PEN Ukraine: Our position is to avoid events involving Russians


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The Executive Board of PEN Ukraine has stated that since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion, it has been calling for avoiding participation in events under the sign of uniting representatives of Ukraine and Russia. This was reported on the organization’s official website.


“As the leadership of PEN Ukraine, we believe that promoting any illusion of dialogue between Ukrainian and Russian authors at the same event is problematic and even immoral for as long Russian military attacks continue to claim the lives of Ukrainian civilians,” PEN Ukraine emphasizes.


The organization claims that its position is not related to its attitude to specific individuals, nor to judgments about their political views and actions.


At the same time, the principle of responsibility is central to PEN, and Ukrainian cultural figures are now responsible for their actions to the people of Ukraine.


“It is our belief that if we share the same cultural space with Russians during wartime it would be a betrayal to the memory of those who were senselessly killed by the Russian army. It would reflect a callous disregard for the suffering of those who were tortured or gravely injured, and a lack of empathy to those who lost their homes. We do not want to break the trust of those who are risking their lives on a daily basis by fighting on the front line. In short, it would be irresponsible, insensitive, and inhumane,” the signatories of the statement said.


Regarding the disapproving remarks about this position (one of the leaders of Russian opposition opinion stated that he sees “outbursts of Nazism” among Ukrainians, and one publication misled its readers with statements about how “cruel” Ukrainians “blackmail” and “issue ultimatums”), PEN emphasizes that such a reaction is outrageous. The organization calls for transparency and openness in planning events involving Ukrainian speakers, as Ukrainian authors have the right to know whether Russians will be invited to certain events and in which role.


“We find it immoral and contrary to our values to imagine that writers or cultural figures from Ukraine and Russia can take part in the same event or share a platform. Doing so would create the illusion of openness to a “dialogue” between representatives of Ukraine and Russia,” the organization said.


PEN also emphasizes that it considers each of its members to be free to express their own position on this issue, and also hopes for understanding from its partners.


“During the last almost 15 months of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, the lion’s share of our time has been taken up by communication with foreign institutions and partners regarding invitations to various cultural events for us and our authors. We remind them of our position, coordinate the program, explain our arguments over and over again, and refuse to participate if our arguments are not heard and our position is not respected. In recent months, when communicating with foreign cultural institutions, I had the feeling that our position was heard and understood. And most often we didn’t even have to say it — the organizers knew about it and said from the beginning that they supported and respected it. But in recent weeks, I have a feeling that there will be more situations like this, when Ukrainians and Russians will be brought under one umbrella again,” added PEN Ukraine’s executive director Tetyana Teren.


According to her, Russian intellectuals do not want to do their job — instead of reflecting on Russian imperialism and the imperial essence of their culture, they are actively involved in discussions about why “cruel Ukrainian authors” refuse to participate in joint events again and again. At the same time, Ukrainians (in the face of war, shelling of cities, murder and torture) remind the world of the centuries of Russian colonial policy toward Ukraine and the causes of this genocidal war.


Among the signatories of the statement of PEN Ukraine:

  • Volodymyr Yermolenko;
  • Myroslava Barchuk;
  • Ostap Slyvynsky;
  • Ihor Kozlovsky;
  • Alim Aliev;
  • Larysa Denysenko;
  • Iryna Slavinska;
  • Artem Chapeye;
  • Ola Hnatiuk;
  • Tetyana Teren.


As it is known, Russian journalist Masha Gessen resigned from PEN America due to the cancellation of an event with the participation of Russian writers at The World Voices Festival. The reason for the cancellation of the event was the refusal of Ukrainian writers Artem Chekh, Iryna Tsilyk and Artem Chapai to participate in the festival, which includes Russians. In an article for The Atlantic, Gessen said that they could understand “the desire to be cruel to Russians”.


Read also: How Ukrainian artists react to Masha Gessen’s statement about PEN America being “blackmailed” by the Ukrainians


Image: PEN Ukraine