8 May 2013 Freedom of speech in Krakow

The day before the beginning of the 3rd edition of the Milosz Festival, a special international conference of ICORN and PEN International WiPC – the most important international institutions embracing writers from all over the world and promoting human rights – will be held. The Writing Freedom conference will be attended by almost 200 guests from 50 countries, including the United States, Canada, Syria, Philippines, India, Eritrea, Ivory Coast, Mexico, Bahrain, China, and Sri Lanka.

‘This is the most important event of this kind in the world. We are proud that the debate on human rights and one of the most important and at the same time most difficult freedoms: the freedom of writing, creating, freedom of speech, the situation of persecuted writers, as well as the meaning of young democracies for the promotion of human rights in the contemporary world takes place in Krakow’ – says Magdalena Sroka, Deputy Mayor of the City of Krakow in charge of Culture and the Promotion of the City.

The meeting will be attended by representatives of the most important global institutions dealing with the protection of the freedom of speech. Invitations in the form of an open letter were also sent out to several hundred human rights defenders all over the world. In the end, almost 200 expert on the field registered for the event in Krakow. The conference will also be attended by writers, poets, journalists, and bloggers who had to leave their home countries because of their work, including: Emin Milli (Azerbaijan), Kareem Amer (Egypt), Zinab El-Rhazoui (Morocco), Haile Bizen Abraha (Eritrea), Dessale Berekhet (Eritrea), Hika Fekede Dugassa (Ethiopia), Mezgebu Hailu Habtewold (Ethiopia), Abdullahi Muhiaddin (Somalia), Sonali Wickrematunge (Sri Lanka).

On the 14th of May, at 6:30 p.m., Timothy Garton Ash, Professor at the University of Oxford, will deliver the inauguration lecture – Free speech in a crowded world. Admission to the event is free, and all those who want to take part may collect free tickets starting tomorrow (Wednesday, the 8th of May) at the InfoKraków Tourist Information Network point at the Tourist Services Centre on ul. Powiśle 11.

The programme of the conference includes workshops on the issue of safety on the Internet and the use of social media to mobilise social energy. Mansuh Rajiha (Yemen), Fareed Ramadan (Bahrain), and Kareem Amer (Egypt) will talk about the consequences of the Arab Spring for the freedom of speech in the countries of North Africa. The latter was the first blogger to be sentenced to prison for criticising Hosni Mubarak’s government. Such Internet powers as Wikipedia and Google joined the campaign aiming at his release from prison. After his liberation, Kareem Amer spent a year at Villa Decius as the second author staying in Krakow as part of the ICORN programme.

One of the greatest challenges that the conference organisers face is developing a model of promoting the authors who create while risking their lives, but are often unknown to the wider public. Experts such as: Anders Heger (Norway), Amanda Hopkinson (Great Britain), Eva Karadi (Hungary), and Philippe Olle-Laprune (Mexico) will deal with the subject of translations and publishing practices. The participants of the conference will also have the chance to familiarise themselves with reports on the situation of writers from the former Soviet Union countries presented by Oksana Chelysheva (Chechnya) and Alexei Simonov (Russian PEN).

The Writing Freedom conference takes place right before the 3rd edition of the Milosz Festival. The closeness of these two events, thanks to which Krakow will be the world capital of literature for the entire week, is not coincidental. ‘It refers not only to the symbolic patronage of the author of Notes on Exile over the event, but also directly to the biographies of many eminent writers from all over the world who – like Milosz – created their works far from their home countries for political, religious or social, but also artistic reasons. One cannot talk about literature without the fundamental freedom of expression’ – stresses Izabela Helbin, Director of the Krakow Festival Office.

The guests of the conference will include: John Ralston Saul – Canadian writer and essayist, President of PEN International; Marian Botsford Fraser – Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International, Canadian writer and publicist; William Echikson – Head of Free Expression Policy and PR, Google; Sonali Samarasinghe – writer, journalist, and lawyer from Sri Lanka, the first woman in her country to establish and run a national daily; Mansur Rajih – poet and political activist from Yemen; Chenjerai Hove – poet, novelist, dramatist, and essayist from Zimbabwe, author of Bones, for which he received the Noma Award for the best African novel in 1988; Maria Carmen A. Sarmiento – writer and member of the Philippine PEN Club and the Philippine Literature Committee; Olúwáfirópo Ewénlá (Ropo Ewenla) – Secretary General of the Nigerian PEN Club, employee of the University of Ibadan, associate of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR); Andrei Khadanovich – poet and translator, President of the Belorussian PEN Club; and Leonidas Donskis – Lithuanian scientist, member of the European Parliament (since 2009), author and editor of more than thirty books combining political theory, the history of ideas, the philosophy of culture, and the philosophy of literature – in 2013, he published Moral Blindness: The Loss of Sensitivity in Liquid Modernity together with Zygmunt Bauman.

‘In Krakow, coordinators from almost 50 ICORN cities will also talk about strategic expansion of the network to include other cities of East-Central Europe. Particularly those whose multicultural and historic heritage are the perfect context for international solidarity’ – says Peter Ripken, Chair of ICORN’s Executive Board, one of the originators (along with Salman Rushdie) of the idea of the creation of the International Cities of Refuge Network.

A discussion panel with the participation of: Mykola Riabchuk (Ukraine), Lev Rubinstein (Russia), Leonidas Donskis (Lithuania), Basil Kerski (Germany), as well as Adam Pomorski and Anna Nasiłowska from the Polish PEN Club, the discussion’s organiser, will be dedicated to the subject of Central and Eastern Europe. Władysław Bartoszewski will deliver a lecture on the Polish experiences in protecting life and supracultural solidarity. The lecture entitled Żegota: Resistance in World War II will begin at 5:15 p.m. on Thursday (the 16th of May) at the Manggha Centre of Japanese Art and Technology (ul. Marii Konopnickiej 26). Admission to the lecture is free, and all those who want to take part may collect free tickets starting tomorrow (Wednesday, the 8th of May) at the InfoKraków Tourist Information Network point at the Tourist Services Centre on ul. Powiśle 11.

The conference is not just lectures, workshops, and discussions. On Wednesday (the 15 of May), the Xpress Freedom! poetry slam will be held in the Alchemia club, during which poets and musicians will meet, including Chenjerai Hove (Zimbabwe), Basem al-Nabriss (Palestine), Easterine Kire (Nagaland, India), Sjón (Iceland), Manal al-Sheikh (Iraq), Noufel Bouzeboudja (Algeria), Naimeh Sanaye (Iran), Mazen Maarouf (Palestine), Mansur Rajih (Yemen), and the High Definition group with Pianohooligan.

Most of the conference events have been planned at the Manggha Centre of Japanese Art and Technology and, not coincidentally, at the Renaissance Villa Decius – a place particularly devoted to the issue of human rights. ‘It is at the Villa that we have carried out the largest programmes of literary scholarships in Central Europe for almost two decades. It is here that writers-refugees, authors of literature, and defenders of the freedom of speech meet. Also at the Villa, the only Polish prize in the field of human rights has been awarded for more than 10 years now – the Polish Prize of Sergio Vieira de Mello – the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights, and we were the initiators of the award’ – stresses Danuta Glondys, Director of the Villa Decius Association.

The conference takes place as part of the Reading Malopolska programme financed from the resources of the European Union, aiming at the promotion of Malopolska as a literary region in which literature is connected to the issue of human rights, which finds grounds in the biographies of many writers, translators, and specialists in the humanities who work and create here. The programme of the conference was created in cooperation with PEN International, the Polish PEN, PEN WipC, ICORN, the Krakow Festival Office, and the Villa Decius Association.

Inhabitants of Krakow and other cities will also be able to take part in the conference. Participation in the conference events is possible after previous registration on the www.readingmalopolska.pl portal.

The Writing Freedom conference is organised as a part of the Reading Małopolska programme, supported by the Malopolska Regional Operational Programme for 2007-2013. Within the programme the region of Małopolska and its capital Krakow want to communicate their literary heritage and engage in creating networks of freedom and cooperation for regions creative in the field of literature.


The International Cities of Refuge Network is an association of cities around the world dedicated to the value of Freedom of Expression. Writers have consistently been targets of politically motivated threats and persecution, and the network believes it is necessary for the international community to formulate and implement an appropriate response.

Each ICORN city focuses on one writer at a time, each writer representing the countless others in hiding, in prison or silenced forever. By providing a Guest Writer with a safe place to stay and economic security for a standard term of two years, ICORN cities make an important, practical contribution to the promotion of Freedom of Expression.

The City of Krakow has been invited to join ICORN as the first city of Central and Eastern Europe. The invitation sent to the Krakow City Council ICORN executive authorities indicated Krakow as important and the most reasonable candidate who will serve as an excellent model for other cities in this part of Europe.

Within two years of membership in ICORN Krakow hosted two writers: Maria Amelie - writer of Russian origin, who after writing a book describing the experiences of illegal immigrants were deported from Norway, and Kareem Amer - Egyptian blogger sentenced to four years in prison for criticizing the government of Hosni Mubarak.

PEN International WiPC

The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International works on behalf of persecuted writers worldwide. It was established in 1960 in response to increasing attempts to silence voices of dissent by imprisoning writers and journalists. The Committee currently monitors the cases of 700-900 writers annually.

The Committee lobbies governments and offers moral support to imprisoned writers who may become honorary members of individual Centres. The Committee maintains a database of all cases of abuses against writers and journalists, updated daily. Information on individual cases or specific countries is available on request.