Between Freedom and Security: More Than "For" and "Against"

In recent years, Ukrainian society has been undergoing a period of important debates and discussions; we learn to speak and listen to each other. It is a very challenging path for a country at war: when shades disappear so quickly and there is only black and white left, when it is difficult to find a place and understanding for others, but then easy to divide the world into friends and foes. Polarization of the society has also always been amplified during pre-election period, when the right for one’s own opinion is often disregarded – instead the only acceptable positions are “for” and “against”.

From the very beginning of its existence PEN Ukraine has supported a culture of discussion. We have always looked for ways to develop this culture in Ukraine, to create more discussions on topics of importance, so that voices of intellectuals are heard in the fields of culture and media, so that culture and literature together became an instrument that would help Ukrainians understand each other and find answers to complicated questions. However, PEN as an open organization reflects the society, and those significant internal discussions happening in present day Ukraine have not circumvented us.

On January 30, PEN Ukraine published an open statement as a reaction to a conflict between the administration of the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture and students of this institution regarding the destruction of Spartak Khachanov’s installation. According to PEN’s Charter, our organization “pledges to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression in the country and community”. Moreover, PEN Ukraine has repeatedly expressed concern towards the spread of far right attitudes and unacceptability of application of force towards an individual from paramilitary groups. Precisely this was accentuated in the statement.

However, publishing of the statement caused earnest discussions inside of PEN Ukraine. Due to disagreement of some members of the organization with the content of the statement, it was removed from the website as such that does not reflect views of all members of PEN Ukraine. Two of our colleagues – Ivan Malkovych and Maksym Strikha – left the organization.

This situation has become a driver for important discussions pertaining to the mission and tasks of PEN in the world and contemporary Ukraine. Last week, we conducted General Meeting in Kyiv to express various perspectives, hear various opinions and most importantly, to find common solutions. We value this experience of a difficult, but so necessary for the organization discussion very much, and now we would like to make it open by engaging a bigger audience to it. With this purpose, within the framework of the Discussion PEN Club, we are soon going to arrange a number of discussions concerning the search for balance between security and freedom in Ukraine. In addition, to initiate a broader conversation we suggest Myroslav Marynovych’s material “Between Freedom and Security: Invitation for Discussion”.

We are also aware that the reason for overestimation of the tasks of PEN Ukraine was its growth. As for today, our organization has almost 90 members, among which are writers, journalists, human rights defenders, publishers, cultural managers and translators. In recent years, our organization has increased twofold. PEN Ukraine has established two prizes: Vasyl Stus Prize and Yurii Sheveliov Prize. In 2017, PEN International Congress took place in Ukraine for the first time in PEN Ukraine’s history. Apart from numerous human rights projects and campaigns, PEN Ukraine initiated the establishment of the Kharkiv Literary Residency, organizes annual regional conference of Central and Eastern European PEN Centres in Ukraine, coordinates Discussion PEN Club, has a range of media projects, and this year it has become a coordinator of the European Union Prize for Literature having gained the right to establish a national jury and select a winner from Ukraine for the first time.

Rapid changes PEN Ukraine is going through have demanded from us not just a revision of our activities and organizational structure, but also a solid internal discussion which would help us understand the direction we are moving in and the purpose we united for.

As a literary and human rights organization uniting leading intellectuals of the country, we would like to be an example for the Ukrainian society. An example of how discussion helps us find new solutions, discuss complex issues preserving respect for each other, move forward but at the same time not moving astray from the path of the values and principles which PEN defends for over a century all over the world.

PEN Ukraine

Also read Myroslav Marynovych’s material “Between Freedom and Security: Invitation for Discussion”

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February 14, 2019
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