Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Relazione sull'83° Congresso del PEN INTERNATIONAL a Lviv, Ucraina

Ogni anno pubblico in inglese una relazione che chiamo "diario di bordo" su quanto accade al Congresso, senza ambizioni giornalistiche, ma per dare a chi non può partecipare la sensazione di cosa succede a livello internazionale.

Se avrò tempo, cercherò di farne una traduzione in italiano.

As promised, here you have my day-by-day report from the Lviv Congress I couldn't do because of technical problems.

I hope it will give you an idea of what was going on in Lviv, even if the real thing was much more complex and interesting.


I got to get up at 3:00 am to be in Lviv at lunch time: weather was good. I chose to take a long walk in the city, realizing a small photographic safari.

Lviv is very beautiful, with a complicated history in political, linguistic and religious terms. It was an important city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with an architecture that reminds seamlessly Vienna (and therefore Trieste), Prague, Ljubljana and Bucharest.

I absolutely had to stop for a beer in a place whose name was written in Cyrillic БРУДЕРШАФТ (that’s Bruderschaft in German, brotherhood in English) and that's saying a lot about Lviv.

A quick dinner and back to the hotel, to discover that the WiFi was really lousy, and on top on that my tablet lost its Office program because Microsoft did not remind me of the due date… Hallelujah.


The day was dedicated to the Board meeting. From the participants list I note that the Centres should be around 65, but very few from Africa and Latin America.

For the Delegates and Participants there were possibilities of short excursions dedicated to “Lviv in Literature”. In the evening, it started raining.


The first day of the actual Congress was dedicated to the Meetings of the standing Committees. The time was organized by slots, so that there were 2 hours for each Committee dedicated to formalities that may request the active participation/voting of delegates representing Centres belonging to more than one Committee.

As a Board Member and a Delegate of Trieste PEN I visited first the TLRC Committee and participated to the election of Simona Škrabec. There was a report about the Bangalore meeting and Simona reported about many other issues and initiatives.

I missed the discussion about “Freedom of Expression in Post-Euromajdan Ukraine” I was told to have been very interesting with the participation of Mikola Riabchuck and Andrei Kurkhov among others.

Then I went to the WIPC for a while, hearing Salil Tripathi’s report about the organization of its works, the new Case List, the situation in the various parts of the world, Turkey being one of the most important topics. Also in this case, following the slots, I missed an intervention of Enoh Meyomesse.

In the afternoon, I attended the WfPC, discussing various issues about the liaison of this Committee with others, and about the project of a Peace Award to be conferred every 2 years - preferably to a book of a writer for his/her contribution to Peace. It’s a very ambitious project, for which we were looking for a very short motto. I suggested “Peace is made by books”.

Later on, I attended the WWC, in time to hear the last opinions about the Women’s Manifesto that is scheduled to be voted in this Congress. By the way, PEN Trieste is among the supporting Centres.

(I’m not joking affirming that the 6 “internationally recognized principles” endorsed by PEN International are in substance very similar to what my grandmother and my mother taught me when I was a boy…).

Then we went to the Opening Ceremony at Ivan Franko National University, with a speech of Philippe Sands.

Afterwards, there was a poetry reading in the LEM Station – a reconditioned shed – with a buffet.


The Main Assembly did begin today and started dedicating the Empty Chair #1 to Liu Xiao-Bo - and to his wife Liu Xia.

The proposed change to the Charter of PEN International was approved with a very large majority. There were many interventions about it.

Followed the Reports of the President, the International Secretary, the International Treasurer, the Board and the Executive Director, as well as the Reports of the Chairs of the standing Committees.

It is not possible to go into details here, but something you may like to know is that the Centenary of PEN International in 2021 will be almost surely hosted in Oxford.

The dues Centres pay to PEN International not having had any increase for the last ten years, it was decided with a majority vote to increase them by 15% starting from 2018.

Much to my regret, the New Voices Award is momentarily suspended.

The session ended with a Panel about Women & Publishing, with many interventions.

Always at the LEM Station, there was an homage to Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian writer and filmmaker serving 20 years in Russia on terrorism charges. Being this location quite noisy, I chose to have a quiet dinner downtown.


The Empty Chairs #2 and #3 were respectively Razan Zaitooneh and Tal Al-Mallouhi, two women activists in Syria.

The morning was dedicated to elections, so we heard the presentations of
  • ·       Jarkko Tontti (Finnish PEN) for a second mandate as International Treasurer
  • ·       Teresa Cadete (Portugal PEN) and Margie Orford (South Africa PEN) for a second mandate, Iman Humaydan (Lebanon PEN), Ola Larsmo (Swedish PEN), and Philip Slayton (Canadian PEN) for the first time as Members of the Board
  • ·       Simona Škrabec (Catalan PEN) for a second mandate as Chair of the TLRC as recommended by the TLRC itself
  • ·       Eric Lax (USA West PEN) and Judith Rodriguez (Melbourne PEN) as International Vice President
Jarkko Tontti, Simona Škrabec and Margie Orford were confirmed, Iman Humaydan was elected to the Board, and both Eric Lax and Judith Rodriguez were elected International Vice Presidents in the category “for services to PEN International”.

Four new Centres were presented to the Congress:
  • ·       Cuba – representative Reinaldo Montero, presented by Alicia Quiñones
  • ·       Gambia – whose representative Musa Sheriff could not be present, presented by Mohamed Sheriff
  • ·       South India – representative Kavitha Muralidharan, presented by Salil Tripathi
  • ·       St. Petersburg, representative Elena Chizova, presented by Eugene Schoulgin
After discussion, the Congress approved the new Centres, which were welcomed in the Congress room.

The OSCE Representative Philippe Désir made a speech on Freedom of the Media.

The first part of the afternoon was dedicated to public Panels on
  • ·       USA (America’s Reckoning – Threats to the First Amendment),
  • ·       China (China’s Shame – How a Poet Exposed the Soul of the Party)
  • ·       Russia (Putin Power Play – The Decline of Freedom of Expression in Russia)
held in the Ivan Franko National University Main Hall.

Then we went to the Potocki Palace for some poetics events.


The Empty Chair #4 was Pavel Šharamet, a Belorusian-born Russian journalist who died in a car explosion in Kiev.

The morning was mainly dedicated to the approval of many resolutions proposed by Centres about different issues. It has been observed that too many resolutions are presented as “in-session” without a real need for an urgent discussion.

The first one to be approved was the Women’s Manifesto, unanimously. It forms now part of a body of Manifestos and/or fundamental, general resolutions shaping all PEN International activity.

All the resolutions were approved unanimously or with a very large majority. The Resolution on Hate Speech presented by the WfPC, in consideration of the importance of the subject, was considered a good draft for a Manifesto to be discussed and finalized by a specific commission ad hoc.

Ench Meyomesse gave a speech about his personal experience in relation with the Make Space campaign, and was followed by a report of Elisabeth Dvyik of ICORN.

The following item being the organization of Congresses, Xabier Castro Martinez of Galician PEN spoke of Ourense Congress.

Margie Orford reported about the first steps of the organization of the Centenary and of the contacts with Oxford University. All Centres will be asked to contribute with documentation of their specific history to an initiative aiming at writing our whole history throughout these last 100 years.

Ganesh Devy of the new South India PEN gave a hearty speech about their will to host the Congress in 2018 near Mumbai. It seems a very promising Congress – and incidentally it coincides with the 100th anniversary of Mahatma’s Gandhi death. For many Centres it will be not exactly barycentric, but that happens for every Congress.

And off we go to the closing ceremony, in the Organ Hall, a fantastic ex-church with a spectacular organ and a little lady who played it (apparently) without any effort like it was the vertical piano of my grandmother…

Andrei Kurkov leaded the show like this was his ordinary job, with the opportune speeches by Jennifer, Mykola Riabchuk, Carles Torner and all the due thanks and applauses to everybody who helped throughout the Congress.

We were supposed to join a Farewell party in a location outside the centre of Lviv that had some characteristics of a disco and I decided to call it a day and have dinner in town.


In the morning we had the first batch of the Board’s retreat in Ivan Franko house – very interesting, but actually too cold. It rained all the afternoon and I decided to have dinner in a restaurant called Wiener Kaffeehaus, founded in 1829 (where else?). In that Kaffeehaus I wrote the small poem you will find below

Light rain
on a melancholy Leopolis
re-thinking its past
between imperial experiences
and small glories
in the middle of a chessboard
always more complicated
and yet always the same
in the essence
of national hates.

Lviv, September 22, 2017

Saturday 23

A rainy day. Some people did catch a cold yesterday, so the second batch of the Board Retreat was consummated at the Dnister Hotel, the venue of the Congress, by the way.

Some Board members took a small tour on a town I now know as my own pockets. We had a dinner together in a strange place a bit outside the centre, called “Kumpel” (also in this case it’s a German word, whose meaning is something between a friend, a chap you work with and a companion of some queer enterprise…).  In fact, it was a nice evening in a typical environment, a bit too noisy for chatting.

Sunday 24
All the possible gods being praised, my flight took off at 13.15 and after some hours I was home. All in all, a good Congress.

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