Nearly three decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, free expression in the literary, journalistic, and artistic spheres remains under significant pressure in many of the states of the Eurasia region. The shared history of totalitarian rule has proven hard to shed, as the countries face varied political, social, and economic challenges. From assassinations of reporters to the censoring of writers to the closing of theatrical productions, authoritarian efforts to control historical narratives and foreclose individuals’ expressions of their current identities remain a disturbing trend. The shutting down of space for independent thinking has particularly characterized the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and these constraints on human rights spread well outside that country’s borders. This is especially true in Belarus and the countries of Central Asia, where laws target press freedom, civil society, and individual creativity. Ukraine and Georgia have sought to democratize and more fully integrate into Europe, but been old habits of surveillance, limits to free speech, and arbitrary imprisonment have impeded progress.

PEN America supports the efforts of the independent PEN Centers in the region to defend free expression and foster literary culture. Campaigns on behalf of individual writers and artists at risk in the region feature prominently in our advocacy campaigns. These include two recent PEN America Freedom to Write Award honorees, in 2015 Azerbaijani investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, who was released from prison in 2016 but still is not free to leave her country, and in 2017 Ukrainian filmmaker and writer Oleg Sentsov, imprisoned in a Siberian penal colony to silence his voice in opposition to the Russian military takeover of his native Crimea.