited to participate fully in the Assembly.
Friday 28 was dedicated to external activities.
The delegates planted trees in a specially dedicated square at the University of Pune in memory of Savitribai Phule, a poet and eminent Indian reformer, paladin of women's education, which gives her name to the University itself.
These trees will form a "Languages Park" according to an initiative of Prof. Ganesh Devi. When the park is completed with at least 180 trees, it will ideally represent around 6,000 languages spoken in the world, as Chancellor Prof. Nitin Karmalkar said.
From the University of Pune, about twenty groups of Delegates went out - together with Indian writers - to take part in demonstrations in as many cultural institutions.
I was part of the group that was a guest of the Suryadatta College of Management Information Research and Technology, in front of a large group of students very interested in learning about our experiences as writers. We have been the subject of an exquisite reception by the faculty.
From the respective events we convened to a meeting point from which we started for a Wari, an Indian word that can be translated by “procession” or “pilgrimage”. In this "language procession" the words "Truth, Freedom, Diversity" were present in placards representing 6000 languages.
The procession, made up of students, delegates from PEN International and a group of singers, left the Savitribai Phule University to end at the Balgandharva Bridge and then to the Balgandharva Auditorium where Ngugi wa Thiong'o should have held a speech, who unfortunately could not join us for health reasons.
On Saturday 29 the Assembly resumed its works, introducing the Empty Chair no. 3 Shahidul Alam, a Bangladesh writer.
There were discussions about the Centenary of the Foundation, which falls in 2021 and will be celebrated in Oxford, and about the retrieval and preparation of the archival material necessary for the documentation of the Centenary itself.
Then the voting process of the resolutions presented by various Centres to the Assembly began. They have all been approved, many by unanimity and some by a large majority.
The panel on criminal defamation was followed by several testimonies. Two more panels were held, one on xenophobia and the other on hate speech.
The PEN Galicia proposed a meeting of the PENs existing in Spain on the first days of April 2019.
After a report on the state of the Make Space program, we listened to the PEN Ukraine report on the 2017 Lviv Congress.
The communication from the Board that the 2019 Congress will have to be held in Manila, in the Philippines, met with some contrariety of the Delegates, who took note of the situation suddenly arisen that made not possible to hold a Congress in Buenos Aires, as indicated so far.
The final decision was referred to the Board.
After the usual Delegates photo, in the evening we had the equally ritual Dinner.
On Sunday 30 in the morning the Board met for the usual post-congress session. As I was no longer part of the Board I did not participate, except for a brief appearance of greeting.
In the evening I left for Trieste.