Berlin, May 27, 2006—Horst Köhler, Federal President of Germany, welcomed more than 450 writers from PEN Centres around the world to Berlin at the opening ceremony of International PEN’s annual Congress. President of German PEN, Johano Strasser expressed his hope that the Congress would “sharpen our awareness that with all differences in languages, cultures, religions and ways of life, one thing unites us all; the love of literature and respect for the dignity of every individual.”

At a private reception at the Federal Chancellery for delegates, Chancellor Angela Merkel hosted delegates including Nadine Gordimer, A.L. Kennedy, Gyorgy Konrad and Ronald Harwood. 

Nobel Laureate Günter Grass spoke to the theme of the Congress ‘Writing in a World without Peace’ saying, “Whatever murderous events are taking place, nothing escapes our notice. What historians may be willing to file away remains alive and fresh in our minds.” 

The delegates elected President Jiøí Gruša for a second term who said that, “International PEN’s work establishing inter-cultural dialogues, especially in areas of conflict, is as important as ever.” Nobel Laureates Toni Morrison and J.M. Coetzee, and President of the PEN Iberian American Foundation Gloria Guardia were elected as Vice Presidents.   

PEN’s international literary symposiums and its work on freedom of expression, linguistic rights, womens’ access, dialogues for peace and issues of exiled writers were the focus of a three-year plan endorsed by the Assembly. Caroline Whitaker, Executive Director said, ‘International PEN will work regionally to connect the activity of its many Centres around the globe on these issues.’    

The Assembly of Delegates called upon numerous governments around the world to decriminalise insult and defamation laws used to persecute or silence writers.  International Secretary, Joanne Leedom-Ackerman noted, “Eighty years ago International PEN met in Berlin as one of the first major international meetings after World War I. At that time, the discussion and debate at the gathering led to the framing of PEN’s Charter the following year.  The 72nd International Congress of PEN has also been historic highlighting the repression of writers in countries including China, Tunisia, Russia, Iran, Maldives, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Cuba, and Mexico.

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105, [email protected]