After a fundamental disagreement at the annual conference in Gotha in mid-May, more than 200 authors announced the founding of a new association called “PEN Berlin”. A “contemporary and diverse” association of writers, translators and other word creators will be formally established on Friday. Early members will include writers Eva Minas, Daniel Kellmann, Antje Ravik Strobel, Tia Dorn and Christian Kracht. Also in attendance were Mithu Sanyal, Judith Chalansky and Seran Ates, as well as journalists and educators Deniz Yocel, Jan Fleischwar and Michael Friedman.
A statement from the group said the goal was to form a pen of colleagues “working for freedom of expression and open speech”, without a chairperson “and other titles”, but “with an equivalency board on top”. In the spirit of “Berlin of the same name, the multilingual city that today symbolizes openness and overcoming of borders, we call ourselves PEN Berlin – a non-governmental organization committed to the ideals of enlightenment, diversity of opinions, tolerance and solidarity.” A group of 11 initiatives will work on organizational issues until the Council is elected.
It is said that the focus of the work should be “on material and immaterial support” to persecuted colleagues. This new pen welcomes “everyone who works with the Word and is ready to join us in this endeavour.”
Only last October, the pen elected a new management team headed by journalist Yossel. Less than seven months later, the presidency fell, and extensive internal mail traffic was leaked. At its core, it was all about the allegations of bullying, management style, insults and general tone.
“Dominated by a bunch of buggers and crackers”
The 48-year-old narrowly escaped the vote at the start of the annual conference in Gotha, but resigned angrily because he didn’t want to be a showman at the sausage stand. At the same time he announced his departure from the Writers’ Guild – he continued in an interview: PEN “was dominated by a group of novices and criminals.”
According to his own statements, PEN Germany has 700 members and is one of more than 140 writers’ societies worldwide united in PEN International. Indeed, the pen is considered the voice of persecuted and persecuted authors all over the world. In Jota, the members only spoke of one thing: themselves—sometimes in a poisonous, irreconcilable tone, as the camps give each other nothing. The dispute not only revealed a deep rift, but also a struggle over the direction of the pen.
In order to pave the way for a fresh start, the entire remaining Executive Committee of Gotha after Yucel resigned. Austrian writer Josef Haslinger was elected interim president by a large majority. He must lead the Writers’ Guild until the election of a new leadership team at an extraordinary general meeting in the fall at the latest. Haslinger, who was head of the pen from 2013 to 2017, said he saw his job as building new trust: “We will fight for reconciliation.”
At that time, many members were horrified by the course of the annual conference in Jota. They found the trench warfare between Yucel’s critics and supporters shameful, humiliating, and fatal. At the same time, demands for renewal and renewal of the assembly were heard from the ranks of the pen. Pen member Herbert Wisner said he needed “a fresh start with youth after this disaster, we’re headed toward nirvana.” At that time, some of the pen members were loudly thinking of leaving.
When asked why a separate organization is now being set up instead of trying a fresh start within the former pen, writer Eva Minas told SZ, “The energy is wasted. It takes moments like this for something new, despite all the warnings about defection.”
Of course, there is also the risk of disagreements and disagreements when setting up the new company. Minas said the project should be understood as “almost an invitation to listen to each other at least once in this terribly divided time. We live in a rich and peaceful country. PEN’s ultimate goal is to be there for others – everyone has to stand behind.” other disagreements. It has already become clear that the list of potential members is “much more female, immigrant and diverse than we had hoped a few weeks ago” — “it’s not one bubble, but several next to each other on this list.” This makes her optimistic.