On the Public Events at the 83rd Congress of PEN International

Published: 04.10.2017,  Views: 224

The idea to host one of the annual Congresses of the PEN International in Ukraine emerged as early as 2015 as a result of two interconnected imperatives. On one hand, we wished to enhance Ukraine’s international visibility, especially in view of Russian military aggression and large-scale anti-Ukrainian propaganda, to provide some first-hand knowledge of the country to our international colleagues and, hopefully, to achieve some level of solidarity. On the other hand, we felt that Ukraine as a frontline country acquired a particular knowledge in dealing with the unscrupulous neighbor who weaponized information and assumed a role of the global spoiler; so we would like to share this knowledge as well as our difficult experience of protecting freedom of speech and civic liberties during the (undeclared) war.

We had no illusions on how difficult was the task to organize the Congress. Our organization was rather small (about 50 members at the time), its institutional capacity rather low (virtually no finances and only one paid employee – a bookkeeper), and its experience of organizing large-scale international events rather limited. Additional hurdles were: (a) economic difficulties in the country caused by the 2014 Russian invasion and still pending de-facto war in the south-east, (b) highly distorted and mostly negative image of Ukraine promoted internationally by powerful and highly toxic Russian propaganda, and (c) quite a real dysfunctionality of many Ukrainian institutions.

Nonetheless, the Congress appeared to be a success in virtually all terms:

– all the logistics was organized well and no major disruptions/distortions occurred;

– besides plenary sessions and committee meetings indispensable for all the PEN Congresses, 27 concomitant events were organized during the Congress with engagement of delegates and broad attendance of general public (ca. 3,000 people), especially youth, insofar as seven topical panel discussions were held at the universities, synchronous interpretation was provided, and extensive media coverage enhanced public attention;

– most of the public events were streamlined and still are accessible in the web (except for the concert performances protected by copyright);

– the google search with three key-words <пен конгрес львів> and <пен конгресс львов>, i.e. <pen congress lviv>, reveals more than 100,000 references in the web;

– the Congress budget was successfully made up by fundraising and completed eventually without any remaining deficit or debts to contractors.

The long-term results of the Congress are manifold:

– visibility of the Ukrainian PEN has increased substantially: there are many more references to the Ukrainian  PEN in the web; 20 new members were admitted to the Ukrainian PEN and many more applications are pending; our members are much more often invited for public presentations, media talks, and international events; our opinion on various controversial issues related to freedom of speech and expression is regularly briefed by the Ministry of Information Policy of Ukraine (even though not always taken properly into consideration);

– after the Congress, the Ukrainian PEN was invited to partner with the “Meridian Czernowitz” international poetry festival, with the Lviv “Publishers’ Forum”, and to co-organize the international cultural festival “Europe the Isle” in Vinnytsia; we were also invited to share our experience of organizing the Congress at a two-day workshop for culture managers from all over Ukraine <https://www.facebook.com/LvivPENCongress/posts/741975679330503>; the requests for consulting are coming now also from the South Indian PEN as they are organizing the next PEN Congress;

– the American PEN offered us a program and seed money for institutional development; the project is currently in the process of detailed elaboration;

– the Congress facilitated our international contacts, both traditional (with Polish, Lithuanian, and Belarusian PEN Centers) and newly established (with Romanian, Austrian, German, Slovene, Swedish, St. Petersburg, and South African); hence, with the new experience and self-confidence, we decided to organize in Ukraine the annual meeting of Central East European PEN Centers to discuss topical and specific regional issues; we consider also the possible hosting of the annual Eurozine summit in Ukraine in 2020.

As a follow-up to the Philippe Sands’ keynote lecture at the Congress opening, the Lviv authorities have unveiled recently a memorial plaque commemorating two prominent Lviv citizens, Hersch Lauterpacht and Raphael Lemkin, – as reported by the Financial Times (in both print and video): https://www.ft.com/content/cb174c44-dc21-11e7-a039-c64b1c09b482


Our success was determined by three major factors worth mentioning:

– the right choice for the place – inasmuch as the city of Lviv has a rich cultural heritage, engaged public (students and youth in particular), developed tourist infrastructure, and open-minded local authorities committed to cultural cause and international promotion of both the country and the city;

– the right choice for a local partner (the Office of “Lviv the UNESCO City of Literature”) that has a positive record and good experience of organizing many events, both local and international, with a competent and committed young team and all kinds of much-need local connections;

– a good communication with PEN International and various local and international sponsors.

The timeline was not ideal (e.g. we unfortunately underestimated the complexity of the visa problems for our African/Asian guests and began to pressure our Ministry of Foreign Affairs probably too late), but generally the schedule proved its efficacy.

1) As soon as the decision was made in Ourence to hold the next Congress in Lviv, we asked our members to spread the information as broadly as possible in the Ukrainian media:











2) On November 18, in the Lviv City Council, the mayor Andriy Sadovy and vice president of the Ukrainian PEN Andrei Kurkov signed the memorandum on cooperation. The event was public and broadly covered in the mass media (more than 4,000 references in the web to the key words <садовий курков конгрес пен>), e.g.:



3) The program director (Mykola Riabchuk) was approved, the organizing team was formed, and the program and budget were gradually elaborated in cooperation with PEN International.  Over a hundred letters and applications with the request for support and/or partnership were submitted to various local, national, and international institutions. Almost 50 per cent of them got a positive response. In April 2017, Carles Torner visited Ukraine where he held working meetings with local businesses and authorities in Lviv and with embassies and international organizations in Kyiv, as well as with journalists. The visit was also covered in the media, including the 10-minute guest’s interview at the Public TV:




4) On May 18, the Congress page on the Facebook was launched to become an indispensable source of daily-updated information about the event, its guests, related news, photographs, videos, etc.


5) On July 5, the press-conference about the forthcoming Congress was held in Lviv, and on July 12 in Kyiv. Both events were streamlined and broadly publicized: https://zbruc.eu/node/68148





Прес-конференція Lviv 2017 PEN International Congress

Gepostet von Radio SKOVORODA am Mittwoch, 5. Juli 2017

6) On July 18, the recruitment of volunteers was announced, more than 200 applications were shortly received, of which 50 candidates were selected and intensively trained:


7) On September 1, the School of Literary Journalism was opened for enrolment – to be held in parallel to the Congress, with the opportunity for the participants to attend all the public events and communicate with the delegates. Two dozen interviews were published eventually as the result of this communication:












8) On September 4, the program of the Congress was published, and on September 12 presented officially at the press-conferences in Lviv and Kyiv, also extensively publicized:



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_y81HxOORZw [in Ukrainian]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLB77c2qxIg [in English]

9) On September 15, the official accreditation for journalists was opened:


10) On September 17, the first Congress event was held – a flesh-mob #FreeSentsov at the Lviv International Airport: https://zbruc.eu/node/70816


11) On September 18, the Congress was officially launched and the opening ceremony (including the brilliant Philippe Sands’ keynote lecture) was streamlined in both English and Ukrainian:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZ0xcZtl25Y  (for Sands see min. 26-73)


Львів приймає 83-й Міжнародний Конгрес PEN

On the same day, the motivational conference on the prospects for Lviv to join the ICORN network was held: https://www.facebook.com/pg/LvivPENCongress/photos/?tab=album&album_id=683106941884044

and a press-briefing was organized to introduce the event to the journalists in more detail: https://www.facebook.com/pg/LvivPENCongress/photos/?tab=album&album_id=683018878559517

12) On September 19, besides the (closed) plenary sessions the accompanying event was organized for Ukrainian writers, publishers, journalists and general public – the discussion on the national cultural branding “Understanding Ukraine, Understanding Europe: The Ukrainian Message at the Frankfurt Book Fair” (streamlined and still accessible): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XyPEO2E-J0&feature=youtu.be https://www.facebook.com/pg/LvivPENCongress/photos/?tab=album&album_id=683405935187478

In the evening, a large multi-media performance “Empty Chairs” was organized for both the Congress participants and general public in the LEM Station (former tram depot) as an homage to imprisoned and persecuted authors, specifically to the Ukrainian writer and film director Oleg Sentsov. The event included introductory speeches, documentary film, poetry readings, fragment of Sentsov’s play performed by the local theater, and the concert of very popular folk quartet Dakha Brakha. The exhibition of the prominent Ukrainian artist Roman Mykhaylov “Burns” was opened in the LEM premises.


13) On September 20, besides the closed plenary session, three topical panel discussions – “Super Powers under the Spotlight” – were held in the main hall of the Lviv National University, with an active involvement of the Congress participants (streamlined): https://www.facebook.com/radioskovoroda/videos/504681116533897/ https://www.facebook.com/pg/LvivPENCongress/photos/?tab=album&album_id=683922511802487

In the evening, three special literary events (Polish, Jewish, and Belarusian) were held at the Potocky Palace, and the literary discussion with Sylvestre Clancier at the “YE” bookstore: https://www.facebook.com/pg/LvivPENCongress/photos/?tab=album&album_id=683827035145368

Later that evening, the headliners’ poetry reading was held at the City Art Palace: https://www.facebook.com/pg/LvivPENCongress/photos/?tab=album&album_id=683832685144803

Polski poeta Adam Zagajewski, urodzony we Lwowie, będzie gościem honorowym Kongresu PEN klubu

14) On September 21, besides the closed plenary sessions, three the accompanying event was organized in Dnister for the general public: presentation of the newly-established Ukrainian Book Institute by its deputy director and leading Ukrainian writers (streamlined): https://www.facebook.com/chytomo/videos/1571199552940831/ https://www.facebook.com/pg/LvivPENCongress/photos/?tab=album&album_id=683929701801768

lecture by a reputable Ukrainian TV journalist Andriy Kulykov on “Journalistic Ethics vs. Propaganda” (streamlined): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbU3_31CkSw https://www.facebook.com/pg/LvivPENCongress/photos/?tab=album&album_id=684248685103203

and opening of the exhibition by the renowned war photographer, a Pulitzer Prize finalist Yefrem Lukatsky: https://www.facebook.com/LvivPENCongress/videos/678495092345229/ https://www.facebook.com/pg/LvivPENCongress/photos/?tab=album&album_id=684211411773597

In the evening, the closing ceremony in the City Organ Hall included an Interlude of Organ Music and a keynote speech by David Patrikarakos “Fact, Fiction and Politics in a Post Truth Age: How to Reclaim Truth in a Time of Propaganda”: https://www.facebook.com/pg/LvivPENCongress/photos/?tab=album&album_id=684324131762325

15) On September 22, four topical panel discussions were organized for the general public with active involvement of the Congress delegates, special guests and invited experts. Two of them were held at the National University, one in the main City Hall, and one at the Ukrainian Catholic University. All of them were interpreted synchronously from English/French into Ukrainian and streamlined:

Words in Exile: Welcoming Refugees, Countering Xenophobia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2gKSHaIOJQ https://www.facebook.com/pg/LvivPENCongress/photos/?tab=album&album_id=685736494954422

Reclaiming Truth in Times of Propaganda: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5bqWXWYJr6WTEYwWnh3YTM5Zjg/view  https://www.facebook.com/pg/LvivPENCongress/photos/?tab=album&album_id=685839761610762

Memory and Literary Imagination as a Remedy for Evil: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5bqWXWYJr6WUmpzeDFDcnpTc3M/view  https://www.facebook.com/pg/LvivPENCongress/photos/?tab=album&album_id=685752641619474 http://www.lvivcenter.org/uk/chronicle/news/?newsid=2527

Will Democracy Fail? The Rise of Populism and Nativism as a Global Challenge: https://www.facebook.com/LvivPENCongress/videos/678973185630753/  https://www.facebook.com/pg/LvivPENCongress/photos/?tab=album&album_id=685844181610320

16) On September 23, the Halina Górska Memorial Plaque was unveiled and literary readings held by Ukrainian writers: http://www.lvivcenter.org/uk/lia/persons/gorska-halina/